Must we call it 'rentalism'?
It’s not a very pretty word is it?
I found it here in a piece on the ABC website. There’s an accompanying video report which you can see here (you’ll probably have to watch an ad — sorry! but if you get the Sam Bernstein commercial then it is quite funny).
The basic premise of the piece is that we’ve all acquired too much stuff and that an alternative lifestyle is developing whereby we hire or borrow many of the things that we used to buy and which then cluttered up our lives.
Of course the idea of renting cars or holiday properties has been around for decades, but recently the model has been evolving so that we can rent cars much more conveniently – no longer do we need to book in advance and take a car for days or weeks at a time, travelling to some airport location to pick up and drop off, filling in all of the insurance paperwork, collecting keys etc.
Now we have Zipcar, Streetcar, WhizzGo, and City Car Club (all available within my own neighbourhood of London SE1). These businesses put cars on street corners near where we live or work, and allow us to borrow a car for an hour or two or whatever suits us.
The ABC piece even calls it Zipcar capitalism, as well as rentalism, and makes the bold claim that rentalism is the ‘New Normal’. Well here at diamondthrills we obviously hope they’re right about that because we’re in the business of hiring out fine diamond jewellery.
Are there other examples of ownership switching to ‘rentalship’? (I just made that one up and I reckon it beats rentalism.)
Try designer handbags. There are quite a lot of hangbag hire businesses out there – it’s not a totally new concept. Watch the ABC video piece to see the clip from the Sex in the City movie (HBO Films) where Carrie admires a handbag only to be told that “It’s rented. Bag Borrow or Steal — it’s like Netflix for purses” (Netflix is like Lovefilm in the UK – it rents out DVDs). I have to mention one of my favourites here: a designer handbag rental business in Canada called Shoulder Candy. Great name.
Another example where rental is becoming more common is art. Some of those who own valuable works of art have always loaned that art to public galleries, but it’s now possible for private individuals to enjoy art in their own home without actually owning it. Art Rent & Lease is one such pioneer in the US. In the UK, the art rental market exists for rentals to business and corporate clients, but not yet for consumers in their own homes — surely it’s only a matter of time.
Here’s another: children can get bored of toys quickly, right? And they out-grow them and then they just get piled into a cupboard or thrown away… So why not rent them? Babyplays.com sends you a new shipment of rented toys every month.
So whether we call it rentalism or rentalship or whatever, there’s no doubt that this is an emerging trend, partly driven by the recession and the fact that people might have less cash to buy expensive things, but also driven by the realisation that sharing can work and it doesn’t have to be stigmatised in the way that ‘Radio Rentals’ became a byword for ‘can’t afford a TV of their own‘ in the UK about 20 years ago.
Renting luxury goods should now be seen as smart, savvy, thrifty, canny. Of course there’s still a place for ownership, but we are being increasingly selective about what we own, and not just for the obvious financial reasons. We’re looking for simplicity, flexibility, and convenience; we want to de-clutter and in these uncertain times we are much more wary of the commitment involved in buying very expensive things.
Rentalism makes sharing OK again, and its cost-effectiveness can come with vital eco-credibility too: how much better for the environment is it for seven people to share something than for all seven to own one each and to use theirs just once a week?
Renting something expensive can serve another important purpose: it can be a stepping stone on the way to ownership. It’s a means of trying before you buy. It can help people to overcome their natural relectance to commit lots of money to something that they aren’t 100% sure about.
Rent something special for a weekend or a week or a month, and then, once the experience proves to be everything that you hoped it would be, you can convert from pay-as-you-go rentalist to committed owner, and perhaps the rental company will even do you a deal so that the retail price is reduced by the hire charges already paid. This allows much more flexibility than old-fashioned hire-purchase agreements where it is always assumed that you are going to end up owning the product. With genuine rental, there’s no such commitment.
We can have fun with rental too. Whilst there’s a practical, utilitarian benefit to renting a Zipcar, if that Zipcar is a zippy little Mini then it becomes an experience too — something to be enjoyed. Some of the car clubs that have been around for a while understand this very well: they will lend you a classic car or a prestige sports car for the weekend. Limousine rentals have been giving people a luxury experience for years.
The experience market is well established in other areas too: driving an Aston Martin, taking a trip in a balloon or a helicopter, being pampered in a spa — all of these things are experiences that can be bought without full ownership of the Aston Martin, the helicopter, etc.
At diamondthrills we believe that wearing fabulous diamond jewellery is an experience too, and if we have to learn to call it rentalism then so be it, even if we might prefer our more proprietorial rentalship.
There’s one other modern and rather startling example of rentalism that I want to cover, but I’m going to save that for another post because it has a special connection to the genesis of the original idea for diamondthrills…