Rab is a name that every outdoor enthusiast will recognize. The story of this iconic brand dates back to Sheffield, UK, where Rab Carrington began manufacturing sleeping bags.
Today, Rab's products serve a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts, from those embarking on extreme expeditions to those exploring local recreational areas. The company's simple, durable, and timeless design is conducive to expanding into circular business models, further cementing the brand's commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility.
In this interview with Matthew Clarke, we will hear about Equip's first experiences with rentals.
Why Rab decided to expand into rentals?
Rab currently offers its rental service online to customers in the UK. They have a dedicated section for rentals in their online shop, where users can book the products they want for 3-21 days.
The orders are then processed by Rab's own logistics centre, and the products are sent to the customer in a reusable package. After use, the customer can return the products to the nearest post office.
Once the products are returned to Rab's warehouse, their in-house service team will wash, inspect and repair them for the next user.
According to Matthew, the decision to launch the rental program was driven by a desire to make outdoor activities more affordable and accessible to everyone. The high cost of purchasing specialized gear can be a barrier to entry for many people, particularly those who are new to outdoor activities. The rental program is intended to reduce this financial burden, allowing more people to explore the great outdoors.
Matthew explains that the benefits of the rental program are twofold.
First, the newcomers now have an opportunity to dip their toes into more specialized outdoor activities without having to own the gear, thus reducing the highly wasteful epidemic of ‘single-use purchases’. Second, access to the outdoors (especially areas that are difficult to navigate without the right equipment) is broadened to anyone with enthusiasm or even curiosity — not just those with deep enough pockets.
Rab recognizes that the nature of customer relationships is moving from one-off transactions towards more ongoing ones. In this context, Rab doesn't see the rental program as a revenue generator. Instead, Matthew explains, it is there to support Rab's old and new customers who want to try a new way of getting the very best product for one-off adventures.
For those rental users that have unforgettable experiences using the best technical kit and want more of the same, then hopefully, they go and rely on our retailer base with a long-term purchase.
Moreover, the launch of the rental program is a continuum of Rab's ongoing commitment to sustainability. The company has been certified as a Climate Neutral Company and a Fair Wear Member since 2020. Rentals, subscriptions, and recommerce initiatives are part of the company's plan to become Net Zero by 2030.
People appreciate that Rab Rental contributes to Rab's CSR ambitions to reduce the use of fabric consumption. So, although Rab Rental wasn't implemented to gain a competitive advantage, it is no doubt a positive differentiator in the marketplace in many ways.
The rental program has already garnered positive feedback from customers. As the company looks to the future, it remains committed to serving its customers in new and innovative ways.
Getting started quickly with the right tools
Starting a rental program can be a complex and challenging process. There are usually three ways to enter the market for companies that are entirely new to rental models.
Building and owning everything from back-office operations to storefronts.
Owning the back-office operations but outsourcing the storefronts to, for example, third-party marketplaces.
Owning the storefronts but outsourcing the back-office operations, like inventory management, order fulfillment, logistics, and refurbishment.
Each model has pros and cons, but Rab was keen to look after the whole process in-house to keep costs low for the customers and gather as much information and understanding as possible about the new business model.
Rab Service Centre specializes in washing, repairs, spare parts, and extending the lifespan of our products. We have been expertly assessing, cleaning, reproofing, and repairing kits for 40 years, so prepping kits in readiness for their next adventure is nothing new to us. What we didn't have was the platform to take bookings and payments, manage stock inventory, and effectively process inbound and outbound transactions. Rentle was the perfect partner for us. Offering us almost everything that we needed out of the box, with a team keen to work with us to make it perfect for our needs.
Matthew and his team were surprised about how simple and quick it was to set up Rentle and get started. As Rab had the product assets and branding ready, they only needed to set up a price list and upload the inventory to Rentle. Matthew estimates that after learning what they have, setting everything up and launching could be wrapped up within a week if made a priority.
How have the customers received the new service?
While grand speeches and ambitious plans may sound impressive, their success ultimately depends on customers' approval. In the case of Rab's' rental program, that approval has been resoundingly positive. As an example, Matthew says that the social media launch of rentals reached over 60k people organically and got people talking about the benefits of hiring rather than buying.
Furthermore, Rab asked the members of its loyalty program if they would consider using the Rab rental service, and 91% said they would. Customers who said yes listed several reasons: affordability, the opportunity to try new activities, and the chance to test gear before purchasing. Even those who said no still thought it was a good idea, just not for them.
Overall, the initial response to the rental program has been overwhelmingly positive. Matthew says that Rab regularly receives feedback from the users of the rental service about how easy it is to rent some of the higher-end clothing for short trips North of the arctic circle, as well as first-time users renting sleeping bags, shelters and packs for their first introductions into camping and bivvying.
Rab's bigger picture in circular commerce
While one-off rentals are a great start, Rab's ambitions to become more circular continue beyond there. With the support of Rentle, the company is already planning to expand to the subscription model and buyback-driven resales of refurbished products.
We are always looking at how we can improve our Rab customer experience. Rentals were one of the final pieces of that puzzle. Subscription-based hire and recommerce are the next steps in our evolution of Rab Rental. Hopefully, having these options will allow us to engage with more outdoor people and offer more sustainable ways to purchase Rab products.
Rab's tips for starting a rental business
Starting a new business or business unit always requires careful planning and establishing new processes to ensure success. A wide range of factors needs to be considered, including market research, budget, branding, staffing, and legal considerations, among others. Rab is no exception to the rule.
But what tangible things should be considered in addition to all the so-called basics?
One thing Matthew mentions is deciding whether to run the show in-house or outsource some areas of the rental operation. As Rab has decades of experience in textile maintenance and repair, doing it in-house was a natural and easy decision. That also made it easier to start because the company was independent of others.
If your company does not have the same in-house experience in servicing products and materials, choosing the right partners is essential.
Matthew strongly recommends experimenting with rentals regardless of the approach to rental-based models. He highlights that the simplicity of the model makes a great case for itself, and there's only a little to lose.
Rentals give our customers options that they may not have considered before. Rental, subscription-based hire, and recommerce won't always be for everyone, but the marginal gains achieved from offering it begins to add up quickly. If putting these services up front and center on your e-commerce platform gets your customer base questioning the standard purchase experience, then it is a positive driver for change.