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Building a rental marketplace

Gisborne brothers Jacob and Raymond Geuze have launched www.Flax.nz, a site where everything from tools to sports equipment can be listed and rented.

Describing it as the Trade Me of rentals, the idea is that you can make your belongings work for you when you are not using them, says Jacob.

“You might rent things that will be useful, or experience something new while not having to buy it outright.

“Why have a projector, kayaks, and a shed full of stuff you hardly use when you can rent them from someone else or to someone else?”

The seed of the idea that is now Flax started germinating when the brothers were building a shed at Jacob's house, and were often having trouble sourcing tools to complete the job.

It got them thinking how handy it would be if there was a platform where things like tools could be rented cheaply and short term, from neighbours or someone down the road.

“It solves your problem of getting tools that you probably won't use again while also giving that other person an income from the tools they have invested in and don't use all the time.”

The Gisborne-based start-up is providing a single-stop “person to person” rental platform where users can list or search for virtually any item they have or need.

What the brothers need now to make Flax a success is for more people to start using it — either to list items or rent them.

“Tools will be popular, so will equipment for weddings — like tables, chairs, wine barrels. Then there's sports gear — say, if someone has a snowboard or a surfboard they might want to rent out. Is it really necessary to jam those portable cots and pushchairs in the boot to go on a family holiday, or could they just rent it at the destination?

“We had the idea just over two years ago and after hundreds of hours designing and building the site, we released it to the nation late last year. We have slowly built up a small user base and have around 60 items listed so far, spread all over New Zealand — from lawnmowers, TVs, cameras and bouncy castles to wedding props, golf clubs, and even a couple of jet skis.”

Jacob's younger brother Raymond built the user-friendly website and they are happy with the end result. Raymond studied computer science in Wellington and is now working for a web development company there.

“When you list your item, you select what category it is and our goal was to make it smooth for the user. You type in what you want and it will find it.

“At the moment the biggest thing is to get as many items listed as possible.”

It could be the answer for people planning a ski trip and looking to hire skis or snowboards, helmets and poles, or for people needing tramping gear like backpacks or camping equipment.

One of the advantages of using a sharing platform like Flax is that it promotes sustainability; rather than purchasing new equipment, you can rent an existing item.

“We are keen to take away all that commercial waste — because you don't need to be making all this new stuff or spending all your money on it when you can rent it instead, and as a borrower make some money on equipment you have already purchased.”

Flax makes its income by charging a 15 percent commission to the borrower and the lender.

Users can rent on hourly, daily, weekly or monthly rates depending on their requirements. There is a calculator on the site which works out what to charge based on the cost and category of the item.

“At the moment we are concentrating on getting people to list their stuff. So far we have done paid Facebook marketing which has worked quite well. We have got to find a way to build trust, so we can get people to go to the next step of listing on the site.

“I don't think people have ever thought about renting their equipment — typically New Zealanders have always thought about property as a good rental investment, but we want to reinvent the rental scene.”

Bookabach has about 12,000 Kiwi families that are happy to rent out their biggest assets — their houses and baches. When you think about it, that's people using your kettle, your BBQ and furniture — I don't see why we can't build the same level of trust with Flax.”

For user security, everybody who uses the Flax platform becomes verified, which means they must provide identification — either a driver licence or passport, address, phone number. The verification is done by their American payment processing company Stripe. They carry out fraud, money laundering and identification checks. The location-based platform does not show exact locations, so your property cannot be traced to your house or shed.

“Once you are at the payment stage, Stripe takes care of the payment and you will be notified of success or failure before item handover.

“They deduct their fees out of the Flax commission, so our users only get charged once.”

It is too costly for Flax to process payments themselves so it made more sense for them to use this US-based company which is valued at $US35 billion.

“People need to be able to have confidence their payment details are safe and secure, so it made sense to outsource this.”

Jacob says another advantage of renting sports gear like a kite surfer, for example, is that you can try it out and see if you are going to like it enough to justify buying the full setup yourself . . . or save the high purchase costs for something else and rent the gear two or three times a year.

Two-thirds of the listings on Flax are in Gisborne with others spread around the country in places like Auckland and Queenstown.

When a renter makes contact with someone listing an item, they can talk privately on a messaging system on the site — and then, once they have sorted out the details of price and duration, they can decide where to meet to collect the item.

“We have suggested you don't meet at your own home but choose a public place or go to the borrower's house.”

A similar site exists in England called Fatllama which has now expanded into America.

This could be a great opportunity for people in Gisborne and the East Coast communities to help each other out now the nationwide lockdown is lifted, Jacob says.

“Flax is a way that people can create extra income for themselves in these tough financial times, and a great way to help people do things they wouldn't normally do.”

GISBORNE START-UP: A rental platform created by Gisborne brothers Jacob and Raymond Geuze promises to be a win-win for those listing an item, and renters who want the short-term use of it. This is a great way to earn extra income for those who have a shed full of equipment from tools to sports gear which is not used a lot, Jacob says. Picture by Liam Clayton