Paul Sherratt of Solutions for Sport looks at less permanent forms of ownership in sport
Driven in part by economic and environmental concerns, many consumers are finding appeal in the notion of less permanent forms of ownership. But what impact is this likely to have on the sporting goods industry?
Perhaps most familiar to UK consumers is the concept of ski and boot rental, which has existed for many years. This has long been a solution for those travelling to the ski slopes who either don’t want the hassle of transporting their own equipment or don’t want to buy a full set of ski equipment. But there are other factors in play here too that can be applied across the sports sector as a whole.
For those consumers who only participate in sports and activities infrequently, the appeal of temporary ownership of the equipment required to take part is strong. Successful retailers can benefit from being close to or, better still, at the participation venue and take full advantage of rental at point of play. Whether it’s a kayak store on the river or a cycle shop on a bike trail, temporary ownership - or rental - is an attractive proposition for the consumer in this environment.
Cost is also an important factor. The cost of participating in a sport can be prohibitive and thus an alternative solution, where the consumer can choose the best way to pay for the equipment required, is attractive. The growth of pay as you go gyms is an excellent example of this trend. Why pay a monthly membership when you can dip in and out of usage?
Driven by changing consumer trends and, among other things, the digital revolution, sporting goods feature increasingly sophisticated technology. Cash rich early adopters are able to purchase these products on launch. However, consumers not in this fortunate position are looking for alternatives.
Fitness retailers have recognised that a treadmill, for example, is an ideal item to offer as a rental.
Specialist firms such as Home Fitness Solutions and Fitness for Hire are at the forefront of these changes, offering the consumer the chance to ‘own’ an item of fitness equipment for however long they need it.
Similarly, bike hire shops and organisations such as British Bike Hire are expanding rapidly by allowing the infrequent user to use a bike on a weekly, monthly or annual hire basis without the initial cash outlay normally required.
To some extent this latest trend is merely an extension of try before you buy. In sports such as golf and tennis this concept has been around for many years, however today’s consumer wants to apply these principles across a broader range of sports and subsequently businesses are evolving offering exactly this service.
While the temporary ownership trend is being driven by economic and environmental circumstances, it’s also being driven by consumer demand. Most notable is the demand for convenience. We want things our way and we want flexibility. Take the Boris Bike concept in central London, for example. It offers convenience, is cost effective and can be used whenever and wherever we want to.
What does the future hold for the temporary ownership trend? At present one signpost is at the top end of the market, where consumers are spending more - in many cases lots more - on life changing experiences, while their need for luxury goods is waning. The result is the evolution of businesses such as Bag Borrow or Steal, a designer handbag rental firm for consumers who don’t want to own but experience.
In the broader sporting goods industry, luxury goods such as bikes or golf clubs may well embrace this trend. However it’s unlikely to happen in sports apparel and footwear.
So if it’s equipment-based, the appeal is likely to be for products that either sit outside the everyday purchase price point or are evolving so rapidly that consumers are waiting for the pace of technology to slow down before purchasing them.
In both instances, temporary ownership has an appeal. The trend looks set to stay and undoubtedly some areas of the sports industry will benefit.