Feature

Rental revolution

G Magazine

Melbourne businessman Steve Sammartino's rental website aims to alter the way we consume.

Rentoid makes use of your junk

Rentoid founder, Steve Sammartino believes people can be making cash from their unused junk.

Credit: Sharyn Cairns

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It's a familiar story. Frustrated with the actions of his large corporate employers, Steve Sammartino decided to go it alone and start his own business.

After more than a decade working in marketing for several large American corporations, Sammartino was well aware of their environmental shortcomings and desired a business model that was both profitable and environmentally considerate. And so Rentoid was born.

In short, Rentoid is a rental website that operates in much the same way as eBay, except that items are available for rent rather than purchase. "It's about the fact that resources aren't going into manufacturing and preparing more goods to be sold. It's about utilising what already exists," Sammartino explains.

Items are listed with a picture and short description. It's free to join, with Rentoid taking a five per cent commission for any items rented.

Once the rental transaction has been approved, the two parties contact each other to arrange pick up or delivery of the item. "We just provide the infrastructure so that people can connect," Sammartino says.

Since it's inception in July 2007, Rentoid has accumulated almost five thousand members, with around ten thousand items listed on the site at any one time. "It's growing daily," Sammartino says, with members now in every English speaking country and an increasing presence in Europe and Asia.

Most of Rentoid's promotion is done on the web or via word of mouth - it's Sammartino's area of expertise and he has cleverly made sure the site continues to bubble to the top of Google searches and appear on business blogs.

There is virtually no limit to the type of items that can be listed. Power tools, camping goods and audiovisual equipment are frequents flyers, as people generally only have a temporary need for them.

But from time to time some rather strange rentals appear on the site. Sammartino laughs as he recalls the most unusual item he has seen listed - 'Dog for rent!' "This is a true story - a person put up a dog saying they're too lazy to walk it," he says. It was rented by a lady who wanted to make sure her children could look after a dog before she purchased one of her own.

The challenge facing Rentoid is our consumer preference for owning rather than loaning goods - in essence, renting is the perceived poor cousin. After all, the great Australian dream is to own your own home, not rent it.

Sammartino faces this challenge head on, explaining that while it is a major social shift getting people used to renting, "just ten years ago we weren't used to buying things over the Internet."

"We want to move people away from thinking they have to own something to experience it. It's about having access rather than ownership," he says enthusiastically.

Rentoid also has the potential to create a united sense of virtual and physical community. Sammartino explains that it provides an opportunity for people to find each other virtually but connect physically - essentially a hybrid of the two means of communication.

"Our dream is to have everyone in the local town on Rentoid so they all start getting to know each other a little better, in order to build a stronger sense of community," he explains.

Both parties benefit from the rental transaction - the renter makes money from something they already own, while the rentee saves money, as they don't have to purchase the goods new.

Sammartino asks: "Now that we can digitally connect with the Internet, how many ladders does Australia really need? Do we really need two million or can we get by with one million?"

The success of Rentoid in environmental terms is certainly dependant on people renting goods from those who live close by, which Sammartino says occurs in many cases.

When a good must travel interstate or overseas, he recommends using existing systems - regular mail being the most obvious - to limit our collective footprint.
Rentoid boasts the unexpected achievement of never having received a complaint about a damaged good or dodgy renter, testament to its community feel and the honesty of its users.

Touches of his corporate background remain as Sammartino conjures his grandiose plans for the future of Rentoid. "To take it to a global scale is absolutely where we want to go!" he enthuses.