TECHNOLOGY

CSA Exclusive: New rental site start-up targets outdoor enthusiasts

BY Dan Berthiaume

Santa Monica-based outdoor gear rental platform Coozie Outdoors is hoping to do for outdoor lovers what Rent the Runway did for fashionistas.

Cofounders and co-CEOs Rachelle Snyder and Ross Richmond, themselves avid outdoor enthusiasts, are offering online rental of outdoor gear in an attempt to make the outdoor experience more accessible. With outdoor gear often expensive and bulky, Coozie Outdoors provides an option that enables customers to save both money and space.

Coozie Outdoors just launched its platform across the continental U.S., with investment backing from Santa Monica-based venture firm and incubator Science Inc.

What is your outdoor background and why did you decide to launch Coozie Outdoors?
Rachelle Snyder: “We both grew up outdoors – Ross in New England and me in the Midwest. When we moved from Boston to Los Angeles a few years ago, we chucked all our outdoor gear. We were so excited to explore all the great new outdoor opportunities in Southern California, but not necessarily interested in spending thousands of dollars on gear. Also, we were living in a 600-sq.-ft. bungalow and didn’t have space. So, we were feeling the problems and the pain point ourselves.

“There was no simple alternative to ownership for experiential consumers who like to get outside a few times a year. We started with three tents in our garage. We created a site and rented them online, we would deliver them ourselves. Now we have a 6,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Culver City and have worked with Science to launch a national business. We ship gear anywhere in the continental US, and include free return labels to send it back.”

What technology do you use to tailor product recommendations to individual customers?
Rachelle Snyder: “Our new site has a custom back end. We have been doing this for two years, so we know about our customers’ intentions, what they need and want, what they know and don’t know. Based on customer input – number of participants, whether it is men, women and/or children, the date, location and length of trip, the activity, our site recommends gear using back end tabs.

“Right now, a data scientist manually reviews tabs and constantly improves them. Version two of our back end will come out in the next few months with machine learning capabilities.”

How do you handle order fulfillment?
Ross Richmond – “The warehouse is the starting point. When we bring in a returned item, it comes in dirty. We have a section for returned gear, each item has a different process – sleeping bags are dry cleaned, tents are cleaned by hand, lanterns are wiped down and recharged.

“Items are then tagged with a barcode and returned to shelves for picking. Warehouse associates using customized off-the-shelf mobile scanning devices receive a pick list and scan them as they pick. This way, we can track products through every step of the fulfillment process, know which items are out with customers, and count how many turns an item has.”

“Local orders are placed in branded Coozie bags and delivered by our proprietary couriers in their own vehicles. Couriers are trained in how to use all the equipment and can provide customers with any instruction they need when they drop deliveries off. Courier deliveries are free with a minimum $50 order, which almost all customers make.

Outside the Los Angeles area, we box shipments with branded packaging materials and ship them via FedEx. Couriers pick up items from local deliveries once they are done, otherwise FedEx handles our returns with the free labels we provide. Once an item is shipped, customers receive an automated notification email.”

What are the benefits for a rental service – for the retailer, brands, and consumer?
Rachelle Snyder: “We charge no subscription or membership fee – we want a low barrier to entry so people can use us when they need us. Customers don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to store and maintain equipment they may not use again for a year or two, or replace gear when it gets tired.

“For Coozie and our brand partners, rental opens a whole new customer segment. By providing gear to experiential customers, instead of traditional gear-owning enthusiasts, we put the product in more hands. Some of those customers decide they want to go outdoors more frequently, and already like the brand they rented. We introduce brands in a low-barrier situation.”

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