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Renting versus buying everything from clothes to furniture to toys

More companies are offering subscription services
Posted at 5:50 AM, Nov 18, 2019

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DENVER — Every year during the holiday season, we are encouraged to spend more, buy more, and own more stuff.

But for people looking for an alternative to simply consuming more and more, companies are providing a solution: Rent the stuff instead.

This new trend includes rentals for everyday items like clothing, furniture, equipment, and toys.

We sought out perspectives from people who rent items, people who buy things, and the companies that are catering to this new kind of consumer.

Renting furniture

“People don’t want to be tied down by physical things in their life,” said Jay Reno, the founder of furniture subscription service Feather.

He came up with the idea after moving seven times in nine years. He said not only was it impractical to move all that furniture around, he also saw a problem with people frequently disposing of “cheap” furniture.

“Seven percent of all landfill waste is furniture,” Reno said. “Ten million tons of furniture is thrown out each year.”

Customers who use Feather can rent high-quality furniture for as long as they want. The items are delivered and assembled, and when the customer no longer wants or needs the furniture, they send it back.

Currently, Feather is only in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but Reno believes the model could work in any city.

Renting clothing

While furniture rental may not be common in every city right now, clothing rental has exploded online.

Rent the Runway popularized the concept of renting high-end dresses for special occasions, but the trend has spread to everyday attire.

Even traditional retailers like Ann Taylor and Express are now offering clothing subscriptions. The prices vary.

We spoke to one clothing renter, Heather Preonos, who uses the service Gwynnie Bee. She pays $85 per month for four pieces at a time.

“I kind of priced out what I was spending on clothes I owned throughout the year and it’s about the same,” Preonas said.

She said the advantage is that she always has something new to wear without feeling like she’s accumulating too much.

Renting isn't necessarily for everyone

But not everyone feels renting is so practical.

We spoke to women shopping in the Cherry Creek neighborhood. Blake Fiske said finding things that fit her tall frame is difficult.

“When I find something, I generally buy it in multiple colors or patterns,” Fiske said.

Kelly Schier also felt the rental concept wouldn’t work for her.

“I feel like I get attached to my clothes once I get them and I would probably just want to keep everything,” she said.

Darrin Duber-Smith, a marketing professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said he doesn’t believe the desire to own things will ever disappear.

“We’re gatherers, hunter gatherers, and we are actually hard-wired, this is true, to collect things,” he explained.

Duber-Smith feels the rental trend is something that’s been driven by millennials who are said to prefer experiences over physical things. But he believes that could change as they get older.

“Lots of purchases have been delayed,” he said. “I believe there are some categories where we will say, 'I’m willing to share this,' and there are other categories where we’ll say, 'You know what, I want my own.'”

Renting baby gear, toys and more

It’s true that some things are hard to imagine renting. Michelle Frisch, the owner of Baby Stay Rentals, warns that people need to be careful about making sure items they rent meet are safe.

“Car seats and strollers and a few other items have expiration dates, so we have to be very careful of expiration dates and making sure everything is within regulation,” Frisch said.

Her company rents baby gear and toys, and she says most customers are visiting Denver from out of town. But she says it’s also a great way to “try before you buy.”

Many rental services exist for baby gear, sports equipment, and even toys like Legos.

For a growing number of people, renting means freedom. For others, buying offers the comfort of knowing an item is for keeps.

But as we enter the holiday shopping season, it’s certainly a trend that’s shaking up traditional consumerism.