Bob Weber of the Portland Tool Library loans out wheelbarrows and hammers, while Robin Koch of Kitchen Share SE works the cider press/meat grinder front.
// Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
When eBay and Amazon first launched, people balked at the idea of surrendering their credit card information to the Web. But after the system worked enough times, people grew comfortable, and online shopping became so commonplace that brick-and-mortar stores had to adapt their strategies. Now, a decade later, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like, most people are exceedingly comfortable sharing personal information with social networks online.
Many expect the same dynamic to take root in the collaborative economy. And as sharing businesses figure out how to build trust and overcome the obstacles they’re up against, an increasing number of mainstream businesses are looking to get in on the sharing action.
In August 2011, Avis began offering Avis On Location, a short-term car rental program on select corporate campuses throughout the U.S. Hertz developed Hertz On Demand 24/7, also a short-term car rental program, in six U.S. cities, including New York, San Francisco and Denver. And the world’s largest retailer, WalMart, is toying with the idea of crowd-sourcing delivery, hiring in-store customers to deliver packages to online buyers.
Commercial sharing businesses, run by regulars like you and me, are incredibly disruptive to the traditional system, says Gutmann. “Peer-to-peer car sharing puts a damper on the demand for traditional car sharing, traditional car rental and, ultimately, on automotive sales,” he says.
At least for now, Avis plans to keep the Zipcar operation completely separate from its existing rental business, according to John Barrows, the company’s VP of communications. Though Zipcar will reap the benefits of Avis’ infrastructure and experience with large fleets, Barrows says, “we view car-sharing as a different business model from our core Avis and Budget car rental businesses, as we serve different customer needs.”
While much remains to be seen when it comes to the merging of sharing and mainstream businesses, most big companies are looking out for opportunities, says the Sustainable Business Council’s Brodwin. “They didn’t dominate their industries by being stupid and backward,” he says. “They will have to ask themselves how they want to respond.”
As sharing and traditional enterprises figure out how they relate to one another, both will have to adapt and adjust, likely meeting somewhere in the middle. A response to the needs and desires that emerged over the last decade, collaborative consumption takes advantage of cutting-edge technology to feed people’s need to save/earn money while simultaneously decluttering their lives, reducing their impact on the environment and positioning them to forge human connections. At the same time, the new system is built around yet-to-be-resolved contradictions — because it monetizes the traditionally moneyless interaction of sharing and converts consumers into entrepreneurs.
But if the path forward is not clear-cut, the core of the sharing model shows no signs of dissolving — especially since so many entities are staking their claims, from startups like Bright Neighbor to big companies like Avis to private individuals like the Jovanovics.
Back on my smartphone, I feel overwhelmed with the borrowing possibilities a finger swipe away. The backyard cottage for rent among a grove of fruit trees on Mount Tabor is very tempting, as is a beefy ’96 pickup just four blocks up the road. I know I’d enjoy using the movie projector, screen and speakers offered by another neighbor, a man half a mile south. And the Old Town canoe with two life jackets included? I’d love to.