January 11, 2016

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The Sharing Economy

Peer-to-peer Commerce is Shaking up Traditional Business Models

By Sarah Ryther Francom

January 11, 2016

Is your garage filled with outdoor rec toys you only pull out once or twice a year? What about your fruit trees—did any apples rot on your ground last season? How about your home? Do you have a spare bedroom that’s collecting dust? If so, the sharing economy could be your ticket to turn these unused items into extra income.

Also known as the people economy, collaborative consumption and peer-to-peer commerce, among other names, the sharing economy is an emerging business model that allows individuals to rent or borrow goods from other individuals rather than buy or own them. The peer-to-peer transaction works through an app or internet platform, such as GearLope (for your unused outdoor toys), SLC Fruitshare (for your uneaten apples) and Airbnb (for that spare bedroom).

“We all have stuff—cars, yard tools, clothes. The sharing economy lets us share what we have so we all don’t have to buy the same stuff. It’s becoming a more and more significant part of our economy,” says Mike Glauser, executive director of the Clark Center for Entrepreneurship at Utah State University.

The sharing economy has expanded rapidly across the globe, affecting nearly every industry. From giants like ride-hailing company Uber to small startups like Park City-based PigeonShip (a delivery service platform), the sharing economy has touched nearly every community—and it’s expected to get even more popular. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in fact, anticipates the sharing economy will soon see $110 billion in global transactions.

While many are excited about the innumerable opportunities the sharing economy presents to ordinary people, the emerging business model has plenty of critics who denounce it as exploitative and unregulated. Time will tell how impactful the sharing economy will be, but one thing is already clear: It is transforming the way we do business and the way we live.

Personal Connections

As Jared Overton drove from St. George to Salt Lake with a friend’s set of golf clubs in the back, he had an idea. “I was thinking of what I had done, carrying the golf clubs, knowing that there’s probably dozens of people every day who need something delivered, and hundreds of vehicles headed in that direction. If there’s a way to match the two up, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

In 2011, Overton crafted a business plan for PigeonShip, which he describes as an, “Uber-style, crowd-sourced pickup and delivery service. … We encourage the general public to make some extra money by picking up and delivering anything you want.”

Today, Overton says PigeonShip has a larger Utah fleet than UPS. “We’ve gone from basically zero packages in month one to well over 400. We’ve had triple-digit growth for several months. We have about 200 pigeons [drivers] joining every month.”

Bill Mastin, founder of GearLope, an outdoor equipment sharing company, has a similar story to PigeonShip’s beginning. “I wanted to take my kids on a canoe trip on Jordanelle. We didn’t have a raft or a boat, so I bought something from REI. Driving up the canyon, I thought, ‘I don’t even have a place to store this in my house.’ It came to me that [outdoor products] would be such a perfect place to have a sharing economy business. And that was the start of it all.”

Park City-based GearLope was launched at the close of 2014 and has seen steady growth. “We probably have close to $400,000 worth of gear and a few hundred users in the site. We’ve had good momentum in building the gear listings. With every listing it becomes more attractive to the people who are going to use the site.”

GearLope and PigeonShip have distinct services, but they both embody what the sharing economy is: ordinary people using internet-enabled platforms to rent or “share” goods or services with other ordinary people. GearLope and PigeonShip are simply the technology platforms to help people make the transaction. But what really separates these companies apart from traditional businesses is the personal connection created between provider and consumer.

“When someone comes to pick up and deliver your item, they’re not a UPS driver with 150 boxes in the back—it’s your item and their car. And you know that they’ll take extreme care of your item, as if it’s their personal item,” says Overton. “It’s much more comforting.”

Mastin describes a time when he rented a kayak from a neighbor he had never met using the GearLope platform. “He spent 30 minutes talking to me about how to work it and where to put in, and told me about his Canada trips. That whole conversation happened outside of the site,” he says. “The event [sharing an outdoor product] is an experience. I spend time with this person, and he spends time talking to me.”

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