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ZOZI Advance is the fastest growing web-based reservation, payment, and customer management platform used by thousands of activity, tour, and event merchants.

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Blair Franklin

When you specialize in online booking software for rental companies, you come across a smorgasbord of interesting and innovative business models. From people who turned their passion into a career, from folks looking to supplement a full-tim gig, the possibilities are far-reaching and fun to explore. 

If you're entertaining the idea of starting rental venture, but overwhelmed by the options and need a little inspiration to get the entrepreneurial juices flowing, we put together a variety of ideas based on what we've come across in this industry—from outdoorsy, to ultra niche, to hobby-based. Happy brainstorming! 

1. Party Boat

Sure, we've heard the saying: The two best days of owning a boat are the day you buy it, and the day you sell it. But whoever said that didn't dip their toe into the boat rental market!

Photo courtesy of Pontoon Party Tub

Photo courtesy of Pontoon Party Tub

Take our enterprising friends at Pontoon Party Tub in Newport Beach, for example: They took a pontoon boat and turned it into a floating Shangri-La, complete with eco-friendly jacuzzi, comfy chairs and an old wine barrel that doubles as an ice chest/table for your wine and snacks.

We're also big fans of this custom-built, double-decker Pontoon Porch in Wisconsin, which accommodates up to 30 passengers with a roomy porch, a grill, sound system, trap door for fishing/swimming, and luxury seating. With a houseboat or party boat, think about all the types of customers you can cater to: Family reunions, bachelor/bachelorette parties, corporate outings, etc. 

2. Luxury/Party Bus

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
— Mark Twain

This has same appeal as party boats, but for landlubbers. Luxury buses make the mode of transportation a destination all on its own. Not only is there a year-round market for this type of service, it's a fun opportunity to add your own sense of style and whimsy to a proven business model. For example, we've seen entrepreneurs purchase old school buses and convert them into the ultimate party mobiles—especially perfect for transporting wedding guests in between venues (check out Jump on the School Bus in Santa Barbara, they're awesome).

If you're going for sleek and sophisticated, consider a personalized chauffeured luxury car service. You can always start small with one vehicle, and build your fleet from there.

Tip: There are a number of factors that need to be considered for this market, such as staffing your drivers, insurance, legal compliances and drawing up a detailed business plan that identifies your target customer base (for example—wine tasters, sightseers, wedding parties, etc). But this proven business model can be sustainable, profitable (and fun!) if you invest the time and effort in doing it right.

3. Mobile Beverage Systems

Photo courtesy of Draft Drop

Photo courtesy of Draft Drop

Some people like to party at the bar—but businesses like Draft Drop will bring the bar to your party. We love their simple business model, which offers four core rental options, along with possible add-ons during the checkout flow (plastic stadium cups, take-home growlers, whiskey barrel trash cans, etc). The tap party trailers cater to larger groups like weddings, golf tournaments and festivals, while the two- and one-tap systems are perfect for small-group tailgating, picnics, barbecues, etc. When you base your business around a commodity that's always going to be in demand (beer!) you're thinking like an entrepreneur. 

4. Party Supplies

The possibilities in this category are as colorful as a fistful of confetti. Think about it: Most folks don't have chocolate fountains and bouncy castles and bubble machines stowed away in their hallway closet (wait, you do? Can we come over?). 

When it's time to throw a shindig, people turn to vendors. Whether you want to specialize in one specific thing that generates income on its own (audio equipment, for example) or accumulate an inventory of supplies, this particular rental market has lots of flexibility—and opportunity. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Concessions machines (popcorn, cotton candy, snow cone, chocolate fountain, slushies/margaritas

  • Bouncy houses 

  • Audio equipment

  • Smoke machines

  • Tents, tables, chairs

  • CO2 Tanks

  • Bubble machine

  • Karaoke machine

  • Interactive games

5. Party Character Rentals

You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.
— Zig Ziglar

Speaking of parties: Chuckle all you want at the idea of employing Spiderman or Snow White or SpongeBob Squarepants, but managing a party character rental company can mean serious business. After all, who can put a price on fulfilling the birthday dreams of little kids? (You can). If you're already researching the idea of establishing a party supply rental business, character rentals can be a lucrative add-on to expand into down the road. 

6. Outdoor Activity/Sporting/Fitness Equipment

Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Anglers

Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Anglers

Wide open spaces...wide open possibilities! In this particular category, the best place to start is by considering the natural conditions of where you’re based. Wherever you are, there’s probably an activity that suits your surroundings. If you're an outdoorsy type, this is a rewarding way to stay immersed in what you love, share your passion with other people, and bring in some extra income. Consider...

  • Near a river/lake: Fishing equipment

  • Near a snow resort: Ski/snowboard/snowshoeing/tubing gear

  • Near mountain range/rocky area: Climbing gear

  • Near an ocean: Surfboards/boogie boards/hand planes/wetsuits/snorkel gear

  • Near a national park: Hiking gear

  • Near sand dunes: Sandboards/sandsleds 

7. Watercrafts

Speaking of you outdoorsy types, where there's a body of water, there's a (rental) way. If being out on the big blue puts a big 'ol smile on your face, it's time to float some ideas—think canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, standup paddle boards, and (our personal favorite) mega SUPs! Start small—a part-time business could get by with a livery of just five boats to begin with.

Take the time really refine your customer experience, nail down basic business operations, and separate yourself from the competition before expanding your inventory. Entrepreneur.com estimates the startup costs for this business are $10,000 - $50,000.

Tip: A few things to think about as you explore this possibility—read up on the rules and regulations of watercraft rentals in your state, on-water liability insurance, and look for an organization that can provide community and insight along your journey, such as the Stand Up Paddle Industry Association or the American Kayaking Association. This type of rental business can also be set up in several different operating formats. 

8. Electric Scooters/Segways/e-Bikes

If you've got some mechanical aptitude and live near a highly-trafficked area that attracts a lot of tourists, renting out mopeds, Segways or electric bikes is a practical venture to consider. These types of vehicles are comfortable, user-friendly and just plain fun, making them appealing to a variety of people and thus broadening your customer base. Scooter tours are very popular in vacation spots and adult playgrounds like Las Vegas and Hawaii, and Segways remain a popular tourism staple in tech hubs like Austin and San Francisco. If you're looking to get started quickly, do a little research into franchise opportunities that could give your business a fast track to earnings, profits and growth.

Tip: Reach out to someone who owns a scooter, Segway or e-bike rental business in an area that won't be competitive with your business. The business owner might be more inclined to give you some tips and advice on getting started. 

9. ATVs

Photo courtesy of Red Rock ATV Rentals

Photo courtesy of Red Rock ATV Rentals

ATV’s, or all-terrain vehicles, are popular all over the country, from the woods of New York to the lush expanses of Hawaii. And while they present some startup challenges, they offer exhilarating appeal for tourists who really want to get immersed in their surroundings. eHow points out that the best spot for renting ATVs is "close to designated off-road areas or back country recreational locations where the machines are allowed. Check with the state or federal agency that manages the area to determine what permits or licenses are required if you operate within the boundaries of the park or national forest."

10. Photo Booths

If you push through that feeling of being scared, that feeling of taking risk, really amazing things can happen.
— Marissa Mayer

If you’ve been to a wedding in the past sevenish-ish years, you know that photo booths are as much a staple as the DJ, the cake, the bouquet toss, and that one weird uncle from Minnesota who makes an awkward speech. The photo booth fad doesn't appear to be fading out of the picture anytime soon, which makes it a promising side gig to explore—especially if you value flexibility and fun. 

Some photo booth operators say they rake in about $100 an hour gross profit before taxes are accounted for. This entrepreneur says he makes about $1,000 for working two events in one weekend. Downside? It can dig into your social life, since most weddings and corporate events take place on weekends. 

Tip: To see what kind of return on investment you could get, check out this nifty calculator designed specifically for photo booth operators.

11. GoPros & Accessories Tripods/Rigs/Harnesses To Go With Them

Offering GoPros, and all the cool doo-dads to go with them (drones, harnesses, mounts, floating hand grips, etc.) is a great way to cater to thrill-seeking adventurers who want to document and share their excursions on social media. And while the hardcore Shaun White types probably have an arsenal of their own photography goodies, this GoPro rental business rightly points out that "renting a GoPro is the cheapest option for recording HD action video without buying expensive equipment." We love the innovative approach from our friends at Underwater Memories in South Florida. They assembled a customized GoPro rig that allows snorkelers and scuba divers to take awesome photos and video underwater.

12. Glamping or Camping Gear

Photo courtesy of Stout Tent

Photo courtesy of Stout Tent

There are two types of people in this world: People who camp, and people who don't camp, but tag along every once in awhile because they were invited, and don't own so much as a headlamp or sleeping bag. The latter is your meal ticket. This rental model is especially viable if you (1) live near a popular camping destination, or (2) live in a big city where people are inclined to get out of town and spend a week in the wilderness. Granted, you'll be competing with big names like REI and Sports Basement, but there's plenty of room for competition! Keep in mind: Quality/cleanliness of gear, and allowing your customers to conveniently check out items online will be hugely important to the success of your business. Check out our pals at Stout Tent for a cool example of a glamping rental business. 

13. Bikes

Photo courtesy of Bright Angel Bicycles

Photo courtesy of Bright Angel Bicycles

A bike rental business is a smart option if you live in an area with extensive bike trails (Cape Cod, for example, is an area with loads of bike tourism). Take a note from our clients at Bright Angel Bicycle and think about what kinds of add-ons you can offer to boost sales: tag-alongs or trailers for the kiddos, strollers, dog trailers, and fat bikes for the winter (if you live in an area with snow) are all things to consider. You can even put together packages that includes refreshments and a round-trip shuttle pickup/drop-off.

14. Cake Stand Rentals

Look at all the blingy bling on these cake stands! Elevate the Cake saw a market for this and went for it, pointing out that "since hundreds of dollars are often spent on the cake, why have it displayed on cardboard, plastic, or nothing at all?" Not only that, who wants to buy a cake stand if they're only going to use once?

Look at all the blingy bling on these cake stands! Elevate the Cake saw a market for this and went for it, pointing out that "since hundreds of dollars are often spent on the cake, why have it displayed on cardboard, plastic, or nothing at all?" Not only that, who wants to buy a cake stand if they're only going to use once?

No question about it: The best work is the kind you enjoy. Nothing delights us more than when we partner with a client who turned their passion into a business, like our friends at Elevate The Cake. Cake stands are actually a hot commodity in the wedding planning business, and your crafty designs can be the cornerstone of someone’s perfectly planned nuptials. Seriously—the fact that there is an Internet article called "a guide to wedding cake stands" proves there's a market for this kind of thing. Bottom line: If there's something you love to make, don't rule out the possibility that someone might want to rent it!

15. Pipe Rentals

The legalization of recreational marijuana in several U.S. states has created a new market for cannabis enthusiasts. One of our partners, Elevated Rental, has taken this idea to the bank by offering high-quality bongs and vaporizers—an appealing option for casual smokers looking to try out advanced and expensive equipment.

And remember...

A number of the aforementioned business models can also be set up in several different operating formats, so consider the following, as it could influence what type of rental idea you ultimately decide to pursue. Consider if you'd rather...

  • Supply rentals to hotels, and split the revenue 

  • Operate the rental business from a rented location (e.g. even if you don't own waterfront property, that doesn't mean you can't operate a watercraft rental business)

  • Run the rental business directly out of your home and advertise that people can pick up directly from you, or that you'll deliver the gear to a pre-arranged location 

*****

Starting your own rental business can be one of the most challenging—and rewarding—things you ever decide to take on. For every step of the way, there's a wealth of resources out there to help you succeed. Next up: Check out 21 of our favorite free online tools to help your venture grow: 

 
 
 
 

Blair Franklin

Blair is the Production Manager for ZOZI. In her past life she was a tech marketing writer, a newspaper editor, award-winning journalist, and general hooligan. She likes drinking Buffalo Trace Whiskey and snowboarding, preferably at the same time.