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From Pivot Magazine

To rent or buy? That is the question

Ottawa-based Ruckify is looking to disrupt the gig market and usher in a rental revolution

Illustrated hand holding a yellow drill on a red backgroundRuckify provides an income boost for its renters, with the top earners bringing in almost $2,000 per quarter (Illustration Dan Parsons)

The Ottawa-based rental platform Ruckify was just about to launch in Austin, Texas, when COVID-19 sent its plans into chaos. And, if this was true for most businesses in the face of a deadly viral outbreak, it felt particularly true for a company that makes its money lending out other people’s stuff. 

“Initially there was definitely a thought of, Oh no—who wants to share during a pandemic?” says Ruckify CFO Dean Cosman. But, as time passed, hardships began to present themselves as opportunities. “With gyms shuttered and so many people wanting to exercise, we approached fitness pros about signing up,” says Cosman. Used treadmills and dumbbells became hot items, along with recreational vehicles and water sports equipment. 

Initial pandemic panic notwithstanding, 2020 was a big year for the now four-year-old company, founded in 2017 as a joint venture between Steve Cody (Marketplace Studio) and Bruce Linton (Canopy Growth), who both own homes in the same Ottawa neighbourhood. One day following a storm, Linton found himself in need of a large chainsaw to help cut up a tree that had landed in front of Cody’s house. He pondered with Cody over why it wasn’t easier to find someone in the area with the appropriate power tool to lend and, because both men are serial entrepreneurs, the unmet need quickly became a new business venture.

The concept is simple: “Airbnb for things,” as Linton has described it. Owners post items, renters pay to borrow and Ruckify takes a commission, usually 10 per cent, for facilitating the transaction.  The company is now operational in 200 markets across North America with a focus on key growth areas in Ottawa, Calgary, Nashville, Tenn., and Austin. With nearly $20 million in funding, all signs point to a public offering on the TSX Venture Exchange in 2021—further evidence that the rental revolution is upon us.

This shift in consumer attitudes was already well-established. We share our living spaces (Airbnb), our cars (Uber), our clothing (Rent the Runway) and now our gadgets and power tools. According to a recent report from Statista, the global sharing economy is predicted to hit US$335 billion by 2025, up from US$15 billion in 2014. 

The rise of the rental market dovetails with other key consumer trends, particularly when you look at millennial and Gen Z consumers. “This is a cohort that is very interested in sustainability, which is a clear advantage of rental,” says FCPA Daniel Baer, Canadian assurance consumer products and retail leader at EY, who specializes in retail markets.

Real estate is another motivator. “When you look at the size of property that people are living in these days, especially in urban centres—not a lot of young professionals have garage space,” Baer explains. Short-term rentals, especially of bulky items like kayaks and power tools, just make sense. 

And, of course, the so-called Instagram effect has also played a key role, as many younger consumers value experiences over possessions. “That means maybe you want to rent a particular car for the drive from Toronto to Montreal, but you’re not wanting to have it forever,” Baer says. The desire for instant gratification is well-served when you can pay less to have it now. Baer notes the rise of the art rental market: “Maybe, rather than spending on something that you’ll love forever, you want to switch it up every few months.” 

Does this mean the end of ownership? In the luxury and high-end markets, it’s unlikely, says Baer. Compared to low- and medium-income earners, that demographic has seen minimal slump, if any, in their post-pandemic purchasing power. And, while most rental companies, including Ruckify, have introduced protocols around health and safety, subsectors like clothing rental may have trouble regaining consumer confidence. 

At the same time, economic insecurity has meant a lot more people are interested in monetizing the assets they have. “The top quartile of our owners-renters brings in an average of $1,950 per quarter, which is pretty significant when you’re dealing with economic stresses,” says Cosman.  It makes sense: the rental market emerged during the Great Depression and both Uber and Airbnb launched during the last economic downturn. The COVID-19 crisis has given us all sorts of reasons to rebuild a better world where sharing our things, if not our germs, is the new normal. 


Find out why old analog favourites like sports trading cards and binoculars have become such a big business. Plus, read about the parcel delivery service that scaled up to meet huge demand.