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RVezy, Dealer Partnerships Boost Online Rental Marketplace

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The following is a report from the Ottawa Business Journal.

As sales of RVs fall across Canada, an Ottawa startup that connects RV owners with renters via an online marketplace is using its platform to steer potential customers toward dealerships.

Founded in 2016, RVezy lists more than 15,000 RVs, tent trailers and campers for rent in Canada and the United States.

The company, which charges a 20% service fee for each transaction, boomed during the pandemic as travel-starved North Americans flocked to the site when COVID-19 restrictions curtailed air travel and made staying in hotels and Airbnbs less palatable. As a result, RVezy, which has about 80 full-time employees, saw its revenues grow nearly 40% between 2021 and 2023.

CEO and co-founder Will Thompson said revenues have been “normalizing” over the past year as other forms of vacationing make a comeback. But he expects traffic to get a bump this summer, thanks to a new partnership with a segment of the industry that once considered RVezy a major source of competition: RV dealerships.

Last fall, his firm quietly launched a new marketplace that connects private sellers and RV dealers from across Canada and the U.S. with consumers who can rent the vehicles through RVezy as a “test drive” before deciding whether to buy them. RVezy has since inked partnerships with close to 20 groups representing hundreds of dealerships.

Thompson believes the concept will be a hit with consumers and dealers alike.

“It’s never been done before where you can rent (RVs) before you buy,” he said. “Which, when you think about it, is bonkers. You’re going to drop $45,000 for a trailer and you’ll never even test drive it? I think, just like how we really revolutionized for the first time in Canada the concept of the sharing economy for RVs…I think we’re going to do the same thing on the purchasing of RVs.”

RVezy doesn’t charge dealers to list their vehicles, instead generating income from rental fees. The company also sells leads to dealerships, steering them toward “high intent” customers who’ve rented from RVezy and seem keen on buying.

“It’s going to drive more sales,” Thompson said. “It’s that beautiful kind of symbiotic (relationship).”

The move comes as RV dealerships look to reverse a recent decline in sales that followed a pandemic-fueled bump. According to the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) of Canada, sales of new RVs fell 20% last year compared with 2022, as inflation and rising interest rates eroded Canadians’ disposable income.

Eleonore Hamm, the association’s president, said RVezy’s new marketplace might help would-be buyers who are “a little bit reluctant” to purchase a vehicle decide if RVing is the route they want to take.

“Sometimes they’re not sure, you know, ‘Is it for me? How does it drive?’” Hamm said. “Renting is really a great opportunity to try the experience first to see what it’s like.”

RVezy also offers financing options to buyers as well as exclusive discounts on new vehicles purchased from its partners. Such close linkages with dealerships weren’t something the firm’s founders anticipated when the platform launched eight years ago.

“When we first started the rental business, the dealers looked at us as competition,” said Malcolm Salmon, RVezy’s director of growth. “They weren’t really open to working with us. That really has switched.”

The brainchild of Thompson and former Ottawa police officer Michael McNaught, RVezy has won plenty of other admirers for its “Airbnb for RVs” concept.

The firm’s financial backers include Dragons’ Den star Michele Romanow and Vancouver billionaire Markus Frind, founder of dating site Plentyoffish.com, who has invested tens of millions of dollars in the Ottawa enterprise since 2019.

In 2022, Waterloo-based innovation hub Communitech included RVezy on its list of Canadian businesses with the potential to reach $1 billion in annual revenues. That might seem like a lofty target, but Thompson said the hallowed $1-billion mark “doesn’t seem so audacious” when he looks at RVezy’s total market opportunity.

A couple of years ago, for example, the company introduced an option that allows renters to have RVs driven to and from a specific site by their owners.

Read the full report from the Ottawa Business Journal here.

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