In business, Bonnie Worthington might be considered a disruptor. The business model used by RV Rental Connection turns the traditional one used by other RV rental companies on its head.
But the single mother from Chico, Calif., doesn’t see it that way. Her business, she says, connects RV owners seeking to rent their RVs with those who want to rent them, just as her more traditional RV rental competitors do. But there is a twist.
RV Rental Connection’s tagline — Rent the RV. Own the Experience. — summarizes the business’ intent. The startup allows RV owners to rent their RVs as small business owners, as opposed to signing on with a company who rents the RV for owners and then collects a portion of the profits.
Worthington’s clients pay a $15 monthly charge to profile their recreational vehicles on the RV Rental Connection site, found at www.rvrentalconnection.com. Visitors to the site peruse available rentals and can connect directly with the owners via email to ask questions and arrange a rental.
“We are very different than the traditional peer-to-peer websites, which all take a percentage of the rental fee and actually control the transactions and take their cut before the owners get their money,” she said. “RV Rental Connection doesn’t take a percentage of their rental fees. We are strictly a subscription-based model. There are no hidden fees or costs beyond that.”
Her innovative business model attracted the notice of The Stevie Awards for Women in Business in 2017, where Worthington found herself and her company taking home not one, but four, awards, including: Startup of the Year, Company of the Year with 10 employees or less, Female Entrepreneur of the Year and Maverick of the Year.
Worthington states she was honored to be standing among great female leaders from companies like Microsoft, Verizon and DHL, but admits she knew “RV Rental Connection stood a very good chance of winning” because the company “has a great website and offers a great value for people” and because there really is “nothing else like it out there.”
She added in a comment to the Chico Enterprise Record after winning the award, “In the vehicle-sharing economy — businesses like Uber – are thought of as disruptors. The Stevie Awards thought of us as the ‘disruptors’ disruptor’ because in the peer-to-peer RV rental market, we are disrupting the disruptors.”
Customers come first
Since its launch in 2016, RV Rental Connection has experienced phenomenal growth. It has RV owners in 33 states and Canada and adds more every day.
The fact her business helps connect would-be renters to available RVs rentals is the icing on the cake for Worthington, who states she once struggled to rent an RV in her area.
She recalls looking for an RV and, upon learning their cost, deciding to rent one first. “I could not find one to rent any closer than Los Angeles,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘I am not going to fly into Los Angeles and then drive that thing back here to go camping.’”
Worthington had a strong background in the vacation rental business already and had been looking into building her own vacation rental business, when it hit her that she could do the same thing for RV rentals. After all, she says, “an RV rental is just a vacation rental on wheels.”
“I had already started building a vacation rental website with Shari Thurow, a world-renowned information architect, so I reached out to her and told her my idea. She told me to go for it, so we switched everything over to RV Rental Connection,” she recalled.
Besides for being subscription based, Worthington’s business model differs from its RV rental peers because the firm teaches subscribers how to run their own RV rental businesses.
She explains, “In the peer-to-peer world, owners typically make their income through nightly rents, additional miles; extra generator hours; add-on rentals such as grills, external televisions and so on; and the RV rental companies take a percentage of that income. It usually starts at 20-25 percent and dials back as an owner adds more RVs to rent.”
RV Rental Connection, however, allows these same owners to keep the money they earn for their RV rentals and the add-ons.
“What we do is teach them how to do email marketing, social media marketing, electronic contracts, how to take payments and things like that,” she says. “We also teach them how to screen renters, get good reviews, and more.”
RV Rental Connection accomplishes this through newsletters, blogs and personal conversations designed to help subscribers do business smarter and provide a high level of customer service to their renters.
Worthington also walks owners through getting insurance for their RVs. She explains RV Rental Connection requires adequate RV insurance coverage to participate in the service. To that end, she points subscribers to companies she has vetted herself. But ultimately, she leaves the decision to the owners.
Once they’ve established their businesses, RV Rental Connection helps its subscribers find renters.
“Our tagline is: We work hard so you don’t have to,” she explained. “RV owners are doing other things. We help them create a listing and then we bring the would-be renters to them.”
Worthington believes so much in what she is doing that the RV Rental Connection offers a money-back guarantee. “I don’t want anybody’s money if I can’t create value for them,” she says. “If I didn’t help them, they can have their money back. We make our money on subscriptions, so we just have to continually market and attract new members.”
Variety of rentals
RV Rental Connection’s owners offer every kind of RV imaginable, from Class As to Class Cs. But there are some versions that are more popular than others, Worthington admitted.
“Everybody seems to love a Class C or a Class A, but mostly Class Cs because a Class A can be scary to drive for some people,” she explained. “They also seem to love trailers, if they have a way to tow it. Some of our renters do offer delivery and set up for trailers, which is another service they charge for.”
One RV that is increasing in popularity, she adds, is the teardrop trailer. “Everyone loves those things because they are so darn cute,” she says. “I’m actually looking at getting another one to rent out myself.”
Growth expected to continue
The vehicle sharing economy is becoming increasingly popular, she adds. Most people do not hesitate anymore to consider renting their vehicles; renting out their RVs is a logical extension of that.
The number of people interested in renting versus owning also continues to grow, she said, noting there are several reasons behind the increased interest in renting an RV versus owning one.
First, the cost to own an RV can be as much as a sticks-and-bricks house. “That’s a lot of money to spend if you can’t use it very often,” said Worthington. “And that’s what happens to a lot of people. They buy one, but they can’t go on vacation all the time, and it’s hard to haul it out for a weekend here and there. So, they rent instead.”
Second, there are so many versions of RVs to choose from. When spending that amount of money, many potential owners want to be doubly sure they are truly buying what they want and need before signing on the dotted line. Renting a similar RV first is a good way to do that.
Finally, there is also what she calls the “whole millennial thing.” “Millennials don’t always want to own things,” she said. “They just want to rent them.”
She also points out that people increasingly see that RV rentals can be used for more than just camping. Taking one to a youth sports event can save money on lodging and food. Or they can be used to tailgate at a sports game or to house overnight guests when the house is already full.
“The options are endless, and the interest in renting continues to grow,” she said. “Our phone rings quite often with people knowing only that they want to rent an RV for this or that. We talk to them and steer them toward the type of RV that best fits their unique situation.”