Ottawa online RV rental venture on road to success

Bid to turn idle motorhome into revenue source spawns Airbnb-like site for RVs with hundreds of members and bold U.S. expansion plans

If you’re the owner of a recreational vehicle that gets to stretch its legs for a few weeks each year but spends the rest of the time in the garage, an Ottawa startup has an idea for you.

RVezy is an online marketplace that connects RV owners with people who are looking to rent, offering an Airbnb-type service that costs renters only about half as much as a traditional RV rental company and helps offset the costs involved with motorhome ownership.

Owning a motorhome certainly isn’t cheap. A new RV generally costs upwards of $60,000, and depending on its age and other factors, it could need another $2,000 or so per year in upkeep. That’s without factoring in additional costs such as insurance and fuel.

“I quickly realized that I’m using (my RV) two weeks out of the year. So I thought, I have rental properties – why can’t I rent out my motorhome?”

Meanwhile, renting an RV from a dealer costs an average of $2,500 to $3,000 for a week-long vacation – roughly double the cost of renting a vehicle through RVezy.

“We want to make RV travel affordable,” says RVezy founder Michael McNaught.

Mr. McNaught, a police officer, bought his own motorhome a few years ago to use with his family.

“I quickly realized that I’m using it two weeks out of the year. So I thought, I have rental properties – why can’t I rent out my motorhome?”

$8,000 in six weeks

When he put the RV up for rent online, he made more than $8,000 in six weeks.

“I thought, I’m onto something,” he says. “Why is there such a market for my motorhome?”

The only problem was that complete strangers were sending him thousands of dollars without the two sides even meeting each other, and he had no way of checking their driver’s licences or driving history.

That led to the launch of RVezy. The website has now been running for 12 months; so far, more than 300 users across Canada have signed up to rent out their motorhomes. Mr. McNaught says that this year, the company will pay out more than $500,000 to those people.

“That’s a half-million dollars back into the economy, back into the owners’ pockets,” he says.

RVezy acts as an intermediary between owner and renter. The website lets potential renters browse through the selection of available motorhomes and find the one that’s right for them; once they do, the company then makes sure everything checks out with both the owner and the renter, and that there are no surprises on either end. There are no membership costs; RVezy charges a service fee on each transaction.

The firm has also developed an insurance product that mimics that of Uber. Once an RV is rented out, it falls under RVezy’s insurance policy; when it’s returned, it goes back under the owner’s insurance. That goes a long way in making owners feel comfortable about renting out their property, meaning they’ll be more encouraged to use RVezy, Mr. McNaught says.

The 10-person, mostly bootstrapped company is in growth mode, doing plenty of outreach at festivals, jamborees, RV shows and campgrounds. RVezy is adding new members daily, Mr. McNaught says, adding the company will be expanding into the United States “fairly soon.”

The RV industry in Canada has “performed well” over the last five years, claiming $3 billion in revenue and annual growth of 3.9 per cent, according to a report by market research firm IBISWorld. The industry is expected to continue to grow, thanks to several factors, including the retirement of many baby boomers – a generation with high purchasing power entering a prime time for RV vacations.

But a motorhome that isn’t being used for weeks or months at a time is a missed opportunity, Mr. McNaught points out. If it’s rented out, it might even pay for itself. He says some of RVezy’s members are making up to $30,000 a year off renting their vehicles.

“We’re actually putting money back into the everyday working Canadian’s pocket.”