Mumbai

Travel gear on rent

How many times has it happened that you are on a vacation, clicking pictures with your cellphone and a fellow traveller stands right next to you, with a state-of-the-art SLR? Or for that matter, you go stargazing, and so wish you had a cozy sleeping bag instead of the bulky blanket you are carrying?

When 40-year-old Manan Shah was in Bolivia with his wife on vacation, he realised a major flaw in the way he was travelling. There were Europeans on the trip with smart luggage — essentials packed in backpacks with the best possible space utilisation. Mr. Shah and his wife, however, were carrying luggage that occupied more space in the vehicle than people.

“I used to travel widely due to professional reasons and every time I saw foreigners, the thing that struck me most was their luggage,” says Mr. Shah, a former investment banker. They had smart backpacks with slots for every possible thing, and you didn’t have to remove everything to get to something from the bottom.

After years of observation and experience, Mr. Shah quit his job with KPMG in 2015 and started a venture with an aim to help Indians travel smart without investing too much.

In May 2016, Mr. Shah started Bragpacker, a startup that provides travel-related things on rent. The listings include camping gear, backpacks, SLR cameras and baby care products, along with various other accessories available on rent at prices that are a fraction of what one would have to pay to buy them.

“Almost every day, we spend four to five hours researching the products. We bring to India the best brands available globally. It’s not the usual stuff that you will see in upmarket stores selling travel gear,” says Mr. Shah.

Brands like Deuter, LowePro, Tatonka, Case Logic, Victorinox, Thule, Aquapac and Samsonite, and popular camera brands like Nikon, Fujifilm and Canon are available on rent.

The startup also has, among its offerings, cameras by GoPro that cost nearly ₹40,000. The GoPro Hero4 model is available for rent starting at ₹490 a day. The most expensive product listed on Bragpacker is a Canon 5D Mark III camera that costs more than ₹2 lakh and is available for a daily rental of ₹2,500.

“Along with a camera, we give memory cards, fully-charged batteries, spares and a case. All the required accessories are part of the deal,” says Mr. Shah, adding that all gadgets are original, professionally cleaned and delivered on time.

The startup boasts of a delivery time as short as two hours in most parts of the city. Currently, the services are available only in Mumbai, though there are a few orders in Pune and Delhi. The venture has just four staffers, including the founder.

Mr. Shah, who worked with KPMG and Crisil before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey, has invested close to ₹20 lakh till date and is completely bootstrapped — a term used to describe startups launched with personal savings.

“We have not taken any funding as yet. I can say that my entire retirement corpus went into building Bragpacker. But I might need some funding in the near future to help in the expansion plans,” he says. The fact that his wife has a stable job with Vodafone helped him take the leap into entrepreneurship.

Interestingly, Bragpacker is making operational profits, says Mr. Shah. “We don’t offer any discounts to gain a customer base, and recover the price of the product by way of rentals.”

The site gets between 8,000 and 10,000 hits a month. It adds around 15 to 20 products every month. During peak season, it receives around 10 enquiries a day, though not all of them convert into an order. The most popular category is camping gear.

“From day one, we were clear that we don’t want to be a marketplace. I’m myself passionate about travelling and have seen how people travel the world over. So our offerings are very practical,” he says. “Smart clothing, for instance, is gaining popularity world over. You have jackets that have in-built batteries to provide you warmth in a cold place. These are things you need only while travelling. So makes sense to rent them.”

There were quite a few learnings, too. For instance, once they bought a baby stroller without a canopy, only to realise later that a canopy is an important part of a stroller since it protects the child from the sun. They didn’t charge the person for the stroller and changed the offerings on the site.

Going ahead, the venture plans to expand into categories like travel food, clothes and a travel book library. It also wants to start a Bragpacker Travellers Club where people can share their experiences and get preferences in terms of renting products.

Incidentally, Bragpacker has a ‘try before you buy’ feature that allows people to try a particular product and if they like it, buy the product with the rental adjusted against the price. “If the person likes the product we get them a fresh one directly sourced from the company,” says Mr. Shah.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 3:20:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/travel-gear-on-rent/article18788885.ece

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