Interview with Forrest Shinners, founder of Kit Lender, Ski gear rental innovators

By Sam Brake Guia January 3, 2019

As the world’s finite resources become more stretched, we are constantly being encouraged to reduce, reuse and recycle. But what about share? In today’s society, the latter appears to be the preferred option for startups and consumers around the world.

The sharing economy is estimated to grow from $14 billion in 2014 to $335 billion by 2025, according to Brookings. Moreover, venture capitalists have poured over $24 billion into the sharing economy market since 2010, states the Henderson Group, the think tank of the Boston Consulting Group.

Companies such as AirBnB and Uber have altered traditional methods of consumption. Living without a car is easier and probably cheaper if you use Uber for the occasional trip. And a consumer is unlikely to buy a timeshare with a prodigious amount of holiday homes at the click of a button.

No industry can escape the disruptive nature of the sharing economy, and the conventionally expensive skiing industry is no exception.

Kit Lender provides last minute ski gear rental available across all 50 States, delivered directly to resorts, saving customers money on storage, and additional baggage fees. To get a better understanding of how Kit Lender is shaking up the skiing industry, we spoke with the founder Forrest Shinners.

Kit Lender founder Forrest Shinners

What was the main motivator to solve this problem, for example, did it arise from a personal experience or something you recognized others having issues with?

I grew up skiing and snowboarding my whole life and when I moved to NYC after school I found fewer people were going on ski trips, and if they did it was only once a year or less. One of the main problems people faced was the increasing cost of the trips (lift tickets are $150+/day, Lodging is very expensive, and of course the gear – it is costly to buy, it’s a pain to store and carry, and if you borrow it from someone it might not fit well or not be your style).

I would take friends to my hometown in Stowe and tell them to just fly up with a pair of jeans and some apres clothes and they could get everything else from me in Stowe; rental ski equipment from my parents ski store and they could borrow ski clothes from me. Because my parents have a ski shop our closets are filled with high-quality ski clothing of all shapes and styles.

I had a girl tell me: “wow, this is like RENT THE RUNWAY for ski clothing”. That’s when I had the light bulb moment and looked to see if ski clothing rental in this model existed and could help others have this white glove rental ski gear experience. Well, it didn’t! So I self-funded the business with my father and the rest is history.

I understand that you have last minute ski gear rental available in all 50 States, delivered directly to resorts. This sounds like a tough task, how have you managed to make this logistically possible?

It is a tough task. Our model does not fall into the standard e-commerce plugin box. We have managed these complicated logistics by identifying the logistical problems at each stage in our growth. Being seasonal allows us to regroup and debrief our process each year. We have leverage technology in a lot of creative ways to solve lots of the logistical problems.

It is always a balance automating task with technology and development resources or keeping processes flexible with human capital. We have leveraged offshore help a lot to handle the seemingly repetitive task that may require complicated development.

At the end of each season, we try to learn where we had to use manpower to solve a problem and commit development resource to automate the task. Using Fedex as our shipping partner has been extremely important since our logistics are 100% dependent on shipping on time every time, and Fedex is able to keep up with our growing sales and always provide extremely reliable shipping timetables.

Have you had any constructive feedback from customers, and if so what are they interested in seeing?

We send an NPS survey after the trip and we are so pleased that we constantly have a >90 NPS score which far above industry average and considering how complicated our logistics are this is even more astounding and something I’m so proud .

Considering this season we will be shipping >3,000 KITS each month, it’s so great to see our customer service is still getting top remarks. This year we have had a number of requests for snowshoes, Neon jackets & Gopros which I am investigating adding to our rental line up.

Do you have plans to branch out into other sports other than skiing?

We are always looking at our future growth and other sports we can branch out into. We have been debating camping gear but we are still focusing on skiing and perfecting our product lineup and logistics before we grow into a new product line with new customer acquisition challenges and delivery and cleaning logistics. I ultimately think the market is even bigger for KIT LENDER in skiing so I want to grow even bigger and better there until I add new avenues to our growth.

What is the main focus for KitLender over the next 6 months?

Always to continue to focus on providing the best service, quality gear, and all-star customer service. Beyond that, I’m focusing on brand awareness with increased social media spend, influencer engagement, affiliates, and Press. I will also be focusing on finding us a new warehouse space and possible moving our operations.

With over 4,000 kits and 15 employees our current warehouse space is just too small to grow anymore. I will be looking at warehouse spaces throughout the U.S. to better serve our customers. I will also be starting a major site redesign. We’ve learned a lot in 5 years but at this point, we need to start with a clean slate and build our site up from the ground up.

Where is your favorite place to ski?

Well, I’m sort of biased because I grew up in Stowe, Vermont so the ski capital of the East will always hold a special place in my heart. But if I can’t choose Stowe I’d probably say my top 5 are Bridger Bowl, Kirkwood, Powder Mountain, Squaw and Beaver Creek. I’m taking a 2 week trip to the Ja-POW of Japan this February so I might have Hakkoda on my list when I return!

Disclosure: This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company