Jeff Boudier says the idea came about when he and some friends spent part of a Sunday morning hanging a mirror in one of the friends’ new apartment.
They suddenly realized no one among them owned a cordless drill.
“We thought of all the drills in the neighborhood and probably in the same (apartment) building, and here we didn’t have access to one,” he recalls.
“We thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a way to connect to all these people?’ ”
After some more thought – and the realization that lots of people owned lots of things they used only a little, Boudier and his drill-less friends created a solution – an Internet-based peer-to-peer rental site they call www.zilok.com.
They started the company in France and it now has a presence in the United Kingdom. Zilok.com recently expanded to the United States, with the plan of serving this country’s weekend warriors – largely of the home-improvement variety.
Tools for do-it-yourself projects so far have been one of the largest rental categories, Boudier says. But gardening equipment, sporting goods and other hobby items as varied as sewing machines, golf clubs, digital cameras and Wii video-gaming systems also move briskly.
Although there are no current listings on Zilok.com for the Fort Wayne area, Boudier says that shouldn’t stop Hoosiers from signing up with the service – which is free – and listing items for rent.
“Our message right now is to encourage people who think it’s a good idea to take things into their own hands and start a rental community around their own home,” he says.
For those who list items, Zilok.com can provide extra income, Boudier says. Renters can save money. Typically, fees are about 25 percent less than what commercial rental companies charge for the same item, he says.
Rental fees are as little as $2 to $5 a day for a cordless drill to $15 to $25 a day for a pressure washer and $20 to $30 a day for a rototiller. A forklift might cost $100 a day.
Renters pay 5 percent to 10 percent of the transaction to Zilok.com as a commission, Boudier says.
But the idea of renting out an expensive tool seems to be falling on skeptical Indiana ears.
Would Adam Heckber, a union carpenter from Ossian, rent out any of his tools to a stranger who found him on the Internet?
“I don’t know if I’d do it,” says 28-year-old Heckber, who owns trim nailers, roofing guns and power saws often needed by do-it-yourselfers.
“I don’t know what condition it would come back in, and what they’re going to do with it,” he says.
He adds he’ll sometimes lend a tool for free to close friends, relatives and co-workers, and he still worries about his investment and their safety.
John Connolly, owner of Connolly’s Do it Best hardware stores in Fort Wayne, says it seems easier to him for people to drop by the neighborhood home improvement store to rent a tool when they’re picking up other supplies for their project.
That company’s stores have been renting home and garden tools for several years, keeping up with the likes of Lowe’s, Home Depot and Menards, all of which have tool rental departments.
“Although I might lend (a tool) to my neighbor because I know it’s not going anywhere, the trouble with the rental business is things walk away,” Connolly says.
It’s not uncommon for customers to walk away from sizable deposits on their credit cards, Connolly says.
“It’s crazy,” he says. “I’d have to ask if it’s worth my $10 to rent something out.”
Ryan Dillman, of Indianapolis, who writes the Wired Indiana blog that alerts Hoosiers to potentially interesting Internet sites, agrees.
He believes Zilok.com may be open to abuse from “scam-artist” renters.
“While I find the concept interesting, I’d be nervous to rent out my hundreds of dollars’ worth of camping gear, for example, without a significant deposit and some sort of legally binding contract,” he wrote in May, shortly after the U.S. version of Zilok.com launched.
“I suppose you could ask for a deposit equal to the value of your items to protect yourself from loss, but this would make it unlikely for anyone to rent from you. Still, it will be interesting to watch Zilok and see if they become the eBay of peer-to-peer rentals.”
Boudier, 28, an entrepreneurship and computer science major, counters that Zilok.com provides a contract that is enforceable in court if an item is damaged or stolen, as well as a means to charge the full value of the tool to a credit card as a deposit, which is returned when the item is.
“We’re working on something not implemented yet, which is to offer to a member an insurance service so that your item, while away from your home, is insured,” he says.
Prices charged are up to the individual listing the item, who is also responsible for declaring the additional income, Boudier says.
The renter always has the option of not renting to someone if he or she is uncomfortable with that person, he adds, noting the two parties also can meet in a public place if someone listing an item is not comfortable giving his or her home address to a renter.
Boudier maintains that the site makes economic and environmental sense.
In tight economic times, it’s a way for people to stretch their dollars, while it also helps people save the Earth’s resources by consuming less, he says.
“We have about 15,000 users for the United States, but that’s just our first community of users,” Boudier says, adding members are from all age groups.
“I think there are going to be some changes in consumer behavior, and we definitely want to be there when that happens,” he says.
“With Zilok, you have access to a lot of stuff without a lot of money. I think paying for usage is going to take off.”