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Urban planner works to launch outdoor sports gear rental at affordable rates

Kendall Gilbert has plans to launch an outdoor sports gear rental by collectively building inventory of used equipment.
Kendall Gilbert

Kendall Gilbert /Eric Tank


Current inventory includes:

  • Tents
  • Bicycles
  • Snowboards 
  • Camping equipment  
  • Snow shoes
  • Kayak 

/Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

When she moved from the East side of the state to enroll in classes at Grand Valley State University, Kendall Gilbert found more outside the classroom than she had bargained for. 

Gilbert's original vision was to cultivate a sharing community via online inventory, something similar to GearCommons out of Boston. But her experience with the Outdoor Adventure Center at GVSU changed all that. The Adventure Center is a pysical space with staff on-hand that can direct a newcomer to what recreation might best suit an individual. Gilbert says that it gave her the confidence to try new activities that she otherwise wouldn't have done. 

The model served the student body well enough, but Gilbert's idea is to operate similarly, only as a community wide service. She sites plenty of outfitters that rent gear primarily to tourists, which is great considering a thriving tourism industry. But, says Gilbert, tourist prices are simply financially unfeasable for residents. 

"I would hate that to be a barrier to a state park, national trail or beautiful river," says Gilbert. "It's impossible to have all the gear you need and want unless you're well-off, otherwise you're just kind of scrambling at the last minute to get together the pieces or stuff for a backpacking trip."

Instead of catering to tourists, Gilbert would like to connect people in the community. Currently she has a Facebook presence aptly named Borrows and Lends

"[It's] an exciting thing for someone that enjoys the outdoors to hear that you're going to live in an urban area that incorporates these elements into a downtown," says Gilbert. "It's something that's going to further attract people to this area. It's a missing component and it sounds like it's going to gain prominence."

Not only is there the urban experience but Grand Rapids is located near plenty of natural resources no longer than a short drive away.

"In Grand Rapids, we're an urban area yet you can drive an hour in any direction and you can be in a state park. It's a really cool location. I think it would be important to expose people to that access," says Gilbert.  

Something that Gilbert had begun to notice over the summer was the the number of females to males participating in outdoor activities.

"As much time as I spent outdoors this summer I never really saw too many females engaged in just going out kayaking or going on a three day hiking trip. I was trying to get to the bottom of it," says Gilbert. "I wonder if any of this has to do with the availbability of gear, and the availability of resources and the network of people that are involved in these activities. And what I came to realize - I visited several sporting goods stores - a lot of them seemed geared toward a male clientele."

Despite her comfort level in such male prominent retailers, Gilbert would on occassion feel intimidated. At the Adventure Center, she never felt that way. This aspect has infludenced the way in which she wants to proceed. 

With the support of peers and advisors, and after doing her research, Gilbert thinks that the best way to move forward would be to change Borrows and Lends from a Facebook page into a Facebook group to try and grow inventory. It would operated on the consignment model, reducing inventory costs for such a small startup. Eventually she will need space to store the equipment, which saves owners space in their own homes.

In January, Gilbert will be attending two sessioins with Grand Rapids Opportunity for Women to develop a proper business plan. She is connecting with Michigan Small Business Development Center to network and would like to organize a meet-and-greet for area participants to get together and connect. 

"The sharing economy is alive and well and growing- especially among people in my age group," says Gilbert. "I think there's enough stuff out here in the community and I think we need to find a really unique and creative way to get people to use it." 

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