Give This Pooch a Home (Whenever You Have Time)

FlexPetz Lets Busy Consumers Rent Four-Legged Companions for $40 a Day

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City kids who once used Gigapets and Tamagotchis can now rent real pets.

FlexPetz, created in California, is a pet-sharing program that works in a way similar to other business schemes such as time shares and partial ownership of business jets.
FlexPetz allows people to rent dogs at their convenience.
FlexPetz allows people to rent dogs at their convenience. Credit: Sue Farrell

FlexPetz originated in San Diego and Los Angeles and is planning to open branches in San Francisco, Washington, Boston, New York and London. The service targets customers, usually those who live in metropolitan areas and travel frequently, who want to have a dog but cannot care for it full time. CEO and founder Marlena Cervantes said the service allows people to try life with a dog before making the decision to buy one.

Fees
While some people have been critical of the idea of shuttling dogs between homes, Ms. Cervantes said she believes FlexPetz provides a great service to dogs and members. Members are screened before being allowed to participate and pay for each day they take the dog out on top of monthly ($49.95) and annual ($99.95) fees that cover the dog's training and medical expenses. The daily fee is about $40 on weekends with a $17 add-on if you use FlexPetz's shuttle service. There is also a one-time fee of $150.

Without a dime of paid advertising -- just word-of-mouth and media coverage -- Ms. Cervantes claims people from cities all around the world log on to the FlexPetz website and say they'd like branches to open in their areas. "It's truly unique. Nothing else like this exists. I identified a need," she said.

She may also have identified a new marketing type: the transumer. As classified by Rainier Evers in a trend briefing on trendwatching.com, transumers are "consumers who are more interested in the experience rather than in owning." Richard Laermer, author of "Trendspotting," "Punk Marketing" and several other works on the topic, sees changing technology as key for this group. "The whole idea of viral is very important. Everybody wants everything to be among each other so to speak," he said.
CEO and founder Marlena Cervantes says people from all over the world have expressed interest in seeing FlexPetz branches open in their areas.
CEO and founder Marlena Cervantes says people from all over the world have expressed interest in seeing FlexPetz branches open in their areas.

Mr. Laermer said companies like FlexPetz play to a cultural mood of impermanence and disposability. "People are realizing that anything and everything is disposable," he said. "We're not permanent in our jobs, relationships, cities we live in, books -- because we don't finish them -- TV shows, because we do not watch them every week. Everything is impermanent."

Fractional living
The concept does not stop with pets. Fractionallife.com founder Piers Brown has already capitalized on the have-but-don't-own trend in the U.K. His website offers fractional ownership in everything from art to vineyards.

Mr. Brown believes consumers don't want the shackles of ownership these days and said the concept has worked particularly well in the luxury market. Lynn Ridenour, senior VP-marketing for online luxury-bag-sharing service Bag, Borrow or Steal has seen great success, especially in urban areas, at the company. The company plans on staying with the luxury-bag service, but is also considering a move into sunglasses, belts, watches and sporting equipment and sees potential in other ideas such as home decorations. Like FlexPetz, Bag, Borrow or Steal also offers the option of complete ownership.

While the benefits of these services are obvious, some do see disadvantages. Mr. Laermer called the idea brilliant but also thinks there are risks employing this as a full-fledged strategy. "People will not feel connected to the brand. It's another disposable. Owning is half the fun -- it can't ever be fully yours."
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