Retail / Startups

This Berwyn startup’s origin story starts with a bounce house

Renterval gets rental companies into the ecommerce game — from party suppliers to bookstores. Now founder Andrew Chambers is trying to scale up.

Startup inspiration. (Photo by Flickr user Kelly DeLay, used under a Creative Commons license)

Inspiration struck Andrew Chambers about about eight years ago while attending several birthday parties for young children. So many of them had bounce houses that he figured he’d stumbled upon a great new business opportunity. In order to differentiate himself, he figured he’d make an online reservation system that would be easier for harried parents than making phone calls.

Chambers started on the reservation system first and ended up never buying a bounce house. Chambers cites competition, insurance and online videos of what happens to bounce houses in gusty winds as for why he never got into the business. But the online reservation idea did lead to him creating Renterval, a cloud-based software for rental businesses that helps them manage inventory and even do online sales.

“No matter what they rent, they can accept real, on-time bookings as well as payment,” said Chambers.

The Berwyn, Pa.-based company has been operating quietly since then, gathering up customers across the country and is getting ready for its public debut. The company recently unveiled its newest product, Renterval for Retail.

With this new initiative, Chambers is looking to help traditional retail compete in the sharing economy. Again, search for “bounce house wind” and you’ll see why this seems like an easier challenge.

Renterval for Retail uses the same Renterval software, but let’s stores rent out their merchandise and use the same platform for sales. For example, having the option to rent a kayak or an expensive piece of camera equipment.

“It gives the retailer the opportunity to showcase their newest items for sale, but also to serve a niche that no other provider in the area would offer,” said Chambers.

Renterval CEO Andrew Chambers. (Courtesy photo)

Renterval CEO Andrew Chambers. (Courtesy photo)

Renterval runs on a subscription model, starting at $30 a month. Chambers pointed to BOOtique Costumes in the Houston area as an early customer using Renterval for Retail. The shop started selling movie-quality costumes, but Renterval’s software allowed BOOtique to rent the costumes as well. Pasadena Book Mart also started using the platform to rent textbooks to college kids.

“We provide them a real easy way to navigate the books that they need,” said Chambers. “You can search by professor, course name or title. The customer rents textbooks and at the end of the semester we send them a text message that it’s time to return.”

Chambers hopes that he can tackle an outdoor retail giant REI or large camera chains. He also wants to reach out to car dealerships. He’s not looking to compete with ZipCar or Maven, but instead thinks dealerships could rent some accessories, like cargo carriers. Dealerships would then get renters checking out the latest models when customers pick up and return the items they’ve rented, he said.

In order to get those kind of clients, Renterval would need to get bigger.

Right now, the company has five employees. Renterval is based out of Chambers’ home, with employees all working remotely. Renterval has been running quietly partially because Chambers was worried about having his idea copied.

“It’s easy to be knocked off, if somebody were to stumble upon us,” said Chambers.

Chambers said the company is debt-free and profitable, and is looking for new investors to help quickly expand Renterval to scale.

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