As it continues to ramp up its operations in cities across Canada and the United States, Ottawa-based online rental marketplace Ruckify is joining forces with a Calgary company that touts itself as “the Airbnb of RV rentals.”
Ruckify co-founder Steve Cody said Tuesday his company has acquired Wheel Estate, an online marketplace that connects RV owners with people looking for camping vehicles on a short-term basis. Financial terms of the cash-and-stock deal were not released, but Cody said Wheel Estate founders Chad and Cherie Ball will continue to oversee its operations from their Alberta office.
Cody said adding an RV marketplace will help his rapidly growing platform, which is adding between 15,000 and 25,000 new items every week, diversify its inventory even further.
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“We’re really excited,” said Cody, who officially launched Ruckify in October 2018. “We knew fairly early on that there were a couple of acquisitions that we wanted to do. We knew RVs were kind of at the top of the list.”
Wheel Estate’s site contains hundreds of RVs, fifth wheels and pop-up tents available for rent in Western Canada and Ontario. Founded in 2017, it’s one of a growing number of online ventures dedicated to helping owners of Canada’s estimated one million RVs get more use of their vehicles while providing affordable options for budget-conscious campers who don’t want to shell out cash to buy equipment they’ll only use a few times a year.
Among its competitors is Ottawa-based RVezy. Cody said he and Ruckify co-founder Bruce Linton had “in-depth conversations” with several online RV rental services over the past six months before deciding Wheel Estate was the right fit.
“These are good people,” he said from Calgary, where he was meeting with the Balls and their team. “We can do something special with these guys. They’re a regional player, and now we can make them more of a national player.”
A free-listings website, Wheel Estate provides $1 million worth of liability insurance to verified renters, offering daily and weekly rates. Renters can also purchase roadside assistance plans and access to a 24-hour helpline.
Cody said coming under the Ruckify umbrella will expose the RV platform to potential new customers, while also broadening his company’s reach to people who are already renting camping vehicles.
“Some people are hesitant to rent an RV or rent out an RV,” he explained. “So if we can get them renting out wheelbarrows and wheelchairs and they get comfortable with that, then we can get the RVs going.”
North American expansion
The latest deal marks another step forward for Ruckify, which is now live in Austin, Calgary, Nashville and Ottawa and is building up inventory in 30 cities in Canada and the U.S. It expects to launch in more communities before the end of this year, and its long-term goal is to operate in 50 cities across North America.
Most of the company’s growth so far has been organic, Cody says, but he expects that will soon change. Ruckify is seeing growing customer traffic from Google and Facebook, he said, and the firm is preparing to roll out a “fairly significant” marketing campaign in two cities early next year that will include billboard advertisements and TV commercials.
“There’s a difference between having an inventory, where things happen on their own. Committing marketing dollars is a different beast for us,” he said.
Investors have expressed confidence in the young enterprise, which recently raised $7.5 million in private capital, and Cody said the company plans to pursue a public listing on the NASDAQ in the fall of 2020.
The longtime entrepreneur behind such notable local ventures as the Better Software Company attributes much of Ruckify’s momentum to the “Bruce effect” created by his neighbour and friend Linton.
The co-founder and former CEO of cannabis producer Canopy Growth, Linton served as the inspiration for Ruckify after complaining to Cody about having to buy a chainsaw for one day’s work rather than being able to rent one from somebody nearby who wasn’t using theirs. Cody cites Linton’s experience in capital markets as a major plus for Ruckify, noting his business partner’s network of investment bankers gives him a direct source of funding when he needs it.
Cody also credited Linton’s financial acumen and track record of successful acquisitions while at Canopy Growth for helping to seal the deal with Wheel Estate.
“It was everything,” he said. “They have a great business and they’ve done an amazing job. But they know that access to our capital and the probability of a public listing is likely higher with us than it was on their own. And a lot of that’s because of Bruce.”
Ruckify now employs more than 90 people, including about 75 in Ottawa, 17 in the Philippines and a handful in Austin, Calgary and Nashville. Cody said the firm has worked hard to raise its “conversion rate” – the ratio of visitors to the site who actually find the item they’re looking for – from 20 per cent a year ago to 89 per cent today, well above its target of 80 per cent.
“We’re doing better than that right now, but there’s a lot to learn,” he said.
As Ruckify’s reach keeps expanding and more big names such as Brett Wilson of Dragons’ Den fame join its list of investors, Cody said what gives him the most satisfaction is the platform’s potential to make the world a greener place.
The company has committed to planting one tree for every rental on the platform, and Cody says Ruckify’s customers are doing their part for the environment by reusing existing goods rather than buying new items.
As an example of how that message is resonating with consumers, he tells the story of an employee at a major home improvement chain who recently rented a power tool from Ruckify rather than his own company.
“I literally had to call up and say, ‘Why did you rent the pressure washer from us? You work at Home Depot rental,’” Cody recalled. “He said, ‘Because of what you stand for.’ It does mean a lot to people.”