Shelter from the Storm

| 17 Feb 2015 | 05:08

Umbrella share system on the horizon for NYC

Financial District Few people look forward to getting caught in the rain, much less without an umbrella, and a new company banking on this aims to keep pedestrians dry and city streets clean and green.

'brellaBox, a new umbrella share company slated to launch a three-week pilot program in early June, will allow New Yorkers to rent umbrellas from various locations throughout the city and, similar to Citi Bike, return the umbrella to any designated bin once the rain clears.

John O'Connor, co-founder of 'brellaBox and owner of digital marketing agency JSO Digital, said he hopes to have 500 'brellaBox rental stations throughout Manhattan by next spring.

"We have to achieve a ubiquitous presence in the city in order for the idea to work," O'Connor said. "The market research shows that people feel carrying an umbrella to be a hassle, but would also want it to be convenient to both rent and return an umbrella."

During the pilot program, a 'brellaBox bin will go up at WeWork Charging Bull, a coworking office building located at 25 Broadway in the Financial District. During this stage, users can only return umbrellas to the one Financial District location, but once hundreds of bins are located throughout the city, users can use a smartphone application-which will be developed during the next phase-to make payments and locate the nearest bins.

Details aren't yet final, but once the company rolls out citywide, users can rent an umbrella for around $2.50 for 12 hours, or purchase one for $15.

While this is the first local umbrella share system, a free program called Pop-Ins launched just over a year ago in Oklahoma City. Located in the downtown business district, the program is completely free and sustained by companies that sponsor the bins, which in turn get their logo on the umbrellas.

"Everyone who works downtown sees them and knows about them," said Larry McAlister, public relations director for VI Marketing and Branding, the company that started Pop-Ins. "It's good will for us and it's good for the city."

VI Marketing paid for the first batch of umbrellas but sees no revenue from the project; companies that sponsor a bin are responsible for replacing the umbrellas once they break or disappear, though McAlister said umbrellas haven't gone missing with much frequency since the early days of the program.

'brellaBox's presence in New York City is dependent on a successful fundraising campaign, which O'Connor declined to discuss. Once the share system launches in full, the company will look for revenue from sales and rentals of the umbrellas, and is considering advertising and branding partnerships.

In addition to commercial real estate properties, O'Connor hopes to work with the MTA, as well as retail businesses such as Starbucks, in order to put 'brellaBoxes in convenient, high-traffic locations that users visit daily.

Though O'Connor wouldn't comment on the brand or model of the umbrellas, he did state that they will be of superior quality to those purchased on the cheap from street vendors and corner stores.

And forget basic black. Each 'brellaBox bin will hold 48 green, UV-blocking umbrellas, for rain or shine.

"The idea is that as the user base grows, the product could have a cool impact on the city of New York by making the city green on rainy days," O'Connor said. "And in a certain sense it's representative of the eco-friendly nature of the business."