Because you can't trust humans.
What’s the key ingredient to an umbrella sharing business? You got it – an abundance of umbrellas.
Sadly, one Chinese business just shot itself in the foot, by losing almost its entire stock in a matter of weeks.
The Sharing E Umbrella company this year made its pretty rainbow brollies available in 11 cities across China on the back of a 10 million yuan investment.
Similar to China’s many bike sharing apps, customers were invited to use their smartphone to pay minimal costs to rent an umbrella when the weather took a turn for the worse.
They’d be charged a 19 yuan deposit fee (£2.16), and a further 50 jiao (around 50p) for every half hour of use.
The problem, however, wasn’t that people didn’t want to loan the umbrellas out.
It was that they didn’t return them.
While Sharing E Umbrella gave out their umbrellas at train and bus stops, they also deduced the safest place for users to temporarily store their umbrellas would be in their homes.
But almost every customer then skipped the final step of then returning their umbrella – costing the company 60 yuan (nearly £7) a head to replace.
It’s a story that reminds us of Wukong Bicycles and 3Vbike, two bike-sharing companies who also lost all their bicycles.
Sharing E Umbrella CEO Zhao Shuping was right when he told the Chinese press said that “everything on the street can now be shared.”
But right now everything shared, is also quite easily stolen.
Even if it overcomes the challenge of ‘light fingered’ customers, Sharing E Umbrella faces hardships ahead.
It’s one of as many as 14 Chinese companies competing in the umbrella sharing space. And given that the industry relies on seasonal rain to carry it through the years, steady profits will always be hard to come by.
None of this however, appears to have dampened Zhao’s spirits: he’s just promised to provide a futher 30 million umbrellas by the end of the year.
Here’s hoping he brings a significant shift in company practice, or he might find that when it rains, it pours.