Idea #6: Umbrella rental

Everyone here in China thinks it’s constantly raining in England. Let’s first just clear this up.

Here’s the BBC’s rainfall graph for London:

London weather

London weather

And here’s the one for Shanghai:

Shanghai weather

Shanghai weather

So, basically, yes, it rains a bit in London, but not nearly as much as it does in Shanghai, and not half as violently either. In Shanghai, it’s not really raindrops that fall from the sky, it’s sort of fist-sized globules of water. And where English rain might compare – at best – to the power of a half-heartedly pumped up Super Soaker 500, Shanghai sky is firing rocket propelled water balloons.

The big problem, though, is that this kind of sub-tropical climate is also pretty hot. That means you’re not wearing a coat. That means you should really have an umbrella with you at all times, in preparation for these surprise attacks. But, of course, you don’t have an umbrella. Why not? Because who ever remembers to take an umbrella? I mean who in their right mind has an umbrella with them at all times?!

Anyone for... err... umbrella rental...?

Anyone for... err... umbrella rental...?

Nobody. So what happens to the shirtsleeved, umbrellaless man? He gets soaked, that’s what. Until now…

Idea #6: Umbrella rental service

  • The umbrella rental service will be best integrated as part of the subway network of your chosen rainy city.
  • The umbrella rental desk at every subway station will have a stock of umbrellas for rent in case of sudden storm onslaught.
  • Travel card holders will be able to rent an umbrella by swiping their card.
  • A deposit will be deducted from the card along with the umbrella rental fee.

After the rain…

  • The umbrella has proved its worth and is handed back to the umbrella rental attendant at any subway station.
  • The attendant checks the umbrella isn’t broken.
  • The deposit is credited back to the customer’s card.

The umbrella rental service should obviously be pretty cheap. I mean, come on, it’s an umbrella. Also, umbrella salesmen often pop up outside subways stations during a storm, and we want to undercut these people by a decent margin – otherwise our potential punters may as well buy an umbrella from such characters.

Anyway, if you do this right, you could make a killing every time it rains, especially in one of these packed Asian cities.

As I see it, there are two main challenges to overcome:

  1. Making sure the umbrellas are not returned broken – Umbrellas are flimsy items, as we have all learned to our peril. This is why I’ve included an umbrella rental desk ‘attendant’ as part of the scheme. The main role of the attendant is to check that the umbrellas being returned are not broken. Unfortunately, if the only job of this attendant is to wait around until the rain comes, you’ll be paying them to do nothing most of the time. So, probably the best thing is to integrate it with the subway service and use their staff to hand out umbrellas when required.
  2. Integrating with the subway service – Subway stations are ideal places to locate your umbrella rental service. They’re dotted about the city in convenient locations; people need an umbrella when they come out of the subway to find its raining; the travel card is an easy way to take deposits and rental fees. But you’ll have a fair bit of negotiating to do with whoever runs the subway.

But there is an alternative solution I have in mind:

  • Use automated umbrella vending machines, such as those offered by Umbrolly. They don’t need an attendant
  • How do you make sure they don’t break? Rent these out instead:



That looks a little more sturdy right? Hell of a lot more expensive, bit stupid looking, but not so many parts to break and it leaves your hands free to do things when you use it! It’s sure to spread the word fast about your umbrella rental service too, especially if you get your logo on the back of it!

If you have any of your own suggestions, please leave a comment!

On a more somber note, recently Typhoon Morakot showed that in some places umbrellas are the last thing on people’s minds when the rain really gets heavy. It devasted Taiwan – the worst storm ever recorded there.

Click here to donate to Americares, a charity providing aid to Typhoon Morakot survivors in Taiwan.

10 comments to Idea #6: Umbrella rental

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