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In 2016, Justine and Andrew Barone—an admittedly impetuous couple when it comes to adventure—decided they wanted to go stand-up paddleboarding. The Denverites looked online for rental SUPs and called different outfitters. Forty minutes later, they still hadn’t secured boards. “We wasted the entire day,” Justine says, “and didn’t even rent one.” It was as if the gear industry was stuck in the 1990s, when shoppers had to cold-call via the Yellow Pages.
Then a consultant for a real estate technology firm, Justine figured she could drag rentals into the age of Kayak. In April 2018, the Barones debuted an online marketplace called Gearo that virtually checked different outfitters’ inventories and aggregated the available options (from skis to canoes) within a searchable geographic area. Shoppers could then book through the site. Unfortunately, the launch flopped, Justine says, because, “customers would go to the marketplace looking for gear and weren’t finding anything because we only had a few retailers.” She quickly killed the platform—or the public-facing portion of it, anyway.
Gearo wasn’t a total failure, though. According to Justine, most independent outfitters track rentals inefficiently by hand, having neither the money nor the manpower to operate the online reservation systems that larger companies employ. But the small number of stores that did sign up for Gearo got access to the startup’s back-end booking system, which allowed them to incorporate web-based rentals into their websites. Word spread, and as more mom-and-pop shops enlisted Gearo, the Barones’ original idea of an aggregator was revived.
This month, Gearo will launch version 2.0 of its marketplace. The company is starting with Denver, where it has assembled a roster of about 50 retailers, including Jefferson Park’s Confluence Kayaks. “You can be planning an adventure,” says Jon Kahn, Confluence’s owner, “and have a centralized place to go to find the toys you need for that adventure.” Beyond locating gear and comparison-shopping, Gearo’s platform will enable users to create profiles so they don’t have to enter, say, shoe sizes every time they rent skis from different outfitters.
To help expand Gearo’s reach, on March 25 the company joined two other startups in the inaugural class of the 12-week Catapult Outdoor Recreation Accelerator, a partnership between the Outdoor Retailer trade show, the Outdoor Industry Association, and ICELab, an entrepreneurship program at Western Colorado University in Gunnison. Justine is excited about visiting the Western Slope. After all, she’ll be close to amazing hiking, kayaking, and SUPing—as long as she can find the right equipment.