NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Forrest Shinners owns a destination rental box service for brand-name ski clothing, and he has found customers in locations and among demographics he wasn’t expecting.

Shinners told WCBS 880’s Joe Connolly that focusing digital ad spending on niche audiences and likely customers can maximize returns on investment. But word-of-mouth referrals have also done wonders for Shinners’ company, Kit Lender.

The company only offers rental clothing, and as the name would suggest, the ski outfits come in kits that include jackets, pants, goggles and gloves. Customers rent their gear on line, have it delivered to their destinations for free, and drop it back in the mail in a pre-postmarked box for an easy return.

Shinners said he has found markets among a variety of different demographics.

“The typical customer – the majority of our customers are skiers that maybe ski once a year; maybe never at all – from southern states, you know, Texas and Florida being big ones. But they also tend to be folks from cities like New York that, you know, maybe did ski in the past, but don’t have room in their city apartment, or you know, families where maybe the kids have grown out of some of their stuff or they don’t want to invest in stuff for their kids, and then oftentimes they realize that their own stuff is a little dated, and they end up getting stuff for themselves or their husbands,” he said.

Some of the groups that have been ordering from Kit Lender have surprised Shinners.

“I mean, I’m amazed at how much we get out of New York, to be honest with you – just being the northeast; of how many people we have in, you know, New York City; even, you know, Connecticut or Massachusetts, that people really don’t have ski clothing,” he said. “You know, they’re cold areas, but they have pea coats or women’s down jackets to their knees, but they don’t have the ski clothing. That was always amazing to me.”

Reaching those customers has taken a multi-pronged approach that has worked out wonderfully, Shinners explained.

“Primarily Google AdWords or Facebook social spend, but word of mouth, you know, referrals from other customers is obviously a major, major source, so you know, every person that we rent is referring other people, so that’s where our business keeps growing, you know, 200 percent every year, so those people really trusting in somebody else having a good experience and then coming back,” he said.

Shinners said it is often hard to get someone even to search for “ski clothing rental” because they often do not realize such a thing exists. But Kit Lender gets over that by focusing on keywords, and using “retargeting” on social media.

“One of the better places for us on Facebook or Instagram social spend would be retargeting – so if somebody’s going to our site, we would then serve them ads for Kit Lender again on their newsfeed,” Shinners said.

Shinners comes from a skiing family, and his parents even owned a ski shop. He said he was inspired to start his business in no small part by his love of skiing.

“Massive – I mean, the business grew out of the fact that I had like a passion for skiing; grew up in the ski industry. When I moved down to New York, it was seemingly getting away from retail and that business, but then, I still love Vermont. I still love skiing. There are things that were important to me,” he said. “So then bringing friends up, you know our closet is a Patagonia warehouse or something like that, so you know, bringing up a girlfriend at the time and her being like, ‘Wow, this is ‘Rent the Runway’ for the mountains.’ I was like, wow, that’s kind of an interesting idea. “

Shinners and his father found out that no one else was out there renting out ski clothing, so they put together a little bit of money and went to it. He said he had the advantage of being able to leverage his father’s buyers and other contacts with the ski shop while also using his own network in New York City and busing technology platforms to build on the Kit Lender website.

And now, Shinners and his father are working on a completely new business model when it comes to family business traditions.

“It’s been an interesting ride to see this really grow,” he said.

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