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As the digital economy expands, notions of ownership and loyalty change. The so-called sharing and gig economies enable consumers and workers to use products and take jobs without full commitment.

Now a young company in Germany called Grover hopes to use a fresh investment worth about $47 million to expand its business of offering rentals of phones, consumer electronics, drones, gaming gear and other products to consumers and startups. During a recent interview with PYMNTS, Chief Financial Officer Thomas Antonioli talked about why his company’s model appeals to relatively affluent consumers, and what comes next — including a possible return to the United States.

Grover, which offers pay-as-go subscription plans to its customers, has been described in some outlets as something like a Netflix for gadgets. What Grover is certainly not, Antonioli told PYMNTS, is a U.S.-type rent-to-own operation. “We have a price cap on how much consumers can pay to rent products,” he said. “We are not a form of sub-prime credit.”

The Model

Here’s how Grover works: Either through the Grover website, or via the company’s 10 or so retail partners, a consumer decides to rent a specific product. Using PayPal or a credit card — more payment options could be forthcoming — that consumer pays the first month’s rent upfront and receives the product within two or three days, Antonioli said. Grover requires no deposit, but does pay half the repair costs should damage occur.

Grover offers three subscription plans for consumers: Payment once per month, every three months or every year. Consumers can keep rented products as long as they like before shipping them back to Grover. The company owns the products it rents out. In fact, the new investment round included a debt facility of approximately $29 million to fund those purchases.

Consumers who want to buy the products — Grover’s customers often are testing out the latest computers, phones or games — are offered a deal equal to the item’s recommended retail price minus 30 percent of the subscription payments made to that point. Grover also informs consumers when they are nearing the point of having paid, in rental, 130 percent of the item’s full price. The consumer can then buy the product for one euro.

Antonioli said Grover uses the German equivalent of FICO scores, along with IP addresses and other data, to access the authenticity and creditworthiness of potential customers. “We accept 70 to 75 percent of new customers who apply,” he said.

Customer Base

One might think that the typical Grover customer is, say, a student, or a consumer with relatively low income who cannot afford to buy new phones, computers or consumer electronics. According to Antonioli, that is not the case. The company is still focused on the German market; most of its customers have above-average incomes, college educations and urban residences. They are generally between the ages of 25 and 40, and two-thirds of them are men.

Some customers simply need gear for a short period of time.

“I might want to go to Africa on safari, and I want to bring this really cool camera, and I just need it for a month,” Antonioli said. Others use Grover because they are, essentially, fanatics about technology, those first-wave consumers you see lining up for the latest iPhone. They might want a new iPhone every year and figure they can pay less with Grover than paying full price for the new model.

Coming Moves

So, what does the future hold for Grover?

The company is testing a new offering called “Grover Mix,” which enables customers to pay a fixed monthly price of about $115 for three products and the right to switch out those items at any time. “We rolled it out to 100 very loyal customers who we know have very good credit risk,” Antonioli said.

The company also wants to sign up more startup firms as clients. The idea is that the firms could rent computers and other equipment for employees more cheaply than using capital to buy or lease. Once those companies mature — assuming they survive — they would no longer need Grover.

Grover also aims to work more closely with its retail partners, which now include such merchants as MediaMarkt, Saturn, Gravis, Conrad and Tchibo. Grover could integrate further with them, becoming a de-facto checkout option for customers of those retailers. Antonioli also said the company is planning international expansion, in part fueled by encouragement from Grover’s retail partners.

First could come major Western European economies such as Spain and Italy, he said. Grover also has its sights set on United States. A few years ago, Grover conducted what Antonioli called a “pilot” in New York City that lasted about two months, an effort that resulted in “hundreds of orders without much marketing,” he said. He did not provide much detail, but did offer that in the United States, the prices Grover charges for product rentals are “considered cheap, while in Europe they are on the expensive side.”

Will consumers really give up ownership of phones, computers and other technology products in such a way to make a company like Grover a long-term, profitable operation? The firm’s activities in the next year or so, fueled by the new capital, could provide some clarity.

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Join izo, CFO Dan Steinberg and PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. (EDT)

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