Delaena Kalevor – Why the “Breakage” Model is Profitable But Could Prove Unsustainable
I would like to introduce readers to a concept called “breakage.” It’s a common business strategy in fee-based or subscription-based services, such as gym memberships, video rentals, and annual fee credit cards. It’s also common in loyalty rewards programs.
Before I discuss this concept, I want you to think of how most businesses operate. The customers want a particular product or service. They buy it. They use it and the transaction is complete.
Let’s consider a basic example:
Let’s assume that you’re hungry and you want a bacon burger.
You go to the drive-through and buy a burger. You eat the burger.
You’re happy because you’re no longer hungry.
The drive-through franchise owner is happy because they generated a sale. This is how most businesses work.
The “breakage” model works the exact opposite way. With breakage, the company makes money when you do not use the product or service you purchased.
Let’s look at the gift card business for example: Let’s assume you buy a $25 gift card from Amazon.
You give the gift card to your friend for his birthday. How does Amazon make any money doing this?
Well, it turns out that for every $100 spent on buying a gift card, only $75 is actually ever redeemed. People who receive the gift card either lose the card, forget about the card, don’t use up the entire value of the card or the card expires.
This is breakage. Gift cards have an implied breakage of 25%. Meaning on average 25% of the value of gift cards never get redeemed. According to Delaena Kalevor, breakage can be very profitable. When someone purchases a gift card, the issuer of the gift card recognizes the gift card value as a contingent liability on their balance sheet. When the gift card value expires, the contingent liability is taken off the books and recognized as revenue. This has a direct accretive impact on net income, which can make breakage in the gift card and loyalty rewards industry extremely profitable.
The cashback and loyalty programs of credit card issuers also work in the same way and breakage is a valuable part of how these banks make money. They use tools like redemption caps (for example with American Express, you can’t redeem until you have $75 worth of points), points expiration, etc to enforce breakage. Most customers never reach that $75 redemption threshold before the points expire. This is an example of breakage. That’s why Delaena Kalevor’s favorite credit card is Discover Card. They have no breakage at all – no redemption caps and no points expiration.
Another example of breakage is health clubs or gyms. The parallel to that in the credit card industry is cards that have an annual fee.
Most fitness centers work on a monthly membership fee model.
I pay $50 a month to have access to the facility.
Whether I show up every day or never show up, I still pay the health club the same $50.
In the health club business, by far the most profitable customers in the industry are people who sign up as members but don’t actually show up to the gym.
This is also breakage. Similarly, credit card customers with an annual fee credit card, generate breakage income for the issuing bank when they do not use their card.
Breakage-based business models can be very profitable. Imagine a health club with 10,000 paying members where nobody actually shows up.
The problem with breakage business models is that you’re receiving value from customers without customers actually receiving value in return. Basically, you’re betting that customers are too lazy to recognize this.
Before Netflix and video streaming of movies became popular, a company called Blockbuster used to rent DVD movies to entertainment seekers. You would rent a movie for two nights for something like $5. If you forgot to return the movie on time, they would charge you a $3/day late fee.
Imagine renting five movies for the weekend and forgetting to return the movies for an entire week. Instead of spending $25, you end up spending $100.
This is a form of breakage too. In fact, at its peak, Blockbuster was generating 70% of its net income from late fees. Their profits came from customers who were too lazy or forgetful to return the DVD sitting in their car.
The problem with breakage though is that customers DO NOT like it.
When Netflix first started, they had a subscription-based DVD rental by mail business. For a flat fee each month, you could keep the movies you rented for as long as you wanted.
According to Delaena Kalevor, Netflix targeted Blockbuster’s most profitable customers — those that pay late fees — and ultimately put Blockbuster out of business.
Personally, I prefer a business where sales and profits come from happy customers, instead of unhappy ones that wish your way of business didn’t exist.
I don’t see the gift card, loyalty rewards, and health club businesses going out of business anytime soon. I don’t even expect their breakage business model to change. But Delaena Kalevor likes the idea of customers receiving good value for what they pay. The value should be mutually beneficial, like in the burger example. It’s a good thing to profit from really happy customers that are thrilled to do business with you. Blockbuster did not expect to go bankrupt. But they did. History has a funny way of repeating itself. The breakage based businesses out there should take lessons from Blockbuster’s experience.
SamBoat Makes Waves in the US
The sharing economy’s massive popularity has led to the creation of blockbuster companies like Airbnb, VRBO, eBay, Uber, and Lyft, to name just a few. According to a report by Proficient Market Insights, the size of the sharing economy was $113 billion in 2021 and is predicted to reach $600 billion by 2027.
One of the newest companies to enter this space, SamBoat, now enables the owners of sailboats and motorboats to offer their vessels for rent. Because yachts are expensive to buyand maintain — in many cases, more expensive than purchasing and maintaining a home — yacht owners can offset some of their costs by listing their craft on the platform.
Those who may not be able to afford their own boat can still experience life on the water, however. No knowledge of boating is required, as many charters include the possibility of hiring a skipper.
When young French entrepreneurs Laurent Calando and Nicolas Cargou met, a friendship, as well as a new venture, was born. Cargou was an avid Airbnb user, and Calando had grown up sailing with his family. Throughout the course of their conversation, they realized that the sharing economy covered a lot of bases, but it didn’t include boating, which they were both passionate about.
The pair sensed an opportunity, which quickly led to action. In April 2014, they officially launched SamBoat in the Bordeaux region of France.
“SamBoat’s marketplace exploded in Europe over the next few years,” explains Robert Harrington, SamBoat’s US Country Manager. The company offers yachts throughout the Mediterranean, Aegean, and other popular travel destinations.
As evidence of the popularity of the boat-sharing model, SamBoat grew by over 70 percent in 2022. Since its founding, the company has enabled more than a million people to take to the seas. Now, the platform is rapidly expanding its listings throughout the US.
Where SamBoat operates in the US
SamBoat has already — albeit indirectly — served its American customers for quite some time, as American vacationers have often rented boats in Greece, France, Italy, or Spain through its platform. But now, the company is beginning to serve Americans on the other side of the Atlantic, right here at home.
SamBoat rentals are currently available in many American ports. The marketplace currently offers hundreds of boats just in the state of Florida, where the fleet extends up the Keys to West Palm Beach, and throughout the west coast, including Tampa, Clearwater, Naples, and Ft. Myers. SamBoat also has many boats in Chicago and Seattle, as well as throughout New England.
In the near future, the company will expand its offerings in San Diego and Los Angeles. SamBoat also plans to open in Lake Tahoe, Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Havasu, and Lake Champlain by mid-summer 2023. It also aims to have fleets available in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket by the same time.
“Our goal is to offer thousands of boats to rent throughout the United States by the end of the year,” Harrington says.
SamBoat operates anywhere boat owners choose to list their craft for rent. “Just because the marketplace might not already have a whole regatta in a given port doesn’t mean it can’t or doesn’t operate there,” Harrington says. “Listings grow organically, cropping up wherever opportunity calls boat owners to take advantage of existing demand.”
For instance, while SamBoat only officially launched in the United States this past year, the platform was open to US-based boat owners and renters last year. From January 2022 compared to January 2023, the platform experienced a 500% increase in US-based business.
This means that, if you own a boat, you can bring SamBoat to your home port. All you have to do is go to SamBoat’s website, follow a few simple steps, upload photos of your boat along with its relevant details, and respond to rental inquiries.
“Now is the right time for boat owners to get in early and beat the rush,” Harrington says.
The secret to SamBoat’s success
American consumers have responded enthusiastically to SamBoat’s arrival for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the platform offers the very same boats as other companies, yet their prices are on average 10 percent cheaper.
The reason for this is simple: unlike most other yacht and boat rental services, SamBoat doesn’t charge its customers inflated “junk” fees.
In addition, SamBoat makes renting a yacht simple and easy. Generally speaking, other boat-sharing websites outsource customer service to the owners of the listed yachts. They will only answer the phone or attend to you if you are booking something of a high dollar amount, while the average boat rental costs under $1,000. This can lead to a very frustrating process for someone who has questions but can’t seem to get a response from a boat’s owner.
At SamBoat, however, a real human being answers every inquiry. “Sometimes, that person is me,” Harrington says. This makes it much easier for people to rent the perfect boat that will meet their individual needs.
SamBoat fulfills a long-awaited need for sailing and boating enthusiasts worldwide. With the arrival of SamBoat in the US, it’s an even more exciting time for Americans to participate in the sharing economy.
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