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Quarantine boredom drives demand for renting microwaves, big tvs

A look at another way the pandemic has changed the world.
Image: Andrew Burton/Bloomberg

Like anyone who’s done their time in quarantine, David Lee went through Netflix, YouTube and the internet. When it came to exercising however, he found he had to rearrange the furniture to get any decent space. He considered buying an exercise bike online, but retailers either took too long to deliver given his 14-day predicament or wouldn’t come to a hotel.

On his second quarantine, the 35-year-old Singaporean decided to do something about it. “I woke up at 7 a.m. and worked on a website, completed it in three hours, just a very basic website, and put some products on it. I got my first order the same day.”

Lee’s Happy SHN is one of several companies that have sprung up in Singapore since the coronavirus pandemic irrevocably changed everyone’s lives. With returning residents and some travellers required to serve mandatory quarantine at government-appointed facilities — usually hotels earmarked for the purpose — these businesses offer a range of rentals to make the time that little bit more bearable.

Exercise equipment like bikes, free weights and treadmills are obvious ones but Happy SHN (short for stay-home notice) and others offer everything from gaming consoles to microwave ovens, air purifiers, fridges, Dyson vacuum cleaners, big-screen TVs, carbonated water makers, electronic pianos, food steamers, coffee machines and hair straighteners.

Happy SHN will accept any request, so long as it’s legal and within certain weight and size limits. If renters really like the equipment, they can buy it at a discounted rate, depending on its age and condition. Upon checkout, they just leave it with the hotel concierge.

Lee, who had to shutter his other business that did vacation rentals in Seoul because of the pandemic, said interest is brisk with most wanting to make their two weeks as comfortable as possible. He recently added freezers after one mother who was breastfeeding found the bar fridge in her room inadequate. A portable washing machine will also soon be added to the list of items available.

Ian Berclaz is another entrepreneur who saw an opportunity. After a restructuring at an asset management company made his position redundant last year, the Swiss native co-founded Sweatspot SG with his partner, offering exercise bike rentals to people who wanted to work out at home during Singapore’s eight week so-called circuit breaker period.

It wasn’t until he saw a bus transporting people to hotels to serve their quarantine that he realised the broader potential.

“Suddenly I had a revelation,” Berclaz, 47, said. “I said that’s another way we expand our business. So we reached out to hotels and started partnering with them.”

Now, two-thirds of Sweatspot’s business comes from hotel quarantine rentals, and he’s devised premium packages that offer spin bikes, weight sets and yoga mats.

Even though governments around the world are trying to vaccinate their populations quickly in the hope of reviving torn and battered economies, both Lee and Berclaz say they expect business to grow. Sweatspot is now looking to expand overseas to Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand.

“I think this business will still be going on at least for another one to two years,” Lee said. “I’ll be doing this until everyone is vaccinated.”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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