On the Block

A start-up offers a fresh take on online auctions

Photo: Al and Laurie Desrochers of iHasta DIY Online Auctions

AL DESROCHERS LOVES vintage items, which makes sense given that after he and his wife, Laurie, sold their ­previous business, he was able to indulge his dream of being an antique and vintage picker.

Turns out, however, it isn’t quite as easy to make money at it as TV reality shows might make it appear. Hidden fees and additional taxes all combine to cut into the profitability of those looking to embrace the second-hand economy.

With that perspective in mind, the couple recently launched iHasta DIY Online Auctions, a do-it-yourself auction platform that offers an affordable option to buyers and sellers alike.

“I’ve always liked vintage, unique, antique, [and] I love industrial,” says Desrochers. “Almost everything we have at our house has been repurposed in some way or was found at an auction or some form of buy-and-sell platform. Sometimes, it’s necessary to buy new, but for personal preference, I’d rather sit on a leather couch that has been used for decades.”

The couple have been going to auctions for close to 20 years, and the fees associated with buying at auctions were always something that bothered them.

“We don’t actually take the money from the sale—we’re really just a platform for people to upload goods and purchase items” —Al Desrochers

For example, Desrochers says people are surprised when they find out their auction bargain is exposed to “an extra 13 per cent tax and 15 to 20 per cent buyer’s premium just for attending.”

In addition, he says sellers using auctions to move items are hit with “a pretty hefty premium.”

With a lot of auctions moving to online platforms (but with most still charging associated fees), the couple set out to ­create a system that would eliminate the added costs.

Desrochers says the site (iHasta comes from the Latin word ‘hasta’, meaning auction) is an “easy to use, intuitive process,” where sellers can basically learn to be their own auctioneer. Sellers can upload photos, write descriptions and set their auction timeframe for anywhere up to three weeks (he says most auctions run over the course of three to five days).

For buyers, iHasta offers a two-step process to purchase. There’s a simple registration form, and then if the potential buyer decides to bid on something, they hit the place bid ­button, enter their credit card information and they’re able to purchase. Credit cards don’t get processed until the ­winning bid is established, and all data is stored with a secure, ­third-party platform.

“Security is very important,” Desrochers says. “Our site doesn’t hold private information or financial information. We don’t actually take the money from the sale—we’re really just a platform for people to upload goods and purchase items.”

The iHasta platform first went live last September when it was used to auction items for a Youth Opportunities Unlimited fundraiser, and business volume has been steadily increasing since.

Desrochers says another community partnership with Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario is also underway, with iHasta designers working on a custom component to give the organization a platform to auction off various excess materials from their home builds.

The partnership will also include regular auctions by the Habitat ReStore. Operated by Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario, ReStore’s are stocked with new and gently used renovation supplies donated by homeowners and businesses.

According to Desrochers, while iHasta is a for-profit ­venture, community partnerships with organizations like YOU and Habitat for Humanity are an essential component of start-up’s strategy.

“I think there is more to life than just making money,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, we are a for-profit business, it’s great to make money, but just like many organizations in the country and in London, there is an opportunity to also give back, and this is ours.” On the Block Highlights Sean Meyer

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