Like many people in the corporate world who get downsized at one time or another, Dave Pesch lost his job at WeddingChannel.com when it was acquired by TheKnot.com in 2006. Looking back, he might say, it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
After spending some time building homes in Mexico with his church, Pesch felt he had a higher calling and needed to do more. He wanted to create an online commerce site for nonprofits that would be both bigger and better than anything already out there. “There was no one vendor offering a comprehensive solution to the fund-raising experience,” Pesch says. “I felt I could bring solutions that would make charitable fundraising events more profitable.”
Calling on his operations and customer-service experience, Pesch launched AuctionABC in 2010. As an e-commerce website, AuctionABC gives nonprofits the ability to access travel and experience packages, as well as merchandise such as restaurant dinners and movie tickets, for their silent auctions. Built from the ground up with a foundation forged out of the customer strategies Pesch knew worked, he then focused on where he saw gaps in the marketplace. Filling those gaps, he felt, would be his start-up company’s competitive differentiator.
Pesch got the idea for the website when he went to a gift-cards and employee-incentives trade show and realized there was a parallel business model that no one had yet figured out. He pitched his idea to a number of platform providers, but most, he says, just didn’t get it. Then he met
Michael Levy with Online Rewards. “We put this platform together, and it has worked magnificently.”
Unlike competing models, AuctionABC’s high-value trips or experiences are affordable to the masses, starting as low as $450 and increasing in value up to $12,000. AuctionABC proceeds by drawing as many participants as possible into the auction. Pesch says the company’s strong point is giving winners the luxury of choice. Packages, which are based on points, can be traded for another package of equal value, or can be upgraded for a fee. “Let’s say you’ve won a $250 spa package with a two-night Marriott Hotel stay. You could trade that $250 award for a $100 spa experience and use the remainder of the points to get a rental car, for instance,” Pesch explains. “Or, instead of the Marriott Hotel stay, you can take a gift card and use it at over 70,000 hotels and bed and breakfasts worldwide.”
Travel packages include round-trip flight certificates, or travelers can exchange that component for a fixed-value air-travel gift card and add that card’s value to their own credit card points or air miles, to customize their trip. “This gives the traveler unlimited flexibility when they travel, and we’re the only company that does that,” Pesch says.
Also unique is the fact that AuctionABC’s packages last a minimum of two years and, in many cases, never expire. Winners can also donate the value of their prize back to the nonprofit, which then uses it in its next event.
In January 2013, AuctionABC began offering smartphone bidding through a proprietary software system, where attendees can bid privately on silent auction items either at an event or from anywhere in the United States. Pesch is currently working on a retail storefront that will allow the firm’s nonprofit clients to have their own auction site without having to build in-house, pulling featured auction items from AuctionABC’s e-catalog. This will provide opportunities to raise awareness for the nonprofit’s cause year-round.
“Take public schools; they have clubs, the band, sports teams—all needing emblemed merchandise,” Pesch says. “At the elementary school level, they could sell pencils and erasers. With government funding drying up nationwide, Parent Teacher Associations are limited in how they can find the funding they need for extracurricular programs such as school trips and projects, or even for basic supplies. So, parent organizations are starting foundations designed to help provide schools with the additional funding they need.”
Based in Cerritos, California, AuctionABC markets primarily to both the United States and Canada, and the organization has plans to add a half dozen new staff in 2013 to handle the growth. “We’re an innovative company, providing much-needed solutions to nonprofits and schools,” Pesch says. “But we keep the experience simple for the client and the patron; that’s what ultimately keeps everybody happy.”