OnlineAuction.com Founder Is an Optimistic eBay Competitor
By Greg Holden
In many ways, Chris Fain's story sounds like that of the average eBay and online auction seller. He traded baseball cards with his buddies as a boy growing up in the Los Angeles area. He has been interested in antiques and collectibles his whole life.
"In the 1980s, my wife and I would go yard-saling and to swap meets," he recalls. "We started a business called the Good Old Days Trading Company." Fain discovered eBay in 1997 and eventually became a PowerSeller. Like the author of this column, he collects antique pens and watches and is interested in mechanical toys. His office in Grants Pass, Oregon, is filled with objects, including old Western riding equipment. At 49, he and I are about the same age.
But Chris Fain is different than you and me. He has always been excited not just by buying and selling, but by bringing buyers and sellers together. He's started up several auction businesses that assembled traders in the Grants Pass area. The moment he got on eBay, he realized that the Internet provided the perfect venue for shoppers from anywhere on the globe seeking rare items and bargains.
But he wants to beat eBay at its own game by serving the small sellers who originally made the auction giant so popular. "eBay has tried to take so much business that now they've got specific big sellers who have a product or commodity they can sell again and again. But the market that has built eBay is the small seller who has rare collectibles to offer," he says.
Currently, Fain operates OnlineAuction.com, which has about 50,000 users - a dramatic jump from last year's membership figure of 16,000. Fain boasts proudly that the site is growing rapidly and is now turning a profit.
OnlineAuction.com isn't Fain's first attempt at taking on eBay, however. "Back in 1997 I launched a site called FaincoAuction.com, which was actually one of the most innovative auction sites on the Net," says. "We were actually the first auction site that had an integrated mail system and an auction manager."
Fain has never been one to just sit around and complain about eBay¹s lack of features such as the ability to block troublesome buyers and the lack of a utility to manage auctions. (This was long before the development of My eBay.) "I thought, "This is crazy. You can't change or edit an auction, and one guy could potentially control every auction sale you have.""
FaincoAuction.com also challenged one of eBay's fundamental tenets, the absolute ending time for auction sales. "I like it if there are two people who are willing to pay more for an item. In our system, we extend the bidding past the original ending time to accommodate two bidders until one of them gives up."
But resting on his laurels isn't Fain's style, either. These days he is excited by the prospect of a new, worldwide marketplace. "It's going to become the industry," he says of online auctions. "We haven't even begun to create what will become the marketplace of the world. It will be the place where everybody goes to liquidate or buy and sell items. If you keep the price low, that's what will happen."
Instead of charging listing and sale fees, as eBay does, OnlineAuction.com provides sellers with annual or monthly memberships. Pay the membership fee, and you can list as many items as you want. "We are going to be the Costco of the online auction industry," he predicts.
Others may be trembling in their boots about the health of the economy, but Fain sees only opportunities. In particular, he wants to help underprivileged craftspeople and producers in Third World countries sell their wares at a fair price directly, cutting out wholesalers who frequently fail to pay reasonable fees. "Coffee buyers have a buying group that dictates what they're going to pay. The poor coffee farmers in Ethiopia are lucky if they make a penny a bushel. Wouldn't it be nice where those people could sell directly to the public? Wouldn't it be nice to have a free trading market?"
As if to answer his own question, Fain hints at a new worldwide marketplace that he'll be launching later this year. "The thing that gets me excited is this has only just started. It has not been done in a way internationally before. We have lots of things in the works that will make this happen," he says.
But for now, making OnlineAuction.com grow is his passion. "I've never taken a paycheck from this company. I work 60 hours a week, and I am building this company, we have stockholders, and employees, but the thing is, we're going too quickly, and it's so much important to me that the money goes into advertising and Web development. We're buying a new server array."
"Fain is also proud of his children, including is son Bron, who just finished four years serving with the Marines in Iraq, his daughter Breanna, an administrator with Goodwill Industries, and his daughters Jessalyn and Juliette.
Managing his businesses and his family hasn't weakened his original love of rare collectibles. He still bids on auction items, both on his own site and on eBay. He recalls the Rolex watch once owned by an Apollo 7 astronaut that sold on OnlineAuction.com, and gold coins that sold for a fraction of their value. "Not long ago, I purchased a rare Mickey Mantle baseball card, one of only 50 that were printed. Hopefully you find something where you know what it is and others don't know. I still see sales that have ended where I think, "I can't believe I didn't buy it.""
Fain doesn't intend to let other, bigger opportunities slip through his fingers. "We want to be bigger than eBay," he says with a laugh. "That's our goal."
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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