By Mario Toneguzzi
Calgary-based retailer Upside is proving that the business of reselling second-hand items doesn’t have to be something that’s solely undertaken by the Value Villages of the world, thrift stores and consignment stores.
In fact, Upside has been successful in launching its model in the more upscale, luxury side of that particular retail sector as Canada’s largest online resale platform of luxury goods - handbags, shoes, accessories, clothing, fine jewelry - with over 200 luxury brands available.
Lauryn Vaughn founded the company in November 2015 with the warehouse/office and small retail space located in Calgary.
“We are in the resale space. We are an ecommerce company that provides women a seamless luxury experience where they can buy and sell luxury goods. So the value proposition on the buy side is obviously it’s 100 per cent online. So you can get authenticated luxury goods for a fraction of retail delivered to your home,” said Vaughn.
“And then on the sell side we offer more back outside of selling it yourself. We have pickup options as well and we pay for the shipping to receive the items or you can drop it off if you are located in Calgary.”
Vaughn said the concept for now is geared to women but the company does hope to expand to items for children and men in the coming years as an expansion strategy.
"The luxury resale market is growing for a number of reasons. Consumers have woken up to the reality that in some cases they are sitting on thousands of dollars tied up in handbags and other products that are not being worn. Having been manufactured with high quality materials, luxury products can last for decades and have a very long product life cycle. In many cases they hold much of their value. They are often timeless in design,” said Bruce Winder, a retail expert and consultant.
“At the same time the stigma of buying used products has been significantly reduced as Millennials and Gen Z customers look for ways to stretch their money yet look great. In addition, technology through marketplace platforms has enabled the almost frictionless buy and sell relationship needed to form a strong and growing market on both sides. Finally, with higher price points, there are enough profit dollars available to intermediaries to inspect and manage the exchange while still yielding a decent return once volume gets to a certain level."
Vaughn has always wanted to be in the fashion industry. She spent some time in Paris for a couple of years before moving back to Calgary. Living in Europe, she noticed there was a different mindset about consignments.
“I don’t think there’s such a negative connotation associated where I found in North America it was kind of frowned upon. If you were selling stuff you needed the money or if you were buying you couldn’t afford new. There was these kind of negative connotations around consignments and even when you thought about the traditional consignment stores you could almost smell the mothballs, very over-crowded spaces. So the customer experience wasn’t great,” she said.
But Vaughn thought it could be done better. When she moved back to Canada, RealReal, an online and brick-and-mortar marketplace for authenticated luxury consignment in the U.S., was gaining traction. She researched what was available in the Canadian market.
“I found that there was nothing that had a full breadth of product online. You either had a consignment store that posted one or two things. But there was nothing that was a fully-functioning online boutique focused on the retail industry,” added Vaughn.
“When we first started we were in my basement. We’ve grown since then . . . We’ve now outgrown our current warehouse. We’re 3,100 square feet now. We are moving in the next couple of months here to a space that will probably be 6,000 or so square feet. From an actual space perspective we’ve grown immensely. We now have online over a thousand people signing up every month and our database we have about 11,000 users and growing online.”
Vaughn said that segment of the retail industry is growing for a number of reasons. Sustainability, for one, is a huge factor for many people, especially for younger demographics.
Of course, affordability is another.
“The other thing I think resale really provides is that you can get quality, variety and quantity. So the ability to be constantly changing your wardrobe.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.