The Value of Partnerships in the Post-COVID World

By Ania Caprio – Integra Asset Solutions

Pandemic. What a weird and unprecedented thing for all of us to live through.  Even now, it’s still difficult to comprehend what it was like – the apprehension to go outside, the fear of what our lives would become, and the gut-wrenching unease about an uncertain future.  Not to mention, how will we live without toilet paper?  Will I have to fight someone at Costco for the last 36-pack?  It truly was surreal.

Almost three years after mandated shutdowns, and although masks (for the most part) are no longer required and the world seems eager to get back to normal, the present is a bit different than we imagined.  Do you remember a time when conference calls were simply just that, no video required?  These days, every call with more than two people will surely require you to put on a shirt, or pants…  Hey, no judgement.

Many of you will remember the conference call for IAA members as soon as the shutdowns were announced.  All of us shared the same concerns.  Should we suspend all auctions?  How do we handle removal?  Should we refrain from accepting cash payments?  Everything was unsure, and nothing was certain.

The fear of the unknown made many people reevaluate their lives.  Sadly, an incredibly large number of people were forced to leave their jobs and find other ways to make a living.  Some simply decided that this was the perfect time to retire and enjoy life.  Others had time to explore hobbies like cooking or woodworking.  These folks were fortunate enough to discover their true passion and make a career out of it.  And some individuals, like ourselves, were working from home enjoying more work-life-balance and quality time with family.  So, while the pandemic was life-altering in many negative ways, it was also a catalyst for positive change – including the creation of Integra Asset Solutions.

After decades of gaining experience working on hundreds of major liquidation and valuation projects at Hilco, our team leveraged our collective talents, belief in each other, and a boatload of courage to create something entirely new.  We saw an opportunity to not only enrich our personal and professional lives, but also to provide quality liquidation services to a much larger audience that otherwise didn’t meet the financial requirements of a larger liquidator.

Integra officially opened its doors for business in November 2020.  I often use the analogy that in the beginning it felt like we were trying to drive a car while paving a road at the same time, which was incredibly challenging, frustrating, but undeniably satisfying.  Considering the uncertainties in the face of the pandemic, leaving behind a stable income at a major and successful financial player like Hilco to pursue a startup, was certainly a difficult decision.  However, due to the confidence and belief that each member of our team had in themselves, and each other, Integra was able to launch as a fully equipped in-house execution team.  From deal qualification to asset valuation, to setup and marketing, to auction execution, accounting, and removal, we set our bar high, and challenge ourselves to do better each time for our team, our clients, and our partners.  But you know what makes a great team better? A partner with a great team of their own.

In these last two years as Integra, we have recognized and appreciated the value of partnerships within our industry in the post-pandemic world.  In the face of market uncertainties, we have experienced success with our most trusted partners, because we have been able to lean on each other’s strengths and resources.  As we are seeing the economic repercussions everywhere, it is quite apparent that labor shortages are prevalent in just about every industry.  Companies are struggling to fill positions, leading to major bottlenecks in the supply chains.  I’m sure you are not only seeing it in the manufacturing sector of companies struggling to meet their demand, but also experiencing it in your daily lives.

For us as auctioneers, this certainly presents a lot of opportunities.  However, we can acknowledge that we aren’t immune to labor or resource shortages, and that auctions certainly look different post COVID.  Pre-pandemic auctioneers were, at least selectively, still doing live onsite auctions.  I’m not really sure onsite auctions will ever come back, definitely, not in the pre-pandemic numbers, but we all proved we could do it remotely during the shutdown, so why not save some time and money, and just do it virtually.  Integra, alongside its partners, certainly executes more hybrid auctions these days.  One project may encompass different combinations of sale types – a virtual auction with a live auctioneer, a timed online only auction, and maybe a sprinkle of negotiated pre-auction sales (a sort of diversified portfolio approach to liquidating assets and getting the highest return).  Close and strategic partnerships allow us to relay these experiences, share lessons learned, and form new best practices for our collective success.

This year, I had the opportunity to contribute to the redevelopment and redesign of the IAA’s website.  As the website committee worked on highlighting the core mission and benefits of the association, it became apparent that the biggest value of membership is the ability to connect and cultivate quality business relationships in this industry.  Members of the IAA recognize that the networking opportunities with top-tier auctioneers in this business are invaluable.

I think we will all agree the last two years have been quite a ride, and I’m willing to bet, the bottlenecks, shipping delays, and labor shortages are not over yet.  Let’s not navigate the post-pandemic auctioneer challenges alone.  Let’s partner instead to leverage our respective strengths, mitigate risk, combine resources, to not only exceed our ROI projections, but also to grow our respective businesses and secure the future of this industry.