From mobile sale to Manheim Wilmington: Building an auction

Action from a Sept. 15 grand opening sale at Manheim Wilmington in North Carolina. Photo by Joe Overby.

A mid-September morning in Wilmington, N.C., feels a lot like AuSM’s previous visit to the D&E Mitsubishi grounds back in January

Sunny skies, pleasantly warm.

Auto dealers milling about, bidding on and buying cars from the Manheim auto auction sale happening on the property.

Except this time around, instead of cars running through an outdoor, asphalt lane adjacent to a satellite-equipped trailer, the cars are passing through a two-lane, covered auction arena.

That morning of Sept. 15 was grand opening sale at Manheim Wilmington, the culmination of converting a mobile sale to a permanent auction site.

What had been a traditional mobile auction for a decade is now a two-lane permanent auction facility. 

The launch of Manheim Wilmington was part of a larger local and mobile growth strategy for Manheim, which announced six new physical auctions in July, including the Wilmington site. 

The new sites are smaller, one- to four-lane facilities. At that time, the company also said it would be expanding its mobile and digital services to new areas of the U.S.

In a September news release on the Wilmington location, Manheim said its local and mobile growth strategy is “designed to meet the needs of a variety of sellers—from independent dealers to franchise and commercial consignors, enabling them to do business when and where they need”.

Matt Laughridge, who is director of mobile auctions at Manheim, said in the same release: “Our expansion decisions are always driven by our clients. We have worked closely with our dealer clients throughout the region to identify opportunities to provide a marketplace that often delivers greater net value than traditional dealer-to-dealer sales.

“And with the Manheim Simulcast and OVE platforms, we can extend the buyer base and help our sellers achieve even greater success.”

‘That looks like an auction building’

In April 2016, Kevin Cook was the newly minted general manager of Manheim North Carolina and attending his first-ever mobile sale, which was taking place at this very location.

“And I’m standing there in front of our trailer, enjoying the scene, enjoying the experience, and I look to my right and I see this building.  It’s vacant. (I’m) like, ‘That looks like an auction building,” Cook said, referring to the building in which Manheim Wilmington is now housed.

Cook, who is general manager of both Manheim North Carolina and Manheim Wilmington, readily acknowledges he wasn’t the first person to think of that idea. It had been discussed over the years. But the idea planted the seed for a goal to make that conversion.

And discussions with D&E Mitsubishi then started and continued over the next six months to get more input on expansion of the sale.

In early 2017, they locked in an agreement, and then in the spring, Cook, Laughridge and Manheim North Carolina dealer services supervisor Justin Rogerson walked the facility and started brainstorming plans. They drew up a blueprint of sorts, utilized some capital from Manheim and D&E, and got to work.

The technology infrastructure was a big part of transition, and the auction worked with corporate headquarters in Atlanta on that project, Cook said. The team worked with local contractors on the design and construction of the new space during June and July.

Before remodeling, the arena looked like a “garage,” Cook said.

The team replaced the insulation and installed new doors on either side. They also added a barrier from the dealership, since D&E will still be using the showroom space, counters, fireproof safes and Simulcast screens and more.

“It was really starting a brand new auction from scratch,” Cook said.

He has had experience doing this before, dating back to his days working to getting Manheim Nashville launched in 2001.

 “This was as complicated to me as that was,” Cook said.

Down to everything from renovating bathrooms to ensuring security measures and taking care of the tech infrastructure.

“Those kind of things you forget,” Cook said. “It’s not just opening up a garage. You have to build an auction.”

Other facilities across US

There are 14 of these smaller Manheim facilities in the U.S., Laughridge said, including another N.C. location across the state in Charlotte.

“It’s an evolution that we have to go through,” Laughridge said, “They almost have to have a proving ground of the more traditional mobile auction and then grow to it. We don’t often (have a) ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy. We want to partner with a dealer or two or multiples and grow it organically.”

Some dealers find that a more boutique approach can be less intimidating than a massive auction facility and provides a more personalized service, he said.

If there are 350 vehicles, there will likely be 350 buyers at these types of sales. And 60 percent or more of those buyers will be online, Laughridge said, meaning the 25 staff/personnel will have less than 150 folks to work with on site.

“That gives us a really good ratio for being able to work hand-in-hand with the buyers,” Laughridge said.

Those buyers hail from all over the East Coast, Cook said. As far as the sellers, there’s a good mix here at Wilmington, as well. That includes eight to 10 larger franchised dealers, Triangle Auto Sales, independent dealers and wholesalers.

Typically, there’s an average of 25 sellers at this location, with cars averaging a $6,300 price point.

‘Work hand-in-hand with buyers’

One of the benefits to having a permanent place is the ability to secure the lot and allow sellers to bring cars on site Mondays and Tuesdays for the Friday sale instead of a “surge” of vehicle drop-offs Wednesday through Friday, Cook said.

And for the sellers, that also means the car can be checked in quicker and posted online three to four days earlier, as well.  Buyers can come check out the cars earlier, as well.

With the full-service office now on site, folks can drop off titles and receive payments on Monday, as well, instead of waiting until Friday or go through the mail, for example.

“And we invested in (Manheim Wilmington) having its own inventory management system here, which is a pretty extensive process,” Laughridge said.

So instead of it being under the inventory system of Manheim North Carolina (which had run the mobile sale), it has its own, letting the auction post cars on OVE, facilitate transactions and thus give customers more of “full-service offering,” Laughridge said.

Plus, it gives the auction its own identity, he added.

Cook said, “I think the word he used, ‘identity,’ is probably the biggest change.” 


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