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Ray Nichols spreads his wings

Entrepreneur adds NAAA presidency to his achievement list

The businessman
Title: President-elect, National Auto Auction Association Company: BSC America Cos. in Bel Air, Md. Wholesale auto auctions: Bel Air Auto Auction, Bel Air, Md.; Auto Auction of New Orleans, New Orleans; Tallahassee Auto Auction, Tallahassee, Fla.; Fort Pierce Auto Auction, Fort Pierce, Fla. Age: 57 Proudest moment: Accepting the Maryland Master Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1992 on behalf of his family
The BCS empire
Some of the BSC America subsidiaries
  • BSC Remarketing - manages the resale of vehicles for clients
  • Atlantic Vehicle Transport - vehicle transportation company
  • Banking Services Corp. - extends credit to qualified purchasers of vehicles from BSC America Auctions
  • Lee and Mason of Maryland - provides residual insurance services for lessors

  • Ray Nichols is the quintessential entrepreneur: When he sees a good business opportunity, he takes advantage of it.

    During his 17-year tenure as a commercial banker that began in 1964, Nichols and his now-deceased wife, Elaine, operated two auto auctions, acquired an asset liquidation company and started the International Auto Show and the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show in Baltimore.

    Needing to spread his wings, Nichols left the banking business in 1981 and created what became BSC America Cos., a group of 36 small and medium-sized corporations and partnerships based in Bel Air, Md. Among BSC's holdings are a vehicle transportation company, a financial services company that provides floor-planning for dealers, an insurance company for lessors, a company that manages vehicle remarketing for clients and four wholesale auto auctions that handled 143,660 vehicles last year, 61.7 percent of which were sold.

    Nichols' list of accomplishments gets a little longer next month.

    That's when he takes over the 2001-02 presidency of the National Auto Auction Association from Kenny Osborn at the association's 53rd annual convention Oct. 2-7 in San Francisco.

    Osborn is regional vice president of West Operations with ADESA Corp. of Indianapolis.

    Nichols, 57, said he has spent the last year as president-elect working with Osborn on legislative and regulatory issues regarding how to assist independent auction owners.

    "Kenny has kept me quite busy this year; it will be more of the same," said Nichols, an avid fisherman and hunter who also is active in waterfowl conservation.

    Tough tasks

    Nichols said several legislative and regulatory matters demand the organization's attention.

    A key issue is a Texas law passed in July that requires anyone, including consumers and dealers, who brings a used vehicle from another state to pay $225 for title and registration. The law took effect Sept. 1 but won't be implemented until Nov. 1 to give the Texas Department of Safety time to put a fee-collection system in place. The previous fee was $1.

    That is troubling for the used-vehicle industry because manufacturers, fleet/lease companies and financial institutions regularly move their vehicles from one state to another to be remarketed.

    The fee could discourage sellers from taking vehicles to Texas auctions or Texas dealers from attending auctions outside their state.

    A franchised dealer and an independent used-car dealer filed a complaint in the District Court of Travis County in August asking that the law be declared unconstitutional.

    Nichols said the association is interested in how the matter is resolved because it has the potential to impact the price of used vehicles at the wholesale and retail levels.

    Florida and California passed similar laws. State courts ruled both were unconstitutional.

    "Anyone who buys or sells a used car has to have a concern," Nichols said. "We like to have a level playing field for all states."

    Nichols said he also is concerned about helping independent auction owners. He said there is a place for small- and medium-sized auction businesses in the industry but added that some owners may have to work harder to find their sales niche. For example, one auction might specialize in dealer consignment, while another finds that fleet-lease or heavy-truck sales is the way to go.

    "Innovation in any business typically comes from the small entrepreneur. I think you'll see more innovation," he said. "In this business, there is no status quo."

    Career: Auctions, banking

    Nichols may have started his adult career in the banking business, but he was in the auction business before that.

    Born in Federalsburg, a rural town on the eastern shores of Maryland, Nichols accompanied his father, who was in the livestock business, to several livestock auctions. As a youngster, Nichols enjoyed the auction process and at age 9 conducted his first sale when he auctioned a pen of pigs. While in high school, Nichols started his own business auctioning farm equipment.

    After high school, Nichols enrolled at the University of Maryland in Baltimore as a business major. At age 19, he landed a job with Maryland National Bank, which is part of Bank of America, in its consumer-lending department.

    Working during the day and attending school at night, Nichols earned a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Maryland. He also completed graduate programs in lending at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, Okla., and the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Va.

    He became a vice president in charge of the bank's consumer lending department at age 29.

    Their first company

    In 1973, while working at the bank, Nichols and his wife started Nichols Auction Co. in Baltimore, an asset liquidation company that auctions the assets of defunct companies. That company, now in Bel Air, was renamed Atlantic Auctions.

    In 1975, the couple purchased Car and Truck Auction of Maryland, a public auction then in Baltimore, and their first wholesale auto auction, Bel Air Auto Auction in Bel Air, in 1980. All three auctions are still part of BSC; Nichols no longer owns the auto and boat shows.

    Through the years, Nichols has served on many committees and boards, including the Maryland Auctioneers Association, Maryland Bankers Association, Salisbury State University Foundation and the Waterfowl Trust of America.

    He said his proudest moment was when he received the Maryland Master Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1992 because "it was an accomplishment for my wife and family."

    You can reach Arlena Sawyers at asawyers@crain.com

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