So you want to run an auto auction?
Academy preps managers, future owners
From left, Emily Barber, Chrissy Briggs Sellstrom, Britney Smith and Beth Barber take a break during an Auction Academy session. The women are part of a program that prepares auction owners' children to run the business.
Photo credit: ARLENA SAWYERS
The Auction Academy, which aims to prepare the next generation of used-vehicle auction owners and managers, plans to graduate its first students this year.
The academy's nearly two-year programs -- one for auction owners' sons and daughters who expect to take over the family business and another for nonfamily managers -- receive training in the ins and outs of successful auto auction management.
A key lesson: how to see the auction business from a customer's perspective. Academy students last summer participated in a daylong session on issues auto dealers face when acquiring used vehicles.
The session, conducted by the National Automobile Dealers Association and Bel Air Auto Auction in Bel Air, Md., covered such topics as government regulations, compliance issues and floorplan financing.
"Our auctions never see the dealer until the dealer comes to them," says Richard Curtis, president of the academy. "The whole idea is you need to understand your customer, and the dealer is our customer. It was a super session."
Auction Academy was created by TPC Management Co., a remarketing consulting and recruitment company in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville, founded by Pierre Pons.
The academy also received financial backing from the Independent Auction Group, a group of independent auction owners who are members of the National Auto Auction Association, and others, Curtis says.
There are 32 academy students -- 16 in each program -- and 17 percent are women. Each group meets eight times, about once a quarter.
"The initial concept for sons and daughters was born out of auction owners' desire to expose their family members to management styles different from what they experience at their own auctions," Curtis says.
Classes for auction owners' children began in spring 2012. Participants are in their early 20s to early 30s, work in the auction industry and likely will take over the family business. Graduation for the first group of sons and daughters is in March.
The program for managers started last February after an auction owner -- whose son who joined the initial program -- attended a session and said he would like to send his managers to a similar class. The managers' program is designed for people who have management experience but are unlikely to own the auction for which they work. They are typically in their late 20s into their 40s.
The first managers' group graduates in August.
Enrollment for the next round of classes has started, with the first session scheduled for April.
Though the programs have some joint sessions and cover many of the same topics, they are tailored to their students, Curtis says.
For example, a session for heirs apparent focuses on how auctions handle sales efforts targeted to dealers and corporate entities that sell vehicles at the auction, but the session for managers spends more time on sales staff pay plans, he says.
Throughout the sessions for sons and daughters are reminders that because they are the owners' children, they represent the company's brand.
"They have to look at their jobs and way they behave a lot differently than a regular employee does," Curtis says.
"We're not subtle about it. We think it's important."
Sessions last three to four days and take place in different cities around the country. They are taught by auction owners and industry experts from companies such as OVE.com, ADESA Inc. and Black Book and trade groups such as NAAA and National Automobile Dealers Association. The sessions include visits to one or two area auction sites.
Students learn about differences in auction layouts and management styles.
There also are sessions detailing the impact of technology. Other topics covered include vehicle reconditioning, insurance, security and human resources.
Beth Barber, the 28-year-old daughter of Jeff Barber, who owns State Line Auto Auction in Waverly, N.Y., was among the future auction owners at a session in October in Detroit.
She likes the sessions' opportunities to network and learn about best practices in use at other auctions.
"I always pick up a new idea to take back and apply at State Line," says Barber, who attended the session with her sister Emily, 25, and brother Paul, 24.
The siblings are partners in the business with their father and are training in all aspects of the business, including accounting and human resources.
Also in attendance was Britney Smith, 25, a fleet-lease manager at Dealers Auto Auction of Idaho, in Nampa, Idaho.
She says she looks for ways to complete tasks more efficiently at her auction.
Smith says that after she spots an example, she asks her company's employees why they do the task their way.
"If I hear, 'That's the way we've always done it,' that isn't a good answer," says Smith, the daughter of the auction owner, Russ Smith. "I want to hear, 'Because it's the most efficient way' or 'Because we tried it this way and it didn't work.'"
"It drives everybody crazy, but you've got to be willing to adapt and learn and change."
You can reach Arlena Sawyers at email@example.com.