Auction Owner Keeps Looking to the Future

By Jeffrey Bellant August 30, 2018


As Columbus Fair Auto Auction looks forward to its golden anniversary, owner Alexis Jacobs also looks back.

Jacobs said she marvels at how much things have changed – and not just in the distant past. From technology to compliance, the business is completely different.

“I think things have changed more in the last 10 years than they did in the first 50,” she said. “I think it has to do with how our whole world is changing, not just our community of auctions.

“Everything is going digital. So you either accept it, buy into it and do it or you’re going to fall by the wayside, like Kodak. It’s a digital world and you’re either in or out.”

Greg Levi, chief operating officer, said the business world of today means that gone are the days one-to-one business relationships.

“Now as a third-party consignor, you have relationships with commercial consignors that extend well beyond what it used to be,” Levi said. “As a result, our business has become very compliance-centric. In many ways, auctions don’t know what they don’t know.”

Jacobs has changed the way she does business to lead in this area.

Jacobs purchased a two-decade old compliance company. ComplyNet, earlier this year so now the company can promote compliance initiatives to independent auctions.

“She is also the first independent auction to hire a compliance officer – someone to work exclusively in the role of compliance officer,” Levi said.

Compliance is a culture, Levi said.

Managing relationships at the auction level are also challenging when a former one-lane sale has grown to an 11-lane, 500-employee operation.

“The way I’ve done it is to rely on Greg (Levi) because he’s a great relationship person,” Jacobs said. “He’s great with all and any of the employees. As he always says, ‘There’s always a problem but there is also always a story.’

“You have to listen to the story. So we feel like it’s more than a family that just a workplace.”

Jacobs said it’s not easy.

“That’s why I have more gray hairs every day,” she said with a laugh.

Jacobs takes her management team quarterly to different locations for what she calls a “retro.” The retrospective meeting looks back “at the good, bad and ugly” and it it looks forward.

She takes them to places ranging from a private country club to the Columbus Zoo.

“One of the things we do to differentiate ourselves is we literally create marketing and battle plans around the individual consignor,” Levi said. It includes the auction’s own action plan for its weekly roles and responsibilities.

“We monitor and measure those objectives every singe week, bar none,” Levi said.

He said when consignors see the auction’s battle plan; the response is always the same.

“The consignor says, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’” Levi said.

Jacobs’ advice on customer service is simple.

“One thing Alexis has always told me,” Levi said. “She said I will never make a mistake if I treat our customers the way she’s treated at Sax Fifth Avenue.”

Levi said the two things she’s focused on the most are: the relationship dynamic and aggressively making the changes needed to move the auction forward.

“That means putting her money where her mouth is with these changes,” Levi said.

Peer-to-peer networks are causing disruption everywhere, including the wholesale auto auction space. In this new era, the auction serves in a services role, as much as anything else, Levi said.

“But rather than look at ways to beat it, Alexis has decided to join it,” Levi said. “This is why we own Integrated Auction Solutions which services as many as 70 independent auctions for simulcast and services about 30-some auctions with their auction management systems.”

Levi said Columbus Fair has also created a web-based condition report writing tool that accommodates the three most critical components of a CR writing application: acquiring, integrating and exporting the data. The auction also has a marketplace strategy that allows dealers to keep inventory on their own lots while still selling the car at sale.

Levi points out that the nimbleness and freedom of the independent is reflected in their digital strategy.

But all that technology will never replace that personal customer service, Levi said.

“Today we could create a kiosk that dealers could use to come in and get their own bidder badges,” Levi said. “To this day, you will never see a kiosk in an Alexis Jacobs auction.

“It’s about that relationship and how you continue to maintain and develop that relationship.

“We protect that like it’s gold.”

Jacobs is also present in the business.

“She works everyday,” Levi said. “She’s in front of dealers everyday. She’s in the lanes, every sale. She doesn’t miss.”

Levi said he has the answer to how Columbus Fair maintains success after all these years.

“I work for one of the most competitive people I have ever worked for in my entire life,” he said. “That’s how we keep it going.

“She’s competitive. She’s fierce.”

While the auction’s really anniversary is in January, Levi sees this year as a true celebration for the things the auction is doing and has done.

“This is our Golden Year,” he said.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 August 2018 20:20