Summertime attendees at Brasher’s Sacramento Auto Auction around the late 1970s might have noticed a 6-year-old boy emptying ashtrays and restocking the soda machines.
The youngster was John Brasher, and when he was 7 or 8, he moved up to work at the auction’s snack bar counter, selling popcorn and drinks.
“I figured out in the summertime, it’s really hot in Sacramento,” John Brasher said.
“So, I switched from popcorn to popsicles,” he continued. “Then after that, my younger brother got that job. And then I got bumped out to working on the lot and working in the shops.”
His father, Larry Brasher, who led the auction group bearing the family name, would go on to become one of the founding members of the ServNet Auction Group in 1987.
(KAR Global’s ADESA business unit acquired all eight Brasher auctions in 2016).
Larry Brasher and his father, the late Frank Brasher (who opened the family’s auction business in the late 1940s) both served as presidents of the National Auto Auction Association. Both are also NAAA Hall of Fame inductees.
In January, John Brasher took on a new industry role. ServNet announced its new executive team, with Brasher serving as the new executive director of ServNet and Robert Sullivan serving as administrative director.
Among other industry posts, Sullivan is a former managing partner of Chattanooga Auto Auction, which was an early member of ServNet. He also served as president of ServNet from 2004 to 2006. Sullivan has worked as a consultant for ServNet auction group auctions, and ServNet says he has provided expertise in auction operations and compliance issues.
Brasher and Sullivan have listed three areas of focus for ServNet in the coming year, and those areas show how the industry has come a long way technologically since Brasher’s popsicle-selling days.
Technology: ‘Tremendous’ collaboration
Those three areas of focus are technology, data analytics and growth, and Brasher emphasized technology when talking about the benefits of being a ServNet member. Independent auction operators often feel like they are on their own, he said.
But ServNet members, he said, “collaborate together tremendously.”
When Brasher and Sullivan started their new positions with ServNet, they worked to find out what top benefits members felt they gained from their association with the organization.
“And the collaboration, and the real family brotherhood that you get is really beneficial to them,” Brasher said.
He continued, “Sharing of best practices, handling of problems in different ways, strategy relative to technology and joint business efforts that you can do together. That’s very difficult to do alone.”
Brasher was a founding member of remarketing technology provider Auction Edge, which he said “was born out of that kind of collaboration.” Expanding on the focus area of technology, he noted that the collaboration that resulted in Auction Edge, and the collaboration that also created the concept of simulcasting auctions, “came from ServNet.”
That collaboration, strategic discussion and helping each other through problems has resulted in influential technology developments that are current staples in the industry today, he said.
A January news release announcing the new leadership roles for Brasher and Sullivan noted two new technological tools that ServNet auctions recently introduced, stating that the tools illustrate the group’s “ongoing commitment to technology and innovation.” TURN Auctions, which Greater Rockford Auto Auction owner Ryan Clark developed, is a mobile-based auction platform that ServNet says includes enhanced buyer protections. TURN Auctions rolled out last spring at several ServNet auctions.
In addition, DAA Northwest recently announced the premiere of a MAG-Now event that will use technology developed through a partnership between EBlock and Auction Edge. Through the partnership, a dealer-to-dealer auction platform complements the buying and selling experience at an auction.
Brasher said ServNet auctions will work on additional investments and partnerships over the next year.
“And they’re going to be very influential for the industry, so keep an eye out for that,” he said, adding that one of those areas will involve “alternate selling channels.”
Data analytics: Everyone’s talking about it
Brasher sees two purposes of ServNet’s data analytics. One is to help ServNet run its auctions better.
“And then secondly, we feel like we can do a much better job with our customers, providing them with data to know how we can better help them,” he said.
Sullivan also addressed the topic of data analytics, saying, “I just can’t believe how much of a buzzword this has become.”
He spoke at a conference several years ago and remembers describing the abundance of available data as an automotive industry problem.
Now, he said, everyone wants analytics.
And that is the case, “even if they don’t know exactly what they want, or what analytics is, everybody’s talking about it,” Sullivan said, adding that he and Brasher are working to partner with technology companies to provide analytics showing where ServNet auctions are doing well and where they could improve.
He and Brasher also plan to meet with fleet accounts to learn which areas of analytics are important to them.
‘Growth by auctions’
“We think there’s other independent auctions that could benefit from being ServNet auctions,” Brasher said.
He added, “We’re reaching out to them and trying to get them to participate with us.”
Sullivan agreed. “I see growth by auctions,” he said, adding that he and Brasher have envisioned ServNet’s growth from its current 21 auctions to the upper 20s or low 30s.
Independent auctions bring sweet benefits
Brasher sees an industry that has come a long way from his childhood days at the auction snack bar counter. Brasher describes the auto remarketing sector over about the last 20 years as “your classic maturing industry straight from the textbooks.” Industry members have experienced tightening profit margins. Consolidations are taking place, and technology is seeing a bigger role.
And like in all industries, when big business takes over, companies can lose their local connection with customers. In the auction industry, independent auctions are best situated to meet the needs of local dealers and local customers, Brasher said.
“Because they’re there, they’re invested personally in the real estate, and they’re invested personally in the human capital aspect of that market,” he said.
Brasher continued, “And which way the wind blows economically affects them personally. So they’re more closely related to their customers … the buying and selling dealers than any other auction operator out there. The independent auction is best situated to know what that relationship is like.”
Independent auctions do not have the resources of larger auction chains, but they are much closer to their customers and are better able to make wise investments that can more directly affect their customers, because they talk to their customers, Brasher said.
They are in the lanes with their customers every week. They visit with their dealers every day.
“And everything that happens in a changing marketplace and changing industry, they are very quickly able to respond because they’re there with their customers, and they can make those decisions quickly,” Brasher said.
“They’re not beholden to any central office for making any policy changes or policy decisions or things like that,” he continued. “They can make those decisions right now. That’s a key benefit of independent auctions and always has been.”