State Line Auto Auction: 20 Years Online

September 11, 2015
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The Satellite trucks set up in Waverly, N.Y. that day had come from the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament which had been played recently in the borough of Queens, New York City.  The team from the Campus Group literally transformed offices at State Line Auto Auction into a broadcast center. (Photo: ServNet). 
The Satellite trucks set up in Waverly, N.Y. that day had come from the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament which had been played recently in the borough of Queens, New York City.  The team from the Campus Group literally transformed offices at State Line Auto Auction into a broadcast center. (Photo: ServNet).

On October 12, 1995, at State Line Auto Auction, in Waverly, N.Y., the first vehicles ever offered both “live” and “electronically” were processed at a General Motors closed auction.

That day, 400 vehicles were offered, and 400 were sold, with 125 bidders were in attendance on the floor and 15 bidders chose to stay at their respective dealerships and bid “remotely."  

Forty-five cars were purchased “electronically” by these remote bidders. At the time, everyone at State Line realized that they were involved in a historical event, and looking back twenty years later, the story is one that should be of interest to the auto auction industry.

The catalyst for this event took place at a ServNet meeting a few months prior, when Harry Beyer, ServNet’s executive director at the time, introduced Steve Campus to the ServNet group.  Campus was the CEO of the Campus Group, and he had developed technology that he felt was applicable to the auction industry.  Campus had developed a device that allowed conference attendees to “vote” electronically with the capability of tabulating and recording these “votes” from many remote locations simultaneously.

Campus' client at the time was a large pharmaceutical company that ascertained the need to have physicians use this technology in “real time” so that different thoughts from groups of physicians at disparate medical conferences could let their opinions be known instantaneously.  The Campus Group utilized satellite technology which was available at that time from the “rooftops” of convention hotels.

Campus' entrepreneurial spirit led him to think that this technology could be utilized in the auto auction environment.  After approaching a few OEM manufacturers, and even a couple of auto auction chains, to no avail, he learned of ServNet, and Beyer allowed him to present his technology to the group.  Jeff Barber, State Line’s owner, volunteered to “give it a try,” if, of course, he could raise some interest. 

State Line had procured a contract from General Motors as a “GM Sponsored Auction” in the fall of 1989, with the first auction conducted in March of 1990.  In 1995, Mr. Ford Sims was the Director of Remarketing  for GM, and after learning of the concept from Beyer and Barber, he gave his permission to go ahead.

A fortunate fact was the availability of satellite dishes at General Motors dealerships for the use of their respective parts departments.  With most GM dealers already having a “dish” on their “rooftop”, State Line’s sales and marketing team set out on a mission to gain permission for “remote bidding” using the existing equipment. 

Hence, a “partnership” was struck between Campus and Barber to provide the means by which General Motors could conduct a closed auction for their dealers allowing the dealers to bid remotely at the same time the live auction was being conducted…..which was unheard of in 1995.

There was this thing called “the Internet,” but popular opinion from the parties involved deemed that the Internet was “too slow”….it could never keep up with the fast bidding required. 

Therefore, the basic technology consisted of live video streaming by way of satellite, with the audio portion of the auction being transmitted through a “phone bridge” which was located in Kansas……Hence, no “Internet.”

EDS (Ross Perot’s Company) was in charge of all satellite technology for GM.  On sale day, October 12, 1995, it so happened that GM had to “buy back” the satellite time slot between 10 AM and 2 PM from the Chrysler Corporation, to which it had previously been sold.

The Satellite trucks set up in Waverly, N.Y. that day had come from the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament which had been played recently in the borough of Queens, New York City.  The team from the Campus Group literally transformed offices at State Line Auto Auction into a broadcast center.

In July and August of 1995 State Line had conducted a couple “dry runs” to test the technology without having any actual “real” bidding.  The first “live” event on October 12th was quite remarkable in that many bids were recorded and 45 cars were SOLD to remote bidders.  The first actual vehicle ever sold to a remote bidder in conjunction with a live auction was car #8 that day, and it was sold to Farnsworth Chevrolet of Canandaigua, NY, to George Marble, their Used Car Manager.  Farnsworth bought 8 cars remotely, and another dealership, Bob Johnson Chevrolet, bought 12.  Of the fifteen dealers signed on remotely, only two failed to buy at least one vehicle. 

The interest regarding this “experiment” reached all the way to the GM boardroom, as it was rumored that a few members of the board of directors were observing this new technology as it was being utilized.  Although General Motors had plans to have a complete roll-out of this technology in the first quarter of 1996, the landscape changed abruptly when there was a personnel re-alignment within the remarketing department just weeks after the successful debut.

Both The Campus Group and State Line Auto Auction have gone on to succeed in their respective business arenas since that October day in 1995.  History was made due to their innovation and expertise, and the auction industry has now totally embraced “Simulcast bidding”.

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