Columbus Day 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the very first simulcast auction in the industry at State Line Auto Auction in Waverly, New York. The first vehicles ever offered for sale both live and electronically were processed at a General Motors closed auction.
It was an event that set the stage for sweeping changes in the auction industry, according to ServNet.
“400 vehicles were offered that day, and 400 were sold. 125 bidders were in attendance on the floor, and 15 bidders chose to stay at their respective dealerships and bid remotely,” said Jeff Barber, owner of State Line Auto Auction. “45 cars were purchased electronically by these remote bidders. At the time, all of us at State Line felt that we were involved in something ground-breaking, one that would shape the future of the auto auction industry.”
The catalyst for the event was a meeting earlier in the year between ServNet’s auction owners, ServNet’s then Executive Director Harry Beyer and Steve Campus, CEO of the Campus Group who had developed a technology that he felt was applicable to the auction industry. Campus had developed a device that not only allowed conference attendees to vote electronically, but also had the capability to tabulate and record the votes from many remote locations simultaneously.
To facilitate that process, the Campus Group utilized satellite technology which was available at that time from the rooftops of convention hotels.
“Steve's entrepreneurial spirit led him to think that this technology could be utilized in the auto auction environment,” said Barber. “After approaching a few OEM manufacturers, and even a couple of auto auction chains, to no avail, Steve learned of ServNet, and Beyer invited him to present his technology to the group. I volunteered to give it a try, if I could raise some interest from my auction’s customers.”
He quickly found an auction partner who was interested. Ford Sims, director of remarketing for General Motors, which had been selling vehicles at State Line since 1990, gave his permission to use the simulcast technology at a GM sponsored auction, and the date was set for Oct. 12, 1995.
A fortunate fact was the availability of satellite dishes at General Motors dealerships for use in their respective parts departments. With most GM dealers already having a dish on their rooftops, State Line's sales and marketing team set out on a mission to gain permission for remote bidding using the existing equipment. The stage was set for dealers to bid on cars from their offices at the dealerships while a live auction was being conducted in the auction lane.
“The basic technology for this history-making sale 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,” said Barber. “At this point, the Internet as we know it today was not employed.”
The satellite trucks set up in Waverly that day had come from the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament which had been played recently in Queens, New York City. Following a couple of dry runs to test the technology without any actual bidding in July and August, the team from the Campus Group literally transformed offices at State Line Auto Auction into a broadcast center.
Both the Campus Group and State Line Auto Auction have gone on to succeed in their respective business arenas since that day.