The numbers are in for Bring A Trailer for 2021, and they are astounding! As reported by Bloomberg’s Hannah Elliot last Friday, the online auction site sold $828.7M, more than double what it did in 2020, and more than twice the sales of any other auction company, either live or online. This is the first time online auctions have surpassed live auctions in total sales.
I am a fan of BAT, but I was worried that they would suffer under Hearst Auto’s ownership which acquired the company in June 2020. These figures can put those concerns to bed: BAT is driving sales, engaging new buyers, and elevating valuations across the board.
Let’s first dive deeper into the numbers. Mind you, I’m more interested in what this means for the CPX community of collector car parts and services businesses that support the collector car hobby. I’ll share some of my takeaways.
To quote the Bloomberg article, “BAT’s jump indicates a major shift for the collectable and vintage car market.” Buckle up. What follows is a litany of “Oh wow!” facts and figures about BAT’s incredible 2021:
It is amazing to see the site’s momentum accelerate, especially after its acquisition. Oftentimes the disruption of a change in control and efforts to fold the acquisition into the main business is noticeable and unpleasant. One would not even know BAT has a new owner as Hearst has been seemingly hands-off, and Randy Nonnenberg, BAT’s president and co-founder, is active and very engaged. Since terms of the deal were private, it’s not clear what incentives or stake Nonnenberg still has, but it seems like he still has a dog in the fight.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. Hagerty estimates annual sales of collector cars to be $30B, so BAT is about 2.8%, and online auction sales as a whole accounting for only 3.4%. A vast majority of transactions still happen privately, but BAT is having a big influence on the market as a whole.
This section starts broad and then narrows down on the parts and services business.
BAT is the gateway for next-gen buyers.
Hagerty wrote in its recent State of the Market at the End of 2021 report:
"[W]e continue to see more and more enthusiasts born after 1964 joining the fray. Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers now constitute the majority of people calling Hagerty for quotes on collector car insurance, and that majority continues to grow stronger. Much of this shift is explained by enthusiasts in their 40s and 50s entering their peak earning years, but even twentysomethings are making their presence felt."
It doesn’t take a genius to see that Bring A Trailer is perfectly matched with this crowd. They can lurk, learn, and, when ready, start to bid. This is great news! We need to have that next generation of owners grow and BAT is a big part of it right now.
Next-gen owners want to buy online.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but young people do not like to pick up the phone. Their first stop will be a Google search bar, so having your business and inventory be found online is critical for future growth.
However, we also know that when buying parts for older cars, it isn’t a “one-click" deal. Many times expert knowledge is needed to ensure the proper part, so be ready to do it via email and chat.
New shops caring for unfamiliar cars.
BAT is a world without geographical boundaries. People have no hesitation bidding on cars wherever they may reside, knowing that shipping is not going to break the bank. However, it increases the chances that a car ends up being cared for by someone who is not an expert in that make or model. If you're a supplier, your expertise will be even more valuable and welcoming to new customers, whether it's the owner, professional mechanic, or restorer.
Participate in the BAT community.
BAT isn’t just an online auction site, it’s a community. For example, a specialist in Porsche 356s should watch every Porsche 356 auction and chime in if you have something to add. You’d be surprised at how your business will get noticed, especially if you are providing expertise and even support in solving technical problems. Don’t be shy about it, and be yourself -- you might just find that it's fun!
BAT is driving up valuations.
Finally, BAT isn’t just bringing in new buyers, it’s making an efficient market that has more demand than supply. What happens then? Car valuations go up! Hagerty even documented this in their article The BAT Premium which explains how cars sold on the site achieve a valuation 24% higher than through other channels. The more valuable the car, the more folks will be invested in maintaining, repairing, and restoring it.
As the proverb goes, "A rising tide lifts all boats." In the collector car world, BAT is like the moon that is spurring the market and our collective growth. Here’s to their continued success, as well as that of other future innovators that keep our community vibrant and prosperous.