First published February 2019
Auction house Aston Barclay’s new site in Wakefield has been dubbed ‘Europe’s most advanced auction house’. We felt a claim like that required substantiation, so we paid a visit ahead of its first sale.
Inside, the warehouse is huge and modern, with a painted road running through the center of the main auction hall and glass-walled conference booths along its flank. The 18-acre branch is divided into two sections: office space and auction space. The former is light and airy, providing a pleasant workplace for the 150 employees – finance teams, auctioneers, yard staff and more – who will put a steady stream of 35,000 cars every year through the auction process.
Also joining the team at the Wakefield site will be newly-acquired Leeds-based auction house Independent Motor Auctions (IMA) as well as the 30-strong team of The Car Buying Group, which Aston Barclay acquired in October last year. Over on the auction side, Aston Barclay are choosing to forgo the typical burger-van and pints-of-tea of old auction sites, instead installing a restaurant. More shocking still, there’s even an on-site gym and showers, for those who might want to spend lots of time at the center – professional traders, for example. With 15 auctions planned per month, this could certainly be the case.
The only downside to this modern minimalist design is that it looks very empty without any cars in it, which sadly was the case on the day of the media event. Still, it’s easy to imagine how impressive it will look when full; particularly the massive storage warehouse which adjoins the auction hall and boasts enough room for around 200 vehicles – a huge amount for a totally indoor space. There will be plenty of variety, too: “From bangers to Bugattis, all the way though,” quipped Aston Barclay CEO Neil Hodson. Commercial vehicles will be handled by the firm’s Leeds site – which was formerly their Northern powerhouse. “Our old premises leads itself to being a commercial center so I think that we’ll make that a dedicated center,” explained Hodson. “If we’ve got some vans, they’re better to go to the commercial center. They get more money; that’s where the commercial buyers go.”
In addition to the shiny new center, Aston Barclay have also been developing Cascade – a four-piece software suite to enable online auctioneering. The four products: e-Valuate, e-Hub, e-Xchange and e-Live are designed to take dealers and leasing vendors through the whole auction process from appraisal to sale entirely online. e-Live even offers a live-streamed auctioneer who will take users through a sequential bidding auction to give the sale an authentic feel. In addition to the rollout of the new digital suite, Hodson was very open to the idea of acquiring even more digital partners in the future. “I’d be looking around that digital space. If we could make some other acquisitions, I will. We’ve got a great investor in [private equity firm] Rutland Partners, we’ve got the cash, and that puts us in a great place. So if we can buy the right things to accelerate our journey, I definitely will.”
In short, it’s a good start to the year for Aston Barclay. The acquisitions and opening of the new site suggest that the wholesale used car market is in good health; a fact also highlighted in the National Association of Motor Auctions’ ‘encouraging’ December industry report late last year. Does this also reflect the health of the aftermarket? Hodson thinks so: “I think you know if that vehicle market’s turning and consumers are buying, then it has to affect the aftermarket. Selling all those cars at all those different ages – I think it’s good for the aftermarket because that keeps putting new parts and supply in there.”