“We started at 75. Our whole model of executing it was built around 75 because we knew after three or four hours we were going to lose the attention span,” Ribar said. The May auction will be capped at 50 vehicles, she added.
Foot traffic wasn’t limited to auction day. “People could come in and pre-register for it and pre-qualify for financing. They got their auction number paddle. They could climb all over the bikes -- I had them in tents with security for 24 hours before the auction,” Ribar said.
The day of the auction, Ribar was in the crowd and texting Bonnette constantly. “‘Talk more about that bike,’ ‘Wait, don’t rush this bike.’ I was listening to the crowd and how they were responding,” Ribar said.
Worth the effort
Online bidders did more to boost bids than actual sales, Ribar noted. Some of the bikes sold at or just above wholesale, fueled by the onsite bidders. Ribar believes the return on investment is favorable.
For example, a 2011 Road Glide CVO sold at auction for $16,750, and even though the store lost $1,000 on it, “it probably would have have run through [a dealer auction] at $14,500,” she said. “I would rather lose profit to a consumer than to an auction house.
“For one day, instead of being a retailer, why not be a wholesaler?” she said. “It cost me $1,000 to market to that person, and that person is in my database.” She estimates the lifetime value in repeat business and referrals of such a lead at $250,000.
When the auction was over, Ribar estimates the dealership was up $23,000. In addition, a few of the winning bidders traded the bikes they had bought in the auction, on the spot, to buy new motorcycles. Five other bidders who didn’t win the bikes they wanted at the auction bought models off the showroom floor.
The trick to a successful onsite auction is to make it look easy for the customer, and that requires meticulous planning. “It was a lot of work as far as getting the legal things, getting the bikes and building the hype about it,” Ribar said.
One unexpected challenge: Convincing people the auction was legitimate. The public, Ribar said, is conditioned to the hype of a typical vehicle dealer sales pitch. Indeed, even state officials in Louisiana had to be persuaded that the auction was not a gimmick; it required a conference call with Bonnette and some skeptical motor vehicle department officials.
Once the auction was approved, the dealership provided extra training for staff, hired security workers and provided help for the finance team. “We had extra sales staff, extra porters. I had three reps from [Harley-Davidson Financial Services] come in,” Ribar said. “Whenever I do something big like this, I request the finance arm so we can do it without dragging out the process.”
Ribar is quick to point out that the success of any event is a team effort. “I am just the one that comes up with it. We have a fabulous management team that really does analysis for us,” she said. (See sidebar.)
Roughly $7,000 was spent marketing the auction, including a direct mail campaign. The auctioneer also takes a 10 percent commission on sales. The yield: About 60 motorcycles sold, a sizeable number of prequalified leads, and a spike in PG&A and retail sales.