MONTHS of work had gone into it. A decade in the military meant MD Peter Davies knew everything had to be planned, all eventualities considered. ‘Preparation is everything,’ was his mantra.
When Car Dealer turned up on the day, the place had been transformed from when we visited just before Christmas. We were witnessing the launch of the UK’s first no-fee virtual car auction.
Paragon Remarketing opened for business on January 19. A corner of a former aircraft hangar in Bedford, home to Paragon Automotive, had been passed over to the UK’s newest car auction upstart. Yes, you read that right, a corner. And two rooms, plus a small kitchen… hardly the football stadia scale of usual car auctions, we know.
But that’s the whole point. Because, while the tables are swish, the chairs comfy and the coffee really rather good, it’s all immaterial. You see, this car auction can be one as comfortable as your office chair or living room sofa – because you don’t have to be there to take part.
Car Dealer was, though. When we arrived, a few hours before ‘going live’ at 3pm, Davies was relaxed. He led me into a room. An empty room. Boy, we were early. Still, gave us time to take in the BA Business Class ‘virtual’ auction house he’d promised us.
Here, laid out, next to the Hob Nobs and aforementioned caffeine, were company laptops. All hooked into the net, they were proudly displaying the Paragon Remarketing home page. Dealers, if they turned up in person, wouldn’t be raising their hand, but clicking their mouse.
Football manager overcoats could be left in the car. Athsma-inducing inhalations of cold-start diesel fumes were not even a consideration. And keeping in touch with the office (or Facebook) was a breeze. Indeed, potentially easier than ever. But more of that soon…
‘Out there,’ said Davies, pointing to 100-odd cars lined up in the hangar, ‘is the first and last time you’ll see all the auction vehicles here. They’ve been there for a week. Nobody has come to see them. We’re hoping that’s showing proof of the confidence they have in our systems.’
The model is such that cars are transferred straight from Paragon’s reconditioning bays into the auction, rather than wasting time and money being transported around the country.
I went outside to nose at the cars, to see how meticulous the standards were. The idea is, dealers will have so much confidence all the cars are on the money and honestly described, not seeing them in the metal to kick the tyres won’t be an issue.
Within minutes, I was assured. All the cars really were spotless. They’d been reconditioned, cleaned, polished, then parked indoors and left to gleam in safety. The smell? Not sooty diesel, but sweet car polish. Gorgeous.
Each one has been personally investigated by Davies’ fellow directors Paul Joyce and Malcolm Fryer. They then annotate notes to supplement the industry-established Paragon Condition report. We’re talking notes on stone chip locations here. It’s that exacting. If you see an A1 grade car, that’s ready to retail. On a dry day, you really could roll it off the transporter truck on to your forecourt.
Back into the warmth of the lounge, for another coffee (see a trend here?) and a run-through of the trading screen by Joyce. It didn’t take long – a few pointers from him, and all is self explanatory. On it there are various windows. See our annotated notes on the screenshot to see what each one does. Suffice to say, there’s yet more information about this on the Paragon website – we soon became familiar with the mechanics of it.
We sat down with a laptop. Three cars were put through a trial ‘training’ auction, with open bids. ‘It’s not real, gents,’ said Joyce. Which is how we ended up with something like a £40k Passat. Ahem.
By now, it was just a few minutes to the start of the first auction. The room had a few more people in – mainly Paragon staff, curious to see how things were going. A buyer from one garage was there, and a representative from a manufacturer. But the laptops were mainly left unused.
Davies was unperturbed. See, he’d been chatting to the tech support man, jetted in especially from New York to oversee the start of trading. ‘We’ve got hundreds of people logged on right now,’ he revealed to me. ‘People are joining all the time, too – see this list…’ He pointed out a screen, with bidders ‘joining’ proceedings. It was growing all the time…
And then, 3pm came. ‘Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first ever Paragon Remarketing online auction!’ Joyce explained how things would work. And then? Bidding commenced.
Just like that. No drama, no fanfare. Straight down to business. Efficient. Fuss free. Davies beamed. He’d got this far. And just knew the rest would go to his plan.
The first car auctioned was a silver Corsa. ‘What do you say to start here – £4,000? Who will give me £3,800? £3,500 – thank you… £3,500, £3,500, £3,500-£3,600, thank you…’ and so it continued – with the intensity of a real auction.
Yes, we were there, but for those online, the video image really was just like being there, too. The only difference here was clicking a button on the screen, rather than raising a dog-eared auction catalogue. Within a few minutes, it was clear that, despite being virtual, this auction was very real.
The Corsa sold for £4,200. Then, straight on to the next – a maroon 206. The same process, the same professional proceedings. Joyce is a smoothly-practiced pro, and proceedings were ticking along nicely.
But, while they were going smoothly, they were also moving perhaps a little more slowly than a real auction. What’s more, the silence in the room was palpable. We could see Joyce on TV – knew he was on TV – so were afraid to speak, just in case we spoiled things. Whispers abounded. Nobody dared even move, in case they walked in front
of the camera.
But, all the time, something very big was happening. Here was a room almost empty, yet the bids were flying in! Some cars saw a flurry of bids, reserve prices were being met – shut your eyes and you could be in a live auction hall. Open them, and you were in a business class lounge. Or, your office, or living room.
Half an hour in, and not a single flaw had cropped up. Peter was so relaxed, he left the room to get a coffee. He came back beaming, with water for everyone. ‘It’s the quietest auction room I’ve ever seen!’ he said. It broke the silence. And that relaxed everyone.
Away from it, other things were happening. People were getting into the swing of things. Bid speed was increasing, intensity was going up. Prices were realistic, there were no eBay style ‘deadline’ bids – just, a gradual acceptance of
the new process, and familiarity gaining speed, efficiency and smooth running.
We were aware of this, too. Bids were clicking up as fast as Joyce could call them. What’s more, buyers were utilising the ‘question’ process, too – which Joyce was answering live from the rostrum. Anyone with a laptop in front of them could read these, and hear Joyce‘s reply. Talk about efficient.
Even better, buyers who had bid enough started to use the ‘I’m done’ function – signalling a ‘head shake’ to Joyce electronically. He called these: ‘Loughborough, you’re out, Scotland, it’s between you and Birmingham…’ The bidding parties knew who they were, knew where they were. It brought newfound clarity to the process, and was impressive to watch in action.
It was clear that, to best use the service, it was actually easier if you weren’t there. Yes, we had laptops in front of us, but we also had Joyce live – multiple feeds, like going to a real-life auction and simultaneously watching it on CCTV.
Really, there simply was no need to be present, as there was nothing we could see there that we couldn’t find out away from it. And plenty more than the computer offered, not available to us. CAP prices, for example. Detailed notes on condition. Mileages. Even a complete set of high-res images before our very eyes.
I mentioned this to Peter. ‘Exactly! I’d be delighted if nobody turned up today – but 500 people logged on. It’s all designed to maximise efficiencies, and we’ve done our all to prove to people they don’t need to be here.
‘You can’t argue with what we’re saying – if you’re not happy with the car, simply send it back, and we’ll return your money. All this is here is to build trust in the system. Prove to dealers that it works. Given that there are only three people here today, it looks like we’ve already done our job. Because you’ve seen that, despite this, the auction is going just fine.’
He was right. What else was there to do, but to go home? I could even report that it was a bit of a waste of time, as I didn’t really find out anything that I couldn’t have done at the office. But that very fact is the beauty of the success. Online auctions work. The Paragon system is robust, effective and, it seems, something dealers will quickly get the hang of.
Suddenly, the smallish premises doesn’t seem like an issue. They’re not needed, and it’s thanks to efficiencies like this that Paragon is able to do it all for free. Indeed, even this offer is stretching for the first few months, to free delivery, too.
Really, there are few cheaper ways on the market to source cars.
I drove away, mindful of my bulging diary. Mindful that the afternoon I’d spent there could have been better used back at the office. I’d seen a revolution, alright. But I could have done just the same back at base… something that, right now, you can do, too.