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Barrett-Jackson Auction Company CEO on its ‘hybrid’ fall auction, a ‘recession-proof’ business

Craig Jackson, Barrett-Jackson Auction Company Chairman & CEO, joins Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade with Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss its upcoming fall auction on Thursday, how its engaging a younger audience, and much more.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, I want to shift gears and talk about the high-end world of car auctions. Some of the rarest cars on the planet and go across the Barrett-Jackson auto stage-- auction stage-- and they can sometimes go for a massive price tag. Let's dive into the business with Barret-Jackson's Chairman and CEO, Craig Jackson. Craig, listen, loyal watcher here. Longtime watcher of the auctions. Take us through how the auctions have changed during the pandemic.

CRAIG JACKSON: Well, after we had our most successful auction in January. We sold $141 million worth of cars. And then, just a month later, the pandemic hit. So we shifted gears. We've been early adopters of technology. We started selling cars online back in '95. We wrote an app to stream and do auctions. So we went back to selling cars digitally and had two online auctions in the slots where our Palm Beach auction would have been and our Mohegan Sun auction.

And then, as we figured out how we could do this in a live environment, we were cautious how to come back. And now we're going to do it in Scottsdale coming up here, but still using a lot of technology-- so if people want to bid from home, or if they want to come. But our next auction is only for bidders and consigners, no public gate.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFORUS: So you have your fall auction coming up in a few days. I'd imagine this is, in normal times, a pretty social gathering. But it's going to be all virtual this time. What are expectations like? Have you had a lot of people reach out and say, yes, we're going to be a part of this?

CRAIG JACKSON: Yes, our bidders and our VIPs especially. So this is a hybrid. Normally, we would have been doing Las Vegas. We decided to do it in our hometown of Scottsdale to work through a lot of the new systems so that people would feel comfortable coming to the event the way we're social distancing everything. Some people may want to come and just look at the cars and bid remotely. So we're doing a hybrid and limiting that just to bidders and consigners. But we have everything available online, also.

BRIAN SOZZI: Craig, with those VIP customers, those with the biggest checkbooks, so to speak, are you seeing them buy a lot more cars ahead of the election under the-- maybe they're worried about their taxes going up, so why not, under a lower tax break, go out and potentially invest in some classic cars?

CRAIG JACKSON: I'm seeing it both ways. We've been in this business coming on 50 years. We've been through every type of recession and the dot-com bubble, 9/11, the Great Recession. And when one segment is doing better, one segment is doing not as good. The thing is, we are a commodity that is also a tangible assets that you can play and have fun with.

And a lot of people hedge their bets with collector cars, and they figure, it goes down in value-- the taxes, whether you have a high cap gain, some people are selling some of their cars anticipating cap gains going up, and other people are buying cars anticipating that tax structure, as a whole, will change. But a lot of it is people enjoying cars and the camaraderie, and how do we do that now while social distancing is why we decided to do this fall auction and have a lot of different changes.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFORUS: I've been having a lot of fun going to these car shows during the fall. It is a good way to social distance. It's outdoors. I've been bringing the kids. My sons are really into it. I'm curious what is in demand right now when it comes to these cars? And how are you drawing in the younger audience, who may not have the checkbook just yet, to take a part in your auction? But how do you get them involved?

CRAIG JACKSON: Well, great question. One, it's changing the types of cars we sell. We've also been an early adopter of the internet. We've bought on the internet since '94. We are doing a much enhanced stream and bringing in much younger talent to talk about the changing cars and the cars that they like. And that is the '80s, '90s, up to the 2000 cars, the rise of the Japanese cars. A lot of people remember when 240Zs first came out.

So you have to keep evolving. And also, the resto-mods, where you take an old car and you put all modern drivetrain and technology in those. And those seem to cover all sorts of generations. And the modern super cars-- we're selling a Ford GT and an LFA Lexus. So you're selling cars that are collector cars today, and those really appeal to all generations.