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Wheeling and dealing: Auto auction business keeps on trucking after takeover

Longtime general manager retains leadership -

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A Nissan Rogue gets a fresh coat of paint at ADESA in preparation for future auction. The one-square mile that is Wood Village isn’t exactly known for its hustle and bustle.

Beyond the front gate and the administrative offices of ADESA Portland, however, is a virtual theme park of automobiles — specifically the repairing, reconditioning, buying and selling all shapes, sizes and styles of them. On a typical day, the 32-acre operation, built in 1995 on former Townsend Farms property along Northeast Sandy Boulevard, is a buzzing beehive of car-, truck- and RV-related activity.

Approximately 1,200 vehicles a week roll through ADESA — the former Brasher’s Auto Auction — where a team of around 180 employees assess, appraise, rehabilitate and present them for dealer-driven auction.

It’s truly a multifaceted operation, notes Jerry Hinton, who’s served as the facility’s general manager under both the Brasher’s and ADESA brands.

“We do everything you can possibly do with a car under one umbrella,” he says. “Buying and selling, there’s a finance arm, a satellite DMV facility. We have our own restaurant. We do full reconditioning, do all the body and paint work. There’s a transmission department and a parts department.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - An ADESA body repair man sands the door of an SUV as it is prepared for future auction. The sprawling auction facility also repairs and restores a vast number of vehicles each year before they are then auctioned. The steady hum of activity reaches a crescendo on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, when, for about three hours, dozens of company-affiliated and private car dealers converge on the multi-lane auction room at the facility. As ADESA employees drive a parade of trucks, cars, RVs and boats from seven western states through the lanes, bidders — both in person and remote, via internet — constantly signal their responses to the clamorous, rapid-fire auctioneers, who keep the show rolling while bids are recorded on an electronic readerboard.

Although car-buying trends and the economy can affect the volume of vehicles and bidding dealers, not much else slows the flow of metal merchandise, not even an ownership change last spring that led to Brasher’s Auto Auctions morphing into ADESA Portland. The second-largest auction company in the United States, Indianapolis-based ADESA completed its $283 million acquisition of Brasher’s in April, adding four Oregon auctions to increase its eight-state location roster to 74. The company’s customer base draws from Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Alaska.

“We really captured the footprint ADESA always wanted,” Hinton said. “They didn’t have much of a footprint in the west, so (the acquisition) allowed them to capture that.”

For the uninitiated, auction brokers such as ADESA act as the fulcrum between buyers and sellers from the retail and wholesale worlds.

“This is where car dealers get their cars to sell to you and I,” he said. “We don’t own the cars. We are middlemen.”

Through the transition, Hinton, who also serves as a Gresham city councilor and as president-elect of the National Auto Auction Association, was retained as the facility’s manager and longtime guiding light, as were most of Brasher’s employees.

“By and large, the staff stayed intact. The first thing, what was very important to us, was to (have) as little change as possible for the dealers,” he said. “From their perspective, nothing has changed other than the name. At the end of the day, what (ADESA) paid for were our employees and our relationships with clients.”

Lee Porter, used car manager at McCord’s Vancouver Auto Center in Washington, said he’s pleased to see the transition didn’t affect his positive experiences with the business.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - ADESA General Manager Jerry Hinton is the president-elect of the National Auto Auction Association.“As opposed to cleaning house, they retained the people from Brasher’s,” he said. “When you do that, you don’t have any of those speed bumps.”

Although he said he’s not a “big client,” Jan Weston, general manager of Weston Buick Kia in Gresham, said he typically sells 30 to 50, mostly higher-mileage vehicles, a month at ADESA.

“That’s a great operation down there, and always has been,” he said. “As it is with any business, when you have really good people working for you, it makes a huge difference in success.”

While changes in day-to-day operations are few and hard for a typical client to detect, Hinton cites ADESA’s impressive digital resources as a key advantage to the ownership change.

“ADESA brings to the table a database of 55,000 (dealers) worldwide that helps augment our current database,” he said. “That kind of internet integration is helping us keep competitive with other large operators. We can buy cars through several different formats.”

Hinton was recruited by Brasher’s in the mid 1980s while he was a student at Brigham Young University in Utah. After he received a master’s degree in business administration, the company paid for him to attend law classes in the evening.

“That was always the plan,” he said.

He enjoyed working under the Brasher’s umbrella in Wood Village, but admitted that — as the fourth generation of the Brasher family took over the company — the time had come for a change.

“The family was getting too big, too diluted, which created an impossibility in maintaining a family partnership,” Hinton noted. “The ability to be up to date with internet integration, that’s changing at light speed. It’s so expensive. We would’ve been left behind in a few years.”

Bess Wills, who as president of Gresham Ford has worked with both Brasher’s and ADESA auctions for years, praised the transition from Brasher’s to ADESA.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” she said, adding she’s happy that Hinton remains at the helm. “He has great business acumen. Jerry is, ethically, one of the most honest people I’ve ever met. He’s a great representative of the industry.” OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Ring man Jeremy Gillis keeps track of vehicles being auctioned at ADESA on a recent Tuesday morning. Hundreds of vehicles cycle through the auction room while bidders inspect and purchase vehicles on the fly. Online bidders also take part in the process remotely.