When Craig Jackson took control of his family’s business, Barrett-Jackson, following the death of his father and brother in 1993 and 1995, respectively, he inherited a company that took in $15 million from one automobile auction. He was ready for the challenge, however, having grown up in the business and working in various roles. Today, the company has grown to three auctions — one in Scottsdale, one in Palm Beach, Fla., and one in Las Vegas — and made roughly $135 million at its 2008 auctions. But to achieve that growth, Jackson had to make several changes.
“My goal was to make it more inclusive and more of a family-oriented lifestyle event, whereas before, you’d call it the boys club,” Jackson says. “(It wasn’t) something the wives felt like they had their own place.”
Live television coverage on the SPEED Network, an active Web presence, myriad vendors of food, clothing and accessories, and a fashion show were all among the auction’s new image. Jackson also broadened the core of the auction — its selection of automobiles.
“Car collecting now isn’t just classics,” he says. “It’s everything that’s got collectability and uniqueness to it. It’s a much broader hobby and industry.
“To have sustainability in this business, you need to have new collectors and a much broader assortment because some things are hot one year and some things are cold another,” he continues. “We’re like the New York Stock Exchange — we sell commodities from all sorts of different types of cars to all sorts of different types of buyers in an open arms-like transaction.”
The current economy, Jackson says, has not had too much of an impact on the business as of yet. The auctions are still garnering a lot of attention. The 2008 Scottsdale auction alone had an attendance of 286,000 people, 30 percent of whom flew in from out of state. However, he is planning some cutbacks in regard to logistics for the auction, including ending the auction earlier than usual. This year’s Scottsdale auction runs from Jan. 11-18 at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
The tourism industry in Arizona is heading in the right direction during this time, Jackson says, but it needs everyone to work together in order to make it stronger.
“Tourism is one of those things that needs constant looking after,” he explains. “There’s constantly a game plan by other states and cities to whittle away at it; this one should have a game plan how not to allow that to happen and not take it for granted. … There are other communities that are very aggressive and their job is to come steal what we have here, and if there’s nobody making sure we’re all getting the support we need, then all of the sudden (moving an event) seems pretty attractive.”
It’s especially important that Arizona municipalities work together, considering that other destinations don’t consider the state a threat, Jackson says. He attended a meeting in Las Vegas when the city government was voting on funding for a new convention center, and while there he saw a chart that listed other cities considered to be their competition — and Phoenix wasn’t listed.
“They’ve already discounted us,” he says, “and that was pretty telling. … It’s in Scottsdale’s best interest, it’s in Phoenix’s, it’s in Paradise Valley’s, it’s in everybody’s to work together collaboratively. … I think it’s turning in the right direction. We’ve let it atrophy for a while, but it needs, actually, an infusion of capital and attention.”