Tim Spencer - 30 years in the industry and still learning

Tim Spencer, commercial vehicle manager at Shoreham Vehicle Auctions (SVA) celebrated 30 years within the auction industry in March. Here, having worked with Tim for the best part of 20 years – SVA’s managing director, Alex Wright takes us on a trip down memory lane by regaling some of Tim’s top industry insights.

Tim Spencer, commercial vehicle manager at the south coast’s leading, independent, vehicle auction operator has now been in the ‘auction business’ for 30 years - having first stumbled upon the career as a temporary ‘stop gap’ back in 1990.

He started out his working life as a computer programmer but the company he worked for was relocating and as a young man at the time, surrounded by friends he had grown up with he decided to stay put and took a yard job at Blackbushe. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tim often jokes that looking back, he clearly knew where the money was.

Well, one thing is clear, he certainly hasn’t managed to evade IT forever and it’s now a fundamental part of the auction scene.

Like all of us, Tim is a great believer in that we are now in an ‘on demand’ society and that means auctions, need to provide access points to cater for differing requirements – online, via smartphones or in person. And although his IT programming skills might be a little rusty these days, Tim is always advocating we continue to innovate and push the boundaries of what value the auction sector can create.

Celebrating his pearl anniversary within the industry this month, it’s fair to say Tim has seen the business of vehicle auctions evolve significantly over the years, yet the core premise remains wholly unchanged.

On average you have 60 seconds to sell a vehicle at auction - you must take into account online bids and physical bids in the hall now.

Tim’s 30 years within the industry means he has some great tales from his early days in the trade which, it is fair to say, were more than lacking in many areas compared to modern day standards.

Tim recently told me: ‘I remember in the very early days, with a commercial vehicle auction scheduled on a Friday we would be out in the yard the day before with our step-ladders and a tin of paint, covering over any sign writing.

‘Then you had drivers, taking the vehicles through the auction halls with the radio on, a cigarette in the corner of their mouth and a drink can wedged between their knees.

‘We tow started vehicles to drive them through the halls; we’d start repossessions with flathead screwdrivers; we’d sell Land Rovers that were fresh from parachute landings; there were no appraisals; and, at best, values were an educated guess based on Glass’s Guide insights.

But not only were the operational aspects of a different era but so too were auctions catering for a different audience – namely that of the independent buyer.

When he started out, the halls were full of independent traders all looking for that one vehicle they could buy on the day and drive home in. There were no car supermarkets or buying of job lots. It was one vehicle at a time and what you bought; you drove home as your ‘test drive’.

Of course, the auction industry is a million miles away from that era now – highly regulated, process driven, information led, and technology enabled.

Tim told me, ‘Step-by-step the industry has evolved into the highly sophisticated and information led sector it is today. The used vehicle market is fundamental to the whole automotive industry and as a result the sector now provides incredible value to all stakeholders.

‘The journey to get to where we are today has seen the industry face, what at the time seemed like significant challenges – changes to rules and regulations; advances in CAP valuations; introduction of condition reports and vehicle gradings; and that’s before we’ve even considered the advent of the internet; email; online buying; and mobile phones.

‘However, looking back these have all proved major assets in the advancement of the industry and form key cornerstones in all that we do today.

‘Thirty years on and the learning never stops in this industry – long may it continue. I love it.’