Sometimes, to build a successful business, all anyone needs is an idea and an unwavering passion for the things one loves. Who knew a simple meetup between two car enthusiasts almost five decades ago would grow into one of the biggest and prestigious auto auctions in the world?
Today, Barrett-Jackson holds highly anticipated multi-million dollar car collector extravaganzas in Scottsdale, AZ; Las Vegas, NV; Palm Beach, FL; and Uncasville, CT, enjoyed not only by rich car enthusiasts but by families and average automobile aficionados as well.
Way back in the mid-1960s in Scottsdale, Russ Jackson responded to Tom Barrett’s car ad about a 1933 Cadillac V16 Town Car. Barrett was selling this classic Cadillac and Russ was one of the prospective buyers. Although the pair’s Cadillac deal fell through, this fateful meeting began their lifelong friendship and planted the seeds of what would become the Barrett-Jackson auto auctions.
In 1967, Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson hosted their very first car show/auction, the “Fiesta del Auto Elegance,” which also doubled as a fundraiser for local charities including donations for the Scottsdale Public Libraries.
The pair teamed up again in 1971 to present their first car collector auction, showcasing rare vehicles from their private collections, including an armored Mercedes-Benz 770K that Adolf Hitler owned. The hoopla around this car’s record-breaking auction got the attention of car enthusiasts around the world and put the Barrett-Jackson auctions on the map, so to speak.
Setting the bar: Innovation amidst adversity
Barrett-Jackson’s secret for its continued growth in the succeeding decades is that one thing that every small business owner should keep in mind – taking risks.
Going against the trends and the popular tide of the times gave Barrett-Jackson the edge to rise among its peers and eventually become an industry leader, setting the standard for everyone else to follow.
Case in point, the company took risks and went against the tide in the 1980s when the car collector industry suddenly grew in both popularity and scope. During this era, prices soared but participation among car enthusiasts was bigger than ever. With these popular trends, instead of capitalizing on this newfound public interest and calling it a day, Barrett-Jackson strove to raise the bar for car collector auctions and shows instead. With the help of Jackson’s two sons, Brian and Craig, and his wife, Nellie, the Barrett-Jackson team set the standard for all car shows by bringing in the rarest vehicles and meticulously restored classic vehicles.
As the 1990s rolled in, Barrett-Jackson demonstrated another quality that ultimately led to its enduring legacy – courage, and innovation amidst adversity.
In this era, while the car auctions were getting bigger, the company suffered multiple setbacks that could’ve crippled it altogether. Russ Jackson died in 1993 while his son, Brian, passed away in 1995. Tom Barrett, now known as the “Grandfather of the Collector Car Industry,” retired in 1997 and sadly passed away in 2004.
Craig Jackson, Russ’ other son, who was already involved deeply with Barrett-Jackson’s daily operations, took over the company after Tom’s retirement, starting another chapter in the annals of car collector shows. With Craig at the helm, Barrett-Jackson grew and expanded further, embracing technological advances with the start of live coverages on the SPEED Channels and online auction bids in 1997. With these innovations, the following year brought a whopping $17 million sale, a 65 percent increase from 1997 and brought 100,000 spectators to the auction.
Through the 2000s, Barrett-Jackson rose to even greater heights, as record numbers in sales were garnered in 2006 and 2007 with a tally of $100 million and $112 million, respectively. Despite a slide in the numbers due to the 2008 recession, Barrett-Jackson bounced back with a vengeance in recent years. Scottsdale sales totaled more than $92 million in 2012, $108 million in 2013, $113 million in 2014 and $137 million in 2015.
East expansion and beyond
With the groundbreaking success of the Scottsdale auction through the years, Barrett-Jackson started expanding eastward, as its first East Coast auction was held in Palm Beach, Florida in 2003. With a different tone and collector lineup more suited for the South Florida atmosphere, the Palm Beach events likewise garnered top marks in attendance and sales. By 2015, 13 massively successful Palm Beach events were in the books with a combined total of $117 million in sales.
Despite the recession in 2008, Barrett-Jackson again took another risk and instead of pulling back, it continued its expansion by adding a Las Vegas car collector event at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and amazingly, this first Las Vegas car collector auction in 2008 was still a certified hit with over 533 collector vehicles, 50,000 attendees, and an auction total of more than $30 million. By 2014, the Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas event had become a regular car collector spectacle and charity attraction with totals of more than $33 million, 65,000 attendees and full-on coverage on major cable channels including Fox Sports and National Geographic.
Despite these successful expansions, Barrett-Jackson did not stop with these two additional events. In June 2016, it held its first Northeast Auction at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut and was another remarkable success with sold out tickets and vehicle deals closed days ahead of the auction itself – the first double sellout in Barrett-Jackson’s 45-year history.
Barrett-Jackson’s rise from its simple beginnings as a fateful meeting between two car enthusiasts to the car collector auction empire it is today is a testament to how genuine passion, exceptional business sense and true lifelong friendships can turn one good idea into a veritable institution that leads a whole industry.
As the car collector industry evolves, expect Barrett-Jackson to remain as the pioneer of innovation in the future and beyond, bringing the world’s best and rarest vehicles and an unmatched experience to car enthusiasts around the world.