Warning! Don’t try to suck the folks at Mecum Auctions into the woe-is-us, the-sky-is-falling-on-the-collector-car-hobby talk that’s fomenting within the industry these days.
Sure, Mecum president Dave Magers will agree that at the top end of the market, that portion that floats above the million-dollar sea level and thus is most visible to observers, things appear flat if not in a degree of decline. But, adds Frank Mecum, son of auction house founder Dana Mecum, “our niche is a little different.”
Mecum’s niche focuses on cars from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, on muscle cars, on Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs and the like, Frank added during an early morning chat at the company’s Kissimmee, Florida, auction.
Such vehicles may not draw as much widespread attention as eight-figure post-war sports cars or even as seven-figure modern exotics, but the heart of the collector car market beats strongly, Mecum and Magers said, in terms of both people and sales volume.
Mecum’s Kissimmee auction opened last Friday and runs through this coming Sunday. Ten-thousand people have signed up for bidder numbers, and Magers noted that 1,000 of them have never asked for such status at a previous sale. The hobby’s audience is expanding.
And then there’s the matter of cars. Dana Mecum has pressured his team to stock the Kissimmee docket with 3,000 cars. The team got to 2,300 in 2014, and to 2,700 last year. This year there are 3,300 cars on the docket, along with a collection of vintage boats and an airplane.
“Three-thousand cars!” said Frank. “You don’t realize what a job that is until you get here and start walking around” and take in a view that includes rows of cars that seem to stretch beyond the visible horizon.
Among the stars on the 3,300-vehicle docket are vehicles coming from around 20 private collections. Although some collections go to market after the collector dies, Frank said that in many cases, the collectors consigning their vehicles are still relatively young and healthy, but have decided they’ve had their cars long enough and that it’s time for them to reboot their collections, still buying, but now perhaps in pursuit of resto-mods or hot rods or some other genre that has piqued their interest.
At the same time, he added, young people, “guys my age, in their mid-30s and 40s” are entering the market. They’ve had their families, have become successful in business and are starting to attend the auctions. Magers noted that there also is a growing number of people in their 50s just now entering the hobby. In their case, they’ve raised their families, even put their children through college, and with good income and less family responsibilities, are entering the hobby a little later in life.
Mecum and Magers said many such newcomers are drawn to Mecum Auctions because of the company’s presence on social media and on both live and packaged-programming television. Not only are the auctions covered by NBCSN (sports network), but Mecum is in the second season of its “Top 10” series, half-hour segments with a specific theme, such as Top-10 Mustangs or Top-10 Corvettes, shows which draw a large and young audience, and not only domestically but with strong international viewership.
Magers said part of the company’s recent success traces to a decision several years ago to “invest in the brand and the venues.” One of those investments was made by Dana Mecum in 2013 when he hired Magers, an accountant and former insurance company executive, to become president and to work with Mecum on strategic planning, in part to grow the business and to allow Dana Mecum to focus on cars, customers — and grandchildren.
Those investments included upgrades such a huge new auction block/stage, the first of the glass house showcases (this year the clear-sided temporary building housing the top cars at Kissimmee stretches 500 feet in length), and other changes to facilities.
For example, there are long lines of people eager to experience tire-burning thrill rides in the latest and most powerful products from Dodge. And this year there’s a new bandstand with live music at Kissimmee, where Mecum also will stage a cooking contest Saturday featuring Alex Guarnaschelli of the Food Channel.
Mecum, founded in northern Illinois and now based in southeastern Wisconsin, expanded its auction offerings, taking them to new venues and to new customers, going west of locations such as Denver and Portland and even to Monterey, California, and east, most notably and successfully to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Most recently it staged its inaugural collector car sale in Las Vegas, where its motorcycle department already holds two annual vintage bike auctions. It also has a division that specializes in vintage farm equipment auctions and another that focuses on Road Art, Mecum’s name for automobilia.
The company continues to consider additional geographic targets while its Kissimmee, Indianapolis, Monterey and, most likely, Las Vegas auctions become destinations added to the bucket lists of people involved in or new to the hobby.
“We want to make it as easy to do business with us as we possibly can,” Magers said, and he was talking about more than the company’s geographic footprint.
One goal, he said, was for someone to be able to attend a Mecum auction, post the high bid on a vehicle and have it financed, insured, detailed and delivered to the new owner’s garage. Through 303 car-care products and partnerships including State Farm insurance, that goal finally has been achieved, he said, with the recent launch of Mecum Auto Transport, which now includes a dozen semi tractors and enclosed car-hauling trailers that are doing so much business they fleet likely will be growing very soon.
Growing as well, it seems, is the fleet of available collector cars. Those lamenting the end of the hobby may forget that, as Frank Mecum reminded, there are around 27 million vehicles in the United States covered by collector car insurance. Of those, less than 1 percent, around 25,000, are sold each year at collector car auctions.
Yes, there is a huge supply side out there. But there also is a healthy and even growing demand as well. Through efforts such as those being undertaken by Mecum and others in the hobby, the pool of potential buyers is expanding.