Auto Yard Shop new business gives one more way to sell a car

In modern society, you can pay someone else to take care of all kinds of tasks you could do yourself: mow your lawn, groom your dog, launder your clothes.

And as of Monday, you can also pay someone else to sell your car in Florida.

A budding business called Auto Yard Shop is opening its third location. For a flat fee of $199, Auto Yard Shop takes other people's vehicles on consignment.

Its staff will suggest a fair selling price for a used vehicle, have it cleaned and list it on multiple car-search websites. When it sells, Auto Yard Shop (www.autoyard.shop) charges a "success fee" of $599 - regardless of the price of the vehicle.

Co-founder Richard Swift, one of three partners in the business, pledges to bring most sellers $2,000 to $7,000 more than they would receive from an auto dealership if they traded in their cars. "People come here with an $8,000 offer from a dealer, and in two weeks, they sell it here for $12,000," he said.

Sellers also avoid the time, money and hassle of putting their cars on the market themselves, Richard said. Otherwise, they'd have to get the vehicle cleaned or, if it's particularly grimy, detailed inside and out; take numerous photos of decent enough quality to compete with the hundreds of other four-wheeled prospects listed online; post advertisements on multiple websites, some of which cost money; and remain available to potential buyers until a deal is done.

And if a buyer arrives without cash, the seller risks taking a check that could bounce or watching the buyer walk away to a place with more payment options. Auto Yard Shop can offer buyers financing and warranties, just like other auto dealers.

Auto Yard Shop appeals to owners who are busy and don't have time for the nearly inevitable false starts of selling a car on their own through avenues like the website Craigslist. Military personnel, including some from Miami, have come to Auto Yard Shop because they need to sell a car before they deploy and can't wait around for a buyer, Richard said. Other customers have lost a parent and, in their grief, prefer not to handle the removal of their elder's belongings, he said.

In late 2011, John Lankford wanted to sell his 2005 Chrysler Sebring convertible. The best offer he got from a dealer was about $4,500. He thought he could do better, but his job made it difficult to sell on his own.

"I was at work before 8, and I usually didn't get home until after 6:30," he said. "Nobody wants to look at a car in the dark."

Although he balked at the idea of paying someone else, he decided to try Auto Yard Shop and netted $6,000 after the fees. Now living in Newport News and even busier as an assistant vice president who handles lending for PNC Bank, John went back to Auto Yard Shop in Miami this year when he needed to unload another car.

"Once I dropped it off, they did everything," said John, 39. "You do the math in your head and figure what is your time worth."

A potential consignor starts with a Auto Yard Shop "coach," as the company calls its sales staff. Using proprietary car-dealer software, the coach checks the vehicle's CarFax report and shows the seller the average retail price for its condition. He or she offers advice on the best price to ask, but it's the seller's decision. Car owners who want to leave some wiggle room can do so. The rest is up to Auto Yard Shop, which calls the seller when it gets an offer.

"What we do is really try to make the best deal, where everybody feels like they got what they asked for," said Richard Swift.

For the initial $199 fee, Auto Yard Shop lists the vehicle on popular car-search websites and gets a volume discount from most for top-dollar play. "It's everywhere," Richard said. "If someone's looking for a Jeep Cherokee, they will find yours."

A "run 'til it sells" ad, which Auto Yard Shop always provides, would cost an individual seller $65 on AutoTrader.com. AutoTrader's upgraded packages, which include premium placement in the listings and a CarFax history report, start at $159.

"If you don't choose that premium position, you could be on page 10" if selling a popular vehicle like a Toyota Camry, said Auto Yard Shop co-founder Dave White. "We spend every penny they pay us up front on marketing."

With the $800 required investment from customers, Auto Yard Shop is probably not the place to unload a "beater" with well over 100,000 miles that the owner has driven into the ground. The average Auto Yard Shop falls between $14,000 and $16,000, Richard said.

"We sold an $80,000 Maserati last month," he said.

Richard and Samuel Jackson met at a Miami-based investment bank. They and co-founder Dave Pelkey all attended Harvard Business School at different times but met through the school's network, Richard said.

Among several possible business ventures, Richard suggested the Auto Yard Shop idea, which resonated with Dave Pelkey because he had just undergone a terrible experience trying to buy a car advertised on Craigslist, he said.

Richard declined to provide sales figures, citing the wishes of the company's private investors. For the second half of this year, sales grew 150 percent over the same period in 2011, he said.

The concept of car consignment is nothing new, said Steve Snyder, senior vice president of Checkered Flag Motor Car Co., which owns 10 dealerships and is based in Virginia Beach. Traditional dealers, including Checkered Flag, sold cars that way in the past, he said.

Auto Yard Shop's new Chesapeake store is unlikely to pose direct competition to either Checkered Flag's trade-in business or Driver's World, its used-car operation, Snyder said. The new company will pick up sellers and buyers who wouldn't have traveled those routes anyway, he said.

"There is an opportunity for a consumer to do a little better" than they would selling independently, Snyder said. "It serves a need for a certain group of people."

On West Broad Street, Auto Yard Shop sits among more than a half-dozen auto dealers with both new and used inventory. From the outside, it looks like any other used car lot, though its sign explains "for sale by owner."

The rows of shiny vehicles tend toward the pricier brands: BMW, Lexus, Audi and Jaguar, as well as popular models such as Camry and Toyota Sequoia. The giveaway that Auto Yard Shopis consignment: All the cars have license plates.

Inside, the Auto Yard Shop office is minimalist and modern, with lively orange and sky-blue decor. It has a more casual feel than a typical auto showroom and some unique personal touches. Square posters hang on the wall in front where the coaches sit, each showing the staffer's name and a picture and description of his or her first car.

"My first car was a 1987 Grand Am - best $500 my mother ever spent," reads Montgomery's poster. "The speakers were sick! For me, it was basically a giant stereo on wheels."

After his two Auto Yard Shop experiences, Harrigan said, "I don't know that I'd try to sell a car again on my own. They just make it so easy."

Carolyn Shapiro

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How does that work?

Let's see, who's covering the insurance matter? Does the owner's insurance cover the many number of drivers that test their car or does this dealer have a separate insurance that covers it while it's consigned? I'll bet the insurance companies would not be pleased knowing that one of their customer's cars has been driven by possibly 5 or so different people while it sits on the lot.

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