After spending about 600 man-hours preparing and conducting his first county public auction in October 2005, Michael Lindsey, director fleet management, Gwinnett County, Ga., set out to find a more cost- and time-effi cient way to dispose of the county’s vehicle surplus. His solution: online auctions.

More Hassle, Less Convenience
With a 40-bay shop, Gwinnett County fleet management supports approximately 2,600 pieces of equipment, ranging from lawnmowers to fire trucks. Though the running total changes weekly, the county surpluses about 250 to 350 vehicles each year.

As director of fleet management, Lindsey is responsible for each and every vehicle, “from cradle to grave,” as he puts it.

Though Lindsey’s experience putting in hundreds of hours for that first public auction in 2005 certainly wasn’t an incentive, it wasn’t the only factor discouraging him from setting up another public sale. From what he could see, the county was also losing money.

Scores of vehicles were sold below market value, and on top of the little profit made from sales, 8 percent went to the auction company in commission.

Easier With eBay
Although Lindsey proposed the idea of using eBay’s online auctions to the county, he actually had no prior experience buying or selling on the Web site. However, he was certain that it had to be more efficient than the public auctions. He put a business plan together and convinced his department director, Connie Hinson, to let him try.

“She was very receptive and helpful,” said Lindsey. “We put together a solid business plan, then we had to convince the Board of Commissioners to allow us to deviate from the normal public auction. Luckily, we have a very forward-thinking board.”

In April 2006, the first vehicle successfully auctioned via the eBay site was a 1994 Ford Taurus. Sold for $1,585 in a seven-day auction listing, the car was picked up by the buyer six days after the auction closed. After deducting the eBay fee of $81.20, the vehicle sold for 35-percent more than a comparable vehicle sold at the previous public auction.

Higher Profit, Less Deductions
Compared to the March 2006 public auction the month before, Lindsey said the new online county auction has gained 10 times the exposure, improved overall sales revenue by 23 percent, and improved return on investment by 28 percent.

“The ongoing 2006/2007 eBay auction has generated a total of $685,286 in sales revenues, minus fees paid to eBay ($19,507 or 2.85 percent of sales revenues),” Lindsey said. “Selling on eBay has increased return on investment by $35,315.”

The first 20 or so vehicles were sold by Lindsey. Then Michelle Whiting, who had more eBay knowledge, was hired part-time as fleet surplus sales coordinator. Whiting’s primary responsibility is to handle the disposal of surplus equipment. Within the year that Whiting has been with the agency, approximately 235 vehicles have been sold.

In October 2006, the Gwinnett County eBay Store account “gwinnettcountyboc” was created — searchable online or via a link on the county Web site’s homepage.

Buyers must provide full payment within seven days of auction close, as well as proof of insurance. For vehicles that need to be towed, insurance is not required.

Better Service Means Better Business
With a 99-percent customer satisfaction rate, the “gwinnettcountyboc” store is a qualified eBay PowerSeller, a title reserved for eBay top sellers who sustain a consistent high volume of monthly sales (at least $1,000 per month for three consecutive months) and a high level of total feedback with 98-percent or better positive rating by other eBay users. In the past 12 months, the county received only one negative feedback score and has almost achieved the perfect five-star mark.

“The customer satisfaction rating at 99 percent is directly related to Michelle Whiting’s efforts to ensure that we are as honest and forthright as we can be with each vehicle listing,” Lindsey explained, “and each customer has the opportunity to back out of the sale once they look at the vehicle.”

He also credits the increase of vehicle sales to the auction’s accessibility. “The eBay auction reaches out to a broader network of customers.” Unlike public auctions that usually only attract potential buyers relatively close to the county, the eBay auction is open to potential buyers throughout the U.S.

However, the majority of vehicles auctioned off — approximately 70 percent — have still been purchased by citizens of Gwinnett County or surrounding counties. More than half were bought by Gwinnett citizens.

According to Lindsey, most of the used police vehicles are taken up North and turned to cabs. However, one fire truck was sold to the local owner of a Chick-Fil-A restaurant.

Overall, the county response to this modernized auction approach has been very supportive, said Lindsey. Though some do miss the public auction, he doesn’t miss working on them.