Manheim Detroit, a sprawling car auction, actually is 35 miles (56 km) from the Motor City, but just down the road from Waltz, MI, a sleepy village with a 1-room schoolhouse (vintage 1855), feed store and quiet senior-citizen park.

In contrast, the nearby auction covers 250 acres (117 ha), and on open-sale days teems with people and cars. The latter are everywhere, filling big storage lots outside and 16 bidding lanes presided over by fast-talking auctioneers inside.

The Detroit-area facility is one of 121 Manheim auctions globally, including 80 in the U.S. and five in Canada. Auction events range from salvage sales to “hundred-granders” at select locations where ultra-luxury cars are bid on by hors d’oeuvres-munching attendees.

But Manheim, a part of Cox Automotive and tied into seven sister remarketing-services providers, wants the world to know it is more than just a giant auction house.

“Yes, we do auctions, but we want to emphasize the value of our other services,” Janet Barnard, president of Cox Automotive Inventory Solutions, tells WardsAuto at the Detroit facility.

One of those services is an industry-first initiative called Retail Solutions in which dealer clients indicate what types of used vehicles they want, and Manheim takes it from there, handling acquisitions, inspections, reconditioning, detailing, title services, merchandising and transportation.

“These are front-line ready vehicles when we deliver them to the dealerships,” Grace Huang, Manheim’s senior vice president-inventory services, says on a tour of the new Retail Solutions facility that’s a few miles from Manheim Detroit.

In addition to the Detroit-area location, Manheim has expanded Retail Solutions operations to Orlando, Houston, St. Louis and Darlington, SC. They join Manheim Chicago and Manheim Denver that launched the project in 2015.

The do-all inventory service stems from what Huang calls “white-board” discussions in 2014 between Manheim and Sonic Automotive, No.5 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100.

The dealership chain approached Manheim, looking for a supply line of retail-ready vehicles for its new EchoPark standalone used-car operation launched in Denver.

Sonic says EchoPark ushers in a new customer-friendly way of selling used cars, and it wanted to focus on delivering quality customer service, not reconditioning vehicles.

“We can spend more time on our guests and associates – two groups critical to our future success,” says Jeff Dyke, Sonic’s senior vice president-operations at Sonic. “Our partnership with Manheim is generating greater efficiencies and helping us maximize our revenues.”

Another early Retail Solutions client is DriveTime, a Tempe, AZ-based used-car chain formerly known as Ugly Duckling.

“When Manheim approached us to offer retail reconditioning, I was skeptical,” says DriveTime CEO Ray Fidel. “One year later, I am a believer.”

Retail Solutions currently supports 18 diverse clients, including large franchised dealer groups to independent dealers. “It ranges from people on opposite ends of the spectrum,” Barnard says.

Huang says, “Clients tell us that with Manheim handling the time-consuming work associated with inventory readiness and logistics, they can focus on engaging with customers.”

She adds: “It’s not either-or. We can fill in gaps. For example, if a dealership knows its shop is going to be busy for the next few weeks, it can turn to us to do reconditioning work it might otherwise do.”

Manheim hasn’t particularly pitched the service to small independent used-car dealers, but a few of them have signed up

“That was sort of a surprise,” Barnard says. “On the other hand, these are businesses that don’t have vast facilities for reconditioning, so having us do that for them makes sense.”

Manheim’s 210-point inspections include safety features such as tire-pressure gauges, navigation systems, undercarriages, tires and brakes, says Jeff Catron, senior director-enterprise product planning. On-site auto technicians do necessary repairs.  Other stations in the process include paint and detail shops. 

Manheim began Retail Solutions with a 6-month pilot program, and learned a few lessons in the process. One of them was to maintain separate reconditioning processes for regular wholesale vehicles and Retail Solutions vehicles that get extra attention.

“Otherwise, the vehicles requiring more time back up the other vehicles,” Barnard says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com