The equipment and land auction business has been evolving over the last decade, moving from a business built around in-person events to online programs that expand the bidding pool. The pandemic ramped up those efforts by creating new opportunities for these firms, and two companies saw a chance to build on that expansion in the online sale world by coming together.
BigIron has acquired Sullivan Auctioneers in a deal Mark Stock, BigIron co-founder and CEO, says evolved as a “conversation between two friendly, competitive companies.”
“We quickly realized that we could provide customers with the best possible results if we joined forces. Said another way, we would be better together,” Stock says.
Farmers on social media who heard the news saw it as a major move for the industry and a partnership that will create exciting new opportunities. Merging cultures during an acquisition can sometimes be challenging, but Stock says he’s not worried.
“The reason this deal made sense for both sides was because we mirror each other in so many ways. Family-owned, hard-work, transparency… it was a natural fit.”
“I think we both have the same vision in sight to help as many people as possible,” Stock says. “Our vision is to work together to merge best practices over time, all in support of providing the best customer experience in the auction industry, not just for sellers but for bidders.”
The full impact of this combination will play out over the next few months. But Stock says the Sullivan brand, people and customer service aren’t going anywhere.
Challenge of technology
Both BigIron and Sullivan Auctioneers have a large online presence, and during the first phase of the merger, users won’t see a change in the platforms.
“As far as our bidding platforms, none of those will be changing until our technology teams get together and evaluate the best possible solutions as we migrate together,” Stock says.
Working together ahead of the acquisition, those teams realize joining two technology platforms into one won’t happen overnight. The key, Stock says, is to develop a combined technology platform that’s the easiest for bidders and buyers to use.
“Technology is changing every day,” he says. “We’re going to evaluate the technology at both organizations and create a very robust software to give the sellers, bidders and buyers an even better experience.”
And there can’t be any hiccups. In talking with Farm Progress, Stock says the combined company was already hard at work running auctions as far east as New York and as far west as Washington, with several in between, all in the same day.
The online auction business is booming. “We have more than 150 retirement sales being scheduled between now and the end of the year, and many more are coming,” Stock says. “Together, we can support these customers better than ever before and truly make it their special day.”
Those equipment auctions are just part of the overall business for the expanded company. Real estate auctions will also be happening, where thousands of acres between both companies will be sold through the end of the year, he says.
Different kind of synergy
When one company acquires another, often the word “synergy” is used, but that can be a euphemism for “layoffs.” Stock was clear about synergies for this acquisition. “We are not laying people off. In fact, at both organizations, we had jobs posted before the announcement, and we’re still adding people. Both companies are growing; we’re growing as one,” he says.
Farmers will see the BigIron and Sullivan Auctioneers names continue in the market with Sullivan essentially “a BigIron company.” The sales teams will be working together to net new sales for the combined firm and taking best practices across the entire organization. Collaboration and teamwork are key, so you’ll also see both teams together this summer and fall at farm shows across the country.
“We’ve always been friendly competitors, and we want to go in and make sure we expose the seller’s equipment to the largest buyer base in the world for ag equipment,” Stock says. With this acquisition, the new business will “give sellers a huge advantage over any other company. There is strength in numbers, and the more bidders you have, the better the results.”
Between the two firms, there is 80 years of expertise in the ag auction space. As a combined business, BigIron and Sullivan Auctioneers will continue as a BigIron company with locations in:
- Omaha, Columbus and St. Edwards, Neb.
- Hamilton, Ill.
- Huntington, Ind.
- Bird Island, Minn.
Ron and Mark Stock, co-founders of BigIron, will continue to head the Nebraska locations, while Dan, Joe, Matt, Luke and Michael Sullivan of Sullivan Auctioneers will lead the Hamilton, Huntington and Bird Island locations.