Why Bonhams bought online auction platform The Market — the inside story

"Bonhams has acquired The Market lock, stock and proverbial barrel"

Tristan Judge
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As some readers may know, the past month has been an interesting one for us at The Market. That’s because the ladies and gentlemen at renowned auction house Bonhams (founded 1793) recently acquired The Market auction platform (founded 2017) – lock, stock and proverbial barrel.

And while that elicited a great big huzzah from us, I’m not quite reaching for the pipe and slippers yet. In fact none of us are, for it remains very much business as usual at our headquarters.

So, how did it happen?

Bonhams first approached us in February. It’d been in the process of overhauling the business and became aware that some of its digital offerings were perhaps not quite as sharp as they needed to be.

In a direct reflection of the classic car market itself (my last article discussed the charge of the modern classic brigade) it cast its eyes to what the newcomers – ‘youngtimers’ as the Europeans call them – were doing. The rest, as they say, is now history.

“We’re not anticipating the demise of top end, big-venue auctions”

The deal itself is recognition that we (along with other digital players) have, for some time, been encroaching into the ‘normal’ auction world. Disruption has been the name of the game; fresh approaches, including better quality presentation and an improved marketing reach (using the digital approach of social media, email and apps) have facilitated a distinct shift in the car-selling world.

Bonhams also realised that we’ve made inroads into a classified ads market that’s quite clearly suffering; that’s not been surprising in itself during Covid, but the format (six home-shot photos and owner-written descriptions) and styling have long been in need of a revamp. In addition to this, a number of smaller scale dealers have also switched to just using us in order to bring their cars to market.

So what about the future?

The Market’s new owners have recognised the imperative need for us to maintain our current operations and ethos. Having said that, like our new owners, we’re not anticipating the demise of top-end, big-venue auctions; there’s undoubtedly a place for the wining-and-dining, competitive and very attractive big-ticket events.

For us, I’m most excited about funding that will allow our brand to go zooming off into other territories (Europe first!) with credibility – if it’s good enough for a major player like Bonhams, then it’s good enough for you. It will help to accelerate our progress and broaden our boundaries. There’s no doubt that the combination of our digital expertise and Bonham’s heritage will allow us to take things to the next level.

People’s habits were fundamentally changing prior to the pandemic and it only accelerated that progress; things like shopping deliveries, dinner-party meals direct to your door, the all- conquering Amazon sending out multitudinous parcels 24/7… there have been seismic shifts in how the world operates, and we’ve been proud to be a part of that.

Back in the 1980s a chap called Gordon Gecko suggested that “greed is good”. He was wrong: change is good.


Tristan Judge is director and co-founder of The Market, the online auction platform for classic and collectible cars