As KIKO Co. continues to diversify, its marketing challenges consumers’ perceptions

 

In 1945, KIKO Co. started in a barn on the farm of Dick Kiko Jr.’s grandfather. Every Friday night, people would bring their personal property there to sell. In the 72 years since, the KIKO family of brands has grown to include KIKO Real Estate Auctions, Premier Auctions, Classic Car Auctions and Commercial Online Auctions.

“From a marketing standpoint, being lumped all under one brand didn’t really expose all of our services,” says Dick Kiko, the company’s CEO, broker and auctioneer. “People didn’t know we listed real estate for sale, people didn’t know we sell firearms, people don’t know that we do commercial real estate, because all they saw was the auction logo. So we added the other brands to create awareness of all of our services.

“We’ve always offered auctions, but people only called us for auctions. Now they call us for options.”

Reaching influencers

KIKO works to find the balance between keeping its history in the minds of consumers, while appealing to those who may dismiss it because they think it’s just an auction company.

“We’re marketing ourselves as KIKO Company, not KIKO Auctioneers, not KIKO Realtor, but KIKO Company, because we do both,” Dick Kiko says. “We do auctions and we’re real estate agents — we’re realtors.”

The biggest part of KIKO’s business is the auction side, accounting for 65 percent of total business, split equally between residential, commercial and agriculture real estate. For-sale, non-auction listings is the other side, representing 35 percent of total business, of which some 80 percent is residential agriculture and 20 percent is commercial.

The company also deals in personal property, which is typically equipment, firearms, general household, gold coins, antiques and collectibles.

To help consumers understand the different services KIKO offers, Dick Kiko says the company talks to influencers — accountants, lawyers, bankers, community and government leaders, organizations and business people — who often are asked advice about how to convert assets into cash.

KIKO holds “lunch and learns” and takes on speaking engagements with rotaries, chambers, associations and at conferences, especially those that deal with workouts, turnarounds and bankruptcies — anything that puts them in a face-to-face networking environment.

Explaining to the market that KIKO is more than an auction company is important, he says, largely because there’s the sense that auctions are misunderstood.

The hang-up is the perception that auctions are for the debt investors and that the property could be sold well under the value the seller wanted. Dick Kiko counters that auctions create competition and give the seller the ability to set the terms. The company hopes its educational marketing campaign will encourage consumers to explore their options.

“We really don’t have any bias to what option you pick; we’re here to help you achieve your goal. If you’re going to sell something, we can probably find the best way to get it done within our portfolio of services, or steer you to someone else who can help you,” he says.

Avoiding the complacency of success

KIKO, as of 2016, had seen sales growth of 67 percent over the previous five years, moved into a new headquarters in Canton and expanded its geographic footprint.

The company has been helped by the internet. As the web continues to mature, many businesses have popped up that connect assets to buyers — eBay, for instance. This might be disruptive for some, but not for KIKO.

“Actually, the internet has helped my business because now I can reach more interested buyers and invite them to the auction,” Dick Kiko says.

The company hired staff to create websites to help facilitate sales and marketing. He says a typical auction could have as many as 10,000 page views in a matter of two weeks.

One of the company’s first simulcast auctions combined on-site bidders competing against online bidders in real time. He sold five tractors from a seller in Cambridge, Ohio, to a buyer in Australia.

“That internet buyer never would’ve known we existed, let alone participated in the auction and bought tractors and competed with live people bidding on site,” he says. “That’s fascinating stuff.”

The 72-year-old company continues to find ways to differentiate its services and stay relevant in the market. However, Dick Kiko stays wary of success.

“No matter what business you’re in, success will drive complacency,” he says. “We’ve been very successful and been blessed for three generations. It is hard to change something that’s working well, and we have a lot of good discussions about being a leader in the industry. It’s a hard place for any company to be, regardless if you’re related or not.

“The pace of change is rapid, and it’s a struggle for every company. They’d be lying if they told you it wasn’t. But we try to stay on top of it,” Dick Kiko says. “Our core values as a company — collaboration, integrity and caring — are the guardrails of how we do this. Those are what our customers want, and we continue to give them that and continue to innovate underneath that culture to give them the services that they need.”