Rock Island Auction Co. (RIA) is making a bid to double its size by 2023. That’s when the world’s No. 1 seller of firearms, bladed weapons and militaria expects to open a second world-class auction house in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
“We’re not uprooting from Rock Island, Ill.,” RIA President Keith Hogan was quick to reassure Quad Citians. “Our goal is to expand, it’s not to move. The Midwest has been our home forever.”
Not only are jobs not leaving the community, he said, “We’re actively hiring here. If we could hire 20 people tomorrow we would.”
The new auction house is planned for the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex community of Bedford, Texas. It is expected to mirror the Rock Island-based RIA operation, which recently concluded another record-breaking auction — netting more than $25.2 million in sales.
The Dec. 3-5 auction featured a collection of Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte’s weaponry that fetched more than $2.8 million. The historic garniture included a rifled carbine, a pair of rifled carriage pistols, a pair of pocket pistols, and the sword he wore when he overthrew the French Republic.
The record-breaking sale also boosted the Quad Cities company over the $100 million sales mark for the first-time in its history.
While RIA is largely an e-commerce company, Mr. Hogan said its auction halls are critical to the operation’s success. “It’s the greatest gun show on earth and it’s also like a rotating museum,” he said, adding the social aspect is “important for the fellowship and the future of collecting.”
“It’s hard to imagine the amount of work that goes into one of our preview halls,” he said. “We’re kind of the unconventional auction house where we don’t just have auctions, we have events. We want people to come, we want them to see the stuff. We want them to put it in their hands and ask questions.”
The company, which was founded in 1993 and named to suggest the initials of the Rock Island Arsenal, had its best year ever in 2020 with $92.7 million in sales. In 2021, Mr. Hogan said he expects to top that by $10 million to $12 million. RIA’s final auction of the year begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15.
“Our growth has been unbelievable and we would have been foolish just to pick up and move and that is not our intention at all,” he said. RIA’s headquarters are located at 7819 42nd St. W.
“We are obviously thrilled that RIA is keeping itself in Rock Island,” said Tarah Sipes, community and economic development manager for the City of Rock Island. “Rock Island Auction draws many visitors to the area based on the reputation the company has built for outstanding auction catalogs and high-quality firearms and ephemera. The City of Rock Island looks forward to welcoming Rock Island Auction’s devoted clientele to our community for years to come.”
“Our strength is our people, and Rock Island is home,” Hogan added. “There is no way we could pick up and move 155 employees. People are rooted here, and so are we. We see this as an opportunity to expand and continue to grow as opposed to saying, “No, we’re out of here; we’re going to Texas.”
The Lone Star State expansion is an idea RIA had been kicking around for years. “Texas has the greatest gun culture in the world,” Mr. Hogan said. “So we felt compelled to get down there.”
He originally looked in southern Texas and northern Texas, but it was tough to find the two key ingredients RIA required: a building larger than 50,000 square feet and ample parking.
“What we were looking for was like a needle in a stack of needles,” Mr. Hogan said. Then RIA turned its attention to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Mr. Hogan’s sister and his father, Pat Hogan, the company’s founder, live. The area boasts 9 million people and has two airports, including the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, which has direct flights from the Quad Cities.
“That direct flight was crucial,” he said. It will allow employees to easily travel between the Rock Island location to the new facility. RIA’s Bedford auction-goers also will have access to direct flights nearly anywhere in the country and to international locations.
The company found that in the “gentrified” areas of south and north Texas, some municipalities “couldn’t care less that a company was going to move in and bring tax dollars,” he added.
That wasn’t true of Bedford, a city of some 47,000 people, located in what’s called the “Mid-Cities” due to its location between Dallas and Fort Worth. Leaders there welcomed with open arms what the city said will be a $5 million project.
“We just wanted to be somewhere that we were wanted and didn’t have to tiptoe around,” Mr. Hogan said. “I think Bedford’s been great.”
City leaders clearly are excited by RIA’s decision to develop an abandoned big box — vacant since the end of 2018. The zoning board has approved RIA’s plans and the city council endorsed the project Nov. 23.
“The company’s clients come from all over the world, contributing to Rock Island (Auction) holding over 80 world sales records for individual objects in their field, including eight seven-figure individual sales,” the city’s website said. “Based on sales records, this new Bedford business is expected to generate approximately $200,000 in annual revenue for the city. In addition, (RIA) will benefit the local economy through their tens of thousands of clients, who will sleep, eat and shop in Bedford.”
RIA is in the process of buying the 88,000-square-foot former Walmart and a nearby 47,000-square-foot strip mall located on 11 acres. The plan, Mr. Hogan said, is to “develop the big box into what we believe will be the finest brick and mortar auction facility in the world.”
RIA isn’t rushing the project. “We’re taking our time working on the design for the building itself,” Mr. Hogan said.
It will help the design process, that RIA is “returning the building back to four walls and a roof, and then going from there,” he said. Unlike its current Rock Island home where such things as load-bearing walls impacted design options, he said “here it’s a blank canvas.”
“The biggest thing is making an absolute showplace. We’re going to take our time and do it right,” Mr. Hogan said.