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  • Writer's pictureMike Brandly, Auctioneer

Auctioneers, is it too late? Does it matter?

James entered the auction business in 1945. He worked at an auction house, eventually taking over as the new owner in 1959. Every Friday since 1934 crowds poured into this remote location off the main highway. How were these auctions advertised? Other than people learning that this was the “place to be” on Friday, James (and the prior owner) advertised in the nearby “big city” newspaper every week.

In 1983, James’ daughter Jessica completed auction school and joined the company. She became the lead auctioneer in 1991 as her father focused more on securing future consignments and fishing. By 2002, Jessica and her father started to notice online auction platforms beginning to appear — allowing them to find bidders/buyers all over the United States — and even in foreign countries.

By 2006 Jessica’s auction house was conducting primarily simulcast auctions with good onsite crowds and Internet bidding from all over the world. Eventually, in 2015 Jessica decided it would be easier and more profitable to conduct online-only auctions and eliminate the live aspect of her events. When the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) hit in early 2020, Jessica’s business continued painlessly.

Or did it? Has Jessica gone from attracting her own bidders/buyers and sellers, maintaining a database of all those folks, marketing her own auctions, and in essence being the complete service provider to a “middleman” (middlewoman?) finding sellers and then using an online platform to secure bidders/buyers? I would offer that’s what many auctioneers have become — in essence sales representatives of the online marketplace — order takers, more or less?

Many auctioneers (including us) warned of this day when online platforms might overtake the community (or regional) auctioneer. It could be too selfish to avoid the power of the online platform and have sellers injured accordingly. Could an auctioneer here in 2021 or hereafter create his or her own platform with the same power and reach as these gigantic online entities? In our example, Jessica could start that project, but it’s not like her preferred online software is sitting still waiting for her to catch up.

For that matter, does Jessica have to do anything? Maybe not … as she might be a stellar order-taker-salesperson finding sellers, and helping them leverage the immense power of this current online marketplace. Will all sellers then start to just do it themselves? Will sellers bypass Jessica and list their property on these online marketplaces themselves? Does the typical seller have the expertise to identify, photograph, display, upload, monitor, market, and close out their own auctions? Does the typical seller want (or have time) to do all that?

In other words, if you are an auctioneer and you’re not good at identifying, photographing, displaying, uploading, marketing, monitoring, and closing out an auction, maybe you shouldn’t be an auctioneer at all? This goes with any service provider — if you can’t do the job at hand any better than I can do it myself, you’re probably out of business. Even most live-only auctioneers have to do all those things better than their seller can do them.

For auctioneers doing contract bid-calling, it seems to us the future is still bright — as many auctioneers and auction companies are still conducting live (and simulcast) auctions and need that expertise and skill behind the microphone. We would offer it seems live bid calling is something the general public may never master while listing items online is something they may feel comfortable doing? Any auction that’s more-so an event benefits from a live auctioneer and accompanying bid-calling.

Otherwise, is it too late? Does it matter? It may be too late for anyone else to capture (overtake) the current online auction marketplace — merely just replacing it with another, and I’m not sure now that it really matters. Equally, I don’t think Wile E. Coyote has any chance of returning to the ledge so he doesn’t fall.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.

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