I don’t think any auctioneer will argue when I say the auction industry, like most everything else, has undergone a great deal of changes in the past few years. Closer scrutiny from a myriad of government agencies, combined with enhanced education requirements, increased advertising and operating costs, stiff competition, and a generally accepted downturn in the overall economy have made auctioneering a much tougher field to enter, and tougher still to achieve success. But, even with these “problems”, auctioneering has never been more popular. Numerous, popular, reality television programs have glamorized auctions, and turned droves of “naysayers” into regular auction attendees and customers. It seems everyone is searching for a bargain, and where better to find one than at a good, old-fashioned auction.
Like many rural youngsters, I loved the country “barn sales” of my childhood. I owed my mobility to a small Somerset auction, as my first bicycle was purchased there when my father “won” the blue behemoth for $3.00. Never mind that it was a girl’s bike with fat tires, and a heavy frame that would have been equally suited on a dump truck, it looked like freedom to me, and it cemented the love of auctions firmly into my psyche. Long after the bicycle faded into obscurity, I continued to attend various auctions, and never went away disappointed. Whether I bought anything, or not, I was always entertained, and rarely failed to make new friends.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself working as a part-time real estate agent. Although auctions were not the bulk of our business, an occasional auction would be booked, and I would be drafted into double-duty as both a pack mule and the world’s worst ringman. I really didn’t mind the additional work, and each auction brought back happy childhood memories. In fact, I enjoyed this part of the job so much that I decided I wanted to become an auctioneer.
Since auctions were a small part of our overall operation, we had an auctioneer’s name painted on the sign, but I only saw him on the day of the dozen, or so, auctions we conducted. When he did show up, he rarely spoke to anyone, and never did his own bid calling; opting instead, to bring along various unknown auctioneers to do the actual “work”. Although I never knew any of the auctioneers that came with our auctioneer, I quickly learned from the settlement statements that they were paid more money for their afternoon than I earned for several days of manual labor; a fact, which greatly increased my interest in the field.
Between auctions, I did a little research and carefully planned my approach to the surly auctioneer. In my most persuasive voice I extolled my personal virtues, expressed my undying love for the auction industry, and asked if I could become an apprentice auctioneer under the tutelage of such a great Principal Auctioneer. “No, I’m not interested in another apprentice”, he said flatly. Having obviously placed too much stock in my powers of persuasion, I had not prepared a suitable backup plan, and simply thanked him for his time.
Soon afterward, a promotion in my “real job” greatly curtailed my real estate and auction activities, and the idea was set aside, but like that of my old bike, the memory never completely faded away. Eventually, I did get the Auctioneer’s license, with no help from that Principal. Although my license has been in escrow, almost from the time of issue, I am still proud of License #3431, and I feel it has served me well as a KBE Compliance Officer, and now, as Executive Director.
But…what if that first auctioneer had said, “Yes”? What contribution could I have made to the auction community? What contribution could I have made to his business and that of the real estate company? None involved will ever know, and not being one to dwell on the past, I mention it here, only because it brings us to the heart of the matter.
Auctioneering, like most business fields, is only as strong as the membership, and, unfortunately, our membership is decreasing, even while the popularity of auctions grows. The recently added licensing requirements, designed to strengthen the industry, have had the immediate effect of slowing growth and discouraging the participation of less-advantaged young people. Although these new regulations will, in time, produce a more proficient auctioneer they have, in the short term, made auctioneering a more difficult profession to join.
Due to the expense of operation, pre-licensing education programs are not cheap; with most costing over $1000.00 for the 80 hour program. Add to that the expense of travel, meals, and, in some cases, room and board, and the costs escalate even further. These costs may seem manageable for mature candidates, who often enter the auctioneering field after success in other vocations, but they can be a huge barrier for young people; young people, in whom the future of innovation lies.
This is where YOU, the successful auctioneer, can have the most impact on the industry. Challenge yourself to go out and find that young person who, with encouragement and financial support, will make a positive contribution to auctioneering. As tough as the economy has been on established businesses, it has been even tougher on young people. Few industries are hiring, and due to financial stresses many older workers are putting off retirement; all of which makes for a bleak outlook for many young job seekers. This presents the perfect opportunity for successful auctioneers to “pay it forward”, and sponsor a future leader. No charity is required, as the expenses can be made in the form of a loan that can be paid over time, or withheld from future commissioned sales. Most apprentice auctioneers work as independent contractors, and the finer points of the financial obligations could easily be addressed in those contracts. However you handle the arrangements, the positive results will be immediately noticeable. Our industry will grow in numbers, your business will grow, and numerous lives will be positively affected.
The value of adding younger members to your staff is immeasurable. If you are over 40 years-old, there is a very good chance that your computer skills could use some refining. You probably did not own a computer during the early, formative years of your life, and your current knowledge was, most likely, the result of later studies, or self-taught efforts. Today’s young people have inherent skills and knowledge from having literally grown up with a computer in their hands. Tasks you find laborious and “mindboggling” are second nature to most 18 – 25 year-olds. Social networking is a way of life for them, and they know how to reach out to others in ways that many of us older adults do not even comprehend.
Adding a single “youngster” to your staff can change your entire operation. With the greatest growth in the auction field being in online applications, having someone with intuitive computer skills can be a godsend, and can quickly lead to increased sales and profits.
The phrase “there’s strength in numbers” is true in all areas of the auction world, from the individual operation to the statewide pool of Auction Licensees. We are each strengthened by the contributions of others in the field, and our overall numbers give us added leverage when dealing with legislative matters and issues that affect us all.
A single act, repeated by many, will positively affect us all.