Auctioneering has a long history and tradition. But technology is changing
"Today's auctioneers are embracing the opportunities of modern technology,"
says Holly Neuman. She is director of communications for the National Auctioneers
Auctioneers "are incorporating the best of what that technology has to
offer, while at the same time relying on the time-tested methods that have
made the auction method so successful throughout history," she says.
"Auctioneers are able to offer clients opportunities -- including worldwide
marketing via websites, items sold online, live auction bidding via the Internet
and much, much more."
Everyone recognizes the mesmerizing chant of the auctioneer.
"Thirty-five, 35, we got 30, looking for 35, standing at 30,000,
who's gonna break this spell -- 35! We've got 35, do I hear 40? Forty big
ones, hubbida hubbida, can somebody gimme 40? Let's go! We've got 35, no takers!
Come on, 35 going once, going twice...sold! To the bidder with the red cap
But an auctioneer is more than a fast talker with a microphone. The auctioneer
is the person who makes an auction happen. Usually, the auctioneer is the
owner and operator of the auction firm.
The fast talking is just an exciting part of the whole operation. An auction
is a public sale where items are sold to the highest bidder. Property, jewelry,
cars, clothes -- practically anything can be auctioned.
Usually, an auction is used to dispose of merchandise or to "liquidate
assets." You would do this if you were short on cash but had lots of heavy
machinery and property. Since you need the money right away, you would auction
off all that stuff. It's kind of like a garage sale.
Because of this quick-sell capability, auctions are used to sell stuff
from a bankrupt company. It's sad that someone went bankrupt, but it's great
for all those other people who are still in business, because they can buy
all kinds of great equipment at a bargain price.
Auctions are also used to sell off the estates of people who have died.
Car dealers, as well, often use auctions as a means of buying used cars. In
fact, everyone can use an auction, whether it's for buying or selling.
Even big corporations have auctions.
The auctioneer is a marketing specialist. Auctioneers must know the value
of the seller's merchandise. They also must know how to attract attention
with the right advertising. Their goal is to get the best price for their
seller, because that enhances their reputation.
An auctioneer is involved in every part of the auction.
Before the event, the auctioneer must work with the seller to set up the
merchandise. Good presentation can help get a good price.
On auction day, the auctioneer works with clerks, bid spotters and cashiers
to put on the show. It is fast-paced and lively. Hundreds of items may be
After it's all done, the auctioneer oversees sorting everything out. All
of the items must be accounted for, the money must be collected and recorded,
and the site must be cleaned up.
As an auctioneer, you will do some "chanting" or "bid crying," as it is
called. For this, you need a strong voice. Four to six hours of chanting can
be very exhausting.
Al Briggs is the executive director of an auctioneers association. He says
high voices are bad news in the business. According to Briggs, a high voice
comes out of the amplifier like a scream.
However, Briggs notes that there are lots of female auctioneers coming
into the field. Traditionally, he says, "It's [been] grossly unbalanced.
"But it doesn't matter a darn because women make great auctioneers if they
have the right voice," says Briggs.
Most auctioneers own their own auction company. They may have members of
their family involved in helping with the business. Other auctioneers, sometimes
known as freelancers, work on a contract basis for a daily flat rate. A few
auctioneers work as employees for regional auction companies.
Auctioneers may spend some time in an office, meeting with clients and
making arrangements. But sooner or later, they have to be at the auction site.
Auction sites could be anywhere. Some items, like jewelry, are small enough
that the auction can be done in a nice hotel room or hall. But a lot of merchandise
must be auctioned off outdoors. Auctions of farm equipment often take place
at the farm.
Usually, an auctioneer will use an auction barn. It is specially designed
to handle tractors or cows or cars, depending on what the auction house specializes
This job involves more than 9 to 5. Auctioneer Joe Tarpley says he's had
some long days. "Just the other week, I was on a 5 a.m. plane to North Carolina
to do a contract," says Tarpley. "I didn't get back home until midnight."
Some business even requires a night or two out of town. Add in the weekends
and evenings when the auctions are taking place, and you've got a pretty mixed-up
Besides a strong voice, there aren't that many physical requirements to
do this job.
However, you may do some heavy lifting as a beginner. You have to be somewhat
mobile in order to visit sites, explore estates or inspect and gather equipment.
Briggs says that during the organizing of an auction, "there is a tremendous
amount of physical work to do."
He gives an example from a farm auction last year: "It took the auctioneer
and his wife, their two kids and two hired people...three weeks to dig everything
out. There were five or six buildings full of stuff!" he says.
Some may call it grunt work, but Briggs says learning how to set up an
auction is one way to get started. "It's a great way to learn what it's all
about and it's a great way to learn what something is worth," he says.
Try to get a part-time job doing something for an auctioneer. There are
jobs as cashiers, bid spotters and people who line up merchandise. From there,
you can become more involved as you go. Of course, let the boss know what
you'd like to do.
Veteran auctioneer Perry Wiggins says there are other good opportunities
in this business. Bid callers, the people who are often hired on a contract
basis to do the bid calling for an auctioneer, make a good living. Bid assistants,
or ring workers as they are often called, can also make a great living. They
work between the caller and the crowd. It's more of a one-on-one sales job.
Since auctioneers work on a commission basis, income varies greatly from
month to month. It depends on the type of merchandise you are selling.
Paintings sold at Sotheby's in England, for example, go for millions of
dollars. The commission on just one of those would make you drool. Some car
auctions, on the other hand, sell cars for less than $500 each.
Calvin Ogren is the past vice-president of the California State Auctioneers
Association. He says earnings vary, depending on the job. For example, an
auctioneer might deal with entire estates, high-end collectibles, or high-volume
but insignificant online items.
"Every job is a little bit different," he says.
The bottom line is, auctioneers have to work for their money. "There's
a lot of money to be made in auctions but it's a lot of work," says Ogren.
While many auctioneers oversee all kinds of sales, others specialize. For
example, some may do only car auctions, or auctions of public property or
items seized by the police.