I am not an auctioneer, but I went to auction school and auction school is hard.
Living in three different states in three years brings joys and challenges. Moving is emotionally and physically draining, but it’s also introduced me to industries about which I knew very little, such as agriculture and auctioneering.
Mason City is actually the home to one of the top auctioneer training programs in the world and this still comes as a surprise to many North Iowans. I recently started helping out in the office at the World Wide College of Auctioneering. My first weeks corresponded with their winter class session, so I found myself attending class and gaining an intensive crash course into the world of auctioneering.
Before class, I had never attended an auction, so I made sure to find one before my first day. The only auction I could find that week was a hay auction. I stood quietly in the back of the gravel lot with my arms pressed tightly to my sides, being careful not to sneeze, lest I accidentally came home with a truckload of hay. Fortunately, this was not the case and the auction was more relaxed than I expected. I’ve learned a lot since then and continue to be fascinated with this occupation.
Please note that the auction school in no way asked me to write a blog post about auctioneering or suggested the idea. I actually approached them about writing the post because I just find it really interesting! Here are ten of the most memorable things I learned in auction school.
1. Auctioneers are funny.
Almost every auctioneer I spoke with made me laugh. I observed how many of them had the ability to seamlessly weave jokes and stories into the most ordinary conversation.
2. Auctioneers don’t just call out numbers.
One reason why many auctioneeres are so funny is because they are show people. I had assumed their main role was to call out numbers and learned this is not the case. Auctioneers represent the seller and aim to obtain the highest prices for the items they sell. Although the format of auctioneering is a more public type of selling than we see on a day-to-day basis, they have to be effective salespeople. Charisma, a sense of humor, and ability to read others go a long way.
In addition to encouraging people to buy, auctioneers also have to know a lot about the product they are selling, whether it’s classic cars or farm land. The auctioneer must also understand auction law and those that govern their specific subsection. For example, laws vary by state regarding sales of real estate and fire arms. In Iowa, an auctioneer who sells real state doesn’t need to have a real estate license, while he or she would in Minnesota. In other states, an auctioneer without a real estate license may be allowed to conduct the auction sale, but is not allowed to market the property or facilitate open houses.
3. Bid calling is hard.
The auctioneer’s trademark chant is as hard as it looks. I giggled when I saw this Geico commercial portraying a cashier auctioning a grocery item. His bid call was on point. I had the inkling that this individual wasn’t just a Hollywood actor, but a real auctioneer and I was right. Joseph Mast actually won an International Championship.
The best auctioneers worked hard to sound the way that they do, and they never stop working to improve. To begin developing that bid chant, auctioneers recite tongue twisters, study recordings of championship auctioneers and practice, practice, practice.
4. There are different bid calls for different categories of sales.
Bid calls vary depending on what’s for sale. An auctioneer will use a different style of bid call to raise money for a charity at a fancy benefit than a cattle auction. More attendees who are less experienced auction-goers buy at charities and real estate sale auctions so the auctioneer may speak slower. A cattle or car auctioneer will speak faster and use more filler words. Afterall, auctioneers selling cattle or cars may have to move a massive amount of product in one day, so talking quickly helps them sell more efficiently.
Shane Ratliff instructed at the last bid calling seminar.
5. The field of auctioneering continues to diversify.
More and more minorities and women are entering the auctioneering field. The bilingual Spanish-English auctioneering certification is very popular at the school I work for.
6. The fastest growing sectors of auctioneering don’t reflect reality TV.
Despite the reality television show Storage Wars and broadcasting of Barrett-Jackson car auctions on the Discovery Channel, the fastest growing sector of auctioneering is actually benefit auctions. Nonprofits hire professional auctioneers to raise money for their cause. Good benefit auctioneers are strategic and provide pre and post benefit auction planning and analysis. There’s actually a Benefit Auctioneer Specialist accreditation. Other quickly growing sectors include real estate and heavy equipment.
7. If you want to see an auctioneer’s eyes light up, mention Barrett-Jackson.
With fast cars, celebrity buyers, and warm Arizona weather, Barrett-Jackson is like Hollywood. Opportunities to work for Barrett Jackson are considered coveted positions within the industry. This company’s classic car auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona attract celebrities and are broadcast on major television networks. Those who land a job here are often championship auctioneers who are highly regarded within the community. Of course, many auctioneers find equal success through other avenues, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of selling rare cars to celebrities.
8. Many talented auctioneers come from Amish and Mennonite communities.
I was very surprised to learn so many Amish and Mennonite students attend auction school. The Amish and Mennonite students I’ve observed have bid calls that blow most everyone out of the water. One instructor explained how Amish and Mennonite communities used to hire him to facilitate auctions. Now, they are sending representatives to school to serve as auctioneers in their own communities.
Exact rules governing technology usage depends on the community. Students from Amish communities often travel long distances by taxi to attend class. Some Amish students use email and cell phones to build their auction businesses, but prefer not to have their photo taken. These communities regard Auctioneering as an acceptable career students demonstrate a lot of dedication to the craft of bid calling. Farming and crafts still play a large role in Amish and Mennonite communities, meaning auctioneers are needed to manage livestock and quilt auctions.
9. People of all ages enroll in auction school.
At this particular school, students have enrolled as young as ten and as old as 80+. Some students are multi-generational auctioneers who knew they want to pursue this career at an early age and work in their family business. Others attend so they can start a new career.
10. Auction school is intense.
Auction school may be the most challenging experience I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t even a student. Auction class sessions vary among schools, but many follow a similar format: Class is held at a hotel outfitted with convention space where students attend class for five to eight long days. Students spend a lot of time developing their bid call and also study auction law, benefit auctions, real estate, clerking, vocal care, and marketing. At the end of the long week, students in this particular school sell three items at a public auction open to the community and take written and oral exams.
Thanks for joining me in this brief detour from my typical topic of food. I love sharing the most interesting parts of my life with my readers! What do you know about auctioneering?