'ONLY AT AUCTION'
By: Kenny Lindsay, Certified Auctioneer

Many do not realize that auctioneering is one of the oldest professions in history but the exact date and time where auctions were first organized is for the most part, a mystery. The earliest evidence of auctions date back to the fifth Century where the Greeks auctioned human beings. They held auctions to actually sell physically mature women to the highest bidder for the purpose of marriage!

The Romans were the first to organize the sale of products at auction in the 1600's. Auctions were used as an organized method of promoting and liquidating goods produced in the area along with selling seized property of their rivals during their wars. The British quickly followed suit and organized regular auctions of books and arts. It was here that the earliest reference of the terms "auction" and "public auction" are discovered in English writings. During the same era, the Chinese used auctions to sell surplus property to raise money for their religious leaders and temples.

Prior to the Civil War in the United States of America, the auctioneering profession would sustain a major black eye from an embarrassing and unforgivable act where auctioneers were brought in to sell our own people at slave auctions! It was a very real and tragic part of the history of this country where our own country devalued the dignity of human beings to the level of merchandise.

It was the 'slave auctions' where the term 'Auction Block' was created when the slaves were placed in shackles and led to an elevated stage for inspection prior to the live auction. Buyers would walk the block and physically inhumanly examine them by pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to determine their strength and walking them across the stage to detect any mobility imperfections. Many times the buyers would scream insults and order the people to answer questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments.

An 1863 article located in The Library of Congress, grossly documents the turn of events of a slave auction near Savannah, Georgia. A lot of 436 men, women, children and infant slaves were described as a "Choice lot and very desirable property." Before the auction began, the slaves were in pens like animals, with a curtain over the front so the bidders could not see the "stock" too soon. Families were often broken up which included mothers and their infants. One situation was revealed where a mother desperately cried and pleaded to her new "master" to become the high bidder on her baby infant but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Eventually, her continuous cries and pleads led to a relentless beating.

During this particular auction the highest price for a single man described as a "fair carpenter and caulked" sold for $1,750. The highest price paid for a "cotton hand and house servant" woman was $1,250. The highest price paid for children was $650 each and the lowest price for an elderly couple was $250. Each. In all, the auction tallied $303,850.00.

Following the Civil War, auctioneers were again called upon to liquidate the enormous surplus of goods of the United States military. However, due to United States regulations, the auctioneer must carry the title of Colonel. Once appropriately titled, the Union Army then appointed them as officers. This is where the term as 'Colonel' for auctioneers originated. Sadly, many of appointed auctioneers took advantage of their roles taking part in unethical activity, again scarring the image of the auctioneer.

Through the remainder of the 1800's and up until the 1950's, the auction profession carried a less than favorable reputation, which stemmed in part to the slave and war surplus auctions. During this era, it was commonplace that the local auctioneer was the "town drunk" simply because they were the individuals unable to hold a full-time job for any significant period. For the most part, to auction was a last ditch attempt to sell goods that no one else wanted after other selling attempts failed.

However, the auction business would reach the turning point after World War II when prominent business leaders began to recognize how the auction method of marketing could be a beneficial asset in the marketing and selling arena. With a strong economy, private goods sales and real estate were setting market highs during the post war period. In special situations, thee were a genuine need to sell real estate and personal property more promptly than conventional selling would allow. Instead of tying up real estate and personal property for undetermined periods, the auction method of marketing guaranteed an actual date where the property would sell which created positive cash flow. Business leaders were thrilled with the results and citizens began to look at auctions in a much better light. Finally, the auctioning profession began to heal the wounds suffered from so many years of unethical behavior.

Despite the drastic improvements within the auction industry, it is apparent that a half century of 'cleaning up' is not going to erase hundred's of years worth of negative publicity. The general perception is, auctions are geared towards desperate sellers and where's there is an auction there's a great buy ahead. Although you can find some truth in this perception, it is more of a myth than anything is. Deals can be found anywhere for that matter, remember those 'blue light specials' or 'everything is 50% to 75% off sales at your favorite retailer?

This perception and myth that auctions are a bargain shopper's playground actually works in the favor of both the auctioneer and the seller. The drawing card lures curiosity seekers and perspective bidders to the auction event. After all, at auction there is a realistic possibility that an item sells far below the actual worth. Nevertheless, think about this. How many times have you been to an auction, and you sit shaking your head in disbelief because you cannot believe the "ridiculous" prices people are paying for the goods on the block? Yes, we've all had those great buys at auction but every one of us can also admit we didn't walk out with nearly the items we originally anticipated because prices reached beyond your expectations.

When working with a professional auction company, the auction method of marketing is by far, the most sophisticated and effective tool of marketing. Not so convinced? Well, there is a series of factors that are different with the auction method of selling versus the conventional method of selling.

Perhaps the most important aspect to the auction method is 'urgency'. Urgency is a definite time and date when the product is sold See, building a sense that it's urgent was found from tests back in the late 1800s. Direct mail sellers found that when something was urgent enough, now, that readers would buy now. They also found that if the readers did not buy now, they would not buy at all. Sales people are taught the two essential components in the art of sales are to create enthusiasm towards your product or service building a sense of urgency. A prime example of this is to pay attention to the hype in carefully planned and orchestrated television commercials - "Take advantage of these huge savings as this offer ends this Friday!" How about those info commercials where there is a little clock at the corner of the screen ticking down to the last few moments before the product is no longer available. Ten minutes later, the same commercial comes back on with the same counter. They are creating 'urgency' to their sales presentation urging the customer to buy.

In the auction business, the sense of urgency is built right into the program because there is a definite date when the items will be sold. This is created through an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign, which spans several weeks before the auction.

This brings us to the 'enthusiasm' which is crucial to the success of triggering a customer to buy. Enthusiasm is generated from the large buying attendance that was attracted to the auction due to the glamour of the big auction event. This is where things get good! In the sales profession, it is a well-known fact that people are motivated to buy when they see other people buying.

Let us use another television commercial as a creative example of this. Have you ever been clicking through channels and you come across on of those home shopping programs? They sell anything from an autographed baseball to video cameras. Have you ever noticed that counter on the lower portion of your screen that indicates how many sales they are allegedly making? The numbers jump in multiple increments. The message to you is 'Other people are taking advantage of this! Why do not you!' The hosts of the show will repeatedly announce, "we only have 218 of these left! Once they are sold we are all out of them for good!" They are creating both enthusiasm and urgency to the sale, which ultimately entices their viewers to buy.

Only at auction are crowds gathered sharing similar interests creating a competitive bidding arena. Only at auction are prices for merchandise and property negotiated higher instead of the negative haggling that is associated with conventional selling. Although the auction profession began hundreds if not thousands of years ago, it is right now in the 21st. Century where the business is born! It is only at auction where discrimination has truly vanished. Only at auction can a seller and buyer alike share equal victory. Only at auction has a black eye turned to twinkling eyes. Now, "Only at auction" is the common household phrase when considering buying or selling anything!

 

 

 

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This site is dedicated to the auction method of selling by state of Michigan auctioneer, Col. Ken Lindsay