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Steve Johnson of AuctionZip recently noted this question as …

    “One of the greatest mysteries of the auction industry.”

Here, we hope to shed some light on this mystery, and possibly get closer to solving it.

How many auctioneers are there?

This is of course a general question with need of clarification to be answered accurately. For instance, do we count:

  • Only auctioneers in the United States?
  • Only active auctioneers, or all auctioneers, active or not?
  • Those auctioneers who are retired?
  • Those who only bid call for others?
  • Only those who actually contract with sellers for auction services?
  • Auction business entities, such as a corporation or LLC?
  • Only those who’s primary business is as an auctioneer?
  • Only those who make a living as an auctioneer?

First, I think it would be difficult to qualify who is active, versus someone who is not active. Secondly, I think it would be somewhat difficult to determine what it means to be retired. And, I think it would be difficult, at best, to determine only those who’s primary business is auctioneering, or make a living at auctioneering.

For our purposes here, let’s rephrase the question to this:

How many auctioneers are there in the United States, licensed or not, active or inactive, retired or not, whether or not they work for themselves or someone else, including sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLC’s and corporations, whether or not they view auctioneering as their primary business or not, and whether or not they make their living at auctioneering?

Here is our method in attempt to calculate this number.

We can look at AuctionZip and count the number of auctioneers they have listed at any one time. So, we did that on February 12, 2010 and that number was: 17,871.

We also counted the number of auctioneers in the following states and compared those numbers to the AuctionZip numbers, by state: Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Alabama, North Dakota, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. We chose these 8 states for no other reason than it was fairly straightforward to count via their state’s auctioneer licensing authority websites, and of course all these states license auctioneers. In states without licensing, it is almost impossible to gauge the number of auctioneers.

On February 12, 2010, we counted 15,833 licensed auctioneers (including all business entities) in these 8 states. As noted earlier, on that same day, AuctionZip listed 2,766 auctioneers from those 8 states.

From these two numbers, we concluded that AuctionZip listed 17.5% of all auctioneers in these 8 states (2,766 / 15,833) = 0.1746984.

Since AuctionZip listed on February 12, 2010 a total of 17,871 auctioneers, and that seems to be about 17.5% of all auctioneers (based upon our sample), then we can take (17,871 / 0.175) and we get: 102,120 auctioneers.

Is 102,120 our number? It is not, as our counts for each state in our sample include some auctioneers who are licensed in more than one state. So, our overall count of auctioneers in our sample is high, because it counts some auctioneers twice or more.

A cursory search in some states seem to suggest about 20% of any state’s licensed auctioneers are from out of state, where that auctioneer is licensed (counted) elsewhere. In our sample of 8 states, if we reduced our count of each by this approximate 20%, we would have 12,666 instead of 15,833.

A cursory search of AuctionZip’s site suggest that their total changes very little, as most state listings are made up of about 95% auctioneers from that particular state.

Considering these two new numbers, Our calculation would then become: 2,627 unique auctioneers listed on AuctionZip (2,766 * 95%) / 12,666 unique auctioneers in those 8 states (15,833 * 80%) = 2,627 / 12,666 = about 21%.

If we reduce our total number of auctioneers on AuctionZip by this same 5%, we would then take 16,978 (17,871 * 95%) / 21% = 80,845 auctioneers.

Is 80,845 our number? It is not, as we have reduced the counts for all those auctioneers who are potentially counted twice or more. So, our overall count of auctioneers in our sample is low.

At this point, it seems reasonable that we have, based upon our calculations here (in round numbers) somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 auctioneers. In other words, there are:

  • More than 80,000 auctioneers, but certainly less than 100,000 auctioneers

To fine tune our number a bit better, it does seem reasonable that of this 20,000 or so auctioneers that were counted twice or more to get our 102,120 number, at least half of them are licensed in only two states, rather than one. Therefore, we would have to add back about one half of the one half of the 20,000 (5,000) so they count only once. Then, the other half of the 20,000 are counted in more than two states, so maybe add back another 2,500 or so auctioneers suggesting the average of those counted in more than two states is about 4 states for each (20,000 / 2 = 10,000) and then 10,000 / 4 = 2,500.

That would make our total number of auctioneers (per our previous definition) at:

  • Approximately 87,500.

Can this be? 87,500 auctioneers of all types in the United States? It would appear so, but can we check this number in some other fashion?

Let’s take one state, North Carolina, and count the total number of licensed auctioneers, and then look at AuctionZip and count the number listed there. For February 12, 2010:

  • Total number of licensees in North Carolina: 2,569
  • Total number of licensees in North Carolina living in North Carolina: 2,078
  • Total number of North Carolina auctioneers on AuctionZip: 456
  • Total number of North Carolina auctioneers on AuctionZip living in North Carolina: 454

This means if we take: 454 / 2,078 = 0.2184793 = approximately 21.8%. Approximately 21.8% of the North Carolina resident auctioneers are listed on AuctionZip.

If we take this 21.8% and apply it to the total number of auctioneers listed on AuctionZip, we have: 17,871 / 0.218 = 81,977.

Let’s take another state, Ohio, and count the total number of licensed auctioneers, and then look at AuctionZip and count the number listed there. For February 12, 2010:

  • Total number of licensees in Ohio: 3,316
  • Total number of licensees in Ohio living in Ohio: 2,794
  • Total number of Ohio auctioneers on AuctionZip: 715
  • Total number of Ohio auctioneers on AuctionZip living in Ohio: 713

This means if we take: 713 / 2,794 = 0.2573372 = approximately 25.7%. Approximately 25.7% of the Ohio resident auctioneers are listed on AuctionZip.

If we take this 25.7% and apply it to the total number of auctioneers listed on AuctionZip, we have: 17,871 / 0.257 = 69,445.

Let’s take a third state, Texas, and count the total number of licensed auctioneers, and then look at AuctionZip and count the number listed there. For February 12, 2010:

  • Total number of licensees in Texas: 2,174
  • Total number of licensees in Texas living in Texas: 1,825
  • Total number of Texas auctioneers on AuctionZip: 653
  • Total number of Texas auctioneers on AuctionZip living in Texas: 652

This means if we take: 652 / 1,825 = 0.3572603 = approximately 35.7%. Approximately 35.7% of the Texas resident auctioneers are listed on AuctionZip.

If we take this 35.7% and apply it to the total number of auctioneers listed on AuctionZip, we have: 17,871 / 0.357 = 50,022.

Looking at these three states:

  • North Carolina’s numbers suggest about 82,000 auctioneers
  • Ohio’s numbers suggest about 70,000 auctioneers
  • Texas’ numbers suggest about 50,000 auctioneers

These individual state’s numbers are dependent upon how saturated the use of AuctionZip is within their state. For example, we could look at North Dakota:

North Dakota, for February 12, 2010:

  • Total number of licensees in North Dakota: 391
  • Total number of licensees in North Dakota living in North Dakota: 374
  • Total number of North Dakota auctioneers on AuctionZip: 9
  • Total number of North Dakota auctioneers on AuctionZip living in North Dakota: 8

This means if we take: 8 / 374 = 0.0213904 = approximately 2.14%. Approximately 2.14% of the North Dakota resident auctioneers are listed on AuctionZip.

If we take this 2.14% and apply it to the total number of auctioneers listed on AuctionZip, we have: 17,871 / 0.0214 = 835,469!

Clearly, AuctionZip usage in North Dakota is low at 2.14% and possibly AuctionZip usage in Texas is high at 35.7%. So, the actual nationwide number is likely between these two numbers.

If the nationwide average AuctionZip usage is 20% in the United States, then we could calculate 17,871 / 0.20 = 89,355.

In summary, for years most of us have been hearing that there are only 25,000 – 30,000 auctioneers in the United States. Is it evident there are far more than those estimates? It sure does.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.