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What selling in more than one ring does is get the auction over more quickly. For example, if an auction has 1,500 lots, one auctioneer (one ring) may require upwards of 12 hours to sell all this, where two auctioneers selling at the same time (two rings) may only require 6 hours.

Is it better to have a 12-hour auction with only one ring, and all the bidders in that one ring, or is it better to have two rings, each 6 hours in length, and split those bidders up between the two rings? For that matter, is it even better to have three rings, each 4 hours in length, and split those bidders up between the three rings?

We would contend that auction bidders are time-sensitive. Bidders have jobs, family, children to pick up from practice, meals to cook, sleep to get, and lives to live outside of attending an auction. We would also contend that a typical bidder is less likely to stay interested, and attentive at a 12-hour auction compared to a 6-hour auction.

Based upon these theories, how would an auctioneer properly divide lots to allow for multiple rings? Given a typical estate auction, there are antiques, collectibles, glassware, pottery, silver, furniture, tools, kitchen items, firearms, vehicles … all sorts of things.

Keeping in mind that most bidders come to buy fairly specific items, such an auction could be divided into one ring of mostly “antiques and collectibles” and the other more the “firearms, vehicles, and tools,” and probably not have too many bidders interested in items in both rings.

And, what if a bidder was interested, in our example, in both a particular firearm and some antique pottery? He could likely leave an absentee bid on the pottery, and then bid himself on the firearm; alternately, he could enlist his spouse or a friend to bid for him on the pottery, while he keeps an eye on that firearm. In other words, there are ample solutions for a bidder interested in items in more than one ring.

Some auctioneers argue that if an auction is divided into multiple rings, that the bidding (the contention) will suffer sufficiently that one ring would have produced more money for the client. However, this theory seems to leave out that after 8, 9, or 10 hours, bidders will leave an auction, and prices suffer accordingly there too.

For auctions that have like-items throughout, such as a 1,500 lot coin auction, then it is difficult to divide into more than one ring, as many of the same bidders will want to participate first-hand in both rings. In cases such as this, considerations may be given to types of coins (the 400 lots of Morgan Dollars could be sold in one ring, and all other coins sold in another ring) or maybe this auction should be divided into more than one day. We’ll take on discussing multiple day auctions in a future post.

In discussing this with many auctioneers across the United States, a certain number keeps coming up in those conversations — five. One auctioneer put it just this way,

    “I sell in as many rings as I have to, to keep the auction under 5 hours — after 5 hours, they’re gone.”

While I’m not convinced that 5 is the number, I’m not convinced it’s not either. I do think that bidders appreciate multiple rings because they can sooner bid on the item(s) they desire, and sooner get back home to be with their family, and prepare for the next day. As well, I think multiple rings may produce better results for a seller, because bidders are willing to stay active, interested, and motivated the entire auction.

What does a ring require? Customarily, any auction ring has to have an auctioneer, at least one ringman, and one clerk. So, each ring requires 3 staff minimum. Too, as the number of rings increases, the busier the cashier area becomes as auction results are coming in to be recorded and totaled from several directions; thus once an auction becomes a multiple ring auction, additional cashiers may be needed as well. Multiple rings work well, but only if sufficient staff are available to accommodate the additional tasks.

Should auctioneers sell in more than one ring? I think so, to keep the auction from extending unnecessarily, and especially if there is a reasonable division of product, provisions for bidders to participate in the multiple rings, and sufficient auction staff.

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.