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tobaccoAuctions have been conducted on earth as far back as 500 B.C., if not before.

Those auctions have involved generally a person acting as an auctioneer, accepting bids from auction attendees and selling property to the highest bidder.

For nearly 2,500 years, this has been the custom:

    1. Property identified for auction
    2. Auction advertised
    3. Auctioneer sells at live auction to highest bidder(s)
    4. Net proceeds are provided to seller(s)

While this time-honored tradition still goes on today throughout the United States and across the world, the Internet has allowed auctioneers to supplement their live auction with Internet bidding as well as replace live bid calling altogether with what is commonly known as an “online-only” auction.

I believe it’s fair to say that eBay originated the online auction concept. AuctionWeb (soon after to be www.ebay.com) was opened for business September 5, 1995 and the first item sold via an online auction was a broken laser pointer for $14.83.

It wasn’t long after that September 5, 1995 date that auctioneers (and auction software companies) started to look into supplementing their live auctions with this new technology as well as replacing their live auctions with this new technology.

Many academic studies have concluded that the live auction supplemented with an online auction has less net seller benefit than either a live auction or an online auction. We explored that topic here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/selling-at-auction-online-and-live/

Our question today is should an auctioneer necessarily give up their live auction business altogether, and conduct all their auctions online-only?

We ask this question because upwards of 50 different auctioneers I’ve talked with have asked me this same question, as other auctioneers (who are likely conducting strictly online-only auctions) have told them exactly that — to give up selling anything at live auction.

I have always assumed that the reason cited for giving up one’s live auction business and conducting strictly online-only auctions was two-fold: The seller and auctioneer would both realize more net profit. If that’s not the reason, I’m anxious to hear what the reason really is …

Certainly I’m not suggesting I have all the answers. However, I think I’ve been around the auction business long enough to suggest an answer to today’s question.

I would submit that if an auctioneer has a successful live auction business, there’s no reason to abandon it and conduct strictly online-only auctions.

Similarly if a walk-in hardware store owner has a successful business, there’s no reason to abandon it and sell hardware items strictly online-only … or if a car dealer has a successful walk-in physical store and lot, there’s no reason to abandon it and sell cars strictly online-only.

I would also submit that if any business is not making a sufficient profit with its current business model, it is prudent for that business to look for alternative strategies. But changing business models purely for the sake of change is hardly sufficient reason.

Ellen Glasgow is famous for saying, “All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”

There may be an even more important facet of the live auction business than monetary. Some auctioneers just enjoy it — it makes them happy. Interestingly, some recent converts to online-only I talked with told me that they were simply not happy being in the online-only auction business.

One auctioneer we interviewed told us …

I think I was 8 years old when I decided I wanted to be an auctioneer. I couldn’t wait to graduate from high school so my parents would allow me to go to auction school. I loved it; I had found what I was meant to be. I’ve always been a people person, and liked getting up in front of a crowd and bid calling and the thrill of looking people in the eye and seeing that ‘auction fever.’ Yes, I was always tired at the end of the auction, but it was a good kind of tired.

I was … pressured … almost like if I wanted to be one of the cool kids, or associate with the cool kids, I had to do online-only. I had auctioneers calling, asking me why my last auction wasn’t online-only. One said, ‘You could have been home sitting around in your pajamas watching the auction close.’ I told him, ‘I don’t want to sit at home, and I don’t want to sit around in my pajamas.’

I’ve attended numerous auctioneer conferences and conventions since about 1995. But I’ll tell you I’m a bit more picky now about who I listen to … I’ve been in class after class where the presenter is telling me I can’t be in the live auction business anymore. In fact, one presenter told a group of about 100 of us that the live auction business is dead — not dying, but dead. Let me tell you this … it’s alive and well in the three state area where I operate. I’m not saying the online-only auction business isn’t worth considering, but don’t tell me I have no choice.

Kind of reminds me of when I was in high school. Of course, smoking is maybe a bad example, but I remember that same tension. Seemed like all my friends smoked, and I pretty much had to smoke or be made fun of — ridiculed. I smoked for a while just like everyone else, but I never liked it. When I finally mustered enough confidence to quit, I lost some friends, but I was happier and I felt better.

What’s my advice for all auctioneers? Do what you enjoy and what makes you enough money to live as you wish. Don’t do anything just because you’re told you have to, or that you won’t enjoy. Life’s too short and if any particular way of business was the only way to do business — you’d already be doing it that way anyway.

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 serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.