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Randy Wells says, “I ran a weekly auction house for 17 years and I can say that I probably started 98.9% of the items we sold.” We have run a weekly auction house for just over 17 years and I can say, “We almost never (< 1.1% of the time) start the bid."

This “starting the bid” is also known as “setting the bid in,” or “setting it in.” What this means is the auctioneer bids himself first, thereafter taking bids from the other registered bidders.

We previously wrote about some of the legal implications of auctioneers starting the bidding here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/should-the-auctioneer-start-the-bid/. Today, we explore the more practical side of this habit.

For example, an auctioneer putting up for bid this above pictured mint-condition Marantz 2385 receiver valued at about $2,500 …

    • Might set the bid in on this by asking “$2,500?” then say “I have $1,000” and ask for $1,100 …
    • Might not set the bid in, and ask, “$2,500?” “$1,500?” $1,000?” until a bid was made by someone in the crowd …

The “Set-it-in” crowd often suggests this saves time, and keeps bidders from essentially sitting on their hands waiting to bid some trivial amount to open the bidding.

The “Non-set-it-in” crowd often says that there is no need to set the bid in, and the bidders know that it’s up to them to place all bids and too, bidding reasonable opening amounts saves time.

I’ve often said that auctioneers (particularly in a periodic auction house setting) need to essentially train their bidders. In other words, if the auctioneer:

    • Is going to start the bids, he is training his bidders to wait until then to bid …
    • Isn’t going to start the bids, he’s training his bidders to bid for themselves to start the bidding …

No better of an example of this dynamic than an auction we conducted in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio some years ago. In our immediate market of Columbus, Ohio we don’t start bids, so that morning near Cleveland, we began by — as usual — not starting any bids.

The first item up was an item maybe worth $100, and I suggested, “Start me out at $100?” “$50?” “$25?” “$10?” with all of the 250 bidders standing silent. Just then a woman standing behind me said, “Aren’t you going to start the bid?” The auctioneers around here start the bid …”

I thanked this woman for her insight, and announced to the crowd that, “Today we’re going to let you start the bidding on these items …” Just then a bidder right behind this woman said, “I’ll start you at $50.” Our auction progressed wonderfully the remainder of the day — without us setting in one single bid.

Here’s our contention: If as an auctioneer, you feel you must “set the bids in” then it’s likely you have trained your bidders to wait until you do. If however, you don’t feel the necessity to “set the bids in” then it’s likely you have trained your bidders to bid for themselves.

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, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.