I recently sat down with an old friend and mentor to those of us at SAE, Ernie Taylor, in order to hear a bit about his time in the auction industry and get his input on what kind of features a simulcast engine should have. Ernie has been a licensed auctioneer for over 25 years, conducting around five auctions per week during that timeframe in over a dozen states. If anyone knows their stuff in this business, it’s Ernie. Here’s what he had to say about his experiences, along with some advice for newer auctioneers.
So tell me a bit about your background in the auction industry.
When I was eight years old my uncle had a contract to bring in wrecked cars to salvage. I’d run tickets from the trucks to the offices. From there I eventually got hired by an auctioneer to help run his auctions when I was in highschool. So that was my first step into the world of auctions. Now I’ve been an auctioneer for over 25 years, doing five sales a week, every week. I’ve seen every type of new technology come in. We were doing things on paper when I started out. I participated in the beta tests of some of the very earliest programs ever used in our industry. That includes the first simulcast attempts.
How have you seen the industry change in those years?
New technology has changed every element of the auction industry. That’s only going to become more apparent in the years to come. Advertising, conducting, reaching audiences: the way it happens is all changing and will continue to change. Nowadays, about 20% of my car sales happen online, at least in the regular auctions. For government forfeiture auctions it’s even higher; about a 50-50 ratio.
How important would you say technology is to the industry now? Are timed online auctions, simulcasts, etc. the future of the business, or are they just a fad?
Simulcast is the future of this industry. I don’t think Online-Only is the future of the industry, at least not in the sectors I’m dealing in. There’s a place for it, certainly, in certain markets, but the future is going to be in Simulcast, especially once the technology has been perfected.
I think a few years down the line we’re going to see “Live, Internet Only” auctions become the dominant method. What I mean by that is there will still be an auctioneer, he still has his cadence and his ability to draw bids and responses from people, but there will be no in-person audience. They’ll all be watching in real time online. That’s where the future’s going. I think the crowds are going to slowly quit coming as the generation that was raised up in that tradition grows older. But the auction-based sale will persist. The auctioneer has a unique ability to maximize an item’s value, and that ability won’t be lost over a virtual connection. If you see Jim, Bidder #341, come in with a bid, you know you can call him by name again and get another bid out of him. The computer can’t do that. If you know the floor for an item is four grand, you can beg a little harder and know you can get someone to bid a couple more times. With the computer-only system it’s just, 1, 2, 3, sold, that’s it. The personal experience and touch makes the difference. The Internet is a fantastic tool to reach the largest audience possible, but it is the merging of the technology with the traditional elements of auctioneering where things are best, not going to one extreme or the other.
How long have you been doing simulcast? Do you just do simulcast or do you do online only ever?
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing Simulcast since day one. I beta tested the first versions of it. I do some online-only auctions, but mostly always Simulcast. It’s the best way of maximizing your sales. I do an auction once a month that’s the largest RV auction in the country, about 200 to 300 RVs, doing $3 – 4 million on average. We do simulcast every time. For that particular auction I’d say probably 60% of the sales go to online bidders.
You know we’ve been developing our own simulcast platform. If you could talk directly to the developers in order to help them make the perfect product, what would you say they should do? What are the top couple of most important features to have in a robust, highly usable and useful platform?
The platform needs to have a way to give plenty of description. Not just text and photos, but embeddable video. This is extremely important for car auctions in particular. If you’re only using pictures you can’t get a sense of how the engine sounds. Video really helps sell it. If you can include a pre-recorded video for bidders to get a sense of the car during the pre-bid segment, you’re far more likely to get more bids.
Another important thing would be an “If,” or “Call” button. Proxibid doesn’t have it and it’s something I, and many other auctioneers I’ve spoken to want more than any other single feature. It’s basically a pending approval button, that says the auction is over assuming you hear back from the bank and they’ve verified the bidders’ payment.
What advice would you give to someone entering the industry now?
Make sure you get involved with online auctions from the start. It’s where we’re headed, like I mentioned before, and you should start at the ground floor with it. Make sure to get acquainted with and use some kind of simulcast service. Make sure you have a good Internet connection where you’re setting up. In the old days, it used to be Ma and Pa’s favorite activity to go out to the auction on Friday night, but most of those folks aren’t there anymore. The majority of your bidders nowadays don’t want to come out and sit through that whole ordeal to bid on just a few things. They want to do it from home, from their computer. So make sure you’re involved in new technologies if you want to adapt.
It’s also important to go to your relevant auctioneer associations and get involved. Go to conventions, workshops. That’s where you can get first glimpses of all the new products and technologies as they come out. It’s how you stay on top of new ideas. To stay ahead in the game you’ve got to put in the legwork.