Junior Staggs, CAI, is an auctioneer for Doug Taylor Auction Service, primarily serving the Tennessee and Kentucky region. Junior is the National Auctioneer Association’s Ambassador to his home state of Tennessee, and is also a candidate for the upcoming 2017 NAA Board of Directors election. We sat down recently to discuss his background and experience in the industry, as well as his hopes and visions for the future.
Tell me a bit about your background in the auction industry. How long have you been involved, and what first got you into the business?
The first auction I ever went to was in Zip City, Alabama, when I was five years old. It stands out to me because my dad bought me a drum set. A long time passed after that before I got involved. I actually didn’t go to an auction again until I met my wife, many years later.
Her uncle, Doug Taylor, was an auctioneer, and when my wife and I got married I was brought into that family business. This was about twelve years ago. I started out as a grunt, basically, helping move things, set up and take down, all that. Soon I started being the ringman, and I’m telling you, I couldn’t have been more nervous about it. I had horrible stage fright. I enjoyed doing it though and I enjoyed helping out with the family business, so I powered through it and tried my best.
The trade really grew on me. One day while I was riding around with Doug in his truck, I thought, why not take the next step? I asked him what it took to become an auctioneer. He got me set up and I attended Nashville Auction School, where I met instructor Brian Knox. This was just about a month after Brian won the IAC. It was looking at that trophy and realizing that this was an industry where there were various levels of success you could accomplish, competitions you could win, that really drove me to dive in deep. If you could win trophies for this stuff, I wanted to win one.
Since that time you’ve won several bid-calling championships around the country. Tell us about that and how that has changed or shaped your experience in the auction industry.
It’s been a fantastic experience, and has certainly helped open so many doors for me and allowed me to grow in so many ways.
I talked about having stage fright earlier, just as a ringman. It was doubly true once I actually started bid-calling. When I first started out I’d be so nervous that my voice would take on this sort of shrill, high pitch. Doug would be serving as ringman, and he’d look up at me between lots and say to me, “Take a deep breath. No need to be so worked up.”
It took a long time for me to get over that. What really pushed me to face my fears and undergo the baptism by fire that is bid-calling championships was the encouragement of my friend Bob Pace. He was one of the regulars at my auctions who, along with Doug, really gave me a ton of valuable advice along the way and helped guide me. A sort of adopted grandfather figure, if you will. He passed away very suddenly in 2013 from cancer. As a sort of tribute to him, I felt compelled to try to meet my full potential the way he had always encouraged me to, and that’s when I started really focusing on becoming better at the bid-calling and began participating in the competitions.
Getting up in front of my peers at those competitions, though, that was tough. It was far more nerve-wracking than anything I’d ever done before. If bid-calling in front of a regular audience gives you stage fright, try doing it in front of a room full of people who are pros at it, who do it for a living. That’s a tough crowd. Luckily I powered through it and stuck with it, and had some success pretty early on. I won the very first competition I participated in, which I entered and won in honor of Bob.
Tell me about your experience as an NAA Ambassador. How has that, as well as your membership in the NAA, improved your experience in the industry?
I love the auctioneering profession, and I love to be involved with it every way I can. I’m not satisfied just getting by on my own. I want to reach out to people and help them out. I want to see other auctioneers succeed, and I think joining the NAA can help them succeed. My position as an ambassador allows me to reach out to them.
It might sound like a bit of a cliche, but I swear I mean it: being an NAA ambassador has been my way of giving back to the association and its members who’ve helped me along the way. I feel that mentorship is invaluable. As I mentioned before, I’ve had some great mentors helping me out as I’ve come up in this business, and I would be nowhere near where I am today if it weren’t for them. I wanted to be that same guy to others who might need it, to sort of pay it forward. There are plenty of young people starting out in this profession who don’t have a mentor the same way I had. Being an ambassador has allowed me to sort of fill that role for them.
We know you’re also running for the Board of Directors of the NAA. Care to tell us about that? Why did you decide to run?
It seemed like the next logical step forward from my ambassadorship. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done there, but as a member of the Board of Directors I’d be able to serve the needs of auctioneers even better.
A number of friends encouraged me to run, saying they thought I had genuine concerns and ideas that could benefit a lot of people in the industry who might be underrepresented right now. I guess they saw the passion and real interest I had, and thought I could direct that energy in a practical way.
I didn’t really take the suggestion too seriously until I realized that by being an ambassador I had already fulfilled the Board requirement of serving on an NAA committee, as well as being a member for at least three years. Once I realized that the ambassadorship counted as a committee, and that I was already qualified, I started really considering it. I knew the job would take a lot of dedication and travelling, and I asked my wife if she would be on board with me doing it. She said “If you think it’s something you want to do, I’ll support you.”
If I make it to the Board, one of my major goals will be to instate official mentor-type roles; people who would be available to help guide new auctioneers trying to find their way. I think this would be a huge boon for the industry, by nurturing future generations.
Tell us a little about the “Auctioneer Print” that’s been making the rounds.
You know I like to dabble from time to time in country music. I enjoy writing my own songs and playing. In songwriting, you have about three minutes to make an impression and get a point across in a limited amount of words. Short and sweet. The words of the Auctioneer Print were originally just something I’d come up with in that same sort of vein. I came up with it on a lark, something I wrote on the back of a napkin while eating at the Cookout restaurant in Murray, Kentucky.
I ended up putting it on Facebook when I got home, and I guess it really resonated with people, because it caught on pretty quick. It got thousands of shares and views within just a few hours. That’s when people started encouraging me to release some version of it as a print that people could buy and hang up. So I took a picture I’d taken of a windmill at one of our auctions, then put the text over it and made it available to purchase as a print. We’ve sold over 200 of them so far.
I eventually put the text on the back of my business cards, too, and I’d let people read it if they wanted to understand where I was coming from as an auctioneer, what the profession meant to me. A lot of times when you meet someone and tell them you’re an auctioneer, the first thing they say is “Talk fast for me!” After reading the poem on my card, they’d drop the talking fast thing. It made them realize auctioneering is more than just talking fast, it’s our livelihood and passion.
You’re doing business in a pretty rural part of Tennessee. Do you travel a lot, or do you do most of your business in the area? Do you have any advice for other auctioneers starting out in a similar situation?
I rarely travel further than an hour and a half from my home, and do north of sixty auctions a year in that radius.
It’s probably true for most auctioneers in general, but especially in more rural communities, word of mouth is everything. You’ve got to be involved in the community, giving back. Make sure people have a reason to know who you are. It’s different operating your business in a rural area than it would be closer to urban areas. The same rules don’t necessarily apply. Whereas Facebook marketing and all that might work fine closer to big populations, out here it’s a different game. That will only get you so far. You have to earn that word of mouth, get to know people, and earn a reputation.
You’re a relatively young guy succeeding in an industry that tends to trend older. Do you approach it from the same philosophy as most of the old-timers, or do you have a different perspective? Where do you see the industry in 20 or 30 years, and what role do you think technology will play in its development over that time?
For me, this kind of ties into what I said before about that rural-urban divide. There’s a certain way things operate here that just haven’t changed in a long time, and probably won’t for a while to come. As such, I really take what my mentors say to heart. I’m younger, but I’ve been fortunate enough to learn everything I know from older guys who have been in it for a long time. So most of what I do and how I operate comes from them.
At the same time, I absolutely recognize the importance of technology, and see a ton of ways it can improve our industry and make our job easier without fundamentally transforming it, if we don’t want it to. There’s only a certain number of hours in the day, and any supplemental technology that saves us from doing things manually or by hand is welcomed by me. Online auctions, too, can be a great tool, and there’s definitely a time and place for them. It’s a great thing to be able to offer.
I don’t see some huge revolution coming, though, at least not to the type of auctions I do. I strongly disagree when I hear people say things like “All auctions are going to be online in the future, live auctions are dying off.” They’re not. Live auctions are events to people. It’s an experience that just can’t be replicated online. People still have a desire to come out and participate, and I don’t see that going away. As long as Walmart keeps having big Black Friday sales, I’m going to be able to keep having successful live auctions.
Ultimately, my goal in the years to come is to advance the auction industry as a whole. As long as people choose the auction method, I’m happy. I have two little girls, and I want to ensure that the auction method of marketing is still a viable and flourishing model when they’re grown up, in case they decide they want to take over the family business in twenty or thirty years. I want them to have something valuable to inherit.
I don’t feel that other auctioneers are my competition. I see them as colleagues. We’re all in this together, to try to teach people the benefits of the auction method. Our success is mutually beneficial to each other. The people I see as competition are the tag-sellers and others who are trying to steer people away from auctions. I welcome whatever technology or advancements may come, so long as it helps the auction industry as a whole flourish.