Auctioneering is more than just selling other people’s goods

The auctioneer needs to be an expert in a number of areas

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

When he was 38 years old, Bill Mohs of Brainerd decided to go back to school and become an auctioneer. He learned to chant, he learned the aspects for the different types of auctions such as livestock, auto, antiques and more. But the school just scratched the surface of what an auctioneer really needs to know to have a successful business.

“The rest of the profession is learned on the job,” said Mohs, who attended the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa.

Today, he has been in the business 26 years.

Al Wessel, co-owner of Mid-American Auction Company in Sauk Centre with Kevin Winter, knew he wanted to be an auctioneer from the time he was four.

“I was infatuated with auctioneers,” said Wessel. “I would go to auctions with my father who loved them and became enthralled. Back then, Peter Newman and Bob Eldred were the local auctioneers and they were an inspiration to me.”

Wessel said he practiced being an auctioneer every chance he got, then in 1971, went to the World Wide College of Auctioneering to learn the basics.

Bill Mohs, a central Minnesota auctioneeer, is pictured during one of his events.
Bill Mohs, a central Minnesota auctioneeer, is pictured during one of his events.

“Many of the newly-graduated auctioneers partner with a more experienced auctioneer to start out,” said Mohs. “I am a first generation auctioneer, so I was unable to rely on my parents to teach me.”

When Wessel was 18 years old, he began working at the Long Prairie Livestock Sales Barn with Ray Timmer.

“He allowed me to be part of the auction crew; he gave me a leg up in my career,” said Wessel.

The first thing Mohs did when he got out of auctioneering school was to join the Minnesota State Auctioneers Association and he went to their convention where he pursued several auctioneers specializing in a variety of areas to take him on and teach him the ropes for no pay.

“They knew I was serious,” he said.

While he started his own business in Brainerd in 1988, he continued to tag along with other auctioneers to increase his knowledge in the business.

Mohs now has his realtor’s license and specializes in real estate auctions.

Mid-American Auction Company also specializes in real estate, mostly farms, livestock and anything agricuture-related. At the Rich Prairie Livestock Barn in Pierz, Wessel has worked with Joe Varner and Rich Boser since they started the business in 1981. During that same year, he also started auctioneering with John Eischeid and Wayne Hoffman in Motley at the Tri-County Livestock Barn. He has been working with them at least once a week since then.

At his Sauk Centre office, Wessel has a hay sale on the first and third Thursday of the month. There the company auctions between 150 and 175 semi-loads of hay from around the upper Midwest each sale.

The company will also work with any estate or household sale. The size does not matter.

Al Wessel, left, co-owner and operator of Mid-American Auction Company, has worked at the Rich Prairie Livestock Barn in Pierz since 1981. He is pictured in the booth with his clerk, Deb Gall. Below, moving the animals along, is Rich Prairie’s owner Joe Varner.
Al Wessel, left, co-owner and operator of Mid-American Auction Company, has worked at the Rich Prairie Livestock Barn in Pierz since 1981. He is pictured in the booth with his clerk, Deb Gall. Below, moving the animals along, is Rich Prairie’s owner Joe Varner.

“There have been more and more farm auctions lately,” said Wessel. “Real estate auctions have always been there and farm auctions were once a last resort. Now they are the first choice. The seller gets to pick the day and the process of selling a farm is expedited.”

Wessel said that today, records are being set with farm prices. And, he said land will become even more popular in years to come.

“Because of high commodity prices, expansion of the farm has become popular,” said Wessel. “I am seeing two main buyers: farmers and investors. Stocks and other investments are too volatile for many and they are moving to land investment. It’s safer.”

One of Mohs’ biggest eye-openers was when he was working with a commercial business auctioneer.

“There were 400 people in a three-story building/restaurant. We sold all the equipment and all the incidentals, such as plates and silverware. The amount of organization it took to set it all up was a massive undertaking. It took a week of work with six people to clean, tag items and organize the inventory,” he said. “Then, after the auction, we had to coordinate the moving out of all the equipment. I learned a lot.

“I worked with another auctioneer who sold heavy equipment in Princeton. That was my first multi-million dollar auction,” Mohs said. “We were selling about 50 bulldozers, 300 trucks, backhoes, skid steers and more. Instead of $10 for a pot, it was $75,000 for a piece of machinery.”

Mohs said he learned that what one auctioneering company does is totally unique and independent of any other company.

“I negotiate my commission with my customers,” said Mohs. “They tell me how much they want spent on advertising and how much they are willing to pay for the preparation for the auction.”

Mohs said a business auction will generally be charged less in commission than a household auction due to the greater amount of money generated.

Each auction is unique and an auctioneer needs to have knowledge of the product being sold.

“Research comes into play during the bidding process,” said Mohs. “The amount of work it’s going to take will also determine the commission rate.” Some people will want to set things up themselves, others rely on the auctioneer for everything.

Mohs said that most auctioneers work for a bank one week, a business another, then grandma the third week. It’s important to meet the goals and expectations of each seller.

“I’m a problem solver,” he said. “It’s my job to determine the proper way to liquidate someone’s property.”

Auctions are not just done on site any more. There are several choices to selling one’s property. Online auctions, live auctions or estate sales are all available.

Wessel has implemented simulcast bidding for his auctions. With pictures uploaded to the Internet, listeners at home are able to bid from home. They are able to both hear the auction and, with Skype, watch it, too. With a click of their mouse, they are able to be part of the bidding process.

“A ringman at the auction is able to represent the bidders at home via his laptop,” said Wessel. “This achieves optimum prices for the seller.”

For an estate sale, the owner is usually deceased. Mohs will go through the inventory and tag everything for the family or the bank. He said it’s important to do the best for the customer, whoever it is.

There are times when an auctioneer gets the bid for an auction, but is not knowledgeable about the product being sold. He will ask permission of the seller to work with another auctioneering company which has the expertise.

“That’s why it’s important to network through the Minnesota State Auctioneers Association,” said Mohs.

When Wessel gets a call from a prospective customer to do an auction, he will tell them what Mid-American can do for them.

“I have always stuck to the positives of what I can do for them and not the negatives of what the other fella is unable to do,” he said. “Mid-American has built a good reputation and we do what we say.”

Mohs said that before each auction, the auctioneer is responsible for the marketing of the event. He is also responsible for proofing the bills used to advertise the auction.

Strategies to get as many people to the event as possible include advertising on the Internet at www.midwestauc and various selling lists such as Craigslist and Stella’s List. Mohs also uses direct mail, newspapers and auction bills to let people know about the event.

“A small estate sale usually does not want to spend the same amount of advertising dollars as an auction liquidating a business,” said Mohs. “When an agreement is reached between the seller and the auctioneer, the contract is signed.”

Mid-American has a plan for advertising each auction. Wessel will sit down with each seller and tell them what advertising should work the best, but will also listen to their ideas.

“We have mailing lists of buyers interested in livestock, machinery, antiques and more. They will get an auction bill in the mail if we think they will be interested in a particular auction,” Wessel said. “The advertising is the most expensive part of the auction and we don’t waste the seller’s money. We have learned where the best advertising dollars are spent by asking the buyers where they heard about the auction.”

Wessel makes sure the bills are also posted where the appropriate people will see them. That includes newspapers, auction barns, stores, antique shops and online.

Mid-American Auction Company also has its own Web site at www.midameri where it will post upcoming auctions.

When the economy crashed in 2008, Mohs devised a two-part plan when negotiating his real estate auctions.

“I listen to what the seller wants out of the auction. If it is unrealistic, I back away,” said Mohs. “If we have a deal, I let people know the land is available before the actual sale for the price the seller wants. If it doesn’t sell before the auction, I will do my best to get that same price or better at the auction. The seller always has the right to say ‘no’ to the highest bidder.”

Wessel grew up on a farm in rural Swanville and he knows how attached folks are to their equipment and animals. Selling the farm can be emotional.

“I get to know the goals and expectations of the seller,” he said. “What they think is far more important than what I think. If their expectation are out of sight, I may tell them that an auction might not be good for them.”

Mohs said that 10 years ago, there were more buyers than there was real estate. Today, it’s the opposite. He said he needed to think outside the box to restructure his sales.

“This way of selling real estate gives a potential buyer the option of purchasing a piece of property without waiting for the auction and maybe paying more for the land he wants,” said Mohs. “Every auction is different, I need to tweak the way I do things to get the job done to the sellers’ satisfaction.”

Mohs still learns from other auctioneers, watching how they do things, learning about prices and techniques.

One reason to hire an auctioneer to liquidate property is that they are professionals and know the best way to organize the auction goods.

“The first thing on the block needs to be a desirable item,” said Wessel. “Having the auction start off with a lot of bidding will start the auction on a positive note and will set the tone for the rest of the day.”

Sometimes, a seller will want more than what the property is worth. Another of Mohs’ jobs is to show comparable land sales to the seller so they know what to realistically expect.

“I do a lot of listening to my customers and save my talking for the auction block,” he said.

Wessel, who has been in the business for 42 years, said he has an attitude about his job.

“I don’t have to go to an auction each day; I get to go to an auction,” he said. “It’s like going to Disneyland.”

Wessel said that if an auctioneer likes what he does, he will make it look effortless and people will enjoy coming.