What does it take to be a First-Class Auctioneer?
Five of our finest offer their insights into the ‘dark art’ of auctioneering
How did you become an auctioneer?
Lester Williams: “My father believed that a farm should be passed to the eldest son, so my brother took over our farm on the edge of Exmoor. I still wanted to be involved in agriculture and was passionate about going to market, so I asked our local firm of auctioneers if I could work at their market for free to gain experience. I was hooked.”
Mark Lewis: “My father was an auctioneer and most holidays in my formative years were spent with him at market and on farms, so it was a natural career choice for me.”
What was the first lot you sold?
Mark Lewis: “Standing hay, that had ‘gone over’, with just one farmer in attendance. It could have been a disaster but he helped me out by bidding on my first call.”
Mark Northcott: “A Friesian bull calf in 1974 at Sturminster market.”
Lester Williams: “Between school and Cirencester I worked for an estate agent in Minehead and they offered me the opportunity to help sell at a house clearance auction – the first lot I offered was a lawn mower.”
Charlie Coleman: “A pony at Beaulieu Road pony sales after the auctioneer at the time was taken ill. I remember the 600 guinea reserve! I had been waiting for a long time to have my first chance at selling and was due to begin with the vegetables and produce. To be thrown in like this will stick with me forever.”
How important is preparation?
Lester Williams: “Knowing your buyers and sellers is vital. If you know that a particularly strong buyer is attending the auction in person or on the phone, you can have the confidence to encourage entries from the seller. It is a two-way game – you need the lots but you must also have buyers. Leaving matters to chance can be dangerous.”
Greg Ridout: “I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to machinery, so when we catalogue an auction, I try to scribble down every bit of a machine’s specification. We also spend weeks on the phone to buyers before every auction to drum up bidders and ascertain values. We have one shot at doing our best for our clients and I want to be the best at what we do.”
What distinguishes a good auctioneer from the mediocre ones?
Mark Northcott: “It has always been said that anyone can sell anything on a good trade but when the economic climate is tricky and bids are not forthcoming the skilful auctioneer will draw on their many years of experience.”
Mark Lewis: “You must really enjoy what you are doing and engage, while empathising, with both buyers and sellers, and read body language. People in the room will be nervous; if they are relaxed and enjoying the auction they will bid more freely. It is a delicate balance between being affable and entertaining but also in control of the room.”
Greg Ridout: “Confidence and a calm head, when you have to think on your feet, is paramount.”
Charlie Coleman: “By having the charisma to enjoy and embrace what you are selling, which leads to a good rapport with vendors and purchasers. It’s also vital to maintain respect and achieve the best possible outcome. Without the respect of both vendors and purchasers, the rostrum can be a very lonely place.”
Which lot sticks in your memory?
Mark Lewis: “We had a herd of cows to auction near Dorchester but my father was taken ill on the day of the sale. My client, Suzy Vincent, said to me afterwards: “That was the day you changed from a boy into a man!”
Greg Ridout: “Auctioning a 1948 Series 2 Field Marshall tractor fitted with an aviation cab at West Stafford for £18,500.”
Lester Williams: “A Welsh sheepdog at the Bath & West Show.”
A bad auctioneer will …
Mark Northcott: “Mumble, stutter and make it obvious when they are struggling. I have seen auctioneers shout and become aggressive, trying to intimidate the audience. It never works.”
Mark Lewis: “Make it very clear when they do not have the bid!”
Greg Ridout: “You need a rhythm and you need to stay calm. Rushing because of nerves ultimately makes you miss bids and knock items down too fast.”
How often are you asked to give a demonstration?
Greg Ridout: “Each year a group of school and university friends go to Devon shooting, and every time I have to stand on the table after the evening meal and sell something while they all shout and heckle!”
Mark Lewis: “I give regular talks to all sorts of societies from the WI to Young Farmers and schools. The demonstration of selling at speed usually wakes up the audience.”