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  • Tammy Miller

The trials and jubilations of becoming an Auctioneer


I first knew I wanted to train to be an auctioneer -- and a charity auctioneer -- when I was at a charity event and two of its planners were trying to figure out how to improve bids on some special items that had been donated to the cause. They knew they needed to attract attention to these items to keep them from woefully underselling and they had watched at other events as live auctioneers had built excitement and involvement from donors. So, they were hashing it out between themselves. Could one of them step up and take the place of a trained auctioneer? Did they have the personality to pull it off? In the end, they decided they weren't comfortable with being "the center of attention" and simply did their best to steer guests to that corner of the silent auction section. (By the way, there are ways to improve bidding at a Silent Auction and we would be happy to help you with that.)

As they made their decision, I knew that with the right training I would be very good at it. My speaking experiences had helped me to become quite comfortable with being the center of attention. In fact, I had come to thrive on it. There's nothing better than making contact with people in an audience, watching them nod or laugh in communication with you, and seeing that most of the room is doing the same. It's a great mood booster. With practice and patience, the skills required can be learned. If I had been able to learn those skills, why not add to them by becoming an auctioneer?

I did my research. The process was straightforward enough. It would take time and some financial resources, but the class work and travel and ability to connect with others learning the trade looked to be both exciting and rewarding. I took the plunge.

When I received my first training CD, I was sure I had made a horrible mistake. It informed me that soon I would be saying at break neck speed: "Betty Botter bought some butter, but she said the butter’s bitter, if I put it in my batter It will take my batter bitter, but a bit of better butter will make my batter better. So she bought some better butter better than the bitter butter, and she put it in her batter and her batter was not bitter, so 'twas better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter." I thought I was going to cry. As in learning all things well, however, with some great instructors and tons of practice, I learned to conquer Betty Botter. And in the process, I was fortunate to travel, meet new people, and make great friends. (By the way, Betty Botter is a tongue twister auctioneers have used for training that first appeared as a child's nursery rhyme and was written by Carolyn Wells.)

As I learned to chant well, build in my bid numbers, where to start a bid, how to keep bids raising, and how to interact with my bidders, I was hopeful I would be an overnight success. What I didn't realize at the time (though a few auctioneers had tried to warn me) is how insular the auction world is across the country. My first hurdle was, at the time, less than 10% of licensed auctioneers were women. My second hurdle was in many geographic areas (including my own) auctioneers represented family legacies. Many auction companies have been passed down from parent to child. This is important because in the process, the bidders who respond to a call for auction have developed a deep loyalty to that particular auction family. Just as important, in order to become a licensed auctioneer in Pennsylvania, you must find a currently licensed auctioneer to allow you to train with them. That isn't easy when most auctioneers are training their children to succeed them.

Soon, though, I did find someone to sponsor me. I was able to break into my geographic area. And, just as fun, I had friends and family across the country who helped me to secure some major auctions or help to call large auctions in other areas.

One of the most difficult things about auctioneering is understanding how to advertise and bring bidders to the auction itself. Different properties and different collections requiring targeting specific audiences. Knowing where to place advertising, how much money to invest in advertising, and who to ask to share the information is a skill that took some practice. Part of the process is understanding who has shown up to bid and what their motivations are for buying. A good auctioneer knows how to play to these issues. As in learning Betty Botter, developing these skills took practice. As with all practice, we had some hiccups along the way but we learned from them.

Very few people understand the "behind the scenes" challenges of auctioneering. I've helped to dig out basements filled with treasures but also with spiders and snakes (Yes! Snakes!!!). Some treasures are covered in dust and years of neglect. Some collections are so large it takes days or weeks to organize them for sale. Unfortunately, sometimes it is my responsibility to inform a collector that their collection simply doesn't have the value they have ascribed to it and it will never sell the way they have envisioned. Sometimes I have to inform them their number one asset, their home or land, is in need of too much repair or is in a depressed area such that they will never realize the price point they had hoped to obtain for it.

On the whole, though, most homes and carefully researched and maintained collections do have value. In these cases, we get great joy from helping families realize their dreams. I'll never forget when Tammy Miller Auctions broke one million dollars selling a beautiful home in the Huntingdon, Pennsylvania area. That was an exciting day! I hope to have many more experiences just like it. If you believe we could help you attain your dreams, please reach out to us.

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