Auctioneering: If It Was Easy, Everybody Would Be Doing It
In Response To The USA Today Cartoon By Mike Thompson
Just a few hours ago I finished writing a blog post with advice for farmers that are struggling with debt issues (read it here). I did that with genuine concern for those in the agricultural community. Personally it is very difficult to watch farmers struggle and I know from conversations within our company that it hits every one of us personally. Most of us lived through the Farm Crisis in the 80’s, some among us watched auctioneers sell their own family farm out during that time.
Everybody and every situation we sell for is different, but generally most of them have some degree of misery attached – not always, but often. You can read back through all my blog posts and find many times that I have made the comment, “There is no joy in selling your farm.” I always follow that comment with the fact that despite being surrounded by clients that are often miserable, anxious, or grieving, I still truly enjoy my job and I’m not ashamed of that.
I genuinely enjoy helping people with my knowledge and experience. I genuinely enjoy creating marketing campaigns, anticipating buyer reactions, crafting bid-taking strategies, and helping people maximize the value of their property. I am passionate about marketing. I love looking at data. I enjoy tracking results and reporting them. For over 12 years now, I have helped educate people about current market conditions, developing trends, and the auction method of marketing.
Over the course of the last 12 years, I have put my blood, sweat, and a few tears into building a company that is above-all honest and fair. DreamDirt is high tech, modern, organized, and growing fast. There have been some tremendous sacrifices along the way, and honestly, still now. My wife Nicole and I rarely ever get an opportunity to do things together outside of the company and that’s a choice we made and are ok with.
The auction industry is very competitive with some absolutely top-notch people. I had the good fortune to be mentored early in my career from some of the most professional and knowledgeable people that all drilled one thing in my head: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” This message is not only applicable to auctioneering, but to farming as well.
Much like a doctor, a funeral director, or your lawyer, we as auctioneers make money when bad things happen to people. Pharmacists makes money selling drugs you need for your health. Farmers make money growing food your body needs for nourishment. A carpenter makes money by building houses that people need to live in for comfort and safety. Truck drivers make money hauling all of these things around so you can actually buy them. A gas station clerk sells you gas that you need to drive to your job. The fact is, nearly 100% of people make money from fulfilling the needs of others.
I was a police officer for 20 years, and it was a challenging occupation. My conversion to auctioneer was somewhat accidental but I found it to be similar in many ways. Neither job is easy, but I’ve found both to be very rewarding personally. I couldn’t even begin to make a list of the challenges auctioneers face, but I can say that chief among them is the concern for our clients and their financial well being. You really would have to walk a mile in our shoes to understand the responsibility we feel when we are chosen and trusted to be the auctioneer that represents a client. From day one, everything has to be carefully considered. The right decisions have to be made because to that client, you may be their only hope, you may be their only protector.
Misinformation Hurts Everyone
The blog post I first referenced above was full of advice for financially-stressed farmers who may turn to selling farm land assets in order to relieve debt. A few hours after writing that blog post, a friend alerted me to a cartoon run in the May 14, 2019 USA Today in the Editorial section. I was passing by the Kum & Go in Clear Lake, IA. I told him I’d stop and grab a copy and read it.
I grabbed a paper and it wasn’t hard to find. There it was on page 5A in the top right corner. First, NOTHING about my response is political or about politics or showing support for or against anything other than the unfair characterization and misinformation. There was no article or information to support it, just a cartoon of a sloppy looking auctioneer in bib overalls and a big hat saying, “Trump’s trade war with China is great for business.” A sign on the barn reads “Farm Foreclosure Auction” and presumably a group of farmers all in bibs looking on with one saying, “I shoulda been an auctioneer.” If you had no idea and saw this cartoon, you’d believe farmers don’t like auctioneers because auctioneers do bad things to farmers for their own personal profit.
My mind couldn’t even form a clear thought at first. Here, in this measly cartoon, is something we as professional auctioneers have tried to dispel for so long. It insults my occupation. It insults my peers. It insults farmers. It spreads false information that hurts real people by putting misinformation in their mind which they later rely on to make important decisions.
It was maddening, but I don’t have a newspaper with national distribution to refute it with – my voice is much smaller. I can kick, scream, and write a blog post, but I don’t get the voice these people do.
My first and immediate thought was, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” My mind started to wander to all of the people that our team has done such a great job for. People that were truly in distress, at the bottom of their world. We were able to pick them up, help them create a strategy to get back on their feet, and help them safely exit without further financial damage. It made me think of a blog that my partner Tom Bradley wrote in 2017 titled “Strong Auctioneers Equal Strong Farms”. I thought of how professional our team is and the genuine concern our team shows for people. I started to remember conversations not only with our team, but with many peers from our industry that backed up my thoughts. I remembered the times we’ve dug into our pockets and used our money, our time, and our efforts to help people when they just couldn’t. I thought of the millions and millions of dollars professional auctioneers raise every year for their communities and causes, something that is very much a part of the agricultural community’s values.
First of all, I am well aware this cartoon was the concept of some person that sits in a chair with a computer and opinions, nothing more. Auctioneers and farmers, while they star in the cartoon, had nothing to do with its making. We work in a world much different than they do. We work in a world where we have to make a difference. I have to perform to get paid. My solutions, my opinions, my decisions have to be correct. As auctioneers we don’t get the luxury of just throwing information out there not caring if its right or wrong. Farmers aren’t much different, and they’ve been handed a bad set of circumstances right now. But you know what? They still get up everyday and keep going. They are literally risking it all, an entire lifetime, even generations of investment in the world’s safest food supply, only to be kicked around for everything you could imagine.
Agricultural auctioneers take on tremendous responsibilities for their clients. In doing so we absorb some of the pressures, some of the stress, and some of the criticism away from our clients. Many people think of an auctioneer as somebody that talks fast, cracks some jokes, and only works an hour. Some take it a step farther and put us in bib overalls and a big Stetson Hat. In reality, today’s modern auctioneers are much different than that. Nothing wrong with a Stetson Hat, but today’s professional auctioneers are high tech, well trained, and well informed in their niche. 95% of our job is already done before the actual auction day arrives. Our value is spread across many more skills than just talking fast or taking online bids. Our marketing systems, our copy writing skills, our photo and video products, who we know, what we know, our digital reach, and the number of impressions we can create are all important things people consider when they hire an auctioneer – yet some people still see auctioneers as somebody that just talks fast and sells things cheaply. When you have national newspapers that lob a derogatory cartoon your way for no reason other than potentially to push a political agenda and you are just the collateral damage, it seems like it will be even harder to change that perception.
EXTRA: Auctioneer Mike Brandly also wrote about this on his blog. “Is there anything wrong with this auctioneer cartoon”
To all of you reading, and to the Mr. Mike Thompson at the USA Today Network, I believe I speak for all professional agricultural auctioneers when I say this: the absolute last thing we want is for a farm to fail. We do NOT want to get business that way. To believe any different really shows that you are not in tune with what life is like in farm country. You don’t understand that these are the same people we have relied on for years as customers. They are our neighbors. We go to church with them. Their children go to school with our children. We belong to the same associations as them. We often vote the same, we often donate to and support the same causes, we see each other at auctions and county fairs, school board meetings, and the town baseball field.
You can also take it to the bank that auctioneers and farmers both take our jobs very seriously. When it’s auction time and I look out over a crowd, I’m going to do everything I can to get every dollar I can for the person I’m working for. You can bet that crowd is going to look back at me and try to buy it as cheaply as they can. We both understand our places, we treat each other with respect, and we all fulfil our obligations and responsibilities. Some of us have enjoyed the opportunity to stand on both sides of the block.
Life may seem black and white like your cartoon, but it just shows your depth of knowledge is superficial. After having reviewed your previous works, it seems to me that you just needed somebody to use as a pawn in your cartoon. You needed to draw a picture that doesn’t exist, and we just happened to be an easy pawn in your political rant of the day.
I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to give people a glimpse “behind the microphone”. Professional auctioneers are smart people that genuinely care about people and their financial interests. The stereotypes are hard to crack, and blatant misinformation only makes it harder. I’m out here doing my best to shed light on the truths of the business, and the work we do to deliver the best result for our clients.
The Auctioneer’s Prayer
He stares at his tractor with watery eyes,
Remembering the nights under God’s bright skies.
Her fingers slide over the old kitchen stove,
A catch in her throat that no one else knows.
If just these two items could bring what they made,
All the farm’s debts could quickly be paid.
The auctioneer sees all, and shares in their pain;
He’s seen it happen time and again.
Some might assume that he doesn’t care,
But before their auction
Comes the Auctioneer’s Prayer.
“Lord, please guide me through this auction day,
In all that I do and all that I say,
Help me cry stronger than ever I’ve done,
For this is their auction, this is the one.”
Yes, another farm auction, held here today,
People gather in their usual way.
To poke through the boxes and trample the lawn,
They’ll quickly forget when all’s sold and gone.
We get to know them, we share in their plight,
The tables hold history, laid out in plain sight.
We know the story of this man and his wife,
What we auction here are the remnants of life.
If it be your will, Lord, through Christ your Son,
Help me cry stronger than ever I’ve done,
For this is their auction, this is the one.
Dennis Wendt, Parker, Kansas, 1986
Auctioneer, Land Broker, Appraiser
Jason is an Auctioneer and Land Broker in northwest Iowa at Storm Lake and Mason City. Jason and his Iowa farmland team specialize in farmland sales primarily serving the heirs to family farms. Today's report details the current land market in Iowa for land being sold at auctions.
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