Biggest Challenges in the Auction Business

It looks easy.  Sit back, wait for people to call you with the sports cards and memorabilia they want to sell, write up a description, make a nice catalog and wait for the bids to roll in.

Of course, running an auction company is seldom that easy.  With new firms coming into the business every year and smaller ones growing, not to mention the competition from eBay, it’s a daily stress test.  Without stuff, there’s no auction.  Without bidders, no one’s happy.  Some of the companies are one or two-man operations.  Others have bigger staffs and budgets.  Each comes with its own set of problems.

Auction catalogs sports memorabilia

In the sixth part of our Q&A with auction house officials, we asked:  “What’s the most challenging part of your business these days?  What do you spend the most amount of time doing?”

Steve Bloedow, Collect Auctions:  “The most challenging part is simply keeping up with the volume of phone calls, payments, advertising, etc. Our most important goals are to treat each collection like it was our own and to pay within 30 days so there’s no down time. Most of our time is devoted to breaking down collections, putting them into logical lots and getting them ready for auction.”

David Hunt, Hunt Auctions:  “While we thoroughly enjoy the auction business and the various clientele we come in contact with there are certainly challenges to operating such a business. Probably the biggest challenge is continuing to offer our clients the types of materials that they have become accustomed to over the past 20 years. Each year brings new obstacles with regard to authenticity, pricing estimation, and expansion of the client base, all of which must be met in order to insure the finest service that our customers deserve.”

J.P. Cohen, Memory Lane:  “The most challenging part is finding high end items to offer to the market via privately or auction.  This is why we feel the market value on high end items will continue to grow because the demand is high and the supply is low. Most of our time is spent marketing to new collectors and potential sellers. We feel there are still large collection out there waiting to be discovered.”

David Kohler, SCP Auctions:  “It’s a competitive business.  There are a lot of facets of marketing you have to utilize now to get the word out and bring bidders to the auction but we have a great team.  We try to find good material first,  but then it’s getting catalogs set, promoting what we’re doing and then the function of the auction itself. We have a public relations agency working for us.  A lot of different things are involved when you’re doing it at a  high level and there’s always something to do.”

Rob Lifson, Robert Edward Auctions:  ” The most challenging part of our business is always properly processing all the items. The grading and authentication process, the research, the descriptions…it’s a full-time job.  But as busy as we are working with the material, I guess we should also add  “just getting the material”. We specialize only in very high quality material that is by nature rare, so just assembling our auction is inherently challenging. But we’re used to it, and most of the factors that control collections coming to us are out of our control, so we don’t spend a lot of time worrying about when collectors will decide to sell.

The reasons most of the material we offer becomes available are often major life events.  Sometimes just working with families when there is a crisis is the most challenging part of the auction process. People are involved, and we have to be responsive to each unique situation. Of course it’s easiest when an advanced collector decides it’s just time to sell because they are retiring. But when there are really big collections that come to auction, it is not always that simple. Sometimes there is a serious illness involved that motivates the sale, or a collector has passed away and the family is left trying to deal with a very valuable collection (that sometimes represents most or all of the value of the estate) at a very difficult time. We have a lot of experience helping people in these situations.

It doesn’t show up in the write-ups. It doesn’t show up in the catalog. Collectors have no idea what’s involved. But helping people be comfortable when dealing with the extremely important financial issues of selling,  during what is sometimes the most difficult time of their lives, is really one of the most important things we do. Helping people get top dollar for all their items is our job but there is a lot more to it. Giving them peace of mind while we do the best job possible for them is a part of the auction process that collectors don’t always see.”