If you’ve ever bid in a large online sports memorabilia auction, there’s a good chance you’ve done it on a site run by a North Carolina-based company that’s become one of the largest providers of web services in the collectibles field.
Simple Auction, with Chief Executive Officer Bob Freedman at the controls, conducts hundreds of online auctions each year on behalf of dozens of different companies who have hired them to sell their consignments to the highest bidders.
While auctions have been part of the collecting landscape for decades, the internet turned the process upside down. While printed catalogs remain important to many, the majority of bidders now view lots and place bids online. Having a reliable platform to get those auctions up and running—and keep them running—has given hobby businesses the chance to streamline their operations and put more items in front of bidders more often, complete with multiple pictures. The result has been a steady stream of auctions with thousands of items often up for bid or sale at the same time.
Freedman’s software is fully customizable and easy enough to use that auction companies can now do most of the work themselves once trained. The software can launch the auction at a pre-determined time, let bidders know when they’ve been outbid and calculate buyer’s premiums. The software can even generate invoices and print mailing labels when the auction is over.
Simple Auction also provides software for other collectible businesses that have their inventory online and handles other technical duties.
We asked Freedman for some insight into what makes Simple Auction tick.
1) Tell us a little about the business itself. Where are you based, when did you launch, how many people are employed by Simple Auction Site and how many businesses inside and outside the sports memorabilia industry do you work with?
BF: We are based in Durham NC and have 5 employees. My brother and I are the owners. We currently have about 130 clients with 50 being in or related to the sports memorabilia business. We have been providing auction and e-commerce software to our customers for over seven years.
2) I know you have an IT background. What were you doing before deciding to start the new business and what made you decide to do it?
BF: I worked for AT&T as a manager for an IT department. I have collected baseball memorabilia for 40 years and I got into building an auction software platform for a friend about eight years ago when he told me that he ran his auctions by pen and paper. I built him a website and a bidding engine that was rough but did the job. I brought my brother and current partner in when a second person asked for one as well.
3) Many of the major sports memorabilia auction houses use your service. Beyond simply hosting the auction, what's involved from your end on creating the auction and making it ready for bidding to commence?
BF: The software is built to be self-managed by our clients so once a client is trained on how to get the initial settings inputted they can run their own auctions themselves. A few of our customers have us create their printed catalogs for them so we do get involved when asked to do so.
4) What other services do you provide auction houses?
BF: We build web sites, we provide an online store that can sync their inventory with eBay and or Amazon giving then multiple channels to market their inventory. Some of the newer auction companies ask us for advice so we do provide consulting when asked, which is quite often. We also provide catalog design, printing and fulfillment services for the catalogs that our clients offer to bidders.
5) Tell us about your background as a collector. Does it help with this business?
BF: Being a collector for more than 40 years has certainly helped me from a bidder’s perspective in knowing what they want to see and be able to do. It has also taught me that the most important part about bidding online is the images that are being displayed. We have tried very hard to bring a balance of displaying as many quality images as possible but not interfering with the user's experience on a web site.
6) The auction end of the industry has grown tremendously over the last 15 years or so. Do you see that growth continuing?
BF: I believe that there is a lot of potential for growth as more and more people start collecting. As everyone knows, all of the major sports continue to grow in popularity and are increasing their fan base. As long as the fan base continues to grow, I believe that more and more people will collect what they like.
7) There's a lot of money at stake in major auctions. Any harrowing experiences or difficulties you've encountered in the past and how have you dealt with them?
BF: When we first did our major auction for Bill Goodwin we were extremely nervous because a lot of people who were interested in our software but wanted to see it work first. Fortunately, everything went perfectly and it was a springboard and key moment to our success.
8) If I'm not running auctions but do own a sports memorabilia-related business, what can you help with?
BF: We provide many ways to bring your inventory to multiple markets and will continue to grow in that area. Currently our software allows you to sync your current inventory to eBay and Amazon as well as our store and auction platforms but in the future we hope to have 5 – 10 additional marketplaces that you can put your inventory in to. The idea being that you add the data to our software and we push it up to multiple markets and once an item is purchased, we remove it from all marketplaces.