I’m behind in my reading, so it was only recently I read the June 2009 AUCTIONEERS magazine and an article called “A Rare Occupation.” It talks about how auctioneers are few and far between.
Author Robert Doyle did some research on the InfoUSA Website to compare the numbers of full-time auctioneers in the United States to other professions. The statistics were interesting:
- Auctioneers: 10,034
- Funeral Directors: 23,648
- Painters: 43,178
- Plumbers: 60,767
- Real Estate Agents: 212,110
- Attorneys: 302,603
Why so few auctioneers?
Combining Rob’s thoughts with some of my own ideas, let’s look at some reasons.
- For some, it’s too expensive to get started. I’ve had several women call me over the last three years to ask how I got started in the business. Usually they see me perform and talk with me after the auction, or they see some Red Apple Auctions publicity. When I encourage them to attend auction school and tell them about the process, they often feel that the total cost and time away from work and home is prohibitive.*
- There is a high failure rate. I’ve heard it said at auction conventions and trainings that the percentage of those working in the auction business within five years of graduating from auction school is less than 5 percent. Wow! I suspect that most people look at the bid calling portion of the work and find it exciting. But they don’t realize the amount of work that is involved to get established, book jobs, and work consistently. Once they do, they reconsider their career choice.
- The auctioneer is constantly being judged by personal conduct and auction results. If an accountant prepares a bad tax return, the only people who know are the accountant, the client, and a representative from the IRS. But if an auctioneer fails to maintain his or her professionalism on the stage, a crowd of 200, 500, or 1000+ have just witnessed it. Like an actor, an auctioneer is only as good as his or her last performance.
- New auctioneers have a difficult time getting established because few people want to entrust the sale of their property to someone who has little experience. Regardless of the item — a $2 million home or a $5000 vacation package — I’ve found that most clients are nervous before an auction. They aren’t sure what’s going to happen, and they want it to go well! My first few auctions were 100-200 people, which didn’t really bother me. Then I started working at events of around 400 people. That was more nerve wracking, but then I became accustomed to it. Then, a group called me about conducting their event of 600 people … then 800 … and now I’ve worked events with crowds of over 1,000 people. But early on when I was talking with a organization about my benefit auction services, they wanted to know how many other events I’d worked in their size range. I couldn’t give them a satisfactory answer.
- The erratic pay structure leaves some people uneasy. The markets I currently work are seasonal: spring and fall. If I’m not working, I’m not getting paid. In the summer and deep winter, I have few paydays. Some can’t live like this.
Regardless of the reasons, full-time auctioneers aren’t as plentiful as many other professions.
* A few years ago I saw a statistic from the National Auctioneers Association that estimated ~7% of all auctioneers are female. I believe that most of these women auctioneers are real estate agents who have added auction services to their brokerage to round out their service offerings. Benefit auctions are a close second choice for female auctioneers, although perhaps only a dozen make a living career of it. For most it’s a hobby, at best.
And I can count on one hand the number of women I know actively selling in the auto and livestock auction rings. (I’d never want those jobs, but to each her own.) Those specialties are still male-dominated, but I’m sure there are some women auctioneers working to advance in those fields. Maybe those women are even blogging about it, and I just don’t know it.