The Life of One of Niagara’s Premiere Auctioneers
Kevin Gibson was only eight years old when he attended his first auction. “My parents took me and I bought an antique egg scale,” recalls Gibson, who was immediately attracted to the excitement of a live auction. Years later, Gibson would return to the venue, but in a different capacity.
Five years ago, Gibson and a small elite group of participants attended the Auctioneers College of Canada in Edmonton, AB. “It is the only school of its kind in Canada,” says Gibson. “We started on Monday and by Wednesday night we were thrown into running an auction.” Gibson, who admits he was nervous that night, came out with a passion for being an auctioneer. He started his own company: Gibson Auction Service. “I am a real people person. I love the interaction with people,” says Gibson. “That is one of the main drivers for me.”
After a few years of auctioning under his belt, Gibson focused his energy on charity fundraising events. “I went back to school for certification and I am now one of only five auctioneers in Canada with Benefit Auctioneer Specialist credentials,” says Gibson. “I have focused on the charity world because life has been good to me and I want to give back,” says Gibson, now retired after 34 years in the RCMP specializing in human trafficking.
Through training and experience in the field, Gibson has learned two ways to succeed at an auction. “Sticking to the ‘formula’ and proper planning is what makes an auction profitable,” says Gibson. “I stick to the format developed by charity auction specialists and it really does work.” Gibson credits proper structure of the evening and item placement as important factors in his success. “Having big ticket items auctioned off in the middle of the event instead of waiting until the end of the evening is key,” says Gibson.
“Another important part of an auction is the planning,” explains Gibson. “It is what makes the evening flow.”
Remaining in close contact with the charity throughout the various stages of the event planning is crucial. “I sit down with the charity and find out what is most important to them,” says Gibson.
Gibson has been successful in making donation dollars grow at various auction events. “At a church charity, our goal was to make $1,500.00 and the auction drew in $6,000.00.” says Gibson. “My wife says I can sell anything to anyone,” laughs Gibson.
Although Gibson provides charities with a list of over 400 suitable items, auctions don’t need to be extensive in the number of items. “I have led auctions with lots of items, but usually around 20 articles works best,” says Gibson.
Auctioneering requires a certain “je ne sais quoi” in its conductor. “It’s about me as the auctioneer,” says Gibson. At all times, concentrating on the number patterns and reading the audience is required. “He wants it, she wants it. I have to know my number patterns while at the same time focusing on the bidders.”
Gibson uses two phrases called “fills” that he chants when auctioning. “I keep it simple so that the audience can think,” says Gibson. “I use the words, ‘What about?’ and ‘Who’s the bid?’ says Gibson. “It’s fast, but I put music to it.” Keeping the number patterns in his head while engaging with the audience is the secret to Gibson’s style. “It can be mentally tiring, but it’s just a rush,” he says.
Gibson recalls the hours of rigorous training he received. “We were required to stand in a circle shoulder to shoulder and face to face with two other auctioneers while each of us recited auction chants,” says Gibson.
“If one of us made a mistake the instructor would tell us to start again.”
Although Gibson has received extensive training for his job, he frequently practices his chants. “I auction to myself everyday in the car for five to 10 minutes,” says Gibson. “It is important to practice the patterns because it would be awful if I went the wrong way. I spend lots of time burning the patterns in my mind.”
Gibson enjoys the excitement of his role as auctioneer. He uses humour and games to draw in the crowd and keep them interested in the auction. “I often play a game of heads and tails that can sometimes fetch an additional $500.00 for the charity,” explains Gibson.
From desserts to truck loads of manure, the possibilities for auction items are endless. “Often something as simple as auctioning off two strong men to work for the afternoon can bring surprising results,” says Gibson.
In April, Gibson will be facilitating the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Auction. Part of this event will include an online bidding option for select items. “Online bidders will be required to pre-register. From there they can watch the auction online and bid by telephone or in person. It is a unique way to do it,” says Gibson. “We will be auctioning off two private tours of Jay Leno’s rare car collection.”
Modern technology can’t replace the excitement of a live auction. When auctioning at charity events, Gibson enjoys the friendly rivalry that often occurs between the bidders.
“When the crowd is full of people who know each other, they don’t want to let someone outbid them,” explains Gibson.
Although Gibson’s priority is to help the charity raise much needed funds, he remains honest and refrains from putting pressure on bidders. “I am very big on integrity,” says Gibson.
Traditionally, auctioneers frown upon bidders having a monetary limit, yet Gibson encourages participants to set one. “People often set their limits on a round number. If your limit is $200.00 you may need to go to $220.00 to get the item,” says Gibson. “Being ready to go the extra $20.00 will often get you the item.”
Gibson offers further words of advice to individuals who attend auctions, “Often those who are aggressive in their bidding will scare others off. Other bidders might say to themselves, ‘Boy, that person really wants that item,’ Don’t be shy about putting your hand up,” says Gibson.
“Pay attention,’ says Gibson. “Some items can be sold fast and if the person wants it, but is not paying attention, the item can be sold before they know what happened.”
“Some charities think they are not big enough to have an auction. Give me a call, you’d be surprised,” says Gibson. If an auction isn’t your cup of tea, Gibson will consult with charities to help them find a desired fundraising event.
It is well known that often bidders look for items that give them a feeling of nostalgia. Last year, Gibson was auctioning off an antique egg scale, no different than the one he purchased when he was a child. Gibson sold the item to someone close to his heart. “The egg scale was purchased by my daughter,” boasts Gibson.
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