By Matt Reese
The global pandemic hit home for auctioneer Bart Sheridan when Governor Mike DeWine announced plans to ban mass gatherings in Ohio.
“Our first all online auction was sort of an emergency. We do the annual FFA alumni association auction here in Greene County to replenish their scholarship funds. On March 13 we were setting up. We had 82 consigners that had brought equipment into the Greene County Fairgrounds and Gov. DeWine said there could be no more crowds. On the fly, we converted it to an online auction and it went tremendously well. We have been doing online as the situation warrants for the past 12 or 15 years, but we went all online at that time,” said Sheridan, with Sheridan & Associates based in Cedarville. “When COVID raised its head we said, ‘We’d better get moving on this.’ And, to be honest, a lot of our clients prefer online. It gives people a longer time to bid and buyers don’t feel under the gun.”
The world for auctions in general has changed, though in Ohio the auction industry may really be better off for it in 2020.
“It certainly is a unique time. We spent about four months from March 14 all the way up to the first part of July all online. Starting in the first part of July we went back to a traditional model,” Sheridan said. “We are still doing some online auctions, but not every auction avails itself to the online medium as much as others. The auctions have been going well for us and I hear from my peers around the state that the crowds are back. There are certainly some I’m sure who are not attending and certain individuals who are more at risk are a little less likely to return, but we are using the protocols from the state and health departments and we’re getting business done. I think in 5 years or 10 years we are going to look back and see 2020 as a year marker where things changed and we’re going to be better because of it.”
As live auctions have resumed, there are a number of guidelines that must be followed due to COVID-19.
“A lot of it is just standard social distancing, masks and keeping hand sanitizers available. We have gone to at each auction asking each individual that registers for a buyer number to sign a health care/infectious disease waiver. All of our staff wears a mask, except the auctioneer calling at the time. We try to maintain a distance of 12 feet to limit the amount of droplets in the air getting to the crowd,” Sheridan said. “It is a give and take. The auction company has to do a good job of doing these things but the clients or customers also have to be engaged in that. We have had no indications of any kinds of infections and we are very pleased with results.”
This summer, auctions have moved closer to “normal” in Ohio, Sheridan said.
“Generally speaking, we have been really pleased to see things getting back to a new normal, and it approximates the old normal fairly well. At a 2020 auction, though, it is much more difficult to see who is in your crowd. Everybody’s face is half covered and that does decrease some of the personal interaction and, of course, you can’t read lips. Most of us, even if we don’t think we do, look at how people are forming their words and that is an interesting dynamic,” Sheridan said. “For auctions in a banquet type setting, chairs are spaced out further than in the past. In a farm machinery or real estate auction people try to stay distant, but it is hard to maintain that. People are social creatures and over the course of an auction people do tend to be attracted back closer together. The food at the auctions is up to the county health departments. We do have food providers and they are under their own guidelines. They have reduced menus and you can’t get your own condiments and that kind of thing.”
The necessary and rapid shift to all online auctions last March sped up the changes already taking place in Ohio’s auction industry, said Wade Baer, with Baer Auctioneers Realty based in Columbiana County.
“The future of the auction industry before the pandemic was heading towards more online auctions, either all online or online as a component. The pandemic moved the auction industry five years into the future in a couple of months, in my opinion. It fast-forwarded the industry,” said Baer, the current president of the Ohio Auctioneers Association. “The future of the industry is strong and live auctions are still strong, but you are going to see more online, especially for the low dollar assets. We can do four or five online auctions some weeks, which we wouldn’t be able to do if we were doing live auctions. Pretty soon there are going to be very few auctioneers out there doing smaller value assets in a live only auction.”
Live auctions will continue to play an important part in the industry, though, especially in conjunction with an online component.
“I prefer online auctions when it comes to personal property and smaller dollar assets like antiques, furniture, or tools. In northeast Ohio we are seeing a broader buyer base with online auctions and we are able to get higher dollars. With ag equipment I have run both, and live with simulcast bidding, and don’t really see a difference in price. I personally prefer a live auction for ag equipment because I ‘d rather have at least some of the buyers there in front of me,” Baer said. “With real estate, we are always offering an online component to bid. I have sold real estate online as well without a mic in my hand as I have with a mic in mind hand.”
County fairs have been all over the board in 2020 in terms of junior livestock auctions. Some have included exhibitors and their livestock, some have been online, some live, and others have been a combination.
“I was worried about how bad the businesses got hit that support county fairs,” Baer said. “What I’ve seen so far was that there was no difference and if they got hit they didn’t let it show. Prices have been good.”
And, across the board, the auction industry is having a solid year in Ohio in 2020.
“The auction industry in Ohio right now is strong. Since the regulations started to lift there have been more live auctions and the crowds have been strong, the numbers are strong and everything is good. We are seeing a pretty good rise in auction prices,” Baer said. “Personal property has not had too much of an increase, but it did not drop either. The biggest thing with real estate is the interest rate dropping. Farm equipment always sells better at auctions and right now auctions are good all around in the ag industry with the interest rates being low. With some of this ground, farmers know there is only one way to ensure they can farm it, and that is to buy it. They don’t make any more dirt and if you want it you’d better buy it when it is available. Auctions are still the fun, fast and fair way to do business.”