ND auctioneer travels region with signature chantThe auctioneer chant is nothing short of an art form, pulling in the casual passerby and luring dedicated followers to each event. Scott Schuster’s chant is a familiar one in the Grand Forks, N.D., area and well-known to his supporters who follow his company’s signature Schuster Auctioneering truck to any number of his auctions every year.
By: Bianca Bina, Agweek
The auctioneer chant is nothing short of an art form, pulling in the casual passerby and luring dedicated followers to each event. Scott Schuster’s chant is a familiar one in the Grand Forks, N.D., area and well-known to his supporters who follow his company’s signature Schuster Auctioneering truck to any number of his auctions every year.
In the peak months between spring and fall, Schuster Auctioneering will be called to any number of events, averaging about 12 per year. And the dozen various auctions the company hosts can occur within just days of each other or months apart, which can cause a bit of toe-tapping around the office.
“It’s a lot different than a normal job,” Schuster says. “There are some days where you’re sitting around, waiting for a job to do, but then there are days where you’re doing something sunup to sundown. You’ve got to be willing to adjust your schedule at the snap of a finger, because sometimes you get a phone call and you hop right into your car to see that person.”
Traveling the region, Schuster’s group of clerks and cashiers handles everything from cars and equipment to land, working with items worth mere dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is through the experience with each sale that the team becomes familiar with appraising a wide range of items, though they spend plenty of time researching price and condition, honing their expertise.
“We do a little research on the major items to get a starting point — a target — to shoot for,” Schuster says. “The smaller ones, you shoot from the hip a bit, but the larger ones you do some research.”
He notes the high prices of farm equipment, which he commonly sees in the $100,000 to over $300,000 range. “It’s exploded in the past years,” he says.
As a young boy, Schuster got a hunger for the auctioneering world while attending events with his father, who took him from farm auction to farm auction on the weekends. In the ’70s, he notes, there was an abundance of auctions, compared with the smaller amount on the schedule these days.
“Even in the ’80s, you could go to several a week because of the crunch in the economy and the decline in small farms,” he says.
Growing up on a farm, Schuster soaked up knowledge and experience while working in the farm implement and equipment business. This industry experience would come in handy years later, when he realized it was time to take a leap and enroll in auctioneering school. “I had decided to go to school to learn the chant and have some fun with it,” he says.
Though various auction schools and programs span the globe, as far as a specialized program goes, auctioneering is one of the most niche industries to become immersed in, and schools are quite sparse across the U.S.
Luckily for Schuster, Mankato, Minn., is home to the Continental Auctioneers School, an approved auction licensed educational institution. In 2005, he enrolled in the program while working for a transportation company.The seven-day program began at 8 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. each day, “planting the seeds” of auctioneering, Schuster says.
While half of each day focused on the illustrious chant, the remainder of the day focused on the business of auctioneering. The thorough course touched on all aspects of the trade, including the numerous item categories — farm, real estate, estate and cattle sales — and the specific guidelines tied to each.
“In the evenings, they would have all types of auctioneers come in and speak about what they do and how to go about things,” Schuster says.
On the final day, the class focused on the appraisal process.
Of his 24 classmates from various corners of the U.S., less than half are active auctioneers. The others now assist local auctioneers sparingly, if at all. Schuster notes the level of dedication from each student was apparent during the program, which gave him a good idea of who would survive in the industry.
“It’s the type of occupation that you really have to love to do it,” Schuster says. “It’s very hit and miss and sporadic, but it can be very rewarding too.”
The most notable characteristic of an auctioneer, the chant, is not a simple aspect to hone. “Learning the chant is not easy, but anyone can learn it if they want,” Schuster says. “It’s all number drills and tongue twisters. You don’t learn it the way you think you would. Speed just comes naturally once you learn the technique.”
With hours of professional training in the program, countless additional hours must be spent practicing and listening to audio aids for added guidance. Schuster even purchased a homestudy course to learn before attending the training program to get a better understanding of what the instructors would be teaching.
“When I left the school, my chant was just starting to show,” he says. “Driving down the road, I’d practice the chants. When I got to a telephone pole, I used it as a starting point to practice my bit.”
And after spending the extra hours honing his chanting skills, it was difficult to get the sounds and numbers out of his mind.
“When you would shut down at night, the numbers would be bouncing around in your head, because it’s all you’d study,” Schuster says. “You’ll go through a point where you think you’ll never be able to learn it and then all of a sudden it’s there. You have to spend hours practicing on your own.”
Extra time and attention spent studying is an investment for those who are dedicated to the skill, and when the first auction comes around, the expense and tongue-tying hours of practice will show, though no one could prepare for the first soap box moment that every auctioneer must endure.
“The first time in front of an audience, you’re shaking,” Schuster says. “And then each time it gets easier. If you have the determination to do it — if you find out it’s you — you can do it.”
Auctioneering is unpredictable, but the availability of live online bidding has been a welcome addition to the industry, allowing global interaction and bidding on certain items to anyone who is willing. But Schuster believes the online presence of auctions will not eliminate the continued interest in physical auctions, because people enjoy examining possible purchases in the flesh as they gather and interact with others who share the same interests.
“Most people want to see what they’re buying — touch and feel things,” he says. “We just have to tie-in online auctions now.”
Few can say they are fortunate enough to be pursuing a hobby fulltime. After picking up auction events on the side, Schuster made the decision to focus on auctioneering in 2007 and quit his position with the transportation company. The uncertainty of the day is thrilling and trying at times, but the ability to manage his business is rewarding.
“There’s no daily routine,” he says. “You may think you’re going to be doing something one day and realize by the end of the day you’re doing something totally different. You’ve got to be very flexible.”
As for those who might be interested in following in his footsteps, Schuster recommends contacting local auctioneers to discuss possibilities of volunteering at events and attending auctions to test the waters and see if it’s a fitting career move. After all, there’s no harm investing in extracurriculars.
“I signed up for the heck of it,” Schuster says. “By accident it became my full-time job.”
For more information about upcoming auctions visit www.schusterauctioneering.com.