Ron Gilligan is a fast talker, and he has to be.
He runs Ron Gilligan Auctioneering, a Pennsylvania Furnace-based business that his father, Ron J. Gilligan, founded in 1969. His father and mother, Mary Lou, are still part of the everyday business that moves as fast as they can talk at an auction.
Gilligan puts the number of auctions he’s done since joining the family business in 1993 at about 1,900.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
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“I love the area here, went to Penn State, worked at a golf course in Florida for about four months, and I just wanted to come back home, enjoy the farm and try auctioneering,” he said. “I didn’t go to a lot of auctions when I was young. I went to an auctioneer school for 10 days after graduating from Penn State, learned the chant and worked with my dad. With some practice I became a natural at it.”
Q: What are the basics of being an auctioneer?
A: Being an agent for the folks you’re working for, and to get their merchandise and real estate sold in an ethical and timely manner. And to do that you have to be able to get up in front of people, do the chant well so people can understand you. If they can’t understand you, there’s no point in you doing it. Being able to know the value of most anything you’re selling, advertising it correctly, selling it, collect the money, turn it over to the folks you’re working for.
Q: So there is far more to this than bid calling?
A: The auction is the easy part. It’s doing everything ahead of that day and time. Today I wrote up an auction, took pictures for the auction, put photos on the website for the auction, advertising it in the newspapers, and after you do the auction you’ve got to pay the newspapers, turn the money over to the folks we did the auction for and eventually you find time to pay yourself.
It’s quite a process, and I’ll tell you we couldn’t do it without a few ladies that help set things up. We have to go through everything, box it, set it up, and we couldn’t do it on our own, because it’s just me, mom, dad and David Zentner.
Q: Is there thought that goes into when you auction something?
A: Yes. I’ve always said, probably because my dad has always said, we could sell a $5 box at 9:30 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. It’s important to sell the better items when more people are there in the 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. range. You don’t want to make them wait all day and run the risk of them going home.
Q: How do you know where to start the bidding at?
A: You need an idea of what something is worth, and when you put it up for bid you ask for about what you feel it’s worth, come down in numbers until someone starts the bidding and then bring it up until it stops. If you have a $100 item, you start there and you go down until maybe it starts at $10 and bring it back up in increments of $5. So, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 55, and then maybe it sells at $60 or it sells later at $120.
Q: Are there ever winning bids that surprise you?
A: High and low. There is real estate sometimes that you think will sell for more, and it doesn’t. Other times you sell real estate that someone asked for $170,000 over a year ago and then it goes to auction and brings in $280,000. Sometimes it’s about the right people wanting it at the right time.
There are other things like antiques that have dropped off in the last five years. Some antiques that sold for $100 five years ago now sell for $50. It’s hard to accept, but you have to accept the market today. The Mustang we auctioned last year is a great example of something that has gone up in price. It had a lot of hype and brought in $280,000.
Q: Does the economy impact the auction industry?
A: I think no matter how the economy is, auctioneering is good. When the economy is bad it’s good, and when the economy is good it’s good. When the economy is bad there are more necessity auctions, so there are more auctions to do, but maybe with less people that want to buy. When the economy is good, people spend more.
Q: Where do you get most of your business from?
A: Estates. People passing away that leave estates, and we do a lot of real estate. The reason for that is we can sell the house contents in a day, the piece of real estate the same day with 10 percent down, pay the balance in 45 days and it’s sold for a price people are happy with. It’s all done in one day as opposed to having a house on the market for a year.
We also have a lot of repeat business with friends in the community and people that come and bid in the auctions. Over time they may have a gun collection, coin collection or real estate in the family, and they’ll hire us because they know us. After 45 years of being around, people know us for our good reputation.
Q: How many people come to bid at auctions?
A: We’ll get about 100 people on average, and it used to be double that. That’s a challenge, because there aren’t as many people that come. It’s the Internet and death. Auctions are a generational thing, and with the computer boom and online auctions, a lot of it is geared toward the computer and not as many people come out. As long as I’m around we’ll do it live. I think that saves a lot of trouble. You have people that can really look at it, get their hands on it. There’s no shipping or questions about getting paid. It’s simple, and it works.