PPE on money

211: COVID-19: the Best Thing to Happen to the Auction Industry Since Online Bidding?

This pandemic might be the best thing that has happened to the auction industry since the Internet. The mandatory quarantine has the potential to change the public perception of auctioneers in our culture.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen multiple auctioneers posting on Facebook about how the death tolls from COVID-19 aren’t large enough to close businesses and force some entrepreneurs out of business. As unemployment has soared to Great Depression percentages, auctioneers have pleaded online for mayors and governors and the President to ease the quarantine. While I’m sure every one of these folks cares about others and the economy at large, it’s clear that their posts reveal their fears for their own livelihood.

That is a legitimate worry. While some of our friends’ YouTube videos and borrowed memes might be irrational, the potential devastation is worthy of concern. That loss of any sense of control is valid. That desperation is human.

That underlying fear might be what changes the auction industry for the better.

What happens if our worries prove true? What if we blow through our federal grants, our lines of credit, and our cash reserves? What if none of that is enough? What if our businesses close? What happens to our families, to our employees’ families? What will our friends think of us? Our auctioneer peers think of us? What it we lose everything?

We’ll be where so many of our clients and potential clients are.

Whether we sell lender-owned assets, pre-bankruptcy workouts, trustee sales, or divorce settlements, we work for people who’ve lived for months or even years where all of us have lived for the past few weeks. They’ve already made it to the embarrassment stage, the stress-eating stage, the inhaling-Tums-like-candy stage. That thought that keeps you up at night has kept them awake for weeks. That discomfort that makes you hit Next Episode on your streaming service or pour an extra glass of adult beverage tonight is old news to them.

Right now, you and I would love a firm date of pending relief. We’d love some sense that things will be better soon. Hopefully, way better. We don’t want to be a statistic. Take us off the graph, even the far left or far right side of the curve officials are trying to flatten. We don’t want to be a mathematical factor, an anonymous part of a supercomputer’s model. We want to know our lives matter, our businesses matter, our societal contributions matter.

So do our sellers. And not just our distress sellers. Our consignors don’t want to be notches on a belt. Our retiring farmers don’t want their life’s work to be just another farm sale. Most of our commercial agents don’t want to be accounts; they want to be a partner, a teammate. Estate sellers want to know their mom will get taken care of.

Everyone with whom we do business is a person who wants to be known, who longs to be valued, who aches for their story to be heard.

And all of us just got a huge helping of understanding. We can turn that into empathy, or we can turn the recovery into busy ambition. We can sit down with people and let them talk a bit, or we can put our heads down and make this money back. We can offer sellers tailored solutions, or we can posts signs about how to jump on our assembly-line queue.

If we leave this #safeathome season with compassion, we can overcome some of the stigmas the auction industry has been trying to shake for decades. We can offer dignity and not just an exit. We can provide some hope to offset the worry and embarrassment. We can be ambulance drivers instead of ambulance chasers. For our non-distress sellers, we can offer the kind of human interaction we’re all craving right now—something social media had made us forget feels so good.

You won’t need a government grant to buy empathy. You don’t have to worry if Kroger or Walmart will have compassion in stock. Nobody can price gouge you on eBay or Amazon for your humanity. There isn’t a label to check to see if kindness is manufactured in China or the United States. All you have to do is choose it.

If most of us choose that response enough that it becomes habit-forming, we’ll make the auction process more accessible than any of us could ever have dreamed.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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