Monday, January 08, 2007

Last word on a fast-talking smooth talker: Sold!

Last word on a fast-talking smooth talker: Sold!
Jackie Of All Trades

(By John Terhune/Journal & Courier)
Journal & Courier reporter Jackie Cummings learns the fine art of the auctioneer courtesy of Jim VanSchepen, at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds.

I talk fast. This is due in part, I believe, to being from the East Coast, where everyone does everything in double time because, as my dad always said, time is money.

If ever there was a profession where talking fast was the primary job function, it's auctioneering. Although I had never attended a live auction, I had seen many on TV and was always awestruck by the ability to complete the sale of an item in mere seconds.

I started to research auctions in the Lafayette area and came upon Jim VanSchepen's Web site. A quick call to the fast-talking Hoosier and I had myself a real live auctioneer who was willing to take enough time out of his busy day to share the art of selling speedily.

VanSchepen, a second-generation auctioneer, has been in the business for 26 years. Wanting to follow in his father's footsteps, VanSchepen would often assist on auction day.

"He always wanted one of us to be an auctioneer, but I thought I could never do it," he said.

"I guess it worked out, though."

VanSchepen would practice calling bids, or auctioneer talk, for many hours each week, sometimes while cultivating corn on the farm.

"I did a lot of talking to myself," he said.

Recalling the first time he got his father's approval, VanSchepen grinned from ear to ear.


"He set me up with an easy auction that contained items he knew would sell. At the end of the day, he told me he knew he had a helper, and that was a great feeling."

Auctioneering school, he said, is now a requirement to become licesned in Indiana. Many people become licensed, but some never quite get the bid calling down.

"It's something that not everyone can do, even after lots of practice. You just have to be patient with yourself," VanSchepen said.

What many people don't realize is that auctioneers do quite a bit more than auctioning. They are responsible for the removal and appraisal of all merchandise, which can make it both a physical and time-consuming career.

"There's no breaks on auction day. It's just go-go-go," VanSchepen said.

"It's a total concentration job. You can't miss a beat."

He puts in about 30 hours for each auction, and about 10 hours of additional help is needed for loading, unloading and marking merchandise. He said it's good to have people he can trust to help him.

"I'm lucky because I have my wife and brother. They do a great job, and we all have a lot of fun with it."

EBay, he said, has made a big difference in his business, as it has drawn more people to auctions with the hopes of making a buck.

"People use it to detemine how much they can sell an item for, and more and more people now are attending auctions to turn a profit."

As he started calling bids, I was flabbergasted. My chatter exceeds an average person's WPH (words per hour) output, but I was no match for this guy. As he rambled on with numbers and words I couldn't even dissect, let alone try to replicate, I wondered about the people who attend the auctions and how long it takes them to become good bidders.

"We see a lot of the same people over and over, and I think they have gotten used to me, my tones and my rhythm," he said.

"It does take time, though."

While VanSchepen showed me items ranging from antique engines to firearms and furniture, I was fascinated by how much he knew about the merchandise -- and the people he was selling for. I could see that auctioneering was something he enjoyed doing not just for the money but for the relationships he was able to build and maintain.

And as someone who can definitely appreciate the importance of time, I think VanSchepen uses his wisely.