Word of Mouth: Meet Auctioneer Dennis Wisbey

Dennis Wisbey’s first trip to an auction changed his life. Fascinated by the experience, he paid close attention to the auctioneers and said to himself “I can do that.” Now, he’s a full-time freelance specialty auctioneer who has been in the business for 35 years has and called auctions all over the world. Wisbey can’t imagine any other career that could have offered him the excitement, extensive travel, a healthy income and the opportunity to live in a tropical paradise.

Q: How did you go about becoming an auctioneer?

A: I practiced by listening to recordings of auctioneers and then attended the Missouri Auction School in Kansas City. It was a two-week diploma program. It was “auctioneer boot camp.”

Q: Is there any particular training or certification required?

A: Anyone interested in becoming an auctioneer should get in front of a mirror and see if you can do it. It is also essential to have the training and diploma from an accredited Auction school. Many auctioneers also belong to the National Auctioneers Association. The organization offers seminars and networking opportunities.

Q: Are you licensed by the states you practice in?

A: Some states require licenses and others don’t. I’ m currently licensed in 14 states.

Q: How would you describe the various styles we see in the collector car community, ranging from the cattle auction style of BJ to the more dignified style of RM?

A: There’s the American auction style derived from livestock auctions and the less energetic English style. The English style is effective, but mundane. People aren’t energetic. On the other hand, too fast is not effective either.

Q: What are some of the major challenges of auctioneering?

A: It’s a very arduous job. At many sales, I work for 6 hours straight without a break for anything. I’ve worked up to 10 1/2 hours without a break.

Q: How did you get your first auction job?

A: I heard of a promoter in Atlanta who was putting on a new auction. He insisted on experience, but I finally convinced him to give me a shot. The terms that the promoter accepted were to pay only my expenses and I’d do the auction for free. However, if the promoter liked me enough to hire me again, then he would pay for both the second event and the original auction. It was brash, but it worked.

Q: How do you get work?

A: Quite literally, everything is word of mouth.

Q: How much do you travel?

A: 40-45 trips a year. I’m only at home in Honolulu ten days a month.

Q: Where have you worked?

A: I’ve called auctions on 5 of 7 continents. I haven’t worked in Africa or Antarctica-yet.

Q: Is there a particular auctioneer who is the “Michael Jordan” of the craft?

A: To me, Gene Radcliffe is the best of the auctioneers and something of a role-model. He’s a long-time friend, who is very well respected. He’s based in Phoenix.

Q: Are there particular techniques you use to help generate a higher price?

A: The key to a successful auction is to get the correct product in front of the right people. The technique is to get bidding going and build excitement. If I can get two people bidding, I can play them against eachother.

Q: How do you keep your energy up?

A: It’s important to have the right frame of mind and always keep my energy up. I’ve managed to work with a sore throat and with a 104 temperature, but it’s just mind over matter. If I show that I don’t feel well they’ll think I’m British.

Q: Are there strict limits to how long you can keep a car on the block?

A: If there’s no interest in a car I give it 2-4 minutes and move on.

Q: How did you hook up with Russo and Steele?

A: I did some work for Barrett-Jackson and when Drew Alcazar left and ultimately started Russo and Steele, he invited me to work with him.

Q: Is there a future for a live auction?

A: Absolutely. Nothing takes the place of the excitement of a live auction.


Dennis Wisbey sits down with The Hagerty Guy

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