Robert Mayo, CAI, ATS, AARE, CAGA
AuctioneerTech – Joining me today for the first of the Auctioneer Interview Series is my friend Robert Mayo, CAI, ATS, AARE, CAGA. Robert is an auctioneer and broker with Mayo Auction and Realty in Kansas City, MO. He is also the 2007 and 2008 Kansas State Champion Auctioneer. Good morning, Robert, and thank you for joining me.
Robert Mayo – Good morning Aaron. I appreciate you inviting me for this podcast.
AT – We’re pretty excited about it. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be an auctioneer.
RM – I came from a background of health care and health care information management and kind of stumbled upon the auction industry. I’ve always been an entrepreneur and had been studying different businesses and different industries and discovered the auction industry merely by chance and once I got a taste of the excitement and the very diverse aspect of it – no two days are the same in the auction industry – once I got a taste of that, it really suited me very well, my personality and my make-up, if you will. So I was drawn to it immediately. It’s been eight years now we’ve been in business – about nine years in pursuit of our business and eight years in business. We have an auction business in the Kansas City metropolitan area and serve parts of Kansas and Missouri, primarily in real estate and firearms, coins and collectibles, and we do some estate auctions and business liquidation auctions and also some benefit and fund raising auctions as well.
A couple of years ago, I don’t remember the exact date, but you moved to a new facility there – I think it’s on Wornol there in Kansas City.
Yeah, it’ll be two years this February.
Mayo Auction and Realty
What was your business like before then and how has having that facility changed or altered how you conduct business?
Prior to moving to our new facility – we’ve been there for almost two years – we had a brick and mortar office in a suburb of Kansas City and we focused primarily on real estate. The main focus of our business was real estate, both at auction and traditionally or conventionally. We recognized that we were turning down some opportunities because we did not have, well, basically square footage to operate and conduct auctions off site. All of our business was done on site, whether it be estate, business liquidation and, of course, real estate is mostly always on site, unless we do a multi-property auction. Having the opportunity to open – we have about 7500 square feet at our facility – has given us opportunity to take consignment of items that we focus on, like I said earlier, primarily firearms, coins and collectibles – things of that nature. Before, we didn’t have the ability to take those items on consignment and to conduct consignment auctions where maybe a seller only has five or six pieces. But you put those all together and it’s easier to conduct a four hundred, six hundred lot auction and have the ability to do our inventory management and photography and everything in a secure, safe location without having to move the items too many times.
Now that you’ve expanded into the personal property, and you still do a lot of real estate, I know, how do you keep everybody on the same page? What are some tools you use and your procedures to keep your real estate crew and your auction managers and your sales associates – everybody – talking to one another without just having all day long meetings everyday?
That’s a good question. We’re fortunate that – and it’s a moving target – we’re fortunate that we’re still pretty small so the management oversight of that allows us to communicate effectively using pretty common technology like using Outlook and email and your run-of-the-day technology that we all use, whether it be cell phones and whatnot. It is a challenge to keep everyone on the same page. Probably the biggest thing that we’ve done is to try to give those who are in charge of those projects the ability to make the decisions they need to make to manage their project individually and not have it too much of a micro-managed situation. That probably would create more headache if we had. I can see a need for that if you had more employees and a bigger staff where you had to micro-manage that more because you’re going to break up those tasks into more job-like, more individually-tasked where someone’s just doing one task and this person’s just doing this task. That would require a lot more management oversight and we just don’t have that challenge yet.
What’s the average marketing campaign at Mayo Auction and Realty? What do you do for real estate and personal property for marketing and print and electronic media? What’s your focus?
You mean from a dollars and cents point of view?
What’s the break-up? Do you do mostly print advertising, mostly Internet-based, neither, both?
It’s a combination of print advertising, direct mail and Internet or web-based marketing I would say would be the main focuses of our marketing.
Do you see trends as far as an overall reduction, maybe, in mailers or an increase in certain different…
Well, when we started out…within the first few years of our business, we really cut back on the mailers because we saw the big push for everything to be more Internet or web-based, and what we’ve recognized is that through kind of an experiment a few years ago, what we did was we started to do a small mailer – a postcard mailer – to some of our buyers in our database to see what kind of a response we would get from that. What we’ve seen is, in our opinion kind of a renaissance back to the old school of marketing. People appreciate getting those mailers and we’ve had people that have come to the auction who’ve said that they wouldn’t have come if they didn’t receive that mailer. So we’ve kind of gone back to some old school techniques. There’s no doubt that those mailers – our goal is to push them to our website where we can put more information on and have an extensive catalog with more photographs and more detail of the items – you just can’t put all that in the mailer or on paper without spending a ton of money. So the goal of any marketing is still to get them to take action, whether it be to come back to our website and register for the auction or to come back to the website to get the additional information that they need so they’re compelled to come to the live auction if it’s a live auction or register if it’s an Internet only auction.
Who does your website?
It’s self-maintained. We do it ourselves. We had an individual that helped us develop it in the beginning phases and we’ve taken that over and we manage it ourselves now.
What are the pros and cons of doing that?
Pros less money, cons less time. [laughs]
And actually I think you’d probably add a few more to that. Some of the cons might be that we’re obviously not experts in web design. We know enough to be competent, but there are people out there who obviously spend a lot more time staying abreast of the latest not just trends but the latest policies and latest standards, if you will, and it’s good to have professional people involved to make sure you’re not going in a direction that’s going to take you a lot to overcome once you realize you’ve gone down the wrong road.
One of the other big pros, though, is that you have not only total control but immediate ability to update that and you don’t have to rely on a designer or someone to post that information. There’s not that disconnect where you have to call someone and say “would you please update the site to say this now.”
Absolutely. And the other thing about that is that nobody will ever care about what you do as much as you do, so the quality control issue is a big factor as well.
Let’s talk a little about some of the tools that you use. You are using AuctionRPM to clerk your auctions, is that right?
What factors affected your decision to choose RPM and what do you feel are some of the most important strengths and weaknesses in that platform?
We were an early implementor of RPM. I think we signed on with them in 2002 when there wasn’t a lot to choose from. AuctionFLEX was just – I don’t know if they were on the market, I don’t think they were a player at the time. Really all you had to choose from was RPM or JBS and SOLD II, CUS – there were a few other system. We analyzed it pretty heavily, and at the time RPM was definitely the leader when we made that decision. It’s a pretty strong product. We had some early challenges with them. One of the reasons that we chose them was they were Windows-based when so many others were DOS-based, if you can believe that in 2002.
Oh, I remember it.
Yeah. [laughs] That was one of the reasons we chose RPM. Some of the challenges that we had early on were that, as a software company they were not real thorough in their testing of new testing of new features before they would release those to their clients. As a result, if you were downloading those new releases and using them, you became the test. Sometimes that could be quite frustrating if you downloaded those releases the night before an important auction and you were testing them at that time during your auction. In fact, that caused a few significant problems early on. I will say though that they really tightened up on that. They improved their infrastructure a couple years later and they became less reckless, if that’s a good way of saying it, in their releases. And maybe just because they probably don’t put out as many releases as they used to, things have become tighter and the products become tighter. If I were to start over today, I’d probably look at a couple other products pretty hard, but overall we’re satisfied with RPM for our needs right now. There’s obviously some limitations in regards to database integration that when you get into more enterprise management type implementation there’s not a lot of control over the product if you want to integrate it into other systems that you might have.
And that’s the biggest key is that you pick a product that fits your firm because all auction firms are different, and so you want something that’s a good fit and a good match.
Correct. And at this time we’re still out-of-the-box usage of that product, so it works really well for us. There are things that we wish it would do better, but overall it’s a pretty strong product and I’d recommend it for a lot of auction companies – not for some, but for a lot – they would find it to be a good product.
You are actually one of the few auctioneers, if I remember right, that has experience with both Proxibid and Maxanet as an Internet bidding platform. What are your experiences, why have you elected to use two different platforms, are you still doing it, and what are the pros and cons of each?
We were also an early user of Proxibid as well. Proxibid is a great product, they’re a great service. We did our first Proxibid auction in 2002 – no 2003 we did our first Proxibid auction – and I remember those days. You know, we only had like six bidders online. It was certainly a different time in regards to online auctions. There’s been a lot of development since then. Proxibid has been a really good service. The reason we chose them, of course, is because it’s so easy to implement live-broadcast auctions using their service. Because of that, it’s an out-of-the-box type situation. Now the problem is, or the challenge is, with Proxibid is that it’s branded, which is fine when you’re conducting an auction through their portal they can bring traffic to your auction. But when you’re marketing in other publications and bringing traffic to them you have a chance of losing those clients to competing auctions on the same day. So there are some limitations there that I think are going to limit their usage in the marketplace in the future as more auctioneers develop their own niche markets and decide that they need a non-branded solution. That’s one of the reasons we started to use the Maxanet product. The Maxanet product is a non-branded solution. It allows us to integrate into our website that static – I know you don’t like that word static…
…that timed auction or that online only timed auction that is non-branded and we’re not competing with other auctions on the same day because we’re not going through a portal. We’ve only just started to use Maxanet. We probably conducted, I believe, four timed auctions using Maxanet through our website. Three of the four have been successful, I’d say one of the four has been sort of mediocre. We’ll continue to use it and build and develop that as a solution to our clients to provide them a timed auction solution. I do see the future, though, of non-branding being essential in live auction webcasts.
You haven’t experimented at all with the live bidding module in Maxanet, have you?
Not yet, no, and that’s certainly something we’d look at as we’re building our non-real estate auction business, we’re continuing to build our buyer pool and will be navigating towards that non-branded solution so we’re going to be looking at a lot of different options for that.
What are some other – this will give you a chance to talk about anything you think is cool right now – what are some other ways that you’re using technology to attract more bidders and buyers and sellers and help your business?
Boy, you know some of the grassroots guerrilla marketing techniques have been what’s been exciting recently, and it’s not anything new, but Craigslist is a good example. I was looking at my Google Analytics account the other day, and I don’t know if I want to – well, I’ll share this it’s not that big of a deal.
I was looking at my Analytics account the other day and looking at my traffic sources, and still direct traffic to our website is the largest percentage, people who type in our domain name directly. Until a week and a half ago, believe it or not, Google was the largest referrer of traffic to our website, so we feel pretty good about that. But until a week and a half ago, Craigslist was number three and now it became number two behind direct traffic.
Yeah, and it made us wonder if we’re not getting enough Google traffic [laughs] or are we just getting that much Craigslist traffic. It’s probably a combination of both. It’s a constant battle, search engine optimization, to basically keep your pages optimized for those search engines and make sure that you’re constantly staying in touch with the standards that the search engine algorithms are making sure that your pages get ranked. So we were surprised to see that Craigslist is driving so much traffic to our website. That’s just a grassroots guerrilla marketing technique, and we do it on an item level and sometimes we do it on an event level. The key is not to over-spam or to put too much on there where people get frustrated and start blacklisting, or flagging, your listings, but certainly it can drive traffic to your website. Now, the next question is is it quality traffic. That’s debatable.
I didn’t think about it, but something that may have had an impact on that isI know that in the last month or so there has been some chatter in the tech industry about some Craigslist search products – websites that people have developed that will allow you to search Craigslist with some more advanced filtering that isn’t necessarily locked down by location. And so I wonder if maybe an increase in the use of those newer services might have contributed a little bit to that. I hadn’t thought about that.
That is a good point. The limitation of Craigslist is that its by location, and in a world of buyers that are bidding online and it doesn’t matter where the product is, that is a limitation of Craigslist. I’ll tell you though, we did have a buyer who came to the auction we had two Saturdays ago at our facility, who came to us and said that they found us on Craigslist when they came to pick up their items they founds us on Craigslist and they made purchases, so we know it’s bringing actually buyers to the auction. And that’s just time, it’s not money to do that, it’s just time. Well, time is money but it’s not a hard expense in that regard.
Do you have someone set up on a regular basis to put listings on Craigslist? Is that something that you do on an as-needed basis?
I do it on an as-needed basis and my auction center coordinator Chris does some on an item level as we’re getting closer to the auction. We’ve been playing around with what’s the effective time, you know, how many days before the auction. I don’t think we’ve really figured out that forumula, but that’s certainly a consideration. Too soon you loose the impact and too late you don’t get them. I don’t know that we have an answer on that, but we certainly play around with it to see where we might get some activity. There are some other things that we’ve done. Other discussion groups, discussion boards on specific types of – we had some really nice Lalique glass in an auction two Saturdays ago and we posted on a Lilique discussion group, a Yahoo group, that these items were in the auction. Sometimes it’s hard to track where the bidders come from, but with that auction we did have a bidder from Israel, which we thought was pretty unique to have that bidder from all the way across the world to participate in that. So there’s no doubt that our markets are not – we’re right here in the heart of Kansas City, 82nd and Wornol, but so much of our buyer participation comes from so far from here. That’s the future of our industry, and the more we can make that easy for people to participate and the more that we can build our reputation as being someone that you can trust when you look at the picture and know that the item is described properly and that any flaws are disclosed. Those kind of things are important to making sure that we’re building buyer confidence and building our buyer pool and making it a good transaction for everybody – the buyer, the seller and us as the auction company.
I think you’re so right that that is the future of our industry and it’s so important that auctioneers who offer Internet bidding and who use technology do get it right, because one bad experience with a competitor may dissuade someone from participating in one of your auctions. I know that you are quite an active member in the National Auctioneers Association and you’ve been involved with the creation of the course material and the instructional level with the new Auction Technology Specialist designation offered by the NAA. What are your thoughts on the designation? Who would you recommend it to? Talk a little bit about that if you would.
Sure. I’m very excited to have been a part of that. It’s, I think, a program that should have been done three or four years ago or maybe even longer. I think it’s far past the time. We really need it. There are a lot of people in our industry that need to catch up, for lack of a better term. The program is hard to kind of describe. There’s so much we go over in the four day period it’s hard for me to describe it completely. The program is, in my opinion, designed for auctioneers who maybe have a basic understanding of technology and are using some technology in their business but really haven’t figured out how to have a strategy that is comprehensive. So by going through this course, you may go through things you already know, but it’s going to be all tied together and give you an opportunity to be able to take what you learn and maybe improve on some of those things that you already knew about and create a strategy that will get you making money using technology. Not just having a website, or not just understanding what a blog is, or not just understanding those items individually, but how can you tie that all together to have a use of technology that will allow you to offer your items to the world and for the world to be able to purchase your items and for your seller to be able to make money and for you to be profitable. I think that’s proably in a nutshell – I think the people that should be taking that course are anybody that doesn’t have it all figured out. And that’s going to be a lot of us.
Probably pretty much everybody.
And there’s no doubt that there are some people that are pretty tech-savvy, and they’re doing online bidding and they’re conducting online auctions and they’re doing those things, and for some of those individuals this course might have a fair amount of information that they already know, but I can say with a certainty that there is a lot of information that can help them be more efficient, more effective and in the end probably get them to look at some things they weren’t thinking about that might improve their bottom line.
Absolutely. Even those people who are using that, like you say – you and I co-taught that course in April and I know that I learned a wealth of information both from you and from even the attendees in the class who ranged from a very low level of technology to a very high level of technology and experience in using technology for auctions, so I would echo that it’s good for anybody who, like you say, doesn’t have it figured out.
And the great thing about that is that, like so many courses that the NAA offers, a lot of education is not just in the classroom, although I would say this course is probably as comprehensive or more than most in regards to actual content. A lot of it is learned from those who are in attendance and just through that sharing of information. And because technology is the fastest changing element in society today, it requires the content to be updated constantly. I remember when I attended my first COMDEX – I don’t know if it’s called the same thing, but it was the big computer convention in Vegas in the early ’90s. I remember the standard then was that whatever is happening right now will be different in three months. It almost seems like whatever is happening right now will be different in a week. That change is just so fast that it requires us to really be on our toes and to really keep abreast of what’s going on and that constant evolution will create so much opportunity for increased knowledge and ability to continue to improve what we’re doing.
Well that’s it for episode seven. Thank you very much, Robert, for joining me.
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Thank you for listening. Now go sell something.