A New Way To Bid
West Auctions takes the action digital with online grower auctions, designed to help the seller and the buyer get the most out of a public sale.
June 12, 2008
Bruce Knox’s first experience with West Auctions’ online capabilities came when he watched the public sale of another grower operation.
"I had followed one of their auctions in California," says Knox, president of Knox Nursery in Florida. "I had one of my truck drivers go to pick up and he said that everything sold. Everything!"
Knox decided to use West Auctions when he had to get rid of equipment from his original location that was closing and being consolidated into another facility. He chose an online auction because he didn’t want to limit the number of people who could participate. Roughly 100 companies signed up for the Knox online auction, which improved Bruce’s chances of getting better prices for the equipment.
For The People
The beauty of an online auction is the accessibility, says Daniel West, the general manager of West Auctions, Woodland, Calif. Growers have specialized items that only other growers or someone in a similar market would buy, so getting top dollar can be difficult.
"It’s critical to be able to reach as many potential buyers as possible, and in the case of greenhouse growers, those buyers are spread all over the country, if not the world," West explains. "There are a number of different ways to reach all those people, but if you don’t have a lot of time to wait for the right buyer, then there is no better option than an online auction."
The process has worked well for several of the growers West Auctions has worked with. The company has held auctions for six growers in the last two years alone, and is in talks with several more. It doesn’t only work with the green industry, either. The Web site shows auctions for all types of industries, and the company will buy booth space at appropriate trade shows in those industries to promote upcoming auctions. For example, West had booth space at last year’s SNA show to promote the auction of Baucom’s Nursery equipment.
So how well does it work? West is honest when he says it depends on the item and on the bidders.
"As one grower told me after we completely liquidated his company, ‘Most of the time, I wanted to laugh because buyers were paying so much, but sometimes I wanted to cry because they got such a steal,’" West says. "Fluctuations in secondary markets mean that some items sell for less than the seller had hoped, while others exceed their wildest expectations. We’re happy to report that, on average, our online auctions secure prices that are at least one third higher than traditional live auctions and at a lower cost, too."
The first natural assumption when thinking of an online auction is that it runs similar to eBay, the ultra-popular general auction Web site people have been using for years. But West says there are several important distinctions between his auction site and eBay.
First off, he likens eBay to more of a flea market or bazaar atmosphere of a general marketplace than an auction site. He says West Auctions, which had conducted live auctions since 1964 before becoming completely digital a few years ago, is much more of a traditional auction. His company works with fewer sellers and manages the process all the way through, including mass advertising campaigns.
Second, the company works closely with bidders, providing them with as much information about the products up for bid as it can, even arranging for in-person inspections, as well as helping with financing and transportation.
Also, online bidding allows buyers to remain at home, rather than traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles for a live auction. "The convenient format and the large number of participants ensure competitive bidding, thereby yielding a liquidity rate that is typically higher than other auction models," he adds.
For Knox, the online auction worked very well. "I felt very strongly that the online auction format was best for us. As they say, it takes two bidders to make a good auction. I felt like we would limit ourselves by live auction," he says. "The West staff did a great job of coordinating and promoting our auction. They are pros at what they do and we would recommend to anyone doing this. I don’t plan on needing to do an auction again, but if I did this is the route I would go."
Jennifer Polanz is a freelance writer based in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org