Having toured in the music industry as a crew member in my earlier, formative years, I have always had a deep appreciation for Jackson Browne’s song, “The Load-Out.” Living on the road from town to town, day-in and day-out is grueling. For me, it was also very rewarding; similar to the story the song portrays for the musician. To this day, I appreciate the crew that supports whatever act I see. By the time the doors open, I know it has already been a long day for them, and their day won’t end until early the next morning when it’s all loaded up on the trucks. Then it’s wash, rinse, repeat.
Each member of the road crew has a very specific function: house sound, monitors, stage lighting, spot lighting, cables, trussing and rigging, staging, special effects, on-stage technicians for every instrument in the band, the list goes on and on. It’s actually pretty miraculous what these people do to put on a show, particularly the big shows Without the crew to do the heavy lifting, none of these shows would ever happen.
They’re the first to come and last to leave
The life of the professional auction technician (henceforth “auction roadie”) is somewhat similar to the music roadie, but their stay is often longer in one location. Once the deal has been signed, the auction roadie is most certainly the first to arrive and the last to leave in terms of the on-site project. Setup to final removal can often represent months away from loved ones. Being on the road with only the hotel to call home, the roadie regularly puts in 10–12 hour days to get the job done on time. Local temps and former employees of the facility are often engaged to assist the roadie, but never match the ability of the auction roadie in skills, knowledge, or endurance. The auction roadie is the one to lock the door of the plant long after the temps have gone home for the day.
An auction is often very like a touring musical show or a theatrical play. Bidders are traveling hundreds—sometimes thousands—of miles to attend the auction, or they might participate online. The curtain goes up on Thursday at 8pm. The roadies know that no matter what, the show must go on. They have to be ready Thursday at 8pm. Without knowledgeable, dedicated roadies to do the heavy lifting, these types of auctions would never happen.
Unlike the music roadie who often has a single function or task, the auction roadie (particularly a crew leader) has to wear all the hats. In the same sale they’ll often decide where the auction starts, and with what items. They will select and set up the auction office location. They will perform maintenance on various pieces of equipment, replace truck batteries and repair wiring. They will tap into plant IT systems so the auction network can take over on sale day, and order the porta-potties. The professional auction roadie is the key to a smooth-running, successful sale.
Imagine for a moment the auction of a typical machine shop. The auction roadie needs to know how to identify and separate specialized tooling, inspection equipment, and support equipment. They need to know how to drive a forklift to move and stage heavy items. They must collect and stage similar items in various parts of the plant, set an auction pattern that begins with “pick up” that will appeal to a large audience. Their sale order must maneuver the auction pattern in such a way as to sell the key items at just the right time, with the best of multiples selling first, and then the specialty accessories after those particular machines. The auction roadie does all this before a single buyer registers for the sale.
During a live auction, the roadie will often “lead” by being at the next item in line to point it out, lift it over their head, start it, run up the forks, etc. The professional auction roadie doubles as a ringman, assisting bidders and the auctioneer in real time. While auctioneers often rotate during the course of a big sale, many roadies endure the entire auction sale; leading the pack along the labyrinth of lots to that final sale item at the end of the day. Yes, they get tired; but the experienced roadie has a sense of ownership in the auction and simply won’t take a break until that last lot is sold.
Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down
As if that weren’t enough, immediately after the auction, the roadie switches into yet another gear. The facility gets locked down and the roadie implements a plan to secure the items from theft, and begins the checkout or removal period. The roadie needs to supervise the checkout process to ensure the right buyers are taking the right items. The hand-carry item portion of this process can be hectic, confusing, and difficult to manage. A good roadie sets up their auction with removal in mind to make sure this process goes smoothly. Large plants require communicating with buyers, riggers, and trucking companies over the course of weeks as the facility is disassembled in a safe, workmanlike manner. Insurance requirements must be met, and machines must be scheduled in a certain order as most are often blocked by other equipment that must be removed first.
At the end, the roadie is the one with the broom who makes sure the building is clean and ready to turn back to the owner. At the end, it’s the roadie who has had most of the facetime with the seller, the buyers, and the public. At the end, it’s the roadie who will often be the difference between a successful sale and a nightmare. A seasoned roadie knows how to put out the fires that come up during the course of the project without calling the office. They’ll help to settle buyer disputes, fix broken forklifts or overhead doors, drive snow plows to clear the dock, and keep the project safe. The roadie is the mortar that holds all those bricks together.
They’ll set it up in another town
Unlike the music roadie who sets up the exact same show in the next town, the auction roadie rarely gets the same show twice. Following a machine shop in Detroit, the roadie moves next to a construction company to work with yellow iron in Kansas. After that, it’s a commercial printer with huge, multicolor offset printing presses in Virginia. The next auction will be a facility that freezes fresh corn and other vegetables in Northern California. The seasoned auction roadie navigates these different industries, facilities, equipment, and situations with knowledge and professionalism. They drive bulldozers and backhoes, clean ink-wells and chip conveyors. The roadie makes sure the bathrooms are clean, and the coolers are full for the rest of the staff when they arrive for showtime.
We all have experiences where the auction roadie fixed an otherwise dire situation, somehow made our job easier, headed off a problem, or made our day a little better. Whether you are a seller, an auction company owner, an employee, a contract auctioneer, a rigger, a trucker, or an auction buyer, you likely owe the auction roadie some gratitude and thanks. So, thank you, auction roadies. Thank you for everything you have done for the industry. Your job is a very important to all of us, and we are grateful for your professionalism, integrity and hard work.
“Auction Roadies” was originally published in “The Podium,” Volume XIII Number 1 (Fall 2016), official journal of the Industrial Auctioneers Association. David Fiegel is the founder of Blackbird Asset Services, a boutique auction and appraisal firm that specializes in secured creditor and bankruptcy auctions and appraisals, particularly in the industrial sector. Blackbird is a proud member of the Industrial Auctioneers Association (among others). You can reach David at 716-632-1000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.