Bryan Knox's bid to be the best auctioneer
The part-time preacher won an international auctioneers competition recently – the result of a strong voice, deft chant, and genteel sales style.
Bryan Knox looks more World Wrestling Federation than salesman. He's 6 feet tall, thick-necked, and weighs 275 pounds. His head is shaved bald. But make no mistake: He is a salesman. Right now he's standing behind a podium, alternately crouching and standing on his toes, holding his palm up like a traffic cop, then flicking his wrist to display numbers with his fingers. He might point and stare intently at a person in the crowd, Crazy Eddie-style.Skip to next paragraph
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"Eye contact builds communication," says Mr. Knox. "When that bidder says, 'No, I'm not going to bid again,' that's when my job truly begins."
Knox is an auctioneer. Not just any auctioneer. This summer he won an international championship held by the National Auctioneers Association (NAA). It drew participants from as far away as New Zealand and judged on chant, body language, voice quality, and other elements of the arcane craft. Not bad for a part-time minister who practices auctioneering in his car by taking bids from passing telephone poles.
"With some people, just their voice and their mannerisms get you on edge," says Tommy Williams, president of the NAA. With Knox, "you would enjoy listening to him for two or three hours. Those are God-given talents."
There's no question that auctioneers have to possess a certain P.T. Barnum quality. They have to straddle a fine line between being animated, even a bit flamboyant, without being grating or obnoxious. In working a crowd, Knox tries to be inviting but not stern. "You want to make them feel comfortable and to let them know that one more bid would be in their best interest," he says. Then there is his voice, strong and sonorous, conveying authority – part William Shatner, part Johnny Cash. "I have a very powerful voice by nature," he says.
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Many of the people who showed up at the H.A. Alexander Rec Center in Moulton, a town in northern Alabama, on this Saturday were there out of curiosity. Knox was overseeing a land auction, and some of the 150 visitors wanted to know how much parcels would go for and who had the deepest pockets. Others hoped to capture a piece of paradise at a tag-sale price.
As bluegrass music played, Knox prepared for the auction by gulping water to soothe his vocal cords and doing some voice warm-ups. As befits a man of the cloth, he also said a little prayer, joined by a crowd of bowed heads.
Then he opened the bidding on a 245-acre parcel with an energetic, "All right, rock-n-roll. What's it worth?" Up came a hand for $250,000. The price rose quickly. Brad Sutton, a utility contractor, wanted to buy the plot for deer hunting. The bid hit $710,000. Knox looked at Mr. Sutton in the front row. Sutton lowered his head.
"Going twice," Knox announced. "Sir, you can jump back in right now." Sutton didn't bite. The parcel sold for $720,000.
"He's good at what he does, definitely," Sutton said afterward of Knox.
Part of the art of auctioneering is knowing how much to raise each bid. The auctioneer decides the increments spontaneously. "When he's calling a bid, his say is the last," says Jason Gantt, a colleague of Knox's at Amerisouth Auctions, a small Alabama firm. "That's what goes."
Knox is good at getting the most out of a sale – too much, in fact, for A.J. Coffee. He had hoped to walk away with a parcel, either as an investment or for hunting. "If somebody had been here besides him, I might have bought some property," says Mr. Coffee. "But he got the bid up so high, you know, I couldn't afford it." He settled for a barbecue plate after the auction.