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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.

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Coffee's comment points up a common misperception about auctions: They don't necessarily yield Filene's Basement bargains. "A lot of people think that auction means ... you're going to buy something at a discount," says Mr. Gantt. Then he adds in sotto voce, "That's not the case." Indeed, on this day, in about one hour, Knox moved $1.3 million worth of land.

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Everything at an auction is deliberate with Knox, including his sartorial choice. For the Moulton event, he wore the Amerisouth standard: khakis and a powder-blue oxford shirt. Down below, he donned hand-stitched camel-colored cowboy boots. At an earlier car auction in Moody, Ala., he opted for a white polo shirt.

The clothing, voice, and style are all important. At an auction this summer, Knox had to sell cars in a long garage over the din of almost 10 other bid callers. Each was in his own lane, an arrangement that made the place look part bowling alley, part flea market. Knox took a few minutes before the auction to make small talk with bidders. "Y'all ready to spend some money?" he asked one trio.

Once the event started, Knox kept the bidding brisk. Staffers blew whistles every few seconds, signifying a bid. Auctioneers don't work solo. They team up with ringmen, people who work the crowd fostering communication between the bidders and auctioneer. The good teams can send messages back and forth inconspicuously. Knox will sometimes insert a word into his chants that tells one of his ringmen, Donnie Marr, to nudge a bidder to go higher. Another word, "rice," lets Mr. Marr know he should energize the crowd. "I know it's strange," says Marr, laughing. "But that's what we do."

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Knox discovered his two "callings" early in life. When he was 16, he attended his first auction, a sale of cars, in Cullman, Ala. "Just the sound of the auctioneer's chant to me was so intriguing that I knew instantly that that was something I wanted to do," he says.

He enrolled in auctioneer's school, beginning his quest to join an ancient business. (Auctions date back to 500 B.C., when the Babylonians sold brides to the highest bidders.) To this day, he works to perfect his craft, but not in a classroom. "I'll be going down the road calling bids, and every time I pass a telephone pole or something, I'll take that as a bid," he says. "Depending on how fast or slow you're going down the Interstate, the bidding can get pretty furious."

When he was 17, Knox responded to another voice – an inner one. "I just felt like God was, as we call, 'troubling my waters.' I couldn't get any rest," he says. "I just prayed and prayed and prayed, and God slowly gave me the peace like I was supposed to preach."

Knox is the first in his family to take up the pulpit. His mother was a homemaker, his father a pipe worker. For the past four years, Knox has been pastor at a small independent church in Mount Olive, a town just north of Birmingham.

There are parallels between his two loves. For one thing, he delivers his sermons with equal measure of frenzy and humor. "His biggest asset is the way he relates to people," says Chuck Crump, auction coordinator at Amerisouth.

The geniality he has perfected as a preacher definitely comes in handy behind the auctioneer's podium. "As soon as he says two words out there, you just like Bryan," says Gantt. "People enjoy coming to see him."

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