Auctions can be a fast way for a retailer to turn stock into much- needed cash and the quality of goods for sale is often high, says Caroline Munro
Whether times are exceptionally good, or horribly bad, furniture auctioneers are bound to benefit. But it’s not only auctioneers that can enjoy the benefits of a less than ideal climate – auctions can be an effective and fast means for retailers to convert stagnating stock back into cash.
For Roger Darrington-Mosley, Midland Furniture Auctions (MFA) md auctioneering is his passion and good customer service his business. `To me, I am an auctioneer and that is what I will always be,’ he says.
Darrington-Mosley has worked in auction rooms since he was 15, but he supposes his love for it grew from when his grandfather, who was a farmer, took him to livestock markets.
`As my mum always said, “the right peg in the right hole”. Auctioneering is all I’ve ever done and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,’ he says. `It’s the whole game – it’s matching a product to a buyer, coaxing them, educating them, giving them as much information as I can to make a deal work.’
Already behind the lectern at the tender age of 19, Darrington-Mosley hasn’t looked back. He worked for a number of firms, until eventually he grew unhappy with the way things were run and decided to start his own auctioneers.
MFA’s first gavel sounded in January 2005, and the business has since grown in leaps and bounds. Its premises in Alfreton, Derbyshire, will have doubled in size by June this year. `But in terms of turnover, it’s more than quadrupled,’ he says. `And that is predominantly down to the fact that we are pitching ourselves in the middle to upper market – that’s where we work best.’
While the past year has meant hard times for people in the furniture industry in the UK, for auctioneers it has meant good returns – or at least that is Darrington-Mosley’s standpoint. A clear sign of bad times is when MFA receives a delivery direct from the docks.
`We really do well – unfortunately – when businesses are struggling because we provide a very quick turnaround from physical stock into money. And we’ve been seeing an awful lot of gear – especially imported gear – coming directly to us from the docks because people have obviously ordered three or four months ago predicting better sales than they have perhaps had,’ he says.
At times like this, auctioneers are a good means of getting rid of stock very quickly. MFA holds an auction once a week, which last about four hours. In that time, it will sell between 3,500 and 5,000 pieces of furniture. These sales are made on-site and via a live web auction. Each lot sale lasts for about a minute, from the start of bidding to the gavel falling.
`We try to make it as quick and painless as possible,’ he laughs.
The company’s personal record for the amount of lots sold a week is 2,500, which, he says, `equates to a vast amount of furniture’. For retailers, it is a very convenient and quick way to get rid of stock, and in most cases their stock will be gone within a week, or a fortnight at worst, he says.
But it is not always a case of auctioneers doing well only when times are hard. He says there are various reasons why retailers would utilise the services of an auctioneer: some aim to get rid of old stock and clean out various lines, while others would prefer to auction goods rather than hold a sale.
`One or two of them are of the opinion that customers will wait for a sale, and they will probably buy anyway if they don’t have a sale,’ he says. `Depending on the price range of the product, they can get a good return for them.’
For other businesses, it may be a logistical issue because many modern retailers no longer have warehouses for storage. Stock also comes from large retailers who are looking to get rid of products used for photo- shoots and for display.
`They’re often in all the best styles, in the best covers – they’re beautiful,’ says Darrington-Mosley.
Yet, at the same time, he concedes that the credit crunch and the worsening state of the furniture retail market in the UK are revealing definite trends. `The volume of new A-grade product that we sell is 10 times what it was a few years ago.’
And although he has noted a larger number of cheaper products, many of which originate from the Far East, he says this does not necessarily mean a fall in quality of items sold at auction.
`The vast majority of the containers coming to us are of an exceptionally good quality for the price point that they are at. There is good and bad in all – but certainly the clients we deal with who import goods from China, import very good stuff. Certainly, the man on the street will be amazed at some of the items made in China.’
While this may be a good time for auctioneers, Darrington-Mosley points out that it is not always the case for some who are stuck behind the times.
`The antiques game has been the traditional bread and butter of auctioneers for a long time and, unfortunately, they’re all going,’ he says. `One side of the auction game is shrinking and dying and the other side is starting to take off. Auctioneers are having to branch out. At the end of the day, there has always been a type of snobbery in auctions, where its product is looked down upon whereas, to my mind, I sell some fantastic quality furniture.’
He says he would much rather be selling a top quality brand than a house clearance of the effects of someone who has died, or of house transformation.
`It’s a funny old game,’ he laughs. `I think that all auctioneers, sooner or later, will have to realise that people expect more these days, and those who don’t offer additional services at cost effective rates will fall behind. In my opinion it’s been a comfortable, overpriced market for a long time. You have to work for your income now, and that is what we are doing.’
He feels that another problem with auctioneers is that many are still not embracing new technologies, which Darrington-Mosley believes is to their detriment.
`It’s a very antiquated industry and auctioneers traditionally hate investing in their companies,’ he says. `I can still think of a dozen or so outfits in the Midlands near us that don’t even have a website. We have invested heavily in new technology and we are as up to date as any other furniture company can be. We’re following the furniture trade instead of following the auctioneering trade.’
But he adds that this does not mean traditional values are lost, and insists on good customer service and `the human element’.