From Where I Sit – A Well-Oiled Machine

This morning Roy and I went to a Ritchie Bros. dispersal sale. It was a sight to behold. The night before, two local television stations had done stories about the sale in Nisku.

When we checked out a John Deere combine a few days ago it was machinery, trucks, and heavy equipment as far as the eye could see. The aerial shots that accompanied the news stories were mind-blowing. This huge three-day sale was billed as the biggest in North America with offerings from many construction and oilfield companies?none of which was the result of the recession, apparently.

The man interviewed expected 14,000 people to attend. Many of the registered voters were from other parts of Canada, the US, and as far away as Australia. The sale guide itself is a marvel: coil-bound, nearly 200 pages, doubles as your bidding card, has hundreds of descriptions, spaces to record selling prices, and details of where and when a particular item would be sold.

Because I didn’t need an earth mover or spray coupe or excavator I was free to simply ogle in amazement. What intrigues me is the logistics, the orchestration of all the functions, the sheer number of people required to make it all happen. Nothing is forgotten or left to chance.

There were paramedics on hand, parking lot attendants, security people, food concession workers, women working the bidder registration counter, and others at an information area issuing in-transit stickers. There was an army of men starting the equipment and running it through the sales ring. The equipment then needed to be returned to its spot until the buyer was able to remove it.

Inside the main building was an area for representatives of trucking companies, brokers, and financiers to help smooth the purchase and transport issues that can arise with purchases in the tens of thousands of dollars that may be leaving the country.

On our way out I chatted briefly with a woman at the registration area. At the midpoint in the sale there were over 5,300 registered bidders. She said It’s a great place to work and that they are treated extremely well. I wondered how many employees there were but she didn’t know. She thought there were at least seven auctioneers.

In ring one there were four men watching the crowd to spot the bidders. They were standing in front of seven huge glass overhead doors that kept the crowd in relative comfort while the item on bid was slowly driven past. Each man had a microphone, computer, and lectern-type structure in front of him.

Online bidders are a big part of the operation. A glassed-in office at the far end housed the auctioneer and support staff. When it was time to sell some land, huge black draperies were pulled across the doors, a screen was lowered, and a projected computerized image was shown. It showed photos or maps and kept an instant record of highest bid, asking bid, and whether the bidder was on-site or online. There was a combination of stadium and floor seating for hundreds of people.

Unfortunately we went home empty-handed. A Ritchie Bros. Sale?a well-oiled machine, from where I sit.