The Auction Gavel Stays Close to Home

10/20/2012 7:00 AM
By Michelle Kunjappu Reporter

Families Team Up to Provide Auctioneer Services

Whether or not to try her hand at auctioneering was never a momentous decision for Theresa Burke-Dudock.

“You know, when you’re raised in the family business, you just kind of do it,” said Burke-Dudock, who became interested in auctioneering when she realized that she could “help as a backup” and said “it ended up being a career.”

Based in Meshoppen, Pa., Shamrock Auction Service, founded 47 years ago by her father, Jerry Burke, provides auctioneering services for real estate and household estate auctions in the northeast Pennsylvania and southern New York areas.

The business has experienced the transition of expanding to include multiple generations of family.

When talking about adding his children to the business, Jerry Burke said, “I’m glad they did it (become auctioneers), otherwise it would be gone.”

He added: “That was completely up to them — they could do whatever they wanted — but I think they saw the opportunity was right there in front of them and they could take advantage of it.”

Going Full-Time

Theresa Burke-Dudock has been auctioneering since 1987, and, after spending some time working at another job, decided to make auctioneering her career and began working with her family full-time in 1990.

Her brothers, Brian and Patrick, work at Shamrock too, but they also spend time on the road auctioneering at car auctions. Because of that, Burke-Dudock said, “So mainly with (the) family business it’s my mom (Gail) and dad and myself that do the appointments, and as they can be, my brothers are back helping us at auctions.” Additionally, Gail works to set up the schedule and cashiers on sale day.

Burke-Dudock has not regretted her career choice.

“There is something different every day — you never know what the day’s going to bring. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Growing up around auctions meant working at all aspects of a sale “except the auctioneering.” It wasn’t until she was between her freshman and sophomore year in college that she went to the Reppert Auction School in Indiana, where her father went, to get her auctioneering license.

The three-week course is followed by a two-year apprenticeship, which she completed under her father’s tutelage. Additionally, she completed college with a degree in business.

“My brothers, Brian and Patrick, and now my nephew, Brian, also went to Reppert, so it’s three generations right now,” Burke-Dudock said.

Customers Like Family

“Customers become like family at times too,” Burke-Dudock said. “They’ve watched us grow up, they’ve watched our kids grow up.”

Burke-Dudock never over-thought the challenge of breaking into a male-dominated field, and, in fact, has noticed that “some people would still rather deal with a male and other people would rather deal with a female.”

“Even though we’re all raised together, we all have different personalities, we all deal with things differently, and you’ve got know where the client is coming from or how people are hurting. Either the clients are dealing with selling pieces of their life, all the way from their childhood, or there are people who are moving and that’s stressful too,” she said.

“We’ve had the shoe on the other foot,” Burke-Dudock said (they sold their grandparents’ estate). “I think a lot of it is the understanding of feelings — we see where their thoughts are and give our suggestions,” she said, noting that some clients “want to come to the auction, while other people can’t even be around” to watch their items sell.

Growing Up At Auctions

“I’m a farm boy, and my dad used to take us to auctions when we were kids,” said her father, Jerry Burke, who had a job first as a runner at sales, then worked at a bank and did a stint in the Navy before he began working for a local auctioneer.

Burke continues to auctioneer at Shamrock’s’ auction gallery or travel locally for auctions.

At another auction house in southeastern Pennsylvania, the next generation has also made the transition to the family auction business.

Miller & Siegrist Auctioneers, based east of Lancaster, Pa., provides auctioneering services for mostly real estate and household estate sales in Lancaster County and beyond.

Founded by Elvin Siegrist and Alvin Miller about 35 years ago, the auction business now includes Elvin’s daughter, Rhonda Nissley, and Alvin’s son, Mike Miller, who now do the majority of the auctioneering on sale days.

Growing up around auctions doesn’t ensure that you’ll end up working as an auctioneer, but it ended up being a great way to learn the trade for Rhonda Nissley and Mike Miller.

“For Mike and I both, our dads were auctioneers from the time we were little on up, so we both grew up around auctions,” Nissley said.

The family-run business also includes Elvin’s wife, Jane, who does office bookwork and the clerking on sale day, and Mike’s wife, Stephanie, who helps with cashiering.

Growing Up Around Auctions

“I was always involved with auctions. I have done anything from running sheets back to holding items up, as well as clerking and cashiering as well, so I sort of grew into each position as I got older,” Nissley said.

Although she had done nearly every job at the business, it was a few years before she decided to take the step to try her hand at auctioneering itself.

“About five years ago, the whole team was saying that I should pursue this — they all sort of encouraged me,” Nissley said.

“When I saw that Alvin and Elvin were getting a little bit older, and (was) realizing that if the business was going to continue, someone would need to step in,” Nissley said, “I saw that I could step in and fill that need.”

Nissley apprenticed under her father and “pretty well picked everything up from being there,” she said. “It was a lot of hands-on training, and I think that’s what really helped me — I was around it so long it almost came as second nature.

“I wasn’t sure how it would go and I said I wasn’t going to force it,” Nissley said. “If it didn’t go well, I wasn’t going to continue trying — but it went remarkably well. I ended up enjoying it and felt like that’s where I was supposed to be.”

“My mother, father and long-time team members were all encouraging me and supporting me from day one,” she said. “We have a really good team that works well together — folks that have been with us for many years — and through the transition that didn’t change, and that gave us stability.”

Some Changes

Every transition brings changes, and adding new technology is part of the transition at Miller & Siegrist Auctioneers.

“We have updated our website — technology will play a big role in the future,” Nissley said.

“People today want to be able to look at items online and put a bid in without being on site at the location, so we’re finding more and more that we have people using the Internet to bid on items. We’re entertaining bids from all across the country,” she said. “It seems like the future will continue to evolve around visibility on the Web.”

“Especially as a female I would’ve never ventured into the field had it not been in my family,” Nissley said. “There are so many male auctioneers that for a female to break into the market is extremely hard, but being in a family business makes a world of difference,” she said. “People have welcomed us (her and Miller) into the business because we are the second generation continuing a family business.

“That’s the joy for me, to be able to continue what our fathers started.”

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