Matt Hurley: The Education of an Auctioneer

6/29/2013 1:00 AM
By Anne Harnish Food and Family Features Editor

Matt Hurley always knew he wanted to be an auctioneer. But he didn’t grow up in a family auction business. As a kid raised near Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pa., he remembers his dad taking him every Saturday morning to visit auctions. Hurley loved the excitement of the auction. When he was as young as 4 or 5, he recalls telling his dad, “I want to be an auctioneer.”

By the time he was 8, an auction house had opened nearby. Every Friday night, Hurley would find himself there, listening to auctioneer Bob Benchoff’s bid-<\n>calling chant.

Later, as a young man, Hurley went to college for a year, then took two years off to do missionary work, trying to figure some things out about his future.

“I never waivered from wanting to be an auctioneer,” he said. But without a family member or mentor in the auction world taking him on, he wondered how he could get the training and education he needed.

Then, just one day after he arrived home from missionary work, Benchoff called to ask if Hurley would work with him at the auction house.

“I about fell over!” Hurley said. He started working with Benchoff the next day.

Although Hurley attended Penn State for the next few years and completed a degree in agriculture education, he continued his dedication to auctioneering. Every Thursday, he would drive two hours both ways, from State College, Pa., to the auction house in Waynesboro to work. Then, he’d drive back on Friday as well.

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be my whole life,” said Hurley. “I’ve been blessed ... after missionary work, one door after another opened and allowed me to do what I wanted to do.”

He and Benchoff eventually developed a close friendship. Benchoff, who just retired from teaching school, was the best man at Hurley’s wedding.

“Bob is not just a good auctioneer, but a good person,” Hurley said. “He is a mentor.”

Hurley, 41, currently lives in Greencastle, Pa., with his wife and six children, running his own full-service auction company, Hurley Auctions. Its main focus is real estate and business liquidations, holding approximately 200 auctions per year. Hurley’s dad apprenticed under Matt and now is a full-time, licensed auctioneer with the company. His mom is active in the business. There are also three full-time office staff.

“We do a lot of auctions online, nearly 80 percent now,” Hurley said. “But I love a live auction, doing the chant.”

He said it rained at a recent live auction he did in June. “There were 200 people, it was raining and we were selling out of a barn. ... We loved it; everybody loved it!”

But, he admits that live auctions are predominantly of interest to an older generation. Buying online, or bidding online, has become comfortable for the younger generation, according to Hurley. “Some people log on Friday nights, and bid (via computer), then go about their regular activities. .... Online bidding can be a form of entertainment for some.”

Hurley believes that auctions are mostly going to be online in the next 5-10 years. However, certain types of auctions must stay live, he said, such as his dad’s storage-unit auctions. He also does all his real estate auctions live.

Hurley said all kinds of auctions are going online that wouldn’t have seemed possible before — sales of cattle, antiques and businesses. It increases the bidding from a wider variety of buyers, both nationally and internationally, he said. More bidding means higher prices. Buyers seek out specific sales on the Internet, and bidding can be from anywhere in the world.

For example, he said 75 percent of the equipment from a recent foundry auction were shipped to Mexico. The items were out of date for the U.S., but in Mexico they were needed, he said.

“It’s just the way the world works now,” Hurley said.

“The up-front work for an online auction is more. Everything must be carefully catalogued and photographed,” Hurley said. Bidders are able to look at and study every single item ahead of time, and they know what each item is coming up for bid. “At a live auction, you just pick the item up and sell it,” he said.

Leading the Auctioneers Association

Hurley is serving as the president of the Pennsylvania Auctioneers Association (PAA), where he is focused on training and education issues.

“I thought what I could offer was my interest in education and the role it plays in helping an auctioneer develop,” Hurley said. There is much more than bid-calling to the job of being an auctioneer — from legal issues to technology to real estate to marketing, he acknowledged.

Besides apprenticing with an auctioneer, he said other aspects of his training came from the PAA and the National Auctioneers Association (NAA).

“I know what it’s like to start without any training or background,” he said.

Hurley makes an effort to go outside the local area to find nationally known experts on auctioneering issues. He travels to national workshops when he can, and networks with people to develop a list of contacts with whom he can call about most any topic or item.

For instance, when Hurley recently auctioned a factory of plastic-injection molding equipment, he “knew nothing,” but said because of his network, he was able to contact and partner with that person to successfully auction the factory equipment.

When he helped organize the annual PAA convention, he brought in speakers who were “more than entertainment,” and who had expertise in specific topics in the field, such as real estate and how to find buyers for online auctions.

Hurley also works on legislative issues. This year, he went to the state capitol in Harrisburg to testify about House Bill 325 which addresses licensing and other aspects of the auctioneering business in the state.

“We’re bringing things up to date,” he said. “In the ’60s, no one knew about online auctioning.

As for the future, Hurley said he remembers getting his first digital camera for cataloguing auction items and thinking it was a huge advance.

Now, dictation machines, scanners and fax machines are all out of date, he said.

“Now my phone is a GPS. I can take my (smart)phone and iPad and do just about anything” from any location, he said. “I can take a photo and send it to a friend for identification almost immediately.”

“I love the auction business,” he said. “Everything is new, every day.” Because he loves what he does, he tells people: “I have not worked a day in 20 years.”

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