Have you ever been to an auction? Not the online kind, but a real-life, in-person event that included a sizable crowd, items of interest, and a quick-talking and charismatic auctioneer? Such is the setting to which Springville resident John Bair is accustomed.
For half of the year, Bair – whose day job is as an electrician at Utah Valley University – is an auctioneer at a host of events that fill up his schedule nearly on a full-time basis.
Since he was a child growing up in Manti, he’s enjoyed the setting and energy of auctions.
“When I was a kid,” he recalled, “we’d go to horse and cattle auctions. They were fun places for us farm kids to hang out. I always thought the auctioneers were pretty interesting. It created a sense in me of wanting to be one.”
That desire started to become reality when Bair trained to be an auctioneer at Continental Auctioneers School in Mankato, Minn., in 2002. His father went with him to attend the training, which lasted a couple of weeks.
“My dad’s an auctioneer, too,” Bair said. “He goes with me to a lot of the events I do now, working as a ring man and bid spotter and helps with the crowd.”
Following the training in Minnesota, Bair created a company, Bair Auctions, LLC, the entity with which his clients contract his services.
The majority of the events Bair auctioneers for are fund-raising occasions for non-profits and big charitable organizations. He also donates his time and services to smaller events, like Future Farmers of America fund-raising auctions at local high schools.
“It’s fun to do something that gives back,” he said. “I love the FFA, it was a big part of my growing-up years.”
When he’s not donating his services or working his day job, Bair does paying gigs that are standalone occasions or are part of bigger events, like the annual Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City. He’s also a regular at the Dallas Safari Club Convention and Expo in Dallas, Texas, and the Wild Sheep Foundation’s Sheep Show convention in Reno, Nevada. These auctions involve raising funds for the organizations and for wildlife conservation.
The funds raised at these events aren’t chump change. In fact, according to Bair, the event in Salt Lake this year raised about $6 million and the event in Reno about $10 million.
In the early days, following his auction training, Bair auctioned for a couple of local sportsman’s events per year. Word of mouth got him more events as time passed, and now, he’s consistently approached at events by people looking to enlist his services. He ends up turning down most requests because there’s only so many he can accommodate.
Bair’s auctioneering has put him in situations that demonstrated the generosity of the events’ attendees.
“At some events,” he remembered, “we’ve raised money for people with health issues. One year, there was a little boy with health issues that we thought we’d raise a few hundred dollars for to send him and his family on a Disney Cruise. We wound up raising about $10,000.”
On another occasion, the auction he worked raised more than $40,000 for a military widow with cancer who’d lost her husband in Iraq.
Audience sizes at some of Bair’s auctions often reach the thousands, so you’d think he might battle stage fright, right?
“You always get a little nervous when you walk out in front of a big crowd,” he said, “but the most nervous I remember being was when I worked an event with Jeff Foxworthy. He introduced me and stayed on stage during the auction. Everything you say he can turn into a joke. For the first few minutes I was on stage, I couldn’t get over the fact that an entertainment icon was standing there next to me.”
Foxworthy isn’t the only celebrity that’s been on stage with Bair at auctions. In fact, he’s shared the stage with names like Karl Malone, Ted Nugent, Terry Bradshaw, and Donald Trump, Jr.
According to Bair, there’s more to being an auctioneer than just selling items.
“There’s kind of a fine line there,” he said, “because you want to keep the audience entertained, but you’re also there to do a job, which is to get maximum dollars for the items.” Bair says that if he doesn’t find the right balance between entertaining and selling, it can turn into a long night. (Martinez is a Serve Daily contributor.)