Read original article here
Scott Robertson owns 10 tuxedoes that he accessorizes with 74 vests—some bought off the rack, some specially made. By color or pattern theme, each represents a fundraising auction he has called. They also represent his philosophy about being an auctioneer specializing in charity events. Whatever the gala, “I want to be a part of it,” he explains.
Whether it’s done by hand, paddle or keyboard click, the auction as a method of sale thrives in this area, being used to sell houses, land, livestock, vacations, antiques, estate lots and more—in person and online. And nearly everything about this method of sale changes depending on whether the buyers are in cowboy boots or cummerbunds.
“I’ll be the only one in a tuxedo, besides the wait staff,” Robertson says before the mid-November ForEverglades Naples fundraiser at the Naples Beach Hotel. And while the audience was in cocktail chic, the staff was in black tie—and so is the auctioneer, standing stage left during the pre-auction dinner and already in command of the room.
He is both part of the fabric of the event and a man apart as its salesman and leader. For the Everglades fundraiser, he wore a vest and tie of light turquoise: “one of the decorating colors” that night, he says.
Dress is only one aspect of the style a charity auctioneer adopts.
“With commercial auctions, you’re selling a product,” says Robertson. “You’re trying to get the most money you can for that product. With a charity auction, you’re selling [a concept] to people. So it’s a whole different mindset.”
He’s conscious of body language, eye contact and personal space. In the audience, a person widening his eyes and leaning back slightly can tell the roving auctioneer that he has ventured too close to the bidder’s table; sitting up straight and making eye contact with the auctioneer likely means the person is interested in bidding.
In a benefit auction, the pace is slow enough to notice these things.
Robertson should know. Since 2000, he has presided exclusively over charity auctions nationwide, and quite a number in Southwest Florida. He estimated he has handled about 70 a year for the past six years—and recently passed a cumulative $149 million in auction sales. His largest audience was 2,500 at a benefit for Florida Hospital in Orlando; the largest haul came from the Sonoma Wine Auction in 2016, at which $4.6 million was raised to benefit California children’s charities.
He can be hired three ways: for a flat fee; for a percent of the proceeds; or the way he prefers, a flat fee with an incentive bonus if he helps the organization make its auction goal.
Robertson grew up in Kentucky, where his father was a farmer who worked one day a week at a stockyard. His mother owned an antiques store. Both parents attended auctions accompanied by their young son. In fact, he would “run tickets” at cattle auctions for $1.60 an hour. When each lot of cattle was sold, the buyer’s name and price and other details were written on a ticket. When several tickets accumulated, Robertson would take them to the business office for processing. “I thought it meant you actually had to run. So I ran all day,” he says with a laugh.
He settled in Southwest Florida after college and taught industrial arts at Cape Coral High School. In 1994, he was ready for a career change. Watching him in action, it’s clear that the next job had to be something with a touch of theatricality. “And as for a ringmaster in the circus, I thought there were too few jobs around here.”
An auctioneer is a salesman and a performer, he says, as is a teacher, so his transition to a new field was pretty smooth. Now he’s also a marketer, and that starts way before the gala tables are set and the candles lit.
The day we visited, the bar along his kitchen was covered with papers designating auction packages for the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. He was familiarizing himself with the lots for the March auction and the order of presentation he would recommend.