Silver-tongued auctioneer prepares for a national competition

March 21, 2009

By Randi Bjornstad
The Register-Guard
Posted to Web: Saturday, Mar 21, 2009 07:33PM
Appeared in print: Sunday, Mar 22, 2009, page E2
Saying tongue twisters over and over again, as fast as you can, might seem an odd way to get ready for a national contest, but when it's the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship, it's just one of the things you do.

Jake Cheechov's been rattling off "Betty Botter bought some butter" and "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" and several of his other favorites for months now, in preparation for June 13, when he will take his limber lips and eagle eyes to the stage of the Fergus Falls Livestock Auction Market in Minnesota and put his skills up against 32 other silver-tongued contestants from all over the country.

"I have a lot of "windshield time" to practice," says the 34-year-old Cheechov, who lives in Eugene and travels to Klamath Falls every Tuesday to work the Klamath Livestock Auction, his sponsor for the prestigious contest. "I practice an hour a day -- sometimes two, as I drive along in my pickup. I do lots of number drills and tongue-twister drills."

But there's a lot more to auctioneering than fast talking, and Cheechov has been honing his skills for at least half his life.

"I grew up on a farm near Cres-well, I was in 4-H and FFA," Cheechov said. "When I was in eighth grade, I started working at the Cres-well Livestock Auction. My friends and I would mimic the auctioneers and pretend we were auctioneers, and then one day, it just sort of fell into place, and I started selling."

His first official auction was a benefit auction for the senior class at his high school. "We had to do a community service project, so I did a paper on the history of auctions and did the (school) auction," Cheechov said.

From the rapid-fire speech to the psychology of selling to the performance involved in conducting an auction, he was immediately hooked.

"The auction method is based on competition, so you have to develop a level of excitement that gets people to make a quick decision about buying something," Cheechov said. "But there are really different ways of selling things at auction, depending on whether you're doing livestock, art, cars, heavy equipment or charity benefit items."Selling artwork is his least favorite, because "I just don't know enough about art," Cheechov acknowledges. "I did one art auction where people were bidding thousands of dollars for something I wouldn't even hang in my house."

Knowing what you're selling is imperative to become a top-flight auctioneer; although proficient in most categories of auctioneering, Cheechov counts livestock and heavy equipment among his specialties.

"It's important to know what you're selling, because you need to be able to represent what you're selling correctly so that buyers know accurately what they're buying," he said. At the same time, the auctioneer has to have the ability to take a crowd and generate the enthusiasm that creates competition. There's a certain amount of skill and salesmanship. Every auctioneer has a bag of tricks.

"Part of that is the chant, which is unique to each auctioneer," Cheechov said. "I love to listen to different auctioneers' chants. I have tapes or DVDs from about the last dozen national championships. When I hear something I like, I try to integrate it into my own chant. It's always a work in progress."

"An individual auctioneer's chants differ depending on what's being sold," he said. "For example, an art chant is usually slower, with more phrases and words, more salesmanship." Benefit auctions are a little bit quicker "Those audiences usually want to hear the auctioneer let loose a little bit once in awhile," he said, "and the speed picks up when it comes to vehicles and heavy equipment."

"But the cattle auctions are the fastest, because you're not only usually dealing with professional bidders but also with so much livestock," he said. "Sometimes I have 2,700 animals to sell in a day, usually in groups of 10 or 15, so you really have to move it -- and you have to get through the whole lot while people are still there."Cheechov feels a particular responsibility when he's auctioning livestock.

It's really important to do a good job as an auctioneer. For many farmers, it's how they get paid. You may be holding their entire livelihood in your hands.

In order to become a professional auctioneer, Cheechov studied the craft at the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Mont., graduating in 1993. After that, he served as an apprentice auctioneer with large auction houses throughout Oregon. In 1999, he started his own business, Pacific Industrial Auctions, and began running small farm and equipment sales on his own. In 2005, he completed the curriculum at the World Champion College of Auctioneering in Bakersfield, Calif.

Cheechov considers auctions the ultimate way to find out the true value of something, because it's based on competition in the real world. It's the only method that allows for price discovery based on what two bidders are willing to pay for a given item on a given day.

Livestock auctioneering ranks among the most physically taxing, Cheechov believes. "You have to really know how to breathe correctly so you don't have to gasp during your chant and so your voice doesn't give out before you're done," he said, "because many well-trained auctioneers frequently work nonstop three to four hours at a stretch, several days a week."

Once, when another auctioneer didn't show up, Cheechov worked an 11-hour sale by himself.

"I took one break at the 9 1/2-hour mark, mostly because the (livestock) clerk needed a break but there was definitely an issue of bladder control," he joked. "When you're going to be working that long, you learn to sip water instead of really drinking it."

Like singers who depend on their voices, auctioneers also have to learn to "tough through it" when it comes to feeling punk during cold season, he said. "I've sold a whole lot of sales with a sore throat. I personally use Chloraseptic throat spray and keep a lozenge in my cheek."

When he gets to the national competition in June, Cheechov and his fellow competitors will be tested both on their auctioneering skills and their overall knowledge of the livestock industry. According to the online site, six judges -- all members of the national Livestock Marketing Association -- will listen as the reigning contest champion, Matt Lowery of Burwell, Neb., questions each of the 33 semi-finalists on industry-related topics. Their answers will be worth 25 percent of their final score. Then the competitors will demonstrate their auctioneering skills by actually selling several "drafts" of cattle; 10 will be chosen as finalists and will sell another round of cattle, after which the world, reserve and runner-up champions will be selected.

Based on a interview with Lowery, winning the national competition means some pretty nice prizes. "It was a truckload, believe me," Lowery said, and he meant it literally. He won use for a year of a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Quad Cab, plus a $5,000 cash prize, a custom-designed champion's sculpture, a custom-designed silver belt buckle and a jacket, from the Livestock Marketing Association. Other auctioneering groups contributed a diamond ring, overnight bag, windbreaker and portfolio. From two prominent auction schools, Lowery took home the Gold Microphone and Golden Gavel awards.

In return, the winner of the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship represents the LMA at many public appearances "a la Miss America" as well as presiding as master of ceremonies at the four quarterfinal competitions and the next national championship competition.

Although he doesn't really expect to win the national championship in his first attempt, he finished seventh in the Midwest regional contest to qualify for the nationals, Cheechov's game to try. "Every region has its own style, and a lot depends on who's doing the judging," he said. "I just have to go in there, figure out who the real bidders are and do my best."

Back To News

Swift. Smart. Simple. Sold!!!
Swift. Smart. Simple. Sold!!!