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Slice of Life: The art of the auction

Auctioneer R. Kyle Reed goes over terms and rules, "Auction 101," with potential bidders at The Beehive on Sunday in St.Charles.
Auctioneer R. Kyle Reed goes over terms and rules, "Auction 101," with potential bidders at The Beehive on Sunday in St.Charles.

A lot of what R. Kyle Reed says is nonsense.

At least that’s what the Kaneville resident tells people attending his Bidder 101 class, which usually precedes an auction.

As an auctioneer, what he says – the auction chant – consists of filler words – the nonsense – as well as the important content, the dollar amounts offered to the bidders, he said.

He provided that information – along with instructions on the bidding procedure and the definitions of other auction terms – to a group gathered at the Beehive Tavern and Grille in downtown St. Charles last month for an auction benefiting a man fighting cancer.

Standing on a raised platform in the establishment’s back room, Reed began auctioning off more than a hundred items, an assortment that included baked goods, beauty products, toys and gift certificates.

“It’s the best part of the whole gig,” he said.

The real work happens behind the scenes, such as cataloguing and photographing the items, Reed said.

“By the time I get to the actual auction, I’m exhausted,” he said, likening the event to an improv show.

During last month’s benefit auction, his father and brother displayed the items for sale while Reed spoke into a microphone, occasionally teasing his brother and joking with the crowd.

“OK, on the plate of food she brought out,” he said, referring to a waitress weaving through the tables and chairs, “who will give me $5 for that?”

Between the silliness, the auction chant rolled off his tongue in rapid-fire succession.

“That’s just practice,” Reed said, noting he has rehearsed the numbers so many times in his head that he doesn’t have to think about them during the auction itself.

But he deliberately doesn’t speak as fast as some auctioneers.

“I try to sell things quickly, but I want people to enjoy it,” he said.

Reed, 38, grew up going to auctions with his father and grandfather, but said he only recently turned to auctioneering as a profession.

Like many others, he said, he was laid off in 2009. Bored and unemployed, he wanted to start a business. That led him to create Reed’s General Merchandise, a family owned and operated auction and Internet consignment business based in Lily Lake.

Reed received his training at the Nashville Auction School in Tullahoma, Tenn., he said. He is a licensed auctioneer in Illinois.

In addition to holding auctions on location, Reed regularly conducts public consignment auctions, he said, noting his next is set for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Dave Werdin Community Center in Kaneville.

In his experience, there’s a buyer for everything.

“For the right price,” Reed said, “you can sell about anything.”

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