The enemy’s enemy
“I’ve gone on about auctions to the extent that I have because they work, and the reason they work is human competitiveness. People get irrationally competitive at auctions.” – Larry McMurtry
Larry was writing about the sale of books but I have found that his keen observation applies whether you’re selling a rare first edition or a billy goat. To give you an example, I took bids once at the FFA and 4H heifer sale at our fair where three wealthy men who didn’t like each other got tangled up in a bidding war. Any time I let one buyer know that one of the other two fellows was bidding, he’d raise his bid. For the kids that day, the enemy of his enemy was indeed, their friend.
For several years in a row one buyer bought the Ideal Range Bull at a big sale in the west. It didn’t matter if the bull was black or white, good or bad, we always knew who was going to buy it. Then one year another status-seeking rancher got the idea into his head that he was going to buy the bull. Can you imagine the nerve? Needless to say, the longtime buyer of the champion was not going to let anyone buy “his bull,” even though the bull was so bad it should have had its manhood removed as a calf.
I’ve even see this phenomenon occur between cow buyers, men who usually don’t let their egos get in the way when they’re doing business. A cow buyer from Armour ventured further south than usual and the regular cow buyers on sale day were extremely upset about it. How dare he come into their territory? When he got to the sale barn they smelled around on him as if they were a bunch of dogs and during the sale they wouldn’t let him buy a single cow. Not one. It must have worked because the Armour man went back to Idaho and was never seen again in those parts.
1977 is not a year usually remembered as a banner one in the cattle business. Cattle prices were lousy and no one wanted to buy. Phil Stadtler called up his buddy, Jack Harris, who owned the reputable Harris Feeding Company in California, and told him that cattle were really cheap in Texas. So Jack got in his plane and flew to Amarillo where they were having a special sale of 15,000 cattle. Jack bought eight or nine thousand of them and the other buyers didn’t like it at all. The sellers did, but the other buyers, not so much. And Jack did the same thing the next week, and the next week. Then he told the auction folks in Amarillo, “I’ll see ya next week.”
By now the other buyers were fed up with a prunie from California, (even though Jack was originally from Texas). So, the buyers became sellers and spent the next week scouring the country, buying as many cattle as they could and shipping them to Amarillo. They were going to teach this prunie. If he wanted cattle, by gosh they’d make him pay for them and they’d make a good chunk of change while they were at it.
Sale day came and folks started getting nervous because there’d been no Jack Harris sighting. He never showed up all day and those Texas buyers, now consignors, had to sell their cattle to each other at less than what they’d paid. I once asked Jack’s widow if he did it on purpose and she smiled, winked and said, “Something came up.”
A couple years ago I was working a ritzy charity auction when two multi-millionaires got into a bidding war. One would bid and then stare an evil stare at the other. They obviously despised each other. The bidding went so high I could tell that one bidder was getting uncomfortable. Finally he went over to the other guy and “brother-in-lawed” him. In other words, he was crying uncle. Running up the white flag. Asking for a cease fire in the hostilities! The other rich guy evidently felt sorry for him, so he didn’t bid again. “I let him have it,” the satisfied mogul said to me.
“Yeah, right,” I said. “Twenty grand for a dinner and a motel room for one night? You really let him have it all right!”
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