Lee Pitts: The best bad deal
October 11, 2013
Some sellers on eBay will list a minimum starting price for the item they're trying to sell but will state in their comments that the item sells without a "reserve." I told one of them via e mail, "If an item fails to sell because it did not meet a minimum price, then that item did not sell without a reserve. The starting price is the reserve."
She informed me, "Oh, you don't know anything about auctions."
You almost never ever see reserves at weekly livestock auctions, mostly because the consignor had freight expenses to get his cattle to the sale barn and he's not going to pay for a return trip, or to send them to another sale barn. Most cattlemen realize that the market price is what the bidders are willing to pay on sale day. That's why cattle go home in a different truck or trailer than the one they came in. What you might see is the auction owner having the last bid on the cattle because he didn't feel they were bringing enough. This "market support" comes solely out of the auction man's wallet and shows the buyers the auction owner will protect his consignors at all costs. It's not a "reserve" because the cattle do change hands.
I've only heard of cattle at an auction barn not meeting a reserve one time in all my 40 year career. Actually it was three times… but it was the same cow all three times! I've written of Curlie Tinkle before but had to save this story until he was decomposing because I'm quite confident he'd have sued me for slander. He was the kind of man who'd do anything to make a buck, except work for it.
Auction men will turn cartwheels to get a consignor's business but not once did these men drive down Curlie's bumpy road. They never gave him a free cap, jacket or even a ballpoint pen and there were no Mad Jack or Range Magazine calendars hanging in Curlie's house that some auction man gave him. There were two auction barns within an hour of Curlie's place and neither one of them was fighting for Curlie's business.
In the auction business you spend 90 percent of your time on 10 percent of the people and Curlie was living proof of this principle. Whenever he sent a single cow to the auction he'd call the sale barn owner five times during dinner to inquire as to what she might bring. Curlie was what politically correct people would call a "suboptimal spender." He picked up pennies off the ground, saved old cans, and waited until happy hour when drinks were half price. For future use he collected toilet paper hanging from trees the day after Halloween. Those who knew him better said that the reason Curlie lived so long was that he wanted to put off paying funeral expenses as long as he could.
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One time Curlie took one of his shelly old cows to the auction to sell her. Or, in this case, not sell her. That's right, he bid her up to a price he was willing to take, which was 75 percent more than she was worth. Then he complained vociferously and said he was taking her to a different auction where she'd be more fully appreciated.
But she wasn't. She didn't meet Curlie's price once again so he took her back to the original auction where she proceeded to die. Before she was sold! Curlie said it was because the hay was bad, or she was fed too little, or too much. He showed the auction man the previous week's sale report and told him he wanted the very top of the market for his shelly cow. To quote Charlie Dickens, he had "Great Expectations."
The auction man knew that arguing with Curlie would be like arguing with a fence post, and also that Curlie had a leaky mouth. He'd bad-mouth him to everyone for miles around. So he said, "I'll pay your price, Curlie, but you have to promise me one thing."
"What's that," asked a surly Curlie.
"That you never, ever, bring me another animal to sell for you."
The auction man met his reserve, you might say. He paid his price. And the auction man told me that "dead cow agreement" was the best bad deal he ever made.