Pulling Off ’The Big One’ in Orlando

Fri March 08, 2013 - National Edition
James Panarella

(Ritchie Bros. photo)
This aerial shot, taken from the 2012 Ritchie Bros. Orlando auction, shows the scale of the event.
(Ritchie Bros. photo) This aerial shot, taken from the 2012 Ritchie Bros. Orlando auction, shows the scale of the event.
(Ritchie Bros. photo)
This aerial shot, taken from the 2012 Ritchie Bros. Orlando auction, shows the scale of the event. Large 25-ft. bays are used for the largest pieces of equipment in the refurbishing center, which paints, cleans and repairs equipment to specification. All of the equipment that goes through the refurbishing center will come out looking in tip-top shape, ready to sell to the highest bidder. (Ritchie Bros. photo)
Butch Graham, a 20 year vet as a Ritchie Bros. auction caller, uses his voice as another muscle and trains it as hard as a professional athlete would train their own muscles. Each day, hundreds of interested buyers roam the vast Orlando site in search of Iron at a good price. The 2013 Ritchie Bros. Orlando auction drew more than 8,300 bidders, and featured more than 9,400 items for sale. The Orlando site features what has become a staple at Ritchie Bros. sites — the equipment ramp. Bidders gather before the equipment ramp to view the equipment they are most interested in. The Ritchie Bros. auction spotters have to have a quick eye to catch bids coming in from the audience. The Ritchie Bros. Orlando site has grown to more than 200 acres over the years, enough room for almost 200 football fields. The auction callers take information not only from the crowd in front of them, but also from information coming to them from online bidders. The registration area is a hub of activity at any Ritchie Bros. auction, but especially so during “The Big One.”

Every year, thousands of heavy equipment buyers flock to the Florida Auctions in search of Iron at the right price. Many auction companies see a huge opportunity to move heavy equipment during this time, and the world’s largest equipment auction company is no different. Over the years, Ritchie Bros.’ “The Big One” has grown into the largest auction event of the season, and this year’s auction was no exception.

The numbers of the event demonstrate how massive the scale of this auction truly is. The Ritchie Bros.’ Orlando site has grown to more than 200 acres over the years. That’s the equivalent of almost two hundred football fields filled with heavy equipment. For this year’s auction, approximately 8,300 bidders registered to bid on more than 9,400 items over six days. The total dollar amount of equipment sold at this year’s auction stands at $176 million.

Preparation for the event must begin months in advance. Since the Orlando site is a permanent facility owned by Ritchie Bros., sellers can begin moving their equipment onto the site weeks ahead of time. As the sale draws near, the Orlando site becomes a personnel whirlpool, drawing in employees from all over the country and Canada to Florida.

“We have a regular staff here all year long, but as we get closer to the event, our people start coming in from all over,” said Rob Mackay, president of Ritchie Bros. “We have about 200 employees here for the six days in Orlando. That includes yard staff, equipment detailers, customer service representatives, and the temporary workers needed to carry out the auction.”

The Orlando site also is large enough to contain an entire equipment refurbishing facility that is devoted to making the equipment look like new on auction day. In the weeks and days leading up to the auction, the facility resembles an assembly line factory, with equipment being cleaned, painted, and repaired on a continual basis. Huge 25-ft. bays are filled with equipment waiting to be treated by the Ritchie Bros. staff. This care in presenting the equipment at its best continues right up until the moment the equipment rolls on the ramp, as washers give the items one final clean before presentation.

During the six days of the auction, Ritchie Bros. relies on its strongest auction callers, and Butch Graham is among them. Graham, who has more than 20 years of experience calling Ritchie Bros. auctions, was one of many callers present during the action in Orlando. That length of time could stress a caller’s voice to the point of breaking, but Graham takes it all in stride. “I’ve had to train my voice,” said Graham. “I don’t smoke, and I use my voice constantly to make it stronger. I see it as another muscle that needs to be exercised.“

Graham estimated that on a good day he could call an auction “for two hours straight” before needing a rest. “When you do what you love, it’s easy,” he said.

Once the auction is over, Ritchie Bros.’ partnership with UShip ensures the equipment gets to where it needs to safely and securely. The service allows for real-time estimates and competitive quotes for moving equipment to from the auction site to virtually anywhere in the world.

In the end, this year’s show was of a scale rarely seen outside of this seasonal event. All of the Ritchie Bros. employees will return home after a hectic week in the Florida sun after a job well done. But they won’t get too much rest — there is next year’s event to plan for.

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