From an ordinary conversation with Doug Heuker '91 it would be hard to guess his occupation. He often pauses, searches for a word, draws it out slowly. But when he steps up to work, his talk is transformed.
Last July, for the fourth time in five years, Heuker ranked in the top 15 at the International Auctioneer Championship in Orlando, Fla. In 2002 he was Michigan's champion bid caller, or auctioneer.
But not the kind in overalls and a string tie or a cowboy hat and boots. "It's strictly business attire," Heuker said of the international competition, where contestants from as far away as South Africa are judged on their chant and rhythm, clarity in the face of fast-changing information, poise and audience control.
Heuker makes it clear that being able to chant is both teachable (he attended the Missouri Auction School, which Newsweek called "the Harvard of auctioneering") and a natural ability. As a boy Heuker went to livestock auctions all over northern Michigan with his grandfather. On their drives home, with his grandfather's encouragement, he practiced "selling things to the fence posts."
He thought it great fun-and "not the kind of thing I could do for a living." So the Calvin business major worked for four years as the business manager for two different companies, long enough to find out what he didn't like about that occupation. "It was a time of real soul-searching," Heuker said. "I asked myself, 'What is it I want to do with my life?'"
A chance meeting in a restaurant with an old friend who worked for Miedema Auctioneering helped him find the answer. He's been with the company for 12 years and, though he is its northern Michigan branch manager, he calls auctions all over the Midwest .
When Doug Heuker says now that auctioneering is his calling, he's not referring to his fast talking on stage. Though "that's the part everybody sees and remembers," Heuker stresses it's a small part of the job.
A bigger part is what he calls "middleman work." A lot of Miedema's business, Heuker said, comes from bankers and attorneys bringing foreclosure, repossession and bankruptcy claims against debtors. Standing between them, Heuker becomes a peacemaker. "I get involved in situations where there's a lot of duress. It gives me the opportunity to treat people fairly and kindly, to give them a sense of calm and of closure on a difficult stage in their lives."
But an auctioneer's largest role, Heuker said, is being a savvy marketer. How well an auction goes depends on how well an auctioneer has advertised the auction. Has he drawn to an auction the most likely buyers for that sale's items?
That role is growing and changing with the advent in the last few years of Internet auctions, where all bids are taken online. These now account for about 20 percent of the auctions Miedema conducts.
Though they offer some conveniences for both buyers and sellers, online auctions, Heuker believes, will never replace the live-cry events. In fact, these, too, are growing in popularity-because nothing in cyberspace replaces the sense of community and excitement a good caller can generate. "When I take the mic I try to have fun," he said.
Like all those years ago with grandpa.
For more about Heuker's auctioneering services, visit www.1800lastbid.com.
Giving to Calvin
Majors & Minors
People at Calvin