Knowing Your Business: Mendenhall auctioneering school expanding global reach

From early on, the sights and sounds of the auction experience captivated Forrest Mendenhall.

Raised on a dairy farm, Mendenhall would often accompany his father as he attended local auctions, and he quickly become mesmerized by the chant of the auctioneer. It wasn’t too many years later the opportunity presented itself for Mendenhall, then a college student, to work with the owner of a livestock and automobile auction company in Virginia. This put him on the path of achieving his goal of becoming one of the very auctioneers he had admired as a child.

Forrest Mendenhall, founder and president of the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering, oversees an auction. Photo courtesy Mendenhall School of Auctioneering

Forrest Mendenhall, founder and president of the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering, oversees an auction.
Photo courtesy Mendenhall School of Auctioneering

That was 60 years ago, and since then, Mendenhall not only has helped put auctioneering on the map — he’s done so by educating others as they join the ranks.

“Auctioneering is a fascinating profession,” Mendenhall said. “Some auctioneers prefer to work as contract auctioneers for established firms such as antique galleries, automobile auctions, livestock markets, heavy equipment companies, etc. Others prefer to start their own business — some full-time, some part-time, on weekends, doing estate auctions — while they keep their regular job until they retire or feel comfortable enough to do it full-time.”


This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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After working for automobile auctions throughout the Eastern and South Eastern United States for a few years, in 1960, Mendenhall and his brother Robert “Red” opened their own automotive auction company in High Point, N.C. With a shortage of automobile auctioneers in that area at the time, the company grew quickly – with Mendenhall choosing to train a couple of young men with an interest in auctioneering to work at High Point Auto Auction with the Mendenhall brothers.

It didn’t take long before word got out that people could become auctioneers by contacting the Mendenhalls. With inquiries for auctioneer training coming in from people around the country, a school grew out of simple word-of-mouth communications. And in 1963, the first series of official auctioneer training courses were held. In fact, the training courses came before the state of North Carolina required auctioneers to have a license; that came about in 1972. Today, the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering has 14 instructors and provides 90-100 hours of training, including two live auctions. This is well above the state requirement of at least five instructors providing a minimum of 80 hours of training.

Students participate in a training session lead by instructor Tom Walker, gesturing.

Students participate in a training session lead by instructor Tom Walker, gesturing. Photo courtesy Mendenhall School of Auctioneering.

Within the sessions included in the Mendenhalls’ training program are public speaking, mathematics, benefit auctions, automobile and livestock auctions, business liquidations, antiques, clerking, cashiering, lotting, tagging, advertising, ethics, state laws and regulations of the auction business.

“We strive to leave no stone unturned and turn out a well-educated auctioneer,” Mendenhall said. “Lee Iacocca once said, ‘Get all the education you can, then do something! Don’t just stand there, make something happen.’”

As for the success of the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering, the statistics and current enrollment speak volumes. Since 1962, more than 8,000 people from all 50 states and many foreign countries have graduated from the Mendenhall School. Among them is current president of the National Auctioneers Association (NAA), J.J. Dower of Lafayette, Tenn., a Mendenhall graduate from the class of 1986. In addition to Dower, other Mendenhall alumni include past NAA presidents, as well as international and state auctioneers and champion bid callers.

The official class photograph of the June 2013 group of auctioneer graduates from Mendenhall School of Auctioneering, in High Point, N.C.  Photo courtesy Mendenhall School of Auctioneering

The official class photograph of the June 2013 group of auctioneer graduates from Mendenhall School of Auctioneering, in High Point, N.C.
Photo courtesy Mendenhall School of Auctioneering

From the earliest class of Mendenhall graduates to those currently enrolled in the program, they are all recipients of a well-honed and professional approach to auctioneer training.

“At the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering, we have a series of mirrors with partitions between each one that the students can use to practice their bid calling,” Mendenhall said. “We stress the importance of bid calling, starting with a hum, using filler words and numbers. By using the mirrors, we can ask the students to keep a pleasant look on their face. What you see in the mirror is what other people see.”

No doubt many memorable moments have occurred in front of those mirrors in the 17,000 square-foot Mendenhall facility. Not to mention the variety of students who have cut their auctioneering teeth there — including royalty. Among the graduates of the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering class of 2009 were King Alfred Diete-Spiff of Nigeria, and his son Emmanuel.

In fact, the Diete-Spiff duo is in good company when it comes to auctioneer training being a family affair. Mendenhall instructors are seeing second and third generation auctioneers from the same families participating in the program now.

“Many helped their parents or grandparents when they were kids by running errands, writing tickets, arranging items for the auction and other miscellaneous activities such as parking cars and selling hot dogs,” according to Mendenhall. “The young people, the 18-to-30-year-olds, are a great generation.”

For Mendenhall, the son of a dairy farmer who found his calling amidst the bid callers back in the day, life has been a true adventure of living and learning — something he continues to share with each new batch of students.

Mendenhall School of Auctioneering is located in High Point, N.C. Basic auctioneering sessions are held four times a year, over a period of nine days. The next session is scheduled for Nov. 2-10. Continuing education training for licensed auctioneers is offered periodically.

For more information about Mendenhall School of Auctioneering and any of its educational programs, call 888-833-0316 or visit www.mendenhallschool.com.

Mendenhall’s Three Keys to Good Business

  • Having a true desire to become an auctioneer.
  • Developing good people skills.
  • Continuing to learn about the business and the products you are selling.

An added key is working with outstanding people who share their expertise as instructors. Among the Mendenhall team of instructors are:

    • Marcy Goldring-Edenburn, Ill. State Champion Auctioneers, and member of the National Auctioneer Association (NAA) board of directors
    • Jane Campbell-Chambliss, NAA member, past president of the Auctioneers Association of Maryland, expert antiques and collectibles appraiser
    • Steve Proffitt, Alabama attorney and auctioneer, speaker and writer, specializing in auction law
    • Kim Hagen, president/CEO of Hagen Auction Co. of Georgia, with more than 20 years of auctioneering and real estate experience – specializing in marketing and advertising plans for auctions.

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