Last week, New Brunswick auctioneer Steve Liptay celebrated 50 years in the business, during which he’s sold an estimated 10 million livestock and 1 million cars along with estates and countless antique items.
Liptay, along with his sons Steve Jr., Stuart and Sean, founded The Great Northern Auction Company (TGNA) in Moncton in 2001. The public auto auction continues to be a family business, one that Liptay says he has no plans to retire from.
We chatted with Liptay to find out what’s kept him in the business this long and where he still finds excitement in the job.
What was it that first attracted you to auctioneering?
That’s a long time ago. I was very young and I used to go to farm sales with my mom and dad and I was intrigued by the auctioneer there at the time who was a master at his trade. He said “give me a dollar” and people gave him a dollar. He asked for two dollars and they gave him two dollars. He said “come over here” and they followed him. I said, “hey, that’s what I want to do someday.”
What was it that you found exciting about auctions and do you still have that excitement?
Oh yeah, definitely. I guess the challenge of it. You’re selling goods for other people and you want to do the best you can for them. You want to get market value or more and things like that. The challenge of it all.
What’s kept you interested?
I enjoy it. I have a God-given talent to do a good job.
Would you say the approach you take to auctions has changed at all since you started?
No. Every one is a challenge. Every item I sell is different and that’s basically what’s kept me going. That’s the way I’ve looked at it and I want to do a good job. I have a slogan here that says ,”the most important item I’ve ever sold is the one I’m selling right now.”
What’s different about the way you sell different types of items?
If you’re selling antiques, you adjust to an antique crowd. If you’re selling livestock, you have to know value … The most important thing is you have to know the value of whatever you’re selling and adjust to it.
How would you interact differently with different crowds?
You have to figure out what kind of a crowd you’ve got and what the day is like and whether there’s a full moon out. There are many different influences that could have on the sale. I don’t start to really sell until I get the feel of the crowd. You have to have the crowd on your side or else it’s very discouraging. You fulfil what they expect to see from you. If you’re doing a livestock auction, they want something very fast. If you’re doing a wholesale car auction, it’s strictly business. If you’re selling at a public auto auction, you keep it lighter and keep the crowd relaxed.
Do you think there’s an entertainment aspect to it?
Very much so. I quite often consider myself an entertaining salesman.
When you look to the future now, what are you heading towards?
I have three sons in the business with me so we’re still expanding our business so that they can carry on … They picked up a lot from me. I notice little things I do that they do as well. But each one of them has their own style.
I’ve been in it for 50 years so they’re taking on more and more responsibilities and expanding the business into modern times.
Do you think a family business runs differently?
It is different. The difference is that with a family business, you have to really build on integrity.
What sort of an impact do you think TGNA has had on the area?
It’s good. It provides an outlet for used vehicles for dealers and it gives the public an opportunity to buy vehicles that they wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to buy.
What sort of reputation do you feel you have within the community? How do you maintain that?
We have a lot of respect with all the people we do business with and that’s taken years to develop. You treat people … everybody’s equal whether they spend $10 at an auction or $10,000 or $110,000.
What really keeps me happy is when I sell something and the person I sold it for is just thrilled with what he got for the item and the buyer is thrilled that he got the item and I do it with the same sale talk.