Schur Auctions: Selling faster than a speeding bullet

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Rich and Shannon Schur, owners of Schur Success Auction & Appraisal, call an auction at the Mini U Storage on Motor City Drive when 20 storage units were up for grabs. The Schurs call auctions for estates, businesses, storage units and the state government.

Shannon and Rich Schur are fast talkin,’ number-crunchin’ auctioneers who can sell items at bullet speed.

Together they run Schur Success Auction & Appraisal in Colorado Springs and have sold everything from cars and commercial property to cases of stolen Spam seized by police.

To the inexperienced ear, bid calling sounds a little like child’s babble.

“Gimme 50 to go 50, 25 now 75 Now 1. Gimme 100 Now 25 to a half 75 Now 200 250, now 300 Now 3 and a quarter Now 375 Who’s got 4? Can I get a bid of 400? 5 is the bid. 5 and a quarter? Sold at 500 dollars.”

But, each word is a signal and it all adds up to money. Last year, the Schurs moved roughly $6 million in merchandise.

“If it can be sold, it can be sold at auction,” said Rich, COO of Schur Success.

The Schurs operate one of the 12 full-time auction businesses in the state — most auctioneers do their bid calling on the side or part-time. They have three full-time employees and hire more than a dozen auctioneers for the big jobs.

Rather than live auction to auction, the Schurs have gone after lucrative government contracts with the State Department of Revenue and the City of Denver. They’ll call at least 45 auctions a year for Denver moving impounded autos and all the electronics left behind at Denver International Airport — sometimes selling three items per minute.

The Schurs are fun, and they work as a team. Sometimes Shannon will inject a little humor by pointing to a “thing-a-ma-bob” when she is selling a piece of heavy equipment to get the crowd roaring. They both like to put on their fancy formals and bid call for charities and benefits and they are both certified Personal Property Appraisers.

And in Colorado, the Schurs are king and queen of the storage unit auctions, running more self-storage auctions than any other auctioneers in the state. All told the couple called auctions on 200 days in 2011, some days juggling multiple events.

“I love it,” Rich said. “It’s different every day. I get to be with people. In case you haven’t noticed, I like being the center of attention. It’s fast-paced. It’s energetic. It’s fun.”

It’s a calling

One might say the world of auctioneering is a calling.

Shannon, president and CEO of Schur Success, was urged by her father to head to auction school so that she could better understand his world. He ran his own auction business in Arvada, where she kept the books for him.

Off she went to 11 days of number games and tongue twisters. Out she came as a second-generation auctioneer able to call numbers forward and backward.

“That was 1996,” she said. “There were 16 people in my class and I was the only female.”

This month, Shannon was the second woman in Colorado to be inducted into the Colorado Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame.

“When people think about auctioneers they think about the bid calling — the chant — you have to do that and understand it,” Shannon said. “But, I think a really good auctioneer not only can do that, but has the ability to read the people, read the public, and understand the body language.”

Auctioneers earn as much as $400,000 a year, and interest in the profession is growing exponentially, said Paul C. Behr, owner of the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Iowa, which brings its school to Denver once a year.

Behr, who also operates his own auction firm in Aurora, said auctioneering classes have swelled from 20 people a term to 70 a term. And, more women are finding auctioning as either a part-time or full-time career, he said.

“Part of the reason is people want to do something that is fun and is a good income-producing career,” he said.

The key to auctioneering is the chant, Behr said. And Rich and Shannon have a good and easy chant with the three main ingredients, command of the numbers, fun filler words and a nice rhythm, he said.

“Rich is a champion auctioneer and Shannon is a second-generation auctioneer who knows this business inside and out,” Behr said.

Both Shannon and Rick teach at Behr’s college when it comes to Denver. Shannon has mentored up-and- coming fast talkers and her son, now 24-years-old, has just graduated from auctioneering school and works in the family business.

“Probably the No. 1 thing auctioneers need to possess is integrity and Shannon and Rich both have a high degree of integrity,” said Behr, who also is a competitor. “They treat buyers and sellers fairly.”

Storage wars

Getting the crowds to the auctions is the tough part of the business. This past year, auctions got a popularity boost with the A&E television show “Auction Wars,” which is focuses on the buyers and the loot they score. And the Schurs have benefited.

They auction storage units at 120 locations across the state and have watched a typical unit go from bringing in an average of $150 to upwards of $500 in this past year. In a business that runs on commission, they’re happy to see the enthusiasm.

“Storage unit auctions have gone from an underground, secret society to mainstream,” Rich said.

Auctioning storage units also is the most fun, he said. Storage unit auctions represent about 20 percent of the Schur’s revenue and 50 percent of the activity, Rich said. But, there are no overhead costs.

“You just need a clipboard and an auctioneer,” Rich said. “I could sell storage units all day long and be a happy camper.”

On a recent, chilly 20-degree afternoon, about 100 people showed up at Mini U Storage on Motor City Drive where there were 20 units up for grabs.

Buyers are allowed to look inside the storage unit from outside, but cannot touch anything. After just five minutes of browsing, Rich gets the auction going.

“Who’s got the bid?” Rich shouts. “Gimme 50 to go.”