Business is booming at Calgary auction house

A Calgary auction house is barely keeping up with all the product rolling in as the local economy splutters.

'Auctions are good in the good times, better in the bad times,' says owner

It's a Saturday morning and a crowd of bargain hunters are ready for the big show. 

Parking isn't easy to come by in this northeast Calgary business. Welcome to Graham Auctions. It all starts at 9:30 a.m. on the dot and people are lining up to get in. 

Most of the action takes place in a 6,000 square-foot shed. It's divided into three rings and separated by noise reduction baffles. Things are piled up everywhere, and there's a real carnival atmosphere — 1,500 people will move through the shed as the auctions progress.

"Auctions are good in the good times and better in the bad times," said Larry Graham, the owner of Graham Auctions. "Right now it's kind of in-between, but we are getting so much business, it's just unbelievable, hard to handle."

This morning, three different auctions are going on at once. A restaurant and grill has gone under —- everything is being auctioned off from the grill to the furniture to the unopened liquor that was behind the bar. 

Booze for sale at Graham Auctions. (Meegan Read/CBC)

In other parts of the shed, overstock and out-of-season goods from retail outlets around the city are on offer, including furniture, wrist watches, diamond rings and air conditioners.

In another corner, there are dry goods and big screen television sets. Around noon they start selling the cars and trucks and heavy equipment, some of which are repossessed.

Seized goods on auction

Graham says they move at least $60,000 dollars worth of miscellaneous product each week.  Right now seizures account for about a quarter of their business, but the expectation is that number will grow.

A repo car up for grabs. (Michael Welter)

Later this month Graham will auction off heavy equipment, tools, and shop equipment, much of which is coming from businesses shutting down because of the economic slowdown. 

Graham has 40 containers of new goods on the lot, waiting to be sold, in addition of up to 14 truckloads of things each week from local retailers, as well as all the repo items.

But his favourite auction is with the Saturday morning regulars. Bikes seem to be a hot commodity this Saturday, along with the unopened liquor from the restaurant repo

Regular customer likes the price

Greg Chigrenky has been coming to Grahams for the past 20 years. He likes the deals, the friendly atmosphere and the excitement of the buy. He says he saves about 80 percent off of retail prices. His only problem? 

"I usually buy too much and you really don't need all that stuff," he says.

Graham says they did a cost comparison of the newer products and found that things that would add up to a $1,000 in a retail store, go for around $350. As for how much they make on the cars and trucks, it's hard to say, as the amount varies from week to week.

Greg Chigrenky has been a regular customer for 20 years. (Meegan Read/CBC)

Linda Graham, his wife and business partner, says the business is definitely busier during  tough economic times. Forget about trying to keep to a business plan. She's just trying to keep up. But she's thankful for having such a great staff to help run the place.

"They do a wonderful job," she said.

Customers are allowed to view items during the day from Monday to Friday and they open up a bit earlier on Saturdays, so people have a chance to browse. There's also a 10 percent buyers fee on all miscellaneous items, and a flat fee of $260 on all vehicles. Larry Graham believes it's reasonable and everybody wins.

When asked what's the most expensive thing is he's ever auctioned, Graham can't decide whether it was the two Ferraris, a racehorse, or some oil and gas wells. He says he can't be shocked by prices anymore.

Eventually Graham wants to retire, but right now things are so busy, it's not even an option. 


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