Mark Flynn, director of Pro Auction, outlines 24 hours in the life of a catering equipment auctioneer and explains why there is a revolution happening in the way that second-hand kitchen kit is bought and sold.
I travel early to the office to beat the traffic through Bath. Living an hour away from the office has its advantages and courtesy of Radio 2 or my iPod I psych myself up ready for the challenges of the day. As soon as I get into the office I am immediately onto my emails. It’s important in this line of work to react quickly and respond to any changes in the market that happen overnight. Answering new client instructions and ensuring that any valuation work needing completion is ready for submission to the client is the main order of this morning.
The early start gives me the space and opportunity to organise potential meetings between client instructions and preparing sales prior to our daily team meeting where it’s time to catch up with the daily programme and the week-ahead plan. This time also allows me to catch up on Twitter and the newspaper so that I am up to date with what is going on in the world. It is important to be on the ball in front of the team and clients and news stories often figure in comment or presentations to clients.
With coffee in hand and despite the daily onslaught of emails, phone calls and memos, the daily meetings are still one of the most effective ways that we share and exchange information, get feedback, plan, collaborate and make important decisions for the day and week ahead of us, from discussing the next auction sale to arranging a client visit. These meetings, which generally last no longer than 20 minutes, give me an insight to the challenges ahead.
We typically manage between five and six sales or valuation instructions per week for clients, from large multinationals to private owner-operators, coupled with an average of 200 to 250 bidder enquiries per event and valuation work we conduct for professions such as bailiffs, finance houses and banks. After the meeting, I make a few quick calls to clients. This week we have a hotel to catalogue, a complete bar and restaurant and some general catering equipment held by the bailiff. Then it’s time to hit the M4 to London for a meeting with a client for whom we are selling the contents of a chain of coffee bars and restaurants.
Typically this time of the morning would be reviewing the proposals and valuation being sent to the client. There is more than one type of valuation but the most common type sought by our clients are capital or rental valuations for loan security purposes or a market valuation for the purpose of a sale at auction. A lot of work and thought goes into the valuation and comparisons have to be prepared by the valuer so that I am confident in what we present to the client really reflects what the piece of equipment (or lot) is worth.
In the office, lunch is a quick sandwich whilst browsing the internet to find out what’s happening in the world. I catch up now with trade journal and portal sites and new developments in the catering and hospitality industry. When with clients we tend to take an official lunch — over a meal you can relax, really get to know people by moving from business to social topics and, ultimately, build relationships and create positive experiences. Today, the lunch involved a client who is looking to divest a chain of coffee bars and restaurants, but making the decision to undertake a divestment is only the beginning of an equally complex sales process.
Single sellers selling assets to a single buyer financed by one lender is a situation of the past and we discuss a number of options and strategies on how we at Pro Auction can bring to market the surplus used catering equipment and restaurant furniture to ensure maximum realisation in a timeframe that works for the client.
We have a number of platforms that we operate to sell used catering equipment and most of the sales these days are online. Early afternoon is when the majority of our auctions end so I have a quick catch-up with one of our service providers to make sure that the platform is ready for bidding. There are no anticipated glitches, so we’re satisfied that we are able to cope technically with over 200 bidders all bidding at the same time on the same Lot! I have a conference call planned for 13.30 with six other auction firms.
This call allows us to share best practices and ideas, allowing each firm to work as successfully as possible within our own fields of expertise and discuss any developments that could affect trade. It’s amazing, but the weather, what’s on TV that evening and the latest news story can all have an effect on the planning cycle of an auction event and its success or not.
The conference call overruns, so I take the time to catch up on new emails and then meet with a colleague who is preparing a site visit for a food manufacture to provide an appraisal of some equipment he is seeking to sell at one of our future sales. Customers seeking appraisals and valuations want expertise, accuracy, a competitive fee, good service and sometimes discretion. This is where Pro Auction delivers where others cannot. We possess one of the largest proprietary databases of private-treaty sales and auction results in our industry. I discuss with my colleague our strategy on the appraisal process and methods that we can adopt to sell the equipment discreetly on behalf of the vendor.
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I am catching up with a trainee as part of their formal training programme, who has been assigned on a project team about asset redeployment. Trainee valuers or surveying graduates usually work under the supervision of an experienced manager as part of their formal training and before being let loose on the general public. As new valuers gain knowledge and experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to undertake valuations, solve problems and make decisions, along with myriad other less glamorous tasks.
We discuss an asset redeployment plan, which is a current programme been undertaken on behalf of a client. Asset redeployment takes idle or underutilised capital and changes how it is employed in order to increase return on investment or profitability. The trainee has a good grasp of the service we offer and has developed a sound asset redeployment strategy for the client that would allow them to achieve better results for the same cost. Satisfied that we can undertake the project and the trainee has achieved their learning objective, it’s time for a coffee!
During the last part of the day I like to plan the next day ahead. This is so I know exactly who I need to speak to, who I need to update and which clients I need to visit. At the moment I am surrounded by 11 lever arch files and about two inches of papers which need to be read and organised in the next 24 hours. Part of my role is to make the bidding process an enjoyable one for both vendor and buyer. The key to success is to be flexible and prepared. This means planning for every potential, realistic outcome and mapping out a timeline, responsibilities and plan of action.
The auction industry is a fast-paced environment and a process that for us needs to be honest, open and transparent. We appreciate the importance of keeping everyone within the process up to date, so with a new auction planned to end tomorrow I best get on with my reading…
Job chat: From bar equipment to the Beckhams
How did you end up in the catering equipment auction business?
I started out my career with a large management consultancy firm, working in the areas of business turnaround and recovery, developing my financial skills, management expertise and understanding the human dimension of business from the shop floor to boardroom. Coming across firms to sell equipment for our then clients, I was intrigued by the auction business, but I never thought I would end up in it.
What I did know was that there was a market need here in the sale of plant and machinery that required a professional, independent and transparent operator who could work with clients to develop a ‘sales channel’ for surplus assets. We specialise in only the catering and hospitality sectors, so I know we offer a service that is focused, knowledgable and above all delivers on what we promise.
What aspect of the job do you most enjoy?
I like the excitement and diversity of my job. The opportunity to travel and work on a vast array of different projects with different people week-in, week-out is great.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
Client visits with the bailiff or insolvency team are sometimes very tough when you see how hard people have worked but the business just hasn’t worked out.
What’s the strangest or most memorable thing that has happened in an auction you have been involved in?
There are many examples here from selling some contents of a hotel to a member of the Royal household to putting the bedroom contents that the Beckhams stayed in under the hammer!
Who are the main buyers of auctioned catering equipment at the moment?
Selling at auction always means you will get the true value of any property or asset being sold so everyone and anyone can and does buy catering equipment at auction. With our innovative online bidding platforms, we have clients from all around the world participating at sales and we never exclude any buyer who is in a proceedable position. The benefit to the buyer is that the item is immediately available, reflects the true market worth and in most cases is ready to use straight away with little if any repairs needed.
What’s the future for online catering equipment auctions?
Auction houses have always dabbled in the catering sales market, but what we are seeing now is nothing short of a revolution in how catering equipment is bought and sold. Auction houses are competing with dealers for consignments on every level and the demand for good quality, ex-UK catering equipment worldwide is unprecedented. There will always be a need for food and thus always a need for equipment that is used in its preparation, storage and presentation.
I am confident that if we continue to offer consigned, good quality, readily available catering equipment to the market and we, as an auction house, have the technologies and experience to enable people to bid and participate at sales then the online auction route will continue to be a dominant sales channel for used catering equipment.