STEVENS POINT — Jenny Markham-Gehl, from the greater Milwaukee area, was crowned the 2019 champion of the Wisconsin Champion Auctioneer Contest on Jan. 27 at the Wisconsin Auctioneers Association Convention in Stevens Point. This was her fourth time competing in the competition.
Markham-Gehl said each year of competition has given her many takeaway lessons, something she believes has made her a better auctioneer over the years.
Markham-Gehl is a second-generation auctioneer who spent many years working with her family’s Dubuque County, Iowa, auctioneer business. She now owns and operates Bravo Benefit Auctions and Consulting Group. She is a member of the Wisconsin and National Auctioneers associations and currently serves as WAA director.
As champion, Markham-Gehl will compete, along with 2018 champion Kathy Packard, at the International Auctioneers Competition in New Orleans later this year.
This year’s Wisconsin Champion Auctioneer Contest had 12 competitors, including novice competition winner Troy Krueger of Eau Claire. Contestants each sell three items in the preliminary round, with the top six competitors moving on to the finals.
“In the final six, we sequester them out of the room and we bring them in one at a time and ask two questions, which they get two minutes to answer. This competition isn’t just about the bid calling, but also the knowledge the auctioneer has of the industry,” WAA Board President Kendall Thiel said.
Questions address current topics facing the auction industry including marketing, online auctions and Internet advertising. Thiel said the questions are usually pretty tough and really play into the final scores of the contestants.
“What we see most of the time in the question and answer portion is the people that score the best in bid calling will bomb (the questions). It is a real testament and it takes many years of business for an auctioneer to get good at that,” he said.
This was the first year that both the preliminary and final rounds were held at the convention, a change Thiel said was three years in the making.
“It was a big change for us. One reason we started looking at this is we have a lot of families that come to this convention and we wanted to make it more feasible for those families to be here during the competition rather than go to the state fair in August,” Thiel said.
Another driving reason behind the change was working to better prepare the winning auctioneer for their responsibilities at the Wisconsin State Fair.
“What typically happens is the champion that wins that day will go on to sell some of the other auctions, including the governor’s auctions at State Fair.” Thiel said. “Sometimes that requirement would become three or four different auctions that would require more than one trip to Milwaukee, which then made winning a burden for some of these auctioneers.”
With the champion announced in January, Thiel said, they now have eight months to prepare for the auctions at State Fair and make necessary plans.
Although a big change, Thiel said they hope to maintain their footprint at the Wisconsin State Fair and are working with organizers of the fair and youth organizations to find ways to raise money for them during the fair.
“State Fair has been really accommodating to us, telling us they want us there and they want us to help out. We just want to work to make what we are doing better for everyone,” he said.