Brian Oberholtzer recalls pretending to auction off cows at 10 years old as he would walk them in from the pasture on his family’s farm in Blue Ball. His life on the farm, as well as his mock auctions, gave him plenty of time to practice his chants.
"My father would be a very rich man if he had all the money I got," Oberholtzer said of his mock auctions.
Oberholtzer, now 36, doesn’t need to pretend anymore.
He has been a full-time auctioneer for four years and was named the champion of the Pennsylvania Auctioneer Association’s (PAA) 2021 Pennsylvania Auctioneer Competition on May 11.
"It may sound odd, but I just really like bid-calling," he said.
Oberholtzer, of Reinholds, first became intrigued with auctioneers when he would frequent auctions around the county with his father and grandfather, but it wasn’t until 2017 that he made his living solely off of bid-calling.
Before that, he owned a concrete company – fittingly, he auctioned off the company in 2017.
“That's the only true way to sell,” he said.
For someone to become a licensed auctioneer in Pennsylvania, Oberholtzer said they either have to go to Harrisburg or Reading community college or apprentice under a licensed auctioneer for two years and conduct 30 sales.
He took the apprenticeship route, working under a licensed auctioneer for seven years. Now, Oberholtzer is one of about 2,000 licensed auctioneers and apprentices in the state.
His skills were put to the test on May 11 at the PAA statewide auctioneer competition in Harrisburg. It was his fifth time competing since 2016, when he won the rookie division.
The competition consists of three rounds where each contestant auctions off a handful of items in front of eight judges. Auctioneers are critiqued on their rhythm, filler words, appearance and comfortability, according to Oberholtzer. PAA’s website also included poise, voice clarity and connection with the crowd in the criteria.
Oberholtzer said every auctioneer has their own unique chant, differing in cadence and speed depending on the type of auction they are working. He auctions off a wide variety of items, including agriculture, real estate, antiques, produce and more.
Standing in the shade of hay bales on June 30, Oberholtzer said that having grown up on a farm, agricultural auctions tend to be his favorite to work.
But real estate is his biggest money-maker, he said. His record bid was sold for $2.5 million.
The auctioneer’s job is to build excitement and create a sense of urgency that draws sales higher, Oberholtzer said.
"At the end of the day, you're working for the seller. You're trying to get him as much money as you possibly can," Oberholtzer said, adding he enjoys the sense of excitement that comes with bid-calling for the top dollar.
Although he can’t explain it, Oberholtzer said he can tell when a person wants to bid. Interacting with the crowd is a large part of what makes auctioneering fun for Oberholtzer.
That aspect of the job was missing at this year’s competition, making it more nerve-wracking. Instead of demonstrating his skills to a crowd of some-500 people, this year’s audience consisted of only auctioneers, due to the event being less publicized and in a smaller venue, he said.
Despite there being fewer competitors this year, Oberholtzer said the competition was still tough; he beat out 15 other auctioneers.
Despite being named the top auctioneer in the state, Oberholtzer maintained a sense of humility.
"In all reality, I wouldn't say I'm the best in Pennsylvania," Oberholtzer said. "I would say I was the best that day for the judges. I'm human. I still make mistakes. You know, I stumble. It was just that those eight judges that were judging me thought I was the best that day out of the competition. There's a lot of auctioneers out there that I consider probably to be better than me."
Whether he’s calling out bids for hay in the hot morning sun in Leola or auctioning off antiques on Monday nights, Oberholtzer said he enjoys his career, which is almost like a vacation to him.
"I have a great career and I just love what I do. I'm getting busy so that's a good thing. And I won the bid-calling contest so, you know, it's been a really great year for me."