In the midst of a global pandemic, electronic bidding and online attendance shattered past records for a Ritchie Brothers equipment auction held in Regina March 24-25.
“Traditionally, we were around 4,300 people both online and onsite. Total online that day was 68,000 and 7,700 registered for the Regina sale,” said Brennan LeBlanc, operations manager for the company’s Western Canada agricultural division.
“It was the largest attended sale we’ve ever had in Regina and it’s the largest GTD (Gross Transaction Value) sale we’ve ever had in Regina,” he said.
Bidders and the curious watched the sale from the safety of their personal computer.
“Our traditional handshake type of farmer customer experiences has all been put into a digital context. You can still connect and work with people, but there’s no human contact. It’s a weird experience,” said LeBlanc.
And with a Canadian dollar trading at well below the American greenback, about half of the on-line bidders were south of the border.
“It’s as large of the U.S. participation that I’ve ever seen out of that Regina sale and actually any sale that we’ve sold in Western Canada under the ag banner,” said Jordan Clarke, sales director for the company’s agricultural division in Western Canada.
“U.S. buyers could buy Canadian equipment at 60 cents on the dollar. We saw purchases from North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Kansas and Texas. A lot of those areas use the same equipment and the same farming practices,” he said.
This was the first agricultural sale of the year in Western Canada for the world’s largest auctioneer of farm equipment, which Clarke said had most of the ag community taking notice.
With seeding season approaching, he said the agricultural community uses March and April auction season as a gauge for moving forward.
“It was a fairly substantial sale in regards to dollars, but also just in stature. A lot of people are using that as a barometer or a measuring stick to see where the optimism level was,” he said.
“It’s amazing to see the amount of people online through social media. You don’t have to register for the sale to watch it and the interest level was shockingly high. We had two other sales going on in North America yesterday and the interest for this sale for participation as a bidder and as a watcher was four times as much as those other sales.”
Added LeBlanc: “From my perspective, the prices were over what I expected. I thought that they were higher and I felt that the participation was a big part of that. The bidding activity was strong on all pieces, making it very competitive and producing strong results for our sellers.”
LeBlanc and Clarke said the sale had added significance because of its sheer size, the vintage and type of equipment, combined with the economic and health pressures the world is currently experiencing.
“It had a lot of obstacles in front of it and the ag community stepped up and bought some really good equipment for very strong pricing,” said Clarke.
“To see that many people engage online and not be fearful of it and participate at the event and buy the gear that our consigners brought to the sale was really motivating,” said LeBlanc.
Before the sale the company set up a tight system to manage access for shoppers to inspect the equipment, which involved keeping them outside a locked gate and notifying them by phone when it was their turn to enter.
“With limited restricted access, they would stay out in a parking lot and wait until it was their turn. I thought everyone was quite open and happy that we had that type of alternative and understood the restriction,” he said.
“That’ll continue now when the sale closes. Normally, you’d have a lot of inventory that would leave the yard and it’s still working. People are slowly coming to pick up, but not the frenzy that we’re accustomed to.”
He said future sales coming up will follow the same practice, however auctions scheduled in Ontario and Quebec have been postponed due to travel restrictions.
LeBlanc said the social restrictions related to COVID-19 has forced people to navigate into digital waters they might not have not otherwise.
“It’s been happening in a slower pace and I think that this is a catalyst to push that faster. So when we come out of this, I think we’re going to have many more customers that are recognizing that you can still accomplish a lot of these things without having to travel and logistically move.”
But while bidding from the comfort of home can be exciting, Clarke said many farmers will still choose to attend in person once meeting restrictions are lifted.
“People like to see a live auction, they like to touch the equipment, there’s an atmosphere, there’s an environment there that we think actually lends to the success of an auction sale. And people like seeing people. People like talking to people and there’s way more conversation going on in auction sales then just what’s happening at auction sales. A lot of people use it as a community event and a way to share ideas and gain knowledge and just get a sense of where everyone else is at with their own operations,” said Clarke.
“So it’s a good social atmosphere that we would love to get back on track as soon as we’re able to.”