The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

February 10, 2013

Joseph and Cathy Craine own Hammer Time Auctioneering in Austinburg

Joseph Craine has a one-word slogan for his business: “sold.”

Joseph and his wife Cathy own Hammer Time Auctioneering, which holds a weekly consignment auction in the former Austinburg Grange Hall on Route 307, just west of Route 45. The auction gets under way at 4 p.m. every Sunday in what Craine feels is the nicest auction hall in northeast Ohio.

“It’s a perfect setup, it’s a beautiful building,” Craine says of the clean, bright hall that features hardwood floors and comfortable, vintage theater seating from the former ’Bula movie house. The building is even air conditioned, which allowed the Craines to launch their business back in August 2012. With the exception of one weekend, they have held an auction there every week since.

Residents of Jefferson, the Craines became interested in auctioneering by way of their favorite pastime.

“We’ve always gone to auctions, and everything in our house came from an auction,” Joseph says.

He studied the business at Walton School in Medina, then apprenticed under John Erdel for a year. Erdel, who has been an auctioneer since he was 12, runs an auction house on Wall Street in Jefferson.

Auction Junkies

Joseph Craine’s day job is running Lake Erie Ship Repair and Fabrication, a business that takes him away from his home during the week. That leaves Cathy to do much of the preparation work that goes into an auction, such as sorting items, assigning tracking numbers, taking photographs and uploading to auctionzip.com, one of several websites where auctioneers can advertise upcoming sales.

“My wife spends several hours each week taking pictures of the stuff,” Joseph says. “It takes one to 1 1/2 hours to upload them to the server.”

Having a website presence is essential for auction houses these days. Joseph says they’ve had as many as 3,700 hits to their page in one week.

Although his auction house sells a variety of merchandise, Joseph’s goal is to become known for antiques. He also likes to sell coins. Prosaic household goods are his least favorite class of merchandise; the items don’t bring a good price and the crowd quickly loses interest if there is too much uninteresting stuff.

To keep things moving, Craine inserts some new items into the mix and, when the consignment stock runs low, pulls items from a stash of collectibles he buys at auctions and estate sales. He usually pulls a few boxes of collectible sports cards from his inventory, as well. Coloring books and toys help keep even the youngest auction-goers interested.

Joseph says the house seats 140 and they typically fill about two-thirds of them. Most of them are repeat buyers, “auction junkies,” as he calls them, who form the nucleus of a community of collectors and re-sellers.

“An auction house is a little different from an estate auction. Most of the people who come here come every week. You know them by name, when their birthday is or when their kids get married. There is a social aspect to this; everybody is friendly and they get to know each other,” Joseph says.

Dale Schupska of Austinburg, who has been a customer since the house opens, agrees.

“It’s nice. It’s something to do on a day when your football team is not in the playoffs,” Schupska said as he waited for the Jan. 6 auction to begin. “I come just for the fun, mostly. I help a lot of people out by buying stuff cheap and selling it cheap. It’s fun to do.”

A few rows closer to the auction block, Bud and Anna Lehman of Andover, ate pizza and waited for the sale to begin, although they had little interest in buying anything.

“We’re both 85 years old, so we don’t need a whole lot,” Bud said.

In the front row, auction veteran Marge Helton was looking for bargains she can re-sell on eBay.

“It’s a hobby,” said Helton, who shares a story about the pair of new men’s shoes she bought at another auction house and sold online. She had to issue a refund when the buyer called to report that drugs were concealed inside the heels.

Fast cash

Every auction is like a family reunion for the Craines. Their son, Remington, 8, wears a “manager” shirt and works the front of the house. Their daughter, Courtney Kessler, 19, is the clerk who issues numbers and collects the payment. Cathy’s mother, Gail Howell, works the snack bar, while Cathy’s brother, Danny Gee, helps pitch items to the crowd.

Prior to selling anything, Joseph reviews the rules of the house: everything is sold as-is, where-is;  credit cards are accepted, but there is a 3 percent premium. The help is allowed to bid on items and pays the same buyer’s premium as the guests.

The merchandise is consigned by individuals who are down sizing, disposing of an estate or simply need to raise some cash in a matter of five days.

“They bring the stuff in on Tuesday, we sell it Sunday and they get their money at the end of the auction Sunday night. It’s an easy way to raise some money pretty fast, and you don’t have to fool around with Craig’s List or eBay,” Joseph Craine says.

There is a fee for this service. The house usually takes a 30 percent commission, although on high-ticket items a lower rate can be negotiated. Thus, the seller gets 70 percent of whatever the item sells for. The buyer of that item pays a 13 percent premium to the auction house if they use a credit card to pay their bill. That buyer’s premium covers the cost of processing the card and pays the auctioneer for his services.

Joseph says a buyer’s premium is very common at auction houses, whose total sales for the night are typically several thousand dollars. If not for the premium, the auctioneer would not make any money after paying the rent, help, advertising and other overhead items.

Auction newbies need to keep the premium in mind when bidding, and that sales tax adds another 6.5 percent to the price. Buyers take it all in stride, however, in part because they get good deals in the process. And if they pay with cash, the buyer’s premium is 10 percent.

“You get good deals here, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. The best buy I got here was a bedroom suit,” says Schupska. “There were not many people here and the price was right.”

Joseph Craine says that is a message he wishes more consumers would take to heart, especially when buying furniture. He laments the fact that people are willing to spend far more money on pressboard furniture than they are for quality, vintage pieces at auction.

“Auctions have this stigma about them; people are scared to come in here if they have never been to an auction before,” Craine says.

At a Hammer Time auction in January, a fancy vanity with large, round mirror brought only $70, a chest of drawers, $25; and a 42-inch projection television $40. A brass floor lamp fetched a high bid of $3 and table lamps were going for $1 each.

“If people would just come in here and see what it’s all about, they would probably turn into auction junkies,” Craine says.

Hammer Time is located at 2877 State Route 307 West, just west of Route 45 and across from the Congregational Church. Doors open at 3  p.m. and the auction gets under way promptly at 4 p.m. Sales typically run 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

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