Have Gavel, Will Travel

by Fong Sam

Does having your own facility to hold auctions really matter? It would be nice and convenient. It would save a lot of time and unnecessary logistical headaches. But how important is it?

Our first few auctions were at the Pacific Design Center. It was a classy location for auction previews and press parties. We did fairly well with the auctions. At the time there were neither many other competitors nor standout venues for buyers and sellers alike. The mid to late-90s were a optimal period for a new player in the memorabilia auction space. It was right before the Internet changed commerce forever and we became an early adopter.

After the first six auctions, we alternated having auctions at our office on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills and various hotels, warehouses and conference rooms. Once we had a sale at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum where we held a Star Trek-themed Auction. By the early 2000s, we had moved our office to Doheny and Wilshire. For a few years after the move, we did all of our auctions exclusively at Doheny. Then we moved again in 2007, to Calabasas. Each time we moved, we got more space and the auction room became a little more comfortable. Whether there is any correlation or not, it seemed the scope of our auctions, the size of the catalogs and the prices realized all got bigger. Along the way, we managed to set a few records prices for movie memorabilia.

At some point, the auctions became monstrous. Two days. Then three. Then four. More and more people attended the sales. We developed a reputation and people expected a certain standard from us. I would like to think that we met and exceeded expectations. We offered high quality items for sale and achieved extraordinary prices for them.

For the last two years, we’ve held auctions in theses places:

  • Barker Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport (1 auction)
  • Globe Theater at Universal Citywalk (1 auction)
  • Saban Theater on Wilshire (2 auctions)
  • Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills (3 auctions)
  • McCormick Place in Chicago (1 auction)

All except one of these auctions broke $1M in total sales (the lone except was the charity auction in Nov. 2010, which had only 149 lots). Now we are gearing up for our summer auctions (Dreier Collection, Hollywood, Animation). The search for an auction venue is underway. We’ve already proven that we can take our show anywhere and still succeed. Does that answer the question I opened with? Does having your own auction facility really matter?

Doing auctions at different venues has kept us flexible and agile. We can mobilize and set up fairly quickly. Case in point: the Captain America Auction. Each new location also adds a fresh twist to our work and keeps our buyers as well as the staff energized. It’s like going on a field trip in grade school. Science is much more fun at the Natural History Museum. In addition, offsite auction locales let us get creative. Barker Hangar was transformed into a “Lost” amusement park, with the auction as the main attraction.

To me, though, the most important benefit of doing offsite auctions is the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with people in other fields, which enable us to cross-promote. So far I think we have partnered very well with the locations that have hosted us. The Paley Center, I would ventured to say, benefited from an abundance of media and public exposure during the Debbie Reynolds auctions. Paley Center personnel often remarked of the dramatic increase in attendance last summer. Similarly, ReedPOP, organizers of C2E2, was more than happy with our presence and has already reached out to us about New York Comic Con in October. Each one of our partnerships has been extremely fruitful and I, personally, have been lucky to have made many great connections.

So the search for the next location is on. Just today I visited a historic and fantastic site. I can’t talk about it yet. If it happens, it would be hands down the best place we will have hold an auction to date. Here’s a hint:

What do you think?

Where do YOU think we should have our next auction? Suggestions, please.