Auctioneers compete to see who is the best seller at the National Western Stock Show

Aldo Svaldi
The Denver Post

The National Western Stock Show, at its core, is about competition, from teenagers facing off at the junior livestock shows to bareback horse riders hanging on for a fraction of a second longer than rivals during the rodeos.

But in the National Western’s 113-year history, there’s never been a competition of auctioneers, despite the important role they play in getting the animals who come to the show sold.

Auctioneers do their best to get buyers to compete, so why not have them compete with each other? That was the idea behind the first-ever Mile High Auctioneer Open, which took place from 3 p.m. to a little after 6 p.m. on Jan. 26 at the Beef Palace Auction Arena.

“We do so many auctions here,” said Paul Andrews, president and CEO of the National Western Stock Show, before the event. “I think it will be fun for the public to see these men and women compete.”

The competition was slotted for up to 30 competitors, and two dozen faced off. The public was invited to attend and bid on a wide variety of items.

“It is not just about saying the numbers,” said O.J. Pratt, president of the Colorado Auctioneers Foundation and the competition’s moderator. “What are you selling, and are you able to connect with the buyers?”

Judges looked at contestants’ openings, their stage presence, the clarity of their voice, how pleasant their chants were and their salesmanship, Pratt said.

The fundamental question was: “Would you hire this auctioneer?”

Each competitor brought in three items to test their skills at explaining an item, connecting with the audience, and driving up the price.

There were typical Western items such as horn lamps, buckhorn knives, silver and turquoise earrings and cowhide bags. And there were some different things, like a sonic toothbrush, a dashcam and a coffee and chocolate lover’s basket.

Although many of the auctioneers had experience in selling livestock, the event was open to anyone. Joaquin Crego, a car auctioneer from Fort Collins, dressed the part, dark jacket and black Stetson hat, and joined the fray.

Although he has competed before, Crego said the Jan. 26 open was the biggest crowd he had seen at a contest.

“I have a bit of the jitters,” he acknowledged before going on as the 10th contestant. Those went away once he got into his rhythm of taking bids.

He sold a Ninja Air Fryer, an antique from the 1880s and a wood stand made by his wife’s grandfather, garnering $320. That was typical, most items went for around $100, give or take.

But Josh White, an auctioneer from Keenesburg in Weld County, hit it out of the park. He received $155 for a hand-blown base, $370 for a brass gavel and $700 for a piece of artwork of a horse and American flag.

“Valentine’s Day around the corner, heart-shaped, you gentlemen better get in,” he said, interspersing those phrases with the going bid.

The original field was culled to five finalists, who were provided two items that they had to pitch cold.

In the end, Cody Shelley of Tulsa claimed first prize, worth $5,000. After thanking his wife for keeping things going while he traveled on the road, he stepped up to auction off a Segway.

Crego, although he didn’t make the finals, said his reason for competing was “recognition and the pride of being a champion.”

And for the foundation, thousands of dollars were raised to fund scholarship and continuing education programs, Pratt said.