Success, $12 million plus in heavy equipment just sold at the Iron Planet led Ring Power CAT auction Wednesday in Florida

Even though there was a huge video screen with live information and it was live streaming on the internet, Wednesday’s heavy equipment auction at Ring Power in the World Golf Village area in Florida was something of an old-fashioned affair.

Business leaders from the construction industry gathered under a tent to bid on equipment, while an auctioneer spit out rapid-fire encouragement to push bids just a little higher.

“You’ll like it when you get it home,” he said during what counted for a lull at the auction.

The live auction is waning in popularity as far as in-person attendance but not in participation, said Jeff Jeter with IronPlanet, the firm that ran Wednesday’s auction and does many others around North America.

Jeter said it’s not necessary for a lot of buyers to attend auctions because of technology. People can research equipment online and participate in the bidding via computers or smartphones.

Buyers gathered at Ring Power’s corporate headquarters in St. Augustine to bid on a backhoe being displayed on a large screen during an aution on Wednesday, June 8, 2016

According to The St. Augustine Record that means even if there are just 50 or 60 people in the auction tent at one time, there might be another couple of hundred following along online. It’s more convenient for the buyer and usually increases the price for the seller.

“Our job is to get as much traffic as possible,” Jeter said.

IronPlanet started as an online-only auction service before merging with Cat Auctions in April 2015. Now the company produces 20-25 big on-site auctions per year in addition to regular online ones.

“We have an auction (online) every week, often two sales a week,” Jeter said. “Most of the equipment that we sell is done like that.

“We still believe that’s a highly efficient way to go do what we’re doing here. There is, however, a segment of the market that this still appeals to.”

Frank Fowler, director of used equipment sales for Ring Power, said there are still some benefits to having buyers on site. He said it helps create or strengthen relationships with customers.

At Wednesday’s auction, the projection was a total sales number of between $12 million and $13 million. About half of that inventory was directly from Ring Power, which rents equipment.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase some of our equipment, some of our new models and stuff for our customers that are coming out and participating,” Fowler said. “The more people you have on site, the more enthusiasm you have, it seems like. We’re very pleased with the amount of people we have today.”

Among those who decided to participate on site was J. Eric Brown, CEO and president of Global Contracting Group in Wildwood. Brown’s company is just completing work nearby in the new Markland development off International Golf Parkway.

Brown said he uses the IronPlanet website in addition to attending auctions.

“You can do a lot of legwork researching the machines before you come to the auction,” he said. “So you can really narrow down what you’re interested in.”

The action at the auction is a pretty good indicator of what’s happening in the construction business overall. Businesses are back at work after the recession, but nobody really knows what the future holds.

“I think that things have been so bad for so long that people have just overcome their fears and just go ahead and move forward with development,” Brown said. “I see a lot of activity. Before, people were just sitting back, scared. But it’s done gone too far for that. Now it’s time to do something.”

Things have been strong in the development business in St. Johns County over the last several years, and Brown said he’s bidding for several new jobs in the area.

Overall, Jeter said he’s seen different regions with varying degrees of activity. The international market has been weak, especially in South America, which has a lot of potential buyers.

But he’s seen places like Florida, Atlanta, Las Vegas and others staying busy, while others reliant on oil and gas exploration and coal mining are currently not doing as well.

“There are more people back at work,” Jeter said. “What we try to do, from the buyer perspective, is not have to depend on that local market. This equipment travels.”

By STUART KORFHAGE