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In 1973, Jack Lyon was a recent college graduate with “a notion to do auctions.” Lyon’s father, Alex, was a livestock dealer, but Jack wanted to move beyond the family business. Together, Jack and Alex started doing liquidations of farm equipment and formed the company, Alex Lyon & Son.  

The auction business was doing well when, as Lyon expressed, “we accidentally got into a construction auction” in 1984. Lyon said that they were a little naïve about the construction auction business, and didn’t realize that while farm auctions paid their customers almost immediately, construction auctions generally held the payment much longer. As a result, they suddenly found themselves with more and more customers in the construction industry.

Lyon said that he and his father understood when people were in trouble and when an auction was the solution to the problem. “We aren’t corporate America,” he said, so they knew what it was like for the farmers and the construction companies they worked with. “I’m no different than I was 30 years ago, when I was cleaning out behind the cows,” Lyon said.

He described the business as being like a new baby. “First we crawled, then we waddled, then we skipped and now we can run.” They’ve been running for quite a while, since they’re the largest privately-owned construction auction company in the U.S.

“Not everyone is in a bad situation,” he said. While some auctions are because clients need to generate cash or because a business is closing, there are many reasons companies will auction off old or excess equipment. And of course, auctions are good news for the buyers, who can purchase equipment they need at prices that are much less than new.

Besides operating auctions all over the U.S., the company also runs auctions around the world, and does that with just 80 employees. The majority of their work is in the construction industry, but they continue to do a small percentage of farm auctions as well.

Lyon said that many of their employees have been with the company for decades, bringing a lot of experience to the table. That benefit is also one of Lyon’s biggest challenges, since it’s difficult to find new employees when long-time employees retire. “We ride on our reputation,” Lyon said, and it’s important to have the right employees on the job.

While many auctions are held on the clients’ premises, the company has 12 permitted sites where customers can drop off equipment to be auctioned.

In addition, there is an annual auction in Florida that lasts nine days. Lyon said that as many as 10,000 lots are auctioned off. “It’s a tradition down there,” he said, and buyers come from all over the world. Representatives from many South American companies attend the auction, since it’s easy to ship equipment from Florida ports.

Buyers also attend the auctions online, with as many as 30 percent of the sales coming from online buyers. “People are buying from all over the world,” Lyon said. “The internet brought the borders a lot closer together.” The buyers no longer need to worry about computer lag when making purchases, since a distant mouse-click takes 1/10 of a second to take effect.

The way information goes to customers is also different. “We broke it down scientifically,” he said, and found out that people over 50 years old tend to like information on paper, including brochures, while those under 50 prefer online communications, like email blasts.

In his many years in the business, Lyon has done a lot of travel and has seen a lot of interesting equipment on the auction block, including Shelby cars, army tanks, helicopters from the Viet Nam war, and even a Volkswagen bus that had been to Woodstock. While he enjoyed much of the travel, he said that Columbia was a little scary due to security issues.

After all these years in the business, travel and meeting people is still fun for Lyon. “In my mind, we’re still a livestock company,” he said, and he finds it amazing that he’s sitting in meetings with the presidents of very large corporations.

“It all goes back to people,” Lyon said. “We’re honest. We tell it the way it is. We’re fair.” He said that in the seven weeks that it takes to put an auction together, they’re “married” to their client. “We’re a team of horses,” Lyon said. He and his employees are available to their clients any time they’re needed during the entire process.

Since its inception, the company has changed, evolved, and grown. “You have to keep up with the times,” Lyon said, “or the times will pass you by, and you’ll be a thing of the past.”

Looking to the future, Lyon’s grandson will be graduating from college in a few years and has expressed interest in the auction business. “He wants to take it over,” Lyon said. Something in his voice said that he’ll be pleased when that change comes about.

Published in the January 2018 Edition of American Recycler News