HOUMA — Becoming a fast-talking, item-collecting, bid-taking auctioneer was Grover Phipps’ destiny.
“It’s in my blood,” said the 62-year-old North Carolina native. His parents and family were in the auction business. “I’m retiring from my real job next year and all I want to do is auctions.”
Phipps has managed doctors’ offices for a living for 20 years, a career he said he’s finally ready to close a chapter on.
Sellers who bring their items to Phipps to auction pay him 20 percent of the money they earn. Buyers pay him 10 percent.
Phipps also does storage auctions. Louisiana law allows storage companies to hold their own auctions for items left inside abandoned storage units. Phipps said companies have figured out that experienced auctioneers add enough to the total to make it worth their pay, so he’s often hired to host the auctions.
Phipps earns enough money at his weekly Grand Ole Auction to sustain, he said, earning from $6,000 to sometimes $30,000 a week, depending on the items or the type of auction.
Items include toys, paintings and decorative household items, food, instruments and more. Estate auctions bring in the most money from expensive antiques, furniture, jewelry, and such.
He has been holding his own auctions for about 10 years, but he started work as an auctioneer when he was 25.
“I started off as an auctioneer for someone else,” he said. “It was off and on. It started out as my hobby, but I had a passion for it.”
Two years ago, the Houma resident was almost forced to surrender his passion when he had a stroke, affecting his speech, a vital part of auctioneering.
“It was scary. But I knew I had to get it back, so I just practiced 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 then 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 over and over until it got better, quicker,” Phipps said.
He cites the bankruptcy and the declining economy as the reason the auction business is booming. He also credits reality shows like A&E’s “Storage Wars” and “Storage Wars Texas” with the rise in popularity.
Companies going out of business that need to get rid of merchandise often come to Phipps looking for help, and buyers come for quality items at a lower cost. “I’ve sold jewelry worth $20,000 for $8,000,” Phipps said. “Because of this economy, auctions are becoming the way of the future.
“I’m helping people who really need to make money and people who need things and can’t afford to buy them retail,” Phipps said. “So I really enjoy what I do.”
Cheryl Willis works for Phipps, organizing and wrapping the items purchased at the Grand Ole Auction. She said everyone who works around him can tell he loves what he does, which makes it enjoyable for the employees as well.
“He definitely makes it fun,” she said. “He’s just so comical.”
There are two Grand Ole Auctions each week — one in Houma and the other in Rayne, near Lafayette. Phipps also travels around the region to hold estate auctions on Sundays.
At each auction he sometimes auctions up to 500 items, and has seating for 200 people to attend.
“But we get more than 200 at some auctions. We have standing room only sometimes,” Phipps said. “I see a lot of former council members, real-estate agents and people from all over. Folks come from New Orleans, Alexandria and other places.”
The local auction is at 112 Cascade Drive, next to Piccadilly Cafeteria on West Park Avenue. The Rayne auction is at the same time on Mondays.
They all begin at 7:06 p.m.
“People always laugh and ask me why I start at such an odd time,” Phipps said. “Well it’s because I had an auction at 7 p.m. one time and there was a traffic jam. Not many people showed up at first. Then people came walking in six minutes later. Since then, I have always started at 7:06.”