Elite Agent

From Bell Ringer to Master Auctioneer

Following his recent induction to the coveted title of REIV Master Auctioneer, Barry Plant reflects on a skill he has honed over his forty-seven-year career in real estate that has influenced the very culture of his business.

Barry PlantTHE BARRY PLANT Group is one of Victoria’s most successful real estate franchises, with eighty offices across the state and in excess of 11,000 sales in the past year. The Group is renowned for its commitment to training and developing its auctioneers – a culture that starts at the top with joint Founding Director, Barry Plant.

Attaining the title ‘Master Auctioneer’ is no mean feat. The Master Auctioneering Program has been developed by the REIV and its Auctioneering Chapter to recognise its top auctioneers and set a benchmark for best practice. To date, there are only seventeen inductees.

The accolade celebrates auctioneers who have excelled in their field, particularly in state or national competitions. As a winner of the Senior Auctioneers’ competition, Barry may retain the title as long as he remains a member of the Institute.

From humble beginnings as a bell-ringer and runner for real estate veteran Noel Reid, Barry’s passion for auctioneering has helped shape his career and the culture of the Barry Plant real estate franchise. “I ran the auction school in our company for twenty-nine years,” Barry says. “It’s something I’m very passionate about.”

Barry developed the auction school in 1980. Candidates were accepted into the program on the condition that they commit to competing in the REIV’s novice auctioneers competition – a gruelling contest based on personal performance. Training sessions were held for three hours every Thursday morning, and continued for four months.

“We conducted the training in the back lane behind our Doncaster East office, with cars going by just as you’d expect in a real auction environment,” says Barry. “When the trainees had gained confidence, we’d take them to the park and let them belt it out down there. We developed some great auctioneers out of the school.”

Ari Oinonen, now sales manager at Barry Plant Dandenong, was one of Barry’s trainees. “Barry taught us that there is more to auctioneering than putting on a good suit,” Ari says. “He instilled in us that auctioneering is a profession to be taken seriously, and that there is always room to keep learning and improving our craft.”

It was with delight that Ari discovered the company’s namesake was a down-to-earth man, happy to share his wealth of knowledge and experience, and eager to foster and encourage others in the industry to reach new heights. “He passed his passion for auctioneering on to me,” Ari says, “and it has stuck with me ever since.”

Chee-Ky Dunlop trained under Barry’s tutelage in 2010. He worked as a salesperson with the Noble Park-Keysborough office from 2003 until he became branch manager in 2013, and was finally invested as director of Keysborough in 2015. “Barry didn’t tolerate sloppiness,” Chee-Ky recalls. “He expected high standards from us and had us all looking sharp.”

Chee-Ky says that what Barry taught him has made him more complete as a salesperson. “Barry’s commitment to excellence is something I took away from my training with him,” he says. “It’s something that will stay with me always.”

While not every trainee went on to pursue auctioneering, every one of them advanced in their own personal growth, gaining confidence in public speaking which led to improved outcomes in client relationships. Barry explains that while the art of conducting an auction is based on showmanship and confidence, mastering the auction system comes with time, experience and understanding human psychology.

“The auction system begins from the time you list,” he says. “It’s about how you sell the idea of auctioning to the vendor, and how you work together with a vendor to achieve a successful outcome. The auction process can be stressful for the vendor and throughout that period you are their mentor, their business advisor – you’re there to hold their hand.

“When you really listen to people, you learn to read between the lines. You figure out what makes them tick, what motivates them. You discover the reason why the vendor is selling, or why they might be holding back when an offer is put forward.”

The auction school at the Barry Plant Group is still going strong, now run by partner Mark Lynch and Franchise Manager Richard Spratt – both strong advocates for the auction system.

Victoria has arguably always led the way in auctioneering, and almost half of Australia’s auctions are now conducted in Victoria. The origins of Melbourne’s auction culture began in the post-war period, primarily with fire-sale situations and high-end prestige inner city properties, before it gradually spread to the outer suburbs.

“The auction culture then became self-propelled through its own mechanism,” Barry says. “The auction authority in the 80s gave us seventy-five days’ sole agency over a vendor’s property, which wasn’t possible under any other model. It also allowed for vendor-paid advertising, which enabled us to create better publicity for the property.”

When Barry and his wife, Karen, opened their first real estate office in Templestowe in 1979, land auctions in the area were uncommon. In the early 1980s, when large local estates and former orchards were carved up to make way for new housing, Barry drew on his early experience with N. R. Reid and began to conduct auctions.

Barry recalls that, prior to the 1980s, these types of auctions were often held in large military-style marquees with uncomfortable seating. Attendees were at the mercy of Melbourne’s fickle weather. The Plants decided to raise the standard by several notches, bringing Karen’s interior decorating background to the fore.

“We added pizzazz and made these events more comfortable,” Barry says. “We’d hire white marquees and Karen would have them decorated in our company colours of red, white and blue. Our team brought in white plastic chairs and hired coffee trucks; we rehearsed our staff and had them groomed and immaculate, ready for business. We turned it into a professional operation and became known for doing it well.”

Barry describes the art of auctioneering as ‘street theatre’ – a highly successful way to market your real estate business. Auctions attract a lot of local attention, with branded boards strategically placed throughout the neighbourhood and neighbours coming out in their droves to see how the auctioneer is performing.

“Your company name is on show in a very public way, and you have to do it well,” Barry says, adding that auctioneering has also helped build the franchise business, with other agents coming to watch the auctioneer’s performance and wanting to be a part of the brand.

“It’s all part of the showmanship,” says Barry. “In real estate, you’re only as good as your last sale. You have to stay at the forefront of people’s attention. We are very lucky to be able to use the nature of our business to build and maintain a profile. We are community people, and we need to stay highly visible.”

Barry Plant has lived by this set of beliefs; both the man and the brand have been high profile right from the outset. “We train our auctioneers to be on show,” Barry says. “The culture starts from the top and works its way down through your staff, with the same level of professionalism throughout. We expect nothing short of excellence.”

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.