HIGGENBOTHAM AUCTIONEERS

HIGGENBOTHAM AUCTIONEERS

AMONG THE BEST IN THE NATION

BY LORRAINE BLOETH VALERINO

“SOLD!” That one four-letter word has proven to be music to the ears of both buyers and sellers when veteran auctioneer Marty Higgenbotham, 74, makes that simple, but powerful statement.

WILD YOUTH FAIR VARIOUS EVENTS.

While the auction business can be traced back to 500 B.C., the business has evolved with the generations and remains an integral part of the American economy across the country. Higgenbotham, who began his business in 1959 and is among the best in the nation, discovered the excitement of the live auction as a 4-year-old who frequently tagged along with his uncle to the Wednesday livestock auction in their small Missouri community.

“I can remember walking the 5 miles to the auction with my uncle,” said Higgenbotham. “There were no kindergartens or pre-schools in those days, so I wasn’t old enough to be in school. Even as a young boy, I enjoyed the excitement of the auction.”

Throughout his years, Higgenbotham has enjoyed keeping it exciting and interesting. “As auctioneers, we don’t make any money unless our client makes money,” said Higgenbotham, whose company’s current largest client is Wal-Mart as they sell “extra acreage for the company when needed.” Other clients include Comcast, Alcoa, Albertson’s and Sinclair Oil Company. “We’ve sold everything from cemetery plots to shopping centers.”

Some of the more unusual bids have been made during the sales of alligators and black bears that were part of an amusement park sale that also featured a monkey exhibit that numbered 200 monkeys.

“In my experience, about 97 percent of those coming out of auction college probably won’t make it,” said Higgenbotham. “It’s a difficult business to get started, trying to get hired by property owners who are going to trust that you will get the best deal for them. Bottom line is that an auction will bring what is the true market value.”

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Higgenbotham Auctioneers International LTD was actually started in 1959, but Higgenbotham and his wife of 45 years, the late Brenda Higgenbotham, brought the company to Lakeland in 1962. “We had come to Tampa and spent six months driving around Florida, trying to decide the best location to settle down,” said Higgenbotham. “We’d narrowed it down to Leesburg and Lakeland. Since a big part of our business is agriculturally-based, those seemed like good options. Interstate 4 was nearly finished and we decided that I-4 was going to make a difference.”

That prophetic choice would prove wise as the I-4 corridor has exploded in the 50+ years since, creating opportunities that continue to the present. “He outworks us all,” said Laura Whitt-Slocumb, Higgenbotham’s assistant whose focus is business development; noting the company’s business includes both commercial clients as well as the local investor. “While we have a lot of business in Florida, there’s actually more out-of-state business than in-state. Whatever it takes to get the last bid, we’re doing it.”

Current technology has ushered in an era in the auctionbusiness where on-site auctions are married with on-line auctions at times. “While we focus on the ‘eye-to-eye’ contact of a live auction, we have included simultaneous on-line bidding and telephone bids at times,” said Whitt-Slocumb, adding that the company also makes good use of social media including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In recent years, eBay and Craig’s List were initially “a boon to the auction business; it’s virtually destroyed values on collectibles,” said Higgenbotham. “The supply ramped up dramatically. And we hear from customers all the time there are some real shady characters selling things on eBay. That goes against my grain big time.

“It’s always been our goal to be fair to everyone involved, both the seller and the buyer,” said Higgenbotham. “My job is to see it’s a fair deal. There’s no other profession on Earth that can quickly take various property and quickly convert it to a check.” According to the National Auctioneers Association, more than $268 billion is bought and sold with a majority of that involving agricultural, machinery, equipment and real estate.

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Higgenbotham is also renowned in the greater Polk County community for his civic and philanthropic work. An avid rancher, he’s supported the Polk County Youth Fair in Bartow for more than two decades. A member of the Rotary Club since 1968, he quips that he knows a number of members “still aren’t really sure what I do.”

His bride of nine years, Angela Higgenbotham, is wellversed in her husband’s schedule as she’s now the mastermind behind Higgenbotham Rocking H Ranch Events, which feature a number of charity events the couple continues to support. In addition to corporate retreats, reunions, civic gatherings and weddings, the Higgenbothams are frequently seen greeting guests who arrive to their sprawling country complex on Ewell Road. Quiet and picturesque, the couple enjoys sharing this part of their lives with many.

Recently, more than 600 gathered at the Rocking H Ranch for a United Way event. “This was the fourth annual “Belt Buckle Bash” event. It’s really a team thing from the event planners to the caterers,” said Angela Higgenbotham. “Everybody does their job.

“We enjoy the fact that we can help out in the community,” said Higgenbotham, who has no plans for retirement. “They say that when you retire, you need to find something to do that you truly love and haven’t had the chance to do. I can’t even begin to imagine doing anything but this.”

Those 5-mile strolls to the cattle market during his childhood left their mark on Higgenbotham, who continues to make his mark on all he meets.