By Laurel Thompson
Most middle schoolers dream of one day becoming an artist, a veterinarian or President of the United States. That wasn’t the case for 15-year-old Shelby Schuman, who decided to try her hand at auctioneering at the ripe age of 11.
All her life, Shelby had been going to auctions with her parents, both of whom work in the auctioneering industry. Shelby’s dad, Scott Schuman, is a Hall and Hall Auctions partner and was president of the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) when Shelby first took an interest in the craft. At the time, he was looking for ways of bringing in new membership and decided the best way to do that was to partner with the national Future Farmers of America (FFA) and introduce high schoolers to the different facets of auctioneering.
“A lot of people—especially kids—don’t realize you can make a living as an auctioneer. They think it’s a fun party trick,” he says. “In reality, just about every type of item you can think of has passed the auction block at some point or another, whether that be cars, homes, livestock, antiques or art. It’s something you can get into at any stage of life no matter what aspect you’re interested in, and we’re making it easier for kids and teens to try it out.”
So, when it came time for Shelby to choose a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) in her school’s FFA program, she saw it as an opportunity to see what auctioneering is all about.
“When my dad told me they created an auctioneering SAE, I was really excited to learn about the industry and show other kids that FFA isn’t just about farming and agriculture,” she says. “Through the SAE, I get to conduct my own auctions, advertise for them and raise money while accounting for profits versus expenses. I also apply for grants to put on auctions, so it’s really all about creating and managing your own business.”
After dipping her toes in the water through her school’s FFA program, Shelby decided it was time to further her newfound passion with more formal training in 2019. She packed her bags and flew out to Mason City, Iowa, for 14 days to attend the World Wide College of Auctioneering, where she was the second youngest and one of the only female auctioneers in training.
“Auction school was such a great experience for me—I got to build my own chant and learn about all the different kinds of auctions and how to set them up,” she says. “It was really cool to hone in on my skills and master my chant for different types of audiences, even though I haven’t had the chance to do auctions for livestock or automotive or anything like that yet. I definitely have different chants for different groups of people, though, so it’s fun to switch between those.”
According to Scott and Shelby, every auctioneer has a distinctly different set of chants consisting of numbers and filler words. It’s all about perfecting your counting skills—in two-and-a-half increments and by fives and tens—while picking up other words to make it flow. In some industries, large amounts of particular commodities (like stocks, steer and car parts) are sold to professional buyers very quickly, but in Shelby’s case, she mostly partakes in benefit auctions with fewer items to fund local nonprofits and student athletics.
“So many people have given me the opportunity to help raise money for them, and it has been a great way for me to practice for any other event that I want to do while networking with lots of other people in the industry,” she says. “Specific organizations usually seek me out through my dad or through connections I’ve made at previous auctions, so I haven’t really had to go out and find business for myself yet.”
In her four short years as a rookie auctioneer, Shelby has participated in fundraising events for several different colleges across the state, including Colorado State University volleyball and Western Colorado University athletics, as well as multiple auctions for her school’s football and wrestling teams at Eaton High. She has also raised money for the FFA, Boys & Girls Clubs of Weld County and the Eagle County Junior Livestock Auction.
Not only that, but part of what makes Shelby such a sought-after auctioneer around Northern Colorado is her impressive rank in state and national competitions. She won the Colorado Junior Auctioneer Championship in 2017 and received the Colorado Troil Welton Award in 2019, after graduating from auction school. She has also competed at the national level four times.
“There are multiple categories you’re judged on during each competition, so it’s very much a performance,” she says. “You’re judged on your tone, your speed, how you describe the items, how you hold the microphone, your rhythm, your filler words and even how you cross the stage. So far I’ve only competed against boys—I hope one day I’ll get to compete against another girl in the field.”
When it comes to her training, Shelby is her own teacher. Even though she is constantly surrounded by other auctioneers (including her dad), she takes it upon herself to continue learning and improving her chants her way.
“I don’t take much advice from my father, even though he is always ready to give pointers,” she says. “I really wanted to try this out for myself and see how I could do without his hand guiding me, so I’ve tried to do things my way and have found my own mentors. I always come back to my dad, though—I’ve always looked up to him and thought he was the coolest guy ever, so that has helped me follow in his footsteps while also finding my own way.”
When she isn’t holding auctions or competing with other aspiring auctioneers, Shelby rehearses her chants behind closed doors. She watches YouTube videos of world champion auctioneers and slows down their chants to dissect every single number and filler word. And it’s paid off—Shelby is giving her dad a run for his money.
“I was auctioning at a year-end banquet for the CSU volleyball team a few years back and decided to bring Shelby with me,” he says. “I sold a signed jersey for $1,200 and let Shelby step up to the block to sell the next one. She sold it for $3,000, and now they call to see if she’s available. I still get invited though because she doesn’t have her driver’s license yet.”
Suffice it to say Shelby is a natural, but she isn’t limiting her options just yet. Though she’s considering auctioneering as a profession down the line, she wants to continue perfecting her craft while exploring other opportunities that present themselves through her experiences.
“I love meeting new people in the industry—in fact, I’ve met a lot of my closest friends through the auction business, even my dad’s friends,” she says. “A lot of my opportunities have come from making connections and finding creative ways to do things, even during COVID where virtual auctions are the only option. You just have to go for it, because time isn’t going to stop and it’s never going to get easier to take the leap and try something like this.”
Laurel Thompson is a Fort Collins native and CSU alum. When she isn’t writing for local lifestyle publications, you’ll find her soaking up the sun, cooking something delicious, or reading a good book while sipping an iced coffee. To comment on this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.