By Heleigh Bostwick
August 15, 2013
Four times a month, registered bidders gather excitedly on Dorset Lane to bid on vehicles auctioned off by the Thomas Hirchak Company.
“Auto auctions are held three Saturdays a month and one Wednesday,” said Tom Hirchak, president and founder of the company, which is headquartered in Morrisville.
The 12-acre Morrisville facility, which he bought in 1979, was originally used for cattle auctions and had been in operation since 1946. “I continued that until 1985, but it wasn’t profitable anymore because the industry had changed.”
Commercial auctions, including real estate, are held in Morrisville, while vehicles are auctioned off at the Williston location.
“Antiques are auctioned at either place, depending on how busy we are,” he said.
“When I first started, my goal was two auctions a month,” he said. “Now, we have almost 200 auctions a year.”
While the auto auctions are regularly scheduled events, Hirchak said the rest of the business is less predictable.
“We don’t always know what we’re doing for the next three months, but we manage to fill up the calendar, whether it’s lumber, stones, guns, antiques or a foreclosed restaurant,” Hirchak said, adding that he keeps the website up to date with the latest offerings.
“What we auction off changes from day to day,” he said. “Some days it might only be two or three pieces of real estate.”
Greg Vernet, general auto auction manager at the Williston facility, has been with the company for 27 years. On occasion, Vernet helps out with gun or coin auctions, but his primary responsibility is vehicles.
The company has tripled the number of cars it auctions off since it moved its auto auctions to Williston 15 years ago, Vernet said.
“We were doing 85 cars an auction and thought that was a big sale,” he laughed. “Now, on Saturdays we sell 200-250 cars and have two auctions running at the same time.”
Wednesday auctions, he said, have fewer vehicles, typically around 100.
“During the auction we actually drive through the building,” Hirchak said. And, with two auctions running simultaneously, two auctioneers are required.
“I’m the chief auctioneer, but my two sons and my wife, Terry Owen Hirchak, are also auctioneers.”
The Williston auto auctions have been doing so well that the company needs even more space and plans for expansion are afoot.
“We’re spatially challenged in Williston,” Hirchak said, adding that he has a contract with the town to buy the nearby Williston public works facility. “That would give us another 5.4 acres and another building.”
Plans are on hold, however, until the Public Works Department has a new building.
In addition to Vernet, there are two other full-time employees in Williston, a yard manager and the office manager. During Saturday auctions, they hire an additional 25 to 30 people to make sure the auctions run smoothly, including a team of drivers, people to park the cars, security and office personnel to manage the paperwork.
“It’s very labor intensive,” he said. “We get 500 cars in and out of here every week so we need to move a lot of cars through in a short period of time.”
Most of the cars auctioned off are repossessions from around the state. Some vehicles are auctioned by their owners in hopes of receiving a higher value than the dealer trade in offered. Other cars are auctioned by charities.
“Sometimes cars are donated to charities and they can’t use them,” Hirchak explained. “They’ll sell the car at auction and take the money.”
In today’s global marketplace, there are plenty of bidders from overseas as well as locals.
“I had a bidder from Australia the other day and another one from Israel,” said Hirchak. “I’ve sold cars to people from New Zealand, silver to England and fountain pens to Japan.”
All around, business has been great, even if the economy hasn’t. “If we have the items they want, the sky is the limit,” he said. “People won’t buy everyday items, but they will buy something rare and unique. It’s seen as an investment.”
Vernet said he’s seen some high-end vehicles up for auction as well, but most are regular cars. “We always get Mercedes and BMW cars, but we’ve also had Maseratis and Ferraris, including a Testarossa.”
“It’s not the old country auction that I thought it would be when I started out,” said Hirchak. “But we work hard to keep our client base going and I’ve got a good team working with me.”