Melvin Pieper, of Gary, S.D., started working in the auction business in his early 20s and launched his own business, Pieper Auctions in Gary, S.D. in the early 1980s.
“I always kind of enjoyed going to auctions regularly,” said Pieper, who is now 64.
Pieper recalled a Sunday afternoon many years ago when he was out working with his cows and saw someone stopped on the road, looking at his pasture. He discovered it was the owner of the local sale barn, South Dakota Livestock Sales in Watertown, and he was out looking for cattle for the sale barn.
The two chatted and the man ended up asking Pieper if he wanted to work for him at the sale barn. That was Pieper’s start in the business. He ended up working for South Dakota Livestock Sales for about 15 years, he said. He was still working for them when he launched his own business, doing mostly farm and land sales. Eventually, he became too busy with his own farming and auction business and left South Dakota Livestock Sales.
“It got bigger faster than I thought it would,”Pieper said of this auction business.
During his nearly four decades in the auction business, Pieper has seen many changes. Among them is the way clerking is done at the auctions. When he started in the business, the clerks used to write down everyone’s name and address. Then they switched to a number system and then about seven years ago the clerks started scanning licenses to get all the information they need.
A big improvement for Pieper came in the form of an auction topper on his pickup. Pieper described himself as “kind of short” and said he used to stand on the equipment so everyone could see him. Then he purchased an auction topper that made him more visible and also sheltered him from the cold and wind on blustery days.
The equipment he sells has also changed. Today’s equipment is far bigger and has far more horse power than the equipment he sold years ago.
Another change is who serves lunch during the auctions. Pieper said churches used to provide the lunches, but today the meal is often provided by a local nonprofit or the family holding the auction.
“I believe we’ve got to have lunch with the farm sales,” Pieper said. “I think people feel a little more comfortable with something in their hands.”
He said food is also important because farm sales can last several hours and people often come from far away.
Like other auctioneers, Pieper offers online auction services, something that wasn’t an option when he started out.
“I’ve been doing that for probably five or six years,” he said.
Pieper said he usually does auctions in-person and online simultaneously, but that he lets the customer choose how they want to do it. He said the online and in-person combination has been particularly common this year due to the pandemic.
He said he’s encountered things through online auctions that he’d never encountered at in-person autions. For example, someone once told him they purchased something from one of his auctions using their phone while walking through a park in another state. On two other occasions, he said, he had a buyer from another state and had to find an interpreter to help with the sale because the buyer spoke another language.
“With the internet, you’re all over,” Pieper said.
The company does about 40 to 50 sales a year in recent years, although Pieper noted that this year has been a bit slower due to the pandemic. Pieper said that while the company might have fewer auctions this year, the sales they’ve had have gone well.
Pieper Auctions does most of its auctions in the South Dakota and Minnesota counties of Deuel, Codington, Grant, Hamlin, Brookings, Clark, Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lac qui Parle, Big Stone and Yellow Medicine.
Pieper Auctions has three other auctioneers in addition to Pieper, including his son Eli, who started working with him about three years ago, Cory Borg and Dan Farmer. Pieper’s wife Tawne, his daughter Elle, and Matt Bear also work for the company as clerks.
Pieper said the community has been good to him over the years. People keep calling and he keeps selling. That’s likely to be the case for Pieper Auctions for years to come with his son Eli having joined the business and his daughter Elle considering going to auction school.