Going Once, Going Twice, Going Strong for 70+ Years
Family businesses grow and evolve over the years, often in response to advances in technology. Kevin Wieman has witnessed this firsthand, as his family’s third-generation auction company morphed from live bidding to mostly online sales.
Wieman Land & Auction Co. Inc. has been a mainstay in Marion for over 70 years. They are best known for selling farm equipment and farmland, with agriculture the predominant moneymaker the past couple of years. Sales are conducted throughout the Upper Midwest — in South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota — and the items they sell are shipped throughout the United States, as well as to international markets like Canada, Belize, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
“Our motto is, we’ll sell the earth and everything on it,” Kevin says. “So, anything else you can come up with, we’ve sold.”
A Family Legacy
The company was founded by Kevin’s grandfather Earl in 1949. Eventually, Earl’s sons Gary and Rich signed on, and a family legacy was born.
“My grandpa and my dad [Gary] did all the hard work to get established and get name recognition,” Kevin says. “My job as the third generation is to not screw up anything the previous generation did!”
Kevin started working part-time in 1988 at the age of 15 while a high school freshman, though he’d been helping out by running sheets and hauling boxes for years. To prepare for the frenetic bid-calling that is a trademark of auctioneering, he missed some high school classes to attend a two-week auction school with a rather unique curriculum.
“You start doing tongue twisters,” he says. “When you graduate, you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. It’s pretty rough the first couple of years. When you have enough sales, you get better.”
After graduating from high school, Kevin studied finance at Lake Area Technical College in Watertown. He became a loan officer for Cenex, a position he held for five years before joining the family business full time in 1997.
Kevin says future Wieman generations should also work outside of the family business before coming back. “They bring customers and relations with them,” he says. “It doesn’t hurt to be full of B.S. to your ears, either.”
Shift to Online Sales
In the early 2000s, Wieman Auction began holding online auctions that allowed proxy bidding. This enabled customers who couldn’t attend auctions in person to place bids through their computers. Internet connections were a lot slower back then, so by the time they received online bids, items had often already been sold. As technology improved in the mid-2000s, online auctions grew in popularity — for both auctioneers and customers.
“We had to educate the public that this wasn’t some gimmick; it was safe and secure,” Kevin recalls about those first online sales. “It started with coin collections, antiques, all the stuff that drives you crazy to sell live one piece at a time. People had the time to sit and watch it.”
Today, 80% of Wieman Auction’s sales are online and only 20% are live. COVID is partly responsible — few sellers want the liability of hosting a public gathering — but the trend was moving in that direction even before the pandemic.
“We’re living in a McDonald’s society,” Kevin says. “People don’t want to come stand around all day for the one item they want. They like going online so they can watch. This takes the emotion out of it and saves a lot of time. They can be working at their own business and still watching stuff. We’re just thankful we already had our footprint and have been doing it for years.”
Kevin attributes the long-running success of the family business to one simple factor.
“Our word is our word, and a handshake is worth something,” he says. “We hope that continues in the future.”