Waubeka auction company has grown on estate sales, liquidations
It has been 17 years since Ken and Sue Rose opened an auction house in customarily quiet Waubeka.
Still, some 30 times a year, Ramblin’ Rose Auction Co., N5472 Cigrand Dr., becomes the hub of bargain-hunting activity.
Before settling in Waubeka, the couple held occasional auctions at Saukville’s Landt-Thiel American Legion Hall, Circle B Recreation Center in the Town of Cedarburg and the Masonic Temple in Port Washington.
The business has grown dramatically at its permanent location. It used to receive three or four calls a month about sales, but that number has ballooned to as many as five calls a day.
Auctions can bring between 200 and 500 people, with a tent sometimes set up on the property in the summer to accommodate especially large crowds.
Ramblin’ Rose has 16 employees, including five auctioneers.
“Before we started this business, I was in the trucking business for 43 years, and that was all about waiting for the next truck to break down,” Ken Rose said.
“In the auction business, every day is about learning something new. I want to learn about the value of items so my sellers don’t get cheated.”
Right now, he said, there is high demand from collectors for old postcards.
Rose estimated that about 40% of the people attending his auctions are dealers, with the remainder being people who are interested in specific items.
“I get in trouble sometimes when bids are not coming in, and I’ll say something like, ‘Do you folks know this plate was made in 1880?’” he said.
The dealers and dedicated collectors don’t appreciate Rose driving up the price that way, because it will cut into their profit when they re-sell the item.
That focus on putting sellers first has paid off handsomely for Rose.
The dealer has earned a reputation for paying attention to detail, which in turn has earned the business a lot of repeat customers.
Much of the auction house’s business comes from attorneys and real-estate brokers who are clearing up estates and liquidating companies.
“A lot of times, we will hold an auction for someone’s father or uncle and down the road the next generation will come back to us when they want to sell things,” Rose said.
“Things have changed a lot with estate sales. There was a time when the children never wanted to part with anything from their family. Now, they’ll hold onto a few keepsakes and have us sell the rest. This generation seems to want the cash.”
Rose said the company’s attention to detail has resulted in it handling the sale of seized property by law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI.
“When dealing with the FBI, you need a really good bookkeeping system. Nobody is more of a stickler for details than the FBI,” he said.
Rose said he relies heavily on newspaper advertising to spread the word about upcoming auctions. He’s found a lot of would-be bidders scan the small type listings of items that are going to be sold.
“I’ve learned that folks in Ozaukee and Washington counties are big newspaper readers. That isn’t the case in Milwaukee, but it is here,” he said.
Because of the large number of items offered at some sales, the business also includes photos of select merchandise on its website.
That has given the company world exposure. Online bidding is not accepted, but live bids can be placed by phone.
“Last year, we sold a World Series baseball to a buyer from Spain who read about us on the Internet,” Rose noted.
Virtually every sale has some eye-opening items, including caches of rare coins, first-edition books and collector cars.
“A little while ago, we had a Mustang GT that sold for $18,000. It was sweet,” Rose said.
A sale scheduled for later this month will include “lots of manly things,” like a stuffed 10-foot alligator, a mount reported to be the largest black bear shot in North America and a collection of 50 guns, he said.
Just last weekend, a large carved buffalo sold for $1,800.
“That was something I’d never seen before,” he said.
Rose said he and his wife, who are collectors of Native American artifacts, usually resist the temptation to bid on items.
“We’ve been around this business for 25 years and pretty much have everything we want. Our policy has become if we buy something, we have to get rid of something,” he said.
“Besides, if a customer drives 200 or 300 miles to come to one of our auctions, I don’t want to bid against them.”
Image information: RAMBLIN’ ROSE AUCTION CO. in Waubeka becomes the center of activity when it hosts one of its auctions. Business owner Ken Rose (above) helped with an estate sale held last Sunday at the shop on Cigrand Drive. Rose said the company has grown in reputation, and hosts about 30 sales a year, often drawing as many as 500 people. At left, assistant Rob Bell showed a hand-carved buffalo while bids were accepted by auctioneer Tina Treskow. The carving sold for $1,800. Photo by Sam Arendt