Waubeka auction house goes worldwide on the web

Ramblin’ Rose Auction Co. connects with bidders from far away with online events to supplement traditional auctions

CLASSIC METAL TOYS like those held by Ken and Sue Rose are among the items that sell well during online auctions, said the couple, who run Ramblin’ Rose Auction Co. in Waubeka. Other popular items sold online include coins and jewelry, they said. Ramblin’ Rose recently began to auction items online and accept online bids during some of their live auctions. Photo by Sam Arendt

Ken and Sue Rose are going digital, hosting online auctions at their Ramblin’ Rose Auction Co. in Waubeka.

While the couple have done a few online auctions over the past few years, they have now jumped head-first into the digital world.

Online auctions help supplement their live auctions, Ken Rose said, filling in  during periods when weather makes it difficult for people to get to their facility at N5472 Cigrand Dr. or around holidays, when people are too busy to travel to the auction house.

“It’s been a good niche for us,” he said. “It’s become a new avenue for us. It keeps everyone busy.”

The Roses, who have about a dozen employees — about half of them family members — run some auctions strictly online, but others are live auctions where he accepts online bids.

“They’re bidding against our crowd,” he said. “It’s a neat thing to learn, and it can get a little crazy.”

Rose uses a service called Invaluable to facilitate his online auctions, which he runs over a “very high-speed network.” 

Invaluable is one of three major online auction companies in the country, he said, and as auctions near an end they will send out eblasts to 50,000 people who collect specific items to help spur bidding.

“Over a period, you start to get people who follow your auctions,” Rose said, noting there’s a core of about 1,100 people who regularly bid online at his auctions.

A recent auction of military items drew 35,000 views online, he said.

There’s an art to auctions, and Rose said he’s discovered online auctions aren’t the best avenue to sell some items.

For example, he said, large items are often best sold live because shipping fees can add hundreds of dollars to the cost.

“It always costs too much to do furniture,” he said. “You have to watch your shipping costs.”

Even items that can be sent in “little puffys,” padded envelopes, can cost $4 to $5 to ship, Rose said.

Online auctions are often best for what Rose called smalls — items that are the size of a breadbox or smaller — including jewelry and coins.

Occasionally, they will run an online auction for larger things such as used restaurant equipment or military items.

“Once in a while we’ll put a car online,” he added.

He recently thought about putting a beer sign up for auction online, but decided against it.

“Sometimes you have to feed the crowd,” he said, by making sure to have a few high-interest items at a live auction.

Just as in the live auction business, online auctions depend on one major factor, Rose said.

“The main thing is your honesty and how you describe things,” he said. “When people buy from us, we guarantee it.”

Rose said he certifies his jewelry so people know what they’re getting.

“If we say it’s 14 karat, it’s 14 karat,” he said.

It’s difficult to have the base of knowledge to be able to assess every item, especially considering the sheer volume of business and the breadth of offerings Rose has.

“I have friends,” he said. “If I don’t know about an item, I know someone who does. After 20 years, we know a lot but we don’t know everything.”

Rose and his wife got their start in the auction business when they owned and operated Arrow Disposal and Recycling.

“All the sudden we started finding things that were really good,” Rose said. They started selling those items at flea markets, then eventually began the auction house in the former Maechtle’s General Store in Waubeka.

Through the years, they built a name and reputation for themselves by putting sellers first and paying attention to details.

Rose noted that when eBay began, he would buy stuff online to sell at his auctions.

Nowadays, they get much of their business through referrals. There are about 10 real estate agents and 20 attorneys who call when they are clearing up estates and liquidating businesses, Rose said, adding the company also does a lot of work for Ozaukee and Washington counties.

“When we started the business, we got a call or two a month,” he said. “Now, we get 10 or so a day.”

In the past, Rose noted, people would hang on to family heirlooms, but millennials don’t have that sort of attachment to things.

“It’s sad for the world, but it’s good for my business,” he said.

 And, he said, the do-it-yourself trend has helped to increase business because people, even the younger generations, are buying used items and repurposing them.  

Currently, he said, Ramblin’ Rose liquidates about 300 homes and businesses each year. The firm collects between 25% and 40% of the cost for each item.  

Unlike many of their competitors, Rose said, they will empty a house or business and physically move it.

Among the most popular items sold at auction are tools, jewelry, coins and toys, Rose said.

“Toys are awesome,” he said. “Early battery-operated toys, metal toys.”

The company recently auctioned items from a Menomonee Falls business, Rose said, selling $125,000 in tools. Six hundred men showed up for the sale.

“My wife said there was more testosterone in the room than she’s ever seen,” Rose said, laughing.

When Allen-Edmonds closed its Elefanten division,  he said, they sold the last 7,500 pairs of the children’s shoes.

“We had people from six states coming in,” Rose said.

Sporting goods are always popular, he added, as are antiques.

“Right now, primatives are hot,” Rose said.  



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