Dayton’s celebrity auctioneer Doug Sorrell gives DCP an earful

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Auctioneer Doug Sorrell conducts a 2015 Juvenile Diabetes Research event at the Schuster Center; photo: Flash Photography

Ask an average person on the street what an auctioneer is or does and the most common reply probably goes something like, “Oh, they’re guys with southern accents who talk really fast and sell things.” And while there is truth in such a generalization, there’s more to being an auctioneer than having the gift of gab. That’s certainly the case with Dayton’s own celebrity auctioneer Doug Sorrell, who specializes in officiating charity auctions that benefit medical and nonprofit causes in Dayton and beyond. Over the course of his 30-year career, he has mingled with celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Justin Timberlake. Last year, Sorrell even published an e-book available on Amazon entitled “Beneath the Gavel: A Charity Auctioneer’s Complete Guide to Fundraising” for those who want to know what it takes to be an effective and successful auction official.

So how did Doug Sorrell evolve into THE charity auctioneer in Dayton and how does he talk like he does? I chatted with Doug to find out. Read and enjoy until it’s “going, going, gone.”

How and/or why did you learn to become an auctioneer? 

Doug Sorrell: My grandfather opened the Dixie Auction Company on the south side of Miamisburg in the middle 1930s. My dad went to auction school in 1968 or ‘69. I had attended horse auctions since I was a child and loved the whole atmosphere. In 1979, I went to auction school in Decatur, Illinois. I learned just enough to be dangerous!

How did you build a reputation for yourself as THE auctioneer in the Dayton area? 

DS: When I graduated from auction school, I was really bad and I was very nervous.  My earliest memorable auction was selling homemade pies for the local cub scouts so they could buy a tent. Their goal was to raise $225, and the auction ended up raising $350. Their joy in this success was infectious and my charity auction future began. In the early years of charity fundraisers, a format didn’t exist, and there was lots of trial and error. It was about the only venue that would let you “attempt” your auction chops. I got better, and charity auctions began to thrive. I built my clientele by reading papers, calling committee chairpersons, telling them who I was and what I did. It took decades to build my clientele. Not every auctioneer has the “charm,” if you will, to do well in a charity auction setting. This activity is as much about being a showman as it is about being an auctioneer.

What are some of the more high profile auctions that you’ve done? 

DS: Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to be part of some marvelous events. In 1992, I did two auctions to benefit our Olympic equestrian team in Valley Forge. In 1997, I auctioned an event in Louisville with Muhammad Ali. He was very gracious, and it was a thrill for me to sit next to him and join his efforts raising money for inner city youth to have a training facility. I have shared the stage with Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, Floyd Patterson, Justin Timberlake, Kirk Herbstreit and the ESPN College GameDay guys, Dave Lapham, A.J. Hawk, Mike Nugent, Nick Mangold, Woody Hayes, John Cooper and Earle Bruce. The last two years, I’ve done the auction for Bengals’ QB Andy Dalton’s foundation and met most of the stars of the current squad. I have worked with virtually all the local TV, radio and newspaper personalities, and I have fond memories of the 20 years Carl Day and I worked auctions together. In our area, I did the first auction held at the Schuster Center for Dayton Children’s CHA event, which sold out to 535 guests.

How does one “talk” like an auctioneer?

DS: We call our warble an “auction chant,” and each auctioneer’s chant is unique.  People always ask “how do you do that?” The key is to be good with numbers and to open your mouth so the sound can escape. When you begin, you need to do this very slowly. As you get the hang of it, then you speed up. When people are bidding we simply increase the numbers. The “chant” comes out when guests aren’t bidding, and it’s a parlor trick that makes the auctions fun.

What makes one a successful charity auctioneer?

DS: I believe someone’s reputation is based on successful endeavors and passion for the work. We conduct commerce, in public, in front of huge crowds. We convince everyone in attendance that they just made a great purchase, when the truth is they were willing to pay “more” than anyone attending. That is great salesmanship.

Looking back on your career, how do you feel about your decision to be an auctioneer?

DS: For decades, I considered auctions my Avon route—kind of a side thing I could do for some extra cash flow. Now, I only work as an auctioneer. In 2014, my auction committees raised $5 million. So far in 2015, my committees have raised $3.3 million. That’s over $8 million in the last 17 months. This journey has taken me to places I never dreamed, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this specialty industry and the wonderful people I have met along the way.

For more information about Doug Sorrell, please visit dougsorrell.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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