Going once; going twice...still going

Bill Todd celebrates 65 years working as an auctioneer. PHOTO LUISA GIRAO
Bill Todd celebrates 65 years working as an auctioneer. PHOTO LUISA GIRAO
When Bill Todd took a call from his father asking him to fill a vacancy in the family business, he never thought he would still be working in it 65 years later. Luisa Girao talked to Bill about his fondest memories and how the industry had changed during those six-and-a-half decades.

William Todd, known as Bill, is a well-known character in Southland who has literally spent a lifetime in the auction business.

Going into the family firm was the "natural way", he said, as he was the only son of a family of auctioneers — his great-grandfather started the Rialto Auction Rooms in 1865.

"I was the fourth generation and the only son ... It was assumed I would be working in the family business."

At 17 years old, after finishing his studies, he travelled to Stewart Island where he was "mucking around" and enjoying his holidays.

But a phone call from his father changed his plans.

"I kept postponing, but sooner or later I ended up returning in a fishing boat.

"The next day I was working and I have never stopped."

Mr Todd is one of the most celebrated auctioneers in the region, but he started behind the scenes, in the office.

"I had some guidance from my father, but he always encouraged me to find my own feet. He just let me go.

"My family never put any pressure on me. It was assumed I would join the company and I did."

Five years later, he started to strike the gavel at auctions — and he has never stopped.

"I think there’s nothing I haven't sold.

"I’ve auctioned everything — from livestock, boats to heavy machinery ... anything you can think of."

Then there is a pause as his memory returns.

"Coffins. I was determined to sell them but nobody was interested — I tried."

Among his achievements was the first million-dollar property auctioned in the region.

"I still remember the thrill".

There was also an unexpected surprise: the auction of a small cat statue that had been previously owned by John Wayne.

"It was six to seven centimetres high. I thought it was worth $20 but in the end we got $1000 for it.

"I didn't realise what I had ... never committed that mistake again," he said.

In 2012, Mr Todd closed the auction house, but the work continued — he just found a new way of to do it.

With help of associates Lynzy Francis and Lisa Withington, they formed the partnership William Todd and Co, offering their services and specialising in off-site auctions.

He said they had to adapt to the new era of business which included Trade Me and charity shops. "The young generation ... they go buy new stuff. They don’t appreciate antiques and family treasures as it used to be.

"But I still have people who still want to go to auctions. They love the adrenaline to compete for a product."

Mr Todd said there were no secrets to being a good auctioneer — it was just a matter of loving what you do.

"You need to be an entertainer, have confidence with people and have a rough idea of market values so you don't start with silly prices. I know a bit about a lot of things.

"It is about teasing the audience, and making the product irresistible."

As he lives in his house on Stewart Island, Mr Todd often flies to Invercargill to take part in auctions.

He said the success of his business would not be possible if he did not have the support of "amazing staff".

"I don't do all the work by myself. I have always had a great team who supported me and that was since the start. I really need to thank them."

Mr Todd said he would keep going while he could.

"I can't be at home doing nothing. My job gives me a challenge every day and I love it."


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