Ritchie Brothers Auctions
Lots of Lots and Signs of the Times

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OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, huge used construction equipment auction lots have been sprouting on the edges of cities across the USA, under the bright orange banners and signs of the Ritchie Brothers Company. Ritchie Brothers is in fact the largest auctioneer of used heavy equipment and trucks in the world, and these auction yards, some as large as 200 acres, with row upon row of hundreds of pieces of surplus heavy equipment, are a dramatic sight, and a stark reflection of the condition of the construction industry. When there is alot of excess construction equipment around, things are not going well, unless you are in the construction equipment auction business.

Though the company has been around since the 1950s, it wasn’t until 1998, the year it went public, that it broke the $1billion in annual sales mark. Over each of the past four years, sales has exceeded $3billion. An increasing number of sales are from overseas, in growing markets, like India and Asia, and the company’s website currently offers its auction inventories in 21 different languages. 

Most of the sales are still made on site, at one of the company’s 22+ auction yards in the USA. The company selects locations that are highly visible, generally on interstates, just outside the region’s major metropolitan center’s city limits, where land is cheap, but airports and motels are close by. In Las Vegas, the yard is the last development north of the city on I-15; in Sacramento it is 25 miles north of town on Interstate 5; in Salt Lake City it is 15 miles west of downtown, at the Tooele exit; in Los Angeles it is in the Inland Empire, off Interstate 215 in Perris; in Denver it is 25 miles north of town on Interstate 25. And so on.

These sites are spectacles, sand boxes full of (mostly yellow) loaders, backhoes, excavators, graders, compactors, scrapers, rollers, tampers, plows, dozers, trenchers, water trucks, and lifters and cranes of every configuration, all lined up neatly in rows of like content, like a military parade, or a Busby Berkeley can-can. In parts of the country dominated by agriculture, more of the items are tractors, combines, wagons, hoppers, balers, seeders, cultivators, and the dominant color is green (dominated by John Deere products, instead of the Caterpillar’s yellow).

At their largest lot, in Orlando, Florida, Ritchie Brothers sold $190 million of equipment in one auction in 2008, and in another in 2009, they sold more than 8,300 pieces of heavy equipment in an auction that lasted six days. In 2010, they held 336 auctions and sold 310,000 items worldwide. Despite this, 2010 sales were down $200 million form the previous year (on sales of  $3.28 billion), marking a possible downward trend in used construction equipment sales overall. Perhaps this means the economy is picking up.

We’ll see what the numbers for 2011 add up to, and see if Ritchie’s auction lotscape expands, or contracts. Maybe they should leave one dozer on site though, with a ripper attachment, to help the vegetation grow back once they are gone.