Yes, We Are Open!

PBR Auctions

Episode Summary

Al visits Bob Roy, owner of PBR Auctions in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. A successful 30-year old business, PBR Auctions faced its greatest challenge when the pandemic made it impossible to hold live in-person auctions. How did they pivot? Will moving everything online save the business? You can find out even more about PBR Auctions at https://www.pbrauctions.com/

Episode Notes

Al visits Bob Roy, owner of PBR Auctions in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

A successful 30-year old business, PBR Auctions faced its greatest challenge when the pandemic made it impossible to hold live in-person auctions. How did they pivot? Will moving everything online save the business?

You can find out even more about PBR Auctions at https://www.pbrauctions.com/

If you're the owner of a small business in Canada and you'd like us to help tell your story, email us at podcast@moneris.com.

Yes, We Are Open is a Moneris Podcast Production hosted by Al Grego.

Episode Transcription

Al Grego:

Hello, everyone, I'm Al Grego, and this is the "Yes, We Are Open" podcast.

Al Grego:

It's my last day in Saskatoon, and I've got one last stop. I've had a great time in Saskatchewan, getting to know the area and the people. Everyone's been so friendly and welcoming to this stranger from Ontario and today's no different. Just off Highway 11, going south into Saskatoon is PBR Auctions, one of Canada's leading auction houses, and the province's largest privately-owned auction house.

Al Grego:

Hi, I'm looking for Bob.

Speaker 2:

He's out working on that vehicle.

Al Grego:

Working on the vehicle?

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Al Grego:

Okay, thanks.

Al Grego:

I'm getting a tour of the 10 acre compound by Bob Roy, the owner.

Bob Roy:

This long hallway here [crosstalk 00:01:08]-

Al Grego:

It's an impressive facility, built around a 22,000 square foot building with two auction rings, multiple stores, and a full service restaurant. You can buy anything at PBR Auctions, from farm equipment to cars, clothing, or even local produce. Bob himself admits he doesn't know what he could be getting in to sell on any given day. When I arrived today, for example, Bob was inspecting a semi-tractor trailer truck that had just been brought in. Listening to Bob speak during the tour, I'm made acutely aware of the way things were before, which of course, is in reference to the pandemic.

Al Grego:

These are at retractable [crosstalk 00:01:44]-

Bob Roy:

These bleachers all came down, we could seat comfortably over 300 people. They were always full and people standing around. Cars would come in and the auctioneer, would sell them and we'd drive them out, [crosstalk 00:01:55]-

Al Grego:

I've been to a few auctions in Ontario, and they can be a lot of fun. There's an energy about them that comes from having a bunch of people in one place vying for the best deal they can get without losing it to someone else.

Bob Roy:

Consequently, that went by the wayside with COVID. When you have a facility this large, 10,000 square feet of retail space, plus another 10,000 square feet of warehouse space, and you're only allowed to have 15 people, that doesn't work anymore. That's not there. So, [crosstalk 00:02:29]-

Al Grego:

During my tour, I wondered how Bob was handling not being able to have those crowds anymore, at least not yet anyway. I sat down to talk to Bob about his business and how he's coping.

Bob Roy:

Well, PBR actually stood for the first three names of the partnership, there was Pilapo, Blacklock and Roy. Now there is only Roy left. But we just kept the name, because it was quite prominent in the marketplace.

Al Grego:

So, what year did you get started?

Bob Roy:

1992, April 12th, I believe it was.

Bob Roy:

I had a background in marketing, and my last stint was I was operating a used car lot, and I felt that it was room for a good Auto auction. So, we partnered up with Blacklock family who owns Saskatoon Auction Mart, and we started PBR, and actually, basically, just started in back behind the barn, if people remember that. We got a bulldozer in, bulldozed the manure pile over, and put up a page wire fence, and got a mobile office. That was PBR Auctions.

Al Grego:

Talk about the early years, how did it go? Was it an instant success?

Bob Roy:

Well, I'll tell you what, the first year we were in business, we lost $13,000 and the second year we made half a million.

Al Grego:

Not a bad turnaround.

Bob Roy:

The turnaround was good, and it's had its ups and downs. The biggest thing with live auctions is you have to have good product, and you have to have a facility that handles the crowd. In the year '95, I built that building across the way that we now use, we lease it out to the truckers. Then in '98, there was the disastrous fire in the fall of '98 that burned Saskatoon Auction Mart down. At that point in time, John and his brother Bob split up, and me and John took over this place. We redesigned the way it is now, and rebuilt it.

It's been like this since the year of 2000, so it's been 21 years that we've been operating out of this facility. It was designed for what we had in mind was a liquidation center, plus a good automotive industrial auction as well.

Over the years, we've had some very lucrative contracts, we've had federal government, provincial government, big stores like Federated Co-op, Costco, trucking companies, all kinds of trucking companies, freight damage stuff, and so on, it's been good. It's an interesting business, because you never know what's coming through the door, it keeps you motivated.

Al Grego:

Quite the mix of product you have down there.

Bob Roy:

That's what I kind of liked about the business, because James always accuses me of being ADHD, here's a lot of products, I never, it keeps me interested.

Al Grego:

James is your son?

Bob Roy:

James is my son, yeah. He operates the business from Kelowna, BC. Because he's got one of these things.

Al Grego:

Gotcha.

Bob Roy:

It's called a smartphone. And he does everything. Everything he wants on his smartphone.

Bob Roy:

The premise of our business was attracting large crowds for our auction, for our consignment auction. Because that's what fueled the consignments. If you got a good crowd, lots of people, people are more likely consign product with you because they know you can move it and get a good price for it. So that was the strength of the auction. Now our liquidation end of it was basically the premise of that whole business was high volume, low margin. And we used to get like crowd. We've had situations where we had people lined up to the road, 71st street.

Al Grego:

Wow.

Bob Roy:

That was kind of nice. People appreciated getting good product at a good price. Nothing attracts people like...

Al Grego:

A deal.

Bob Roy:

...a deal, exactly.

Bob Roy:

The liquidation came in after the fire. We were sitting around trying to imagine what we would do with the rest of the property, because we had too much property for just the Auto auction. I felt that a liquidation store was probably a good way to go because there was a lot of product in the marketplace that needed a home or needed a place to be sold out of. Consequently, we started with that and then about that time, that's when online buying capabilities became prevalent. There was big companies like eBay and stuff that started up, it didn't affect us too much directly, but it was a forecast of things to come. We weren't going to be totally left untouched by all this new technology that's coming forth.

In 2015, James and his partner bought John out and bought into Rob Richard rating, which is the parent company of PBR and presently my family and James' partners, family are the owners of PBR Auctions.

Al Grego:

If my math is correct, you're this is your 30th year.

Bob Roy:

Pretty close.

Al Grego:

Happy anniversary. That's great. Now just talk maybe a little bit of about, you're running a business, so your family's obviously involved. You mentioned James. What was that like to have family and...

Bob Roy:

James is a very hard boss, but he's pretty smart. I tend to listen to him a little bit, like quite a bit, actually.

He's motivated by profit and efficiency and the two go well together.

Al Grego:

Sure.

Bob Roy:

Once we got sorted out who's who, it works out pretty good. He knows what has to be done and, and being he's up the new breed with the online and all that. It's what we needed really.

Al Grego:

Served you well.

Bob Roy:

Yeah. The idea is that eventually he will take over entirely. I'm 72 years old, this year so I don't think I'll be around for another 50 years now. But he doesn't seem to want to get rid of me real quick. So I guess I'm around for another couple of years.

Al Grego:

He's probably enjoying it in Kelowna.

Bob Roy:

Yeah, yeah. Well, we talk every day, like every morning, every night we have a conversation what's going on and he has his finger on everything. He's got his computer, he knows what the sales are. He knows what's coming in. He knows what's going out. He knows all. The day that you have to be on site to be able to control things, that's pretty well done now with the internet and everything else and you can communicate anytime you want with your cell phone.

As far as a small family owned business, we had the best auction house in Saskatchewan. Possibly Western Canada, we had two rings. We had the car ring and liquidation ring. They worked simultaneously. They worked well. We had lots of good people in place, and my wife and I ran the business, and James bought in and he put in his input, which has been good. Luckily he was around when that pandemic hit, because I wouldn't have been able to handle that. That's where we are now. Now we are learning how to do business all over again with COVID.

Al Grego:

And your accounts still adapting. That's amazing.

Up next, PBR Auctions have enjoyed almost 30 years of stability and growth, but what happens when the pandemic shut down all live auctions, stay tuned to find out.

You're listening to "Yes, We Are Open" Bob and Vicky Roy have built up PBR Auctions into Saskatchewan's largest auction house. Now with their son, James and his partner as the year as the heirs-apparent, they seem primed for another 30 years of prosperity. But then the pandemic hit and now both their auction rings are empty. So where do they go from here?

Bob Roy:

The business is always evolving. There is good times and hard times, even without the pandemic. The auction business is based on consignments and sometimes you have a lot of consignments and sometimes you don't, and sometimes you have real good contracts and sometimes you don't, you take that with the good and the bad.

So anyways, when this COVID thing came out, first thing we do, we get slapped with a 15 people maximum in the building at one time and they would come and check up on us. We had south's health here on several occasions, counting bodies and making sure we doing this, doing that. Consequently, we had to switch to the online presence and put it in high gear as quick as we could because we had a lot of product to move, and we had the business to look after

We had to change a lot of things that we were doing. We had to cut back on the volume of product we brought in, because we couldn't move it as quick. 'Cause our whole basis for being, was being turned upside down. So consequently, we changed a lot of things we were doing. We concentrated more on the consignments, less on the liquidation. We cut back on staff. We had staff of about 63 people at one time was a high end and now we're less than 20. We cut back on staff quite a bit.

But anyways, fortunately for us, for the previous year to the pandemic, my son James had been working on establishing our online presence, and upgrading our online sale presence and so on and so forth.

Consequently, when we were forced to go strictly online, we had the vehicle to do that. It was just a matter of flipping the switch.

A lot of people were okay with that. Personally, I wasn't because I'm old school. I like crowds. I like auctions. I like noise. I like activity. It's kind of anemic when you're sitting in a booth and selling stuff to a microphone.

Al Grego:

It's not as exciting.

Bob Roy:

Not as exciting. No.

Al Grego:

How soon after things got locked down, were you guys able to pivot? Was it right away or did it take a month? Did it take weeks?

Bob Roy:

Took three days.

Al Grego:

Three days, from going live to online. So James, already had a lot to set up.

Bob Roy:

Yeah he had, it was just a matter of flicking the switch and getting people oriented to what we're doing.

Al Grego:

Coming up after of the break. Did the switch to online work? Stay tuned to find out.

Mat Belanger:

This podcast is sponsored by Moneris. As a business owner, change comes at you fast. That's why Moneris is right by your side as you innovate and adapt. So you can get paid with solutions for businesses of all shapes and sizes. We're proud to help Canadians like you achieve their goals from online, in-store, curbside and pickup solutions. Moneris is there to help your business succeed every step of the way. To talk to one of our business advisors, call 1866-Moneris or visit moneris.com.

Al Grego:

Welcome back to "Yes, We Are Open." Before the pandemic, PBR Auctions relied on attracting large crowds to their two auction rinks and their liquidation outlet for their success. But when the pandemic hit large crowds were out of the question. So Bob and Vicky Roy turned to their son, James and his partner for help to save the business, their solution, to move everything online and make some difficult decisions and cuts wherever they could to increase efficiency. So did the plan work? Let's find out.

Bob Roy:

Actually, our business has survived quite well. Considering what all has happened.

Al Grego:

The measures you took worked?

Bob Roy:

Yeah, the measures we took worked and we had to act fast, we had to pivot. I got to give James, lot of credit for that because he's our pivoter. Being I'm a dinosaur, I would say I'd be the first guy, I'd argue why this is not going to work. And then surprisingly it worked quite well. I was actually amazed. I predicted that we were going to be in business for the remainder of 2020, and then we're going to shut down is what that's what I felt when all that hit. But then the online took off and it's been good. So surprising to me, it was better than I expected.

Let's say tomorrow you woke up and there's no more COVID.

Al Grego:

Correct.

Bob Roy:

Now would we go back to live auctions? Would we do less online? That is a question I can't even answer right now, because the way things have been in the last nine months, let's say has been favorable for us.

Al Grego:

But has it been…I noticed the for lease sign. Part of...

Bob Roy:

Yeah, we had to cut back on our...

Al Grego:

That's part of your trimming down.

Bob Roy:

Yeah, yeah.

Al Grego:

You say, you don't know you'd go back, but yeah, the measures you took or necessity because of the pandemic. But once the pandemic is over...

Bob Roy:

I don't know if the necessity will continue or if we’re reverting back to how we did things before. I know we wouldn't go completely back to...

Al Grego:

Right, it'd be a hybrid.

Bob Roy:

Yeah, it'd be a hybrid.

The guys, my age, "When are you going to open up and have an online and a live auction?" And the young guys, they don't want to come to a live auction. They want to stay on their computer, on their iPhone and buy what they want. There's definitely a mix there. How it's all going to turn out? It's hard to say, I know it's never going to be the same. I can tell you that much.

My crystal ball tells me that for the foreseeable future, pandemic or not, we will maintain an online presence as opposed to a live auction presence. If you talk to some of the big guys in the business, they're basically doing the same thing.

Al Grego:

That's the story of PBR Auctions. It's no secret that the pandemic has been a major disruptor for businesses all around the globe. PBR Auctions is a prime example. Thankfully, for Bob and Vicky, their son, James was around to help usher them into a new online era.

I'm not going to lie to you, had a bit of a preconceived notion about this story. When I first met Bob, I was expecting to hear a story of a successful longstanding business that was forced to find a new way to do business out of necessity, which is what I got. What I didn't expect was to hear Bob tell me that even after the pandemic was over, he didn't think they needed to go back to live in person auctions. Of course, he misses the energy and the excitement. Who wouldn't? And one day they may bring that back, but it won't be because they need to, it'll be because they'd love to. That's a great position to be in for the future. That future looks very bright for PBR Auctions.

"Yes, We Are Open" is a Moneris podcast production. I'd like to thank Bob and company for taking the time to tell me their story.

If you'd like to learn more about PBR Auctions, visit their website, pbrauctions.com. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

For more information about this podcast, visit our site YesWeAreOpenpodcast.com. If you'd like to support us, rate us on apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you're a Canadian small business owner or know of one with an interesting story of perseverance to tell I'd love to help tell it. You can contact me at podcast@moneris.com. Tune in next week for another story of small business struggle and survival on the ‘Yes, We Are Open’ podcast.

I'm Al Grego. Thank you for listening.