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The Virus of Change

The smaller midwestern auction house considers its options as the pandemic continues to pound small business


Much is being discussed how changes will be happening once the COVID19 pandemic recedes. Businesses will handle everything from inventory to personnel management differently. Our communications will become even faster, but more invasive. Even how we socialize will be forever altered.

And car people, those of us that continue to heap praise and adoration on all things automotive, will feel those alterations as well. Whether it’s the purchase or the sale, motorized vehicles (and that will probably include those electric contraptions) will be changing hands in ways we probably didn’t imagine just a few short years ago.

The magic of onsite auctions includes touching and discussing as this group of potential buyers gathers around a new 1978 Corvette Pace Car that was part of the 2013 Lambrecht Chevrolet auction in Pierce, NB. (Photo—Jim Volgarino)

One of the true joys of attending events where bidders can compete face-to-face and shoulder to shoulder, “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”, as rock legend Steve Perry of Journey opined in 1979, may soon become just a memory according to one of the highly successful barn find sellers, Yvette VanDerBrink of VanDerBrink Auctions.

“The Barn Find Lady”, as she is affectionately described, has built a reputation for her tenacious pursuit of jaw dropping collections residing in the most unassuming places. But she sees that personal, onsite sale disappearing sometime in the future and maybe sooner than anyone thinks.

Yvette VanDerBrink will tell you how much she loves mixing with the auction crowd. Will today’s pandemic social distancing change the way we participate in these auctions in the future? (Photo—VanDerBrink Auctions)

“This virus has scared a lot of the old school auctioneers”, she explains, “and a lot of them who thought they could ignore technology (i.e. the internet) have suddenly found themselves with no place to go when everything gets shut down.”

“With gatherings being banned in many if not all states during this crisis, they don’t see an option because they simply don’t grasp how to do things via online systems.”

VanDerBrink says the recent COVID19 pandemic has brought hundreds of auctioneers together weekly in group conferences where they discuss how everyone is handling social distancing. “In many cases these auction companies are simply shutting down,” she says. “We are offering assistance among ourselves to aid our fellow auctioneers with advice and resources they probably have been pushing aside while they could continue to sell at a specific time at a specific place.”

With venues closed and government edicts restricting public gatherings for the safety of the surrounding populace, the auction industry, which includes everything from fine art and jewelry to 50-70 year old automobiles and trucks being dragged from barns and sheds, is faced with a dilemma. How best to present vehicles for sale in an auction format when it’s not possible to see the vehicles in person.

This wouldn’t seem like a huge problem since some of the large auction house like Mecum and Barrett-Jackson seem to have little problem selling to online bidders. But many times those venue auctions include onsite representatives who can physically inspect a vehicle for a bidder (for a fee) and that becomes even more difficult when the vehicles are part of a collection that may not have seen daylight for decades.

“We’ve been doing combination online/onsite auctions since 2004,” says VanDerBrink, “so it’s not new to us, but people still prefer that onsite event. It’s a gathering in itself with the sounds, the conversation, the tire kicking. People love getting caught up in the excitement of a live sale and it’s going to be sad when they dry up and everything goes online.”

VanDerBrink auctions happen, many times, right at the site of a collection and sometimes, in the mud. Yvette VanDerBrink joins the crowds willing to brave elements to make their dream purchase. These types of events may disappear in the future. (Photo—VanDerBrink Auctions)

With nine automotive auctions on the upcoming VanDerBrink schedule plus two more awaiting dates, she isn’t hurting for auction opportunities, but admits it places some additional stress on an already stressful situation. “For some of our clients, they must get these auctions done in a timely manner,” she explains. Because many of the auctions she hosts are in rural areas, just clearing out buildings and land becomes an issue as that property may be up for sale and families want to get estates completed. “Lots of times the surviving family simply wants to get these collections gone so they can move on.”

So part of the VanDerBrink modus operandi includes reassuring families that all will work out even though many of these collections involve hundreds of vehicles and an additional hoard of parts, literature and other assorted paraphernalia we car people just can’t resist.

“I was totally surprised when RM Auctions moved its Palm Beach auction to totally online,” she says. “Even at the higher end events, people still love the social aspect of the auction where they have a chance to not only mingle, but to see and feel the vehicles in person.”

VanDerBrink says she watches closely what is happening in surrounding states where she regularly holds events. Minnesota, where VanDerBrink lives and where her offices are headquartered, is under a strict stay-at-home order currently and is scheduled to expire April 10. But she is expecting the governor may extend that time frame.

“We’re keeping an eye on all of the surrounding states as well,” she says. South Dakota, which is just five miles west of her home, doesn’t have any restrictions on gatherings. “So here I am just five miles away from an area where we could legally hold an event! But, of course, we wouldn’t as we are just as concerned as everyone about the spread of this virus and wouldn’t place our friends, family and auction goers in that sort of jeopardy.”

The May 30 date for VanDerBrink’s first auction of the 2020 season may seem a long way off, but with all the uncertainty she isn’t assuming anything and is ready to make changes as needed. The company makes use of all the social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube in addition to producing a regular blog newsletter to keep people informed as the season moves ahead.

“It is a whole new ball game,” she says. “Even after we get through this pandemic, I don’t think things will just go back to normal and we’re all going to have to make some decisions on how we will operate in the future.

Editors note: VanDerBrink HAS decided to go completely online with the next auction on May 30. They will be offering a viewing day, however, which will basically be an opportunity, under controlled conditions, to see vehicles in person. They are also increasing their shipping to include larger items than they normally handle for buyers. The property this collection sits on has been sold and must be vacated soon after the auction occurs.

Jim Volgarino
Jim Volgarino
At age 12, Jim Volgarino peeked under the hood of his grandfather’s 1957 Oldsmobile and saw a Rocket 88 for the first time. He was hooked. Following stints in the Air Force, the newspaper business, the printing business, and the teaching business he’s finally settled into his first love… automotive writing. He’s covered everything from Bonneville Speed Week to the Lambrecht Chevrolet auction in Pierce, Nebraska, from his home in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He’s owned pretty much anything and everything with a motor and wheels. Currently, he’s restoring a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS 409.


  1. Thanks Jim. Great to visit. But we will ALWAYS do simulcast Auctions and live, but incorporate ONLINE ONLY when it works. I love my car guys and cant see that changing, but the COVID and governments have made us change and adapt currently in 2020. We are and many others.
    Thank you
    Always be in the barns and mud for the old cars

  2. Great to visit. But we will ALWAYS do simulcast Auctions and live, but incorporate ONLINE ONLY when it works. I love my car guys and cant see that changing, but the COVID and governments have made us change and adapt currently in 2020. We are and many others.
    Thank you
    Always be in the barns and mud for the old cars

  3. For many “traditional” auctioneers, the elements necessary to conduct business will have to change, using today’s technology to reach buyers. Will in person auction events disappear completely? Hopefully not and the VanDerBrink organization is a great example of an auction company able to swiftly shift gears in today’s environment. Auction companies without that ability will experience some tough times in the future.


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