Andy “The Gaffer” Conde is going to the rostrum for his final sale – bringing the gavel down on an incredible working life spanning more than 40 years.
He was due to oversee an auction event on Thursday 21st December at Manheim Auction Services, Manchester, which, according to the man himself, concludes a career involving the sale of about 250,000 cars.
Proud Wrexham-born Welshman Andy Conde’s (“It’s pronounced ‘Con-dee’. You can’t have an auctioneer called ‘Conned’,”) unforgettable voice and wit has echoed around Manheim auction halls all over the UK and Ireland since the early 90s.
Bin there, done that
His passion for the job, which he describes as the “second-oldest profession”, started at an early age in cattle auctions near where he grew up. Although his life might have taken a different turn if he’d pursued an interest in sports journalism, Andy is certain he chose the right path.
He says: “Ever since I was a young lad, I only ever wanted to be an auctioneer. My grandad and uncles used to take me to cattle auctions. I would stand and watch, transfixed by these men who seemed to have so much responsibility, so much poise and control up there. The first one I ever saw was in Oswestry, Shropshire. From that day onwards, I was hooked. I’d return home and try to copy what I’d seen by standing on a dustbin.”
Andy was a teenager by the time he took on his first rostrum role, taking and making bids for an estate agent.
“Every year they had a harvest festival auction and I went along. Someone said to me ‘You have a go,’ they were selling everything from apple pies to cabbages and cauliflowers.
He took to it like a duck to water, according to Andy, and was quickly invited to sell the bigger ticket items such as furniture, art and, erm, chamber pots.
“I used to call out ‘Chamber pot, slightly damaged, no handle. Put your own bottom in it!’.”
Numberplates, Premier League visitors and stamina
Andy moved into automotive auctions in the early 90s, working at what was then Central Motor Auctions (CMA) in Gloucester, where he would become Operations Manager. Some years later, his job moved to Leeds and CMA became Manheim Auctions, where he continued to commute from his North Wales home. He flourished in the role, but it was no surprise to the man himself.
“I’ve always been a bit of a showman,” Andy says. “Even at primary school, I was gutted if I wasn’t picked to play Joseph in the Nativity. You could rightly say I always wanted to be the star attraction. I did have plans to go to journalism college but all my pals were out earning money and I wanted to do the same.”
In a working life spanning more than four decades, Andy has accumulated countless stories. One of his fondest memories is overseeing personalised number plate sales for the DVLA, where plates would change hands for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“It was a different time,” Andy says. “The numberplate auctions were interesting, to say the least. People would turn up with briefcases full of cash, we’d have to count it all. This was before computers and contactless payments; everything was written down.”
“I recall a famous premier league football manager coming down to bid on a plate spelling out ‘V-1-L-L-A’ for Aston Villa. I think he was there on behalf of the club’s former Chairman Doug Ellis. The manager had a long coat on and a flat cap, as if in disguise. We knew who he was though.”
Another time, Andy had to call on an all-important auctioneering quality: stamina. That’s because he had a lung-bursting day at a dairy machinery auction that pushed him to the very limit.
He says: “I did a sale once in Hartington, in the Peak District. It was a big dairy factory that had closed down. There were 1,850 lots. We had people from Gouda, Edam and other big brands over from Europe. So, all the big cheeses, as it were. I was on my own, it started at 8.30am and finished 7.30pm. No breaks. I don’t think I was even allowed a toilet break.
“When I finished, I’d lost my voice. I couldn’t speak. The following day, I had to do one for Manheim. I wolfed down two packs of lozenges. I ate so many I was a little bit affected, put it that way. The car sale turned out well but I took about three weeks to recover from the cheeseathon.”
It’s all academic
He’s had an extremely colourful career that’s taken in all kinds of lots and incidents, including rival bidders coming to blows on the auction floor over vehicles, or dealing with the momentary chaos when the top of his gavel accidentally flew off the handle, mid-sale, only to hit an unfortunate customer on the head.
He also remembers two customers in particular, a couple, who took their newborn baby along to Andy’s auctions. “They said my voice was the only thing that could get the baby to sleep,” he says.
But what Andy will remember most fondly is setting up the Auctioneers’ Academy, a rigorous training scheme for would-be bid callers where many current group auctioneers at Cox Automotive first made their mark.
“When I started there was no such thing as auctioneer training,” Andy says. “You were handed a gavel and told to get on with it. A lot of people think the auctioneer’s role is about speed but it isn’t really. It’s about standing up there, having control, being genuine and honest and, of course, comfortable in front of people.
“It’s about having a presence that encourages people to bid, a bit like your traditional market trader. Having the ability to count backwards and forwards is extremely important, auctioneers learned that in the academy. So is stamina and having a voice that commands attention, one that can easily pick out the most salient details in a lot ensuring that the potential customer is well aware of what they’re buying.”
The academy involved on-the-job training and much more, with students even learning how to use their power of speech more effectively. That included instruction from experts at RADA and memorising and reciting at will Winston Churchill’s “Blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech from 1940.
Andy jokes: “I’ve always said auctioneers are frustrated thespians.”
Although the academy was set up to usher in a new generation of auctioneers, it was the high regard Andy was held in that made it a success.
Andy says: “I suppose I’ve been a bit of a father figure, an agony aunt and a friend to a lot of colleagues. But I have never been so proud as I have of helping to develop other people. I’ve worked out that I’ve probably overseen auctions for a quarter of a million cars, which is a lot. But just under half of the group auctioneers we now have come through the academy and that’s something I’m most proud of.”
Now, having left the role he did so effortlessly for more than 40 years, Andy says he’s going to take a little time to consider his next move. As well as contemplating the writing of a memoir, he’s also pondering offers of consultancy work and doing some sort of voluntary role in his local area. There’s also some international English cricket to catch up on, as well as visits to The Racecourse Ground to watch his beloved Wrexham A.F.C., where he’s been a season ticket holder for longer than he’s been an auctioneer. He also has a foreign holiday or two booked with his former headteacher wife, Nora.
“The thing about auctioneering is that it’s never been a job for me. There’s a Welsh word, ‘hiraeth’ which roughly translates as ‘a longing’. That’s what being an auctioneer is to me. It’s burned inside me every day, a love and a desire that’s made me want to get up in the morning. It’s what I’ve always been good at and I have loved absolutely every minute of it. The customers, the colleagues, the bosses I’ve had. I wouldn’t change any of it, or them, for the world.”
Like the transformative effect Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have had since taking the helm at Wrexham, Andy Conde’s role as auctioneer will undoubtedly always be remembered for the magic, the sense of an event, that he brought to every auction.
Andy says: “I have worked with many great people who have become really good friends. Manheim has always allowed me to be a free spirit. I don’t think I would’ve got that at any other company.
“For me, auctioneering has always been about honesty, showing respect to colleagues and customers, as well as fairness. Buyers have come to us to make a profit, after all.
“Manheim has always entrusted me to do what I think is right. Luckily, most of the time at least, that’s proven to be a good idea.”