COOKEVILLE – Lee Amonett has been in the auction business since 2006 – but starting in January, for the first time, it’s now his name on the front door.
Amonett’s Eagle Auction & Realty is now up and running – and in two Upper Cumberland cities, no less. Following a 10-year stint under the Ken Byrd Realty & Auction umbrella, Amonett decided to branch out – literally – on his own. He closed (and reopened) the former Byrd office on South Jefferson Avenue in Cookeville, and added a new location in Byrdstown.
The changes took effect around the first of this year.
“I feel like I’m in the prime of my business career,” Amonett told the UCBJ. “And Ken was growing toward retirement, so it was the logical thing to do timing wise. It just made sense to go out on our own.”
And what better timing could it be? The industry seems poised for growth – driven, largely, by the web. Amonett is one of the few firms in the region that hosts sales both offline and on. He’s purchased his own software so buyers can bid direct from his website, and uses others like Proxibid and Equipmentfacts to reach a worldwide audience.
“During a depressed economy, you’ll see more auctions. You have more motivated sellers, more distressed properties, so the demand grows,” he said. “Since the economic downturn of 2008-2009, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of auctions in this area. But, during that period of time, we’ve also seen the auction industry evolve with technology and online auction platforms. That’s nothing new, obviously, but the Upper Cumberland area probably wasn’t ready for it until recently,” he added. “In some of the more rural counties, people still like to touch and feel and see as opposed to bidding online.
“But it has its place, and we’ve been able to expand down both those avenues.”
To keep pace, Amonett has maintained his core staff in Cookeville and added a branch manager in Pickett County, where he’s leasing a facility at 1220 Livingston Highway. They currently have five auctioneers on staff with a combined 25-plus years of experience. They average roughly 100 auctions per year – a 300 percent growth over the last decade.
About 90 percent of Amonett’s auctions have been real estate auctions, “Raw land, in my opinion, tends to sell better at auction; there’s a sense of urgency, speculation comes into play and competition kicks in,” he said, although online access has allowed them to dabble more in heavy equipment. Amonett said they will continue to focus on “the heart of the Plateau,” from Cookeville to south central Kentucky – hence the Pickett County presence. For future growth, he’s got eyes to the east.
If the current growth rate continues, he says he could potentially open a third location within the next five years. That, of course, would also mean additional auctioneers and office staff.
“Cumberland County’s a huge target for us; we feel like that side of the Plateau is underserviced currently,” Amonett said.
“It seems like we gain momentum every year,” he added. “And I expect the auction industry to grow leaps and bounds compared to the last decade. It’s a lifestyle. People are impatient. We used to have to personally reach out to people throughout the day, and now, our phone rings all day every day, with people wanting us to sell property for them. And I think it’s only going to get better.”