It was John Watson who had the bright idea that auctioneers should specialise in their line of produce, selling just one line at a time.
Watson had grown up with the Turners, living just down the road from them in Mt Albert. Harvey Turner used to give him auctioneering lessons in his billiard room, and it seemed natural to him that when it came time to get a job, he should seek one at the Turner’s company.
“Growers used to come in with 30 cases of beetroot, 10 bags of carrots, 20 cases of cauli, and they’d put up five cases of beetroot, five cases of cauli and so on – it took up a lot of room, and was chaotic. I said that a lot of the big buyers didn’t like it. If they wanted 100 cases of caulis, they don’t want to be buying five here, 10 here, I said, if a guy wants 100 cases of cauli, let there be one line. But have the auctioneer be specialised in one commodity.
“It worked out very well. We did it with fruit too: one guy sold all the strawberries – they virtually knew what every buyer needed each week.”
“I reckon I knew where every lettuce in the North Island was!”
“Now the auctions are all over by 10am, but they used to go from 8am till 2pm. I’d have to go and relieve the tomato auctioneer so he could have his cup of tea. He’d say, “don’t come under 3/6d a case”. So I’d get up there – and so many buyers would be disappearing. And then I’d realise someone would be selling them for 2/6d a case. I’d say, don’t tell me what to sell these off at! He’d be trying to hold prices, you see, against a slipping market.”
Fruit Auctioneers sale in progress, with sample case in front of buyers