Published: June 19, 2018
Donny Malone has been a buyer and seller for as long as he can remember. The 26-year-old grew up with the family auction business in Saugerties, N.Y., and set out to start his own estate auction, Donny Malone Auctions, in July of last year. A year and 17 sales later, we caught up with him to see how it is going, what he has learned and what plans he has going forward.
So how did you get started in all of this?
For the first 19 years of my life, my parents ran an auction house, so I was always there. They were going to flea markets, so by default, my brother and I had to go with them. So that’s up and down the East Coast, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, everywhere.
When I was 15, I had my own website. I would go to flea markets and buy and sell drums. They knew me as “the drum kid.”
What was the lead-up to dealing in antiques and art, then?
I went to SUNY Fredonia and got my BA in Applied Music with a concentration in percussion. I did the whole thing: played for a few orchestras and went to Africa to transcribe music and bring it back. I invented a mallet; it had a double layer of core yarn, which was unique, and I sold those through a major distributor. And then I went back to SUNY Fredonia for animation and illustration art and got another BA in that.
Throughout school, I was buying and selling on eBay, and that paid for my apartment and whatnot. After I graduated, I was going to attend grad school, but that didn’t happen, so it was either finding a real job or going full time dealing.
So tell me about starting an auction today. I imagine it’s a lot of work.
It is. I started out of a garage and a barn, I hustled to get 300 lots per auction, because that’s manageable. And at the beginning, you struggle to get 300 lots, I was running monthly at first. I overfilled the garage and barn, so I rented an old retired banquet hall and now I’m running every two weeks, pumping out 600-900 lots per month. We’re grinding 15 to 18 hour days.
Where do you get your consignments?
I’ve got a few other auctions giving me merchandise, consignors from the public and I do buying trips every two weeks.
Has it become easier to fill the sales?
Yes, it becomes easier to do that. As long as you’re willing to optimize and drop things, it’s manageable. As an example, I optimized the way I do photography. I cut out a bunch of processes there, so now I have it going pretty fast.
As we mentioned, your father has been in the business for decades, and he joined your auction recently, how’s that going?
It helps. He does all of my descriptions, and we go on buying trips. Of course, there’s a few debates on how we should run things, but it’s just like any other family business.
What are some of the difficulties of selling at auction?
It’s selling wholesale, which is hard, because you have to acquire a lot of merchandise. People like the instant gratification of retail – seeing it, buying it and having it shipped to them. But I would say we’re in a far better market now than what it used to be.
Selling online, I sell to 27 countries instead of my local foot traffic. So I have instantly expanded to global business instead of the hundred or so people in a few miles radius. Online selling comes with difficulties, though. Everything is used, sometimes things have chips, so you should come here and inspect the item, but I would say that live auctions are becoming obsolete due to the internet.
Any advice for a younger generation looking to start up?
Go for the volume game instead of trying to make a score. Growing up in it, I’ve been a long-time observer. I’ve watched people chase things. Even if you’re going to lose, don’t chase the $5 and $10 items. A lot of the old antiquers talk about hitting the score and making a hit. It’s more of a gambling thing. They lose more than they make. I would rule out chance with statistical large numbers. And don’t be afraid to be unorthodox. Everyone said I couldn’t run an online sale; I couldn’t do 300 lots. Now I’m watching three or four people who are now starting out and doing what I did. Follow the technology, and go against the grain.
How are you following the technology forward?
The future of auctions is in virtual and augmented reality. You’ll be able to walk through and preview and bid on a sale from your home as if you were in the auction hall. I had plans, and still do, to do VR auctions. I bought it all, the 360-degree cameras and everything, but I ran out of room in the building. I need a bigger space.
Where did all the room go?
People need to pick up their furniture.
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