Auctioneer Thrives in Weak Economy

by Lori Stabile
The Republican (Springfield, MA)
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Edition: ALL, Section: Business, Page C08


ENFIELD - Five years ago, William J. Firestone left a family-run auction business to start his own auction company.

He hasn't regretted the decision.

Firestone is president of Capital Recovery Group, an asset disposition and appraisal company. His clients include Black & Decker, Miller Brewing, Coca-Cola and Marriott Distribution Services. He handled auctions for Serv-U two years ago when the company closed stores in Northampton and Enfield. And recently he did the auction for Major Wire in Chicopee, which attracted bidders from Australia, Germany, Turkey and Sri Lanka.

"We travel all over the country. We've done auctions in 44 states," Firestone, 47, said earlier this week.

He has 11 full-time employees. A member of the International Auctioneers Association, Firestone has been in the auction business more than 20 years. His business has taken him to Puerto Rico and Canada. His plan is to eventually do auctions overseas.

While bidders come to auctions to get the best deal on products, Firestone's job is to get the most money for his clients. "An auctioneer is a deal maker." He said he was the first to broadcast an auction live on a Webcast. He did that five years ago.

But sometimes, as in the case of the Major Wire auction, "people want a hands-on" experience, he said.

Firestone said he has seen many companies move their manufacturing operations overseas to save money on production costs. He often will auction their old equipment to owners of small, growing companies.

"We feel (auctions) are a catalyst for business," Firestone said.

The weak economy has contributed to his business, as companies have closed locations or gone out of business. But that doesn't translate to higher profits. While he has done more auctions, items are selling for less than they would in a stronger economy.

"You have to work harder for the same amount of revenue," Firestone said. "But I see the economy turning around, the last four auctions . . . I've seen more people in attendance."

Last year, he sold about $20 million in merchandise through auctions.

His company also looks for business opportunities. He said he bought a paper mill in Pepperell and is looking for a buyer to operate it.

Despite growing up in the business (his family operates Aaron Posnik & Co., an auction company in Springfield), Firestone didn't always know he wanted to be an auctioneer. That changed when he was at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His grandfather, the late Aaron Posnik, called him one day and told him he needed help at an auction.

"I stayed with it," Firestone said.

Since then, he's done everything from auctioning the real estate and assets of a toilet-bowl manufacturer to auctioning off beer buildings. He also auctioned the assets of several dot-coms. Tomorrow, Firestone will be at Fenway Park in Boston, auctioning off low-number license plates, the proceeds of which will go to the Jimmy Fund.

He and his wife, Susan, have 9-year-old twin daughters, Andrea and Rachel. They live in Longmeadow.

©2005 The Republican Company.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.

Cycles on Auction Block // Springfield Revival Try Washes Out

by William Freebairn
The Republican (Springfield, MA)
Tuesday, June 1, 2004
Edition: ALL, Section: Business, Page C07


The remains of the revived Indian Motorcycle company will be sold off next month at an auction of motorcycles, memorabilia and merchandise from three New England dealerships.

The auction June 12 at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will include about 40 new Indian Motorcycles, accessories and equipment.

"The irony is that the sale is back in Springfield, where the brand began," said Kenneth Katz, senior appraiser for Capital Recovery Group, an Enfield company conducting the auction.

The venerable Indian Motorcycle brand was revived in 1999 by investors seeking to give Harley-Davidson a run for its money, but collapsed late last year when it ran out of cash. The original Indian was the nation's top motorcycle maker during the first half of the 20th century, manufacturing thousands of machines from its Springfield headquarters.

The original Indian ceased production in 1953.

Katz said the auction will include spare parts as well as signs and Indian-branded furniture from the three showrooms. "These companies, they put their name on everything," he said.

Items to be sold include photo frames, bookends, sunglasses, photographs, T-shirts, caps, helmets and, of course, leather jackets. Parts on sale include the distinctive Indian fenders, rims, engines, exhaust pipes and leather seats.

Repair and service equipment as well as memorabilia will also be sold. Stocks of licensed merchandise will be sold during the preview of the entire collection, planned for June 11 starting at 11 a.m. at the Basketball Hall of Fame foyer. The auction will be held there June 12 at 11 a.m.

Interest in the auction is running high, said William Firestone, president of Capital Recovery Group.

"People from all over the United States have contacted us," he said.

A personal assistant for entertainer Jay Leno, a well-known motorcycle aficionado, has requested information about the auction, Firestone said.

His company liquidated another revived vintage motorcycle manufacturer, Excelsior Henderson, to auction its assets last year.

The resurrected Indian Motorcycle brand began production of its replica Scout, Chief and Spirit motorcycles in 1999 and sold more than 10,000 bikes at prices from $20,000 and up in five years.

Longtime Indian enthusiasts were not particularly supportive of the reincarnation of the revered brand. Many believed the new motorcycle's engines, initially purchased from another manufacturer, were not up to the original standards.

The company was done in when further investors could not be found to pump more money into the business, which had consumed a reported $145 million in capital during its five-year run.

The company let go of 380 employees in Gilroy, Calif., in September, and the 200 dealerships across the country soon began to close. There was talk of reviving the firm, but no investors stepped forward.

Earlier this year, the plant in California was sold, as were equipment and parts there.

A Michigan company purchased the factory assets, including the first 40 2004 models and 30 models from the company's collection, including bikes designed for appearances in such movies as Terminator 3 and Scooby Doo 2. Those motorcycles are being sold by National Retail Equipment Liquidators in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The rights to the Indian Motorcycle name, which were the subject of numerous legal battles over the years, are being sold at auction June 29 by CMA Business credit Services of Burbank, Calif. The minimum bid is $2.5 million, and the deadline for submitting initial bids is June 24.

©2005 The Republican Company.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.