Purple Wave doesn’t feel the sting of recession

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While many business across the county are feeling the pinch of a sluggish economy, Purple Wave Auction, a locally owned auction house, is thriving.

Most auction houses are among the businesses across the country feeling the effects of the troubled economy, particularly charity auctions. A survey taken in December by The Auction Block, a Web site for fundraisers and auction professionals, shows 71 percent of respondents felt a noticeable impact on their auction outcome. Over a third said getting items was harder and people were bidding less.

This is not the case for Purple Wave, as the company has experienced significant growth every year since its creation in 2000, founder and CEO Aaron McKee said. Many of its auctions are for profit, but even its charity auctions are doing well.

“It’s challenging, but ultimately an opportunity for us,” McKee said.

McKee said the economy has not negatively affected Purple Wave, but it has caused the company to change over time. It started out as a live auction house, but the popularity of its Web site led to a shift over time to gear more of its auctions toward Internet customers.

Today, about 80 percent of the company’s auctions are online only, while the other 20 percent are live auctions that run in conjunction with an online auction. Online auctions allows Purple Wave to reach a greater audience, McKee said. The majority of its sales are in the Midwest, but McKee said it is not uncommon to sell items to international destinations, including South America and China. This seems to be a winning strategy that is catching on: The Auction Block’s survey shows that 39 percent of auction houses were planning to put more items online in the future.

Purple Wave has attempted to make online auction experiences more worthwhile for customers by creating new features, like the “grouped extension,” which extends the time limit on groups of similar items that have active bidding. This means if a prospective buyer discovers the item he has been bidding on goes beyond the price he can afford, a comparable item is on hold to allow him extra time to bid on it.

Another thing that might account for Purple Wave’s success lies in what it sells. According to The Auction Block, art and antique sales are sagging the most right now due to the recession. An article by The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, New York on March 8th revealed antiques auctions were suffering from lower sales and smaller bids. While Purple Wave does sell some antiques, they specialize in agricultural equipment, vehicles and real estate. A real estate auction earlier this month brought over $585,000 for 647 acres of land in various locations across Kansas.

“Every day, we keep hearing stories of people trying for months or years to sell a property without so much as a single offer,” McKee said in a press release on April 2. “Yet, this land attracted 70 bidders either online or in person, and we had 332 Internet bids before we ever began the live auction.”

Purple Wave Auction has offices across Kansas and other parts of the Midwest, but the company’s corporate headquarters has remained in Manhattan, at 825 Levee Drive. This is convenient for many of the employees who have roots in the area.

Laura Noll, marketing and design associate for Purple Wave Auction, says that McKee and many of the other employees are K-State alumni. She personally received her degree in journalism last December. Several employees also have children attending K-State’s Hoeflin Stone House Child Care Center.

More information on future auctions as Purple Wave can be found on its Web site at www.purplewave.com.

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