Sold on auctioneering, he does what he loves
By Martha E. Mangelsdorf, Globe Correspondent, 8/29/04
Each month ''Transitions'' profiles individuals who have made significant changes in their work lives - and highlights the techniques they used to make the changes.
Wayne Tuiskula, 45
Turning a hobby into a full-time business.
What he used to do:
Tuiskula worked in the software field for more than 15 years, most recently as a team leader in software quality assurance.
What he does now:
An auctioneer with his own business, Central Mass Auctions Inc. in Leicester, just outside of Worcester.
Making the switch:
Tuiskula can trace his interest in antiques to his childhood, when he collected items such as coins and stamps and liked to look through his father's copies of a publication called Antique Trader. In adulthood, Tuiskula and his wife, Amy, both dabbled in buying items at yard sales and from estates and reselling them.
For years, antiques were just a hobby and part-time business for Tuiskula. He started his career in the software industry in the 1980s, working first in order processing, then in technical support, and later in quality assurance. He also earned a master's degree in business administration.
But even when he was working in software-related jobs, he recalled, he was active in the antiques world in his spare time. ''It was a passion. It was a hobby. But, also, there was income involved,'' recalled Amy Tuiskula. She said the money the couple earned from antiques ''paid for our hobby'' as they bought and collected more items. The two bought antiques and sold them through a variety of channels -- over the Internet, at the Brimfield Antique Show, in a small retail space at one point, and in group consignment shops.
Then, Wayne Tuiskula said, the company where he worked moved his department to its headquarters in Chicago. He said he received a bonus for staying during the transition period, to help train the new people -- a bonus that was helpful when he started his business.
After that period, which ended in 2000, Tuiskula got another job at a high-tech company -- only to be laid off less than a year later. So in 2001, he found himself looking for work again -- and didn't like what he saw happening in the industry.
''I saw that things had slowed up considerably,'' he said. ''I saw that salaries were dropping.''
Although he enjoyed working in software, Tuiskula wanted more job security. When he was growing up, his father, a steelworker who worked in a Worcester wire mill, also ran a part-time business selling books about martial arts and self-defense. So running a business wasn't a foreign concept to Tuiskula; in fact, he said, ''I had always thought about'' starting some type of full-time business related to his antiques hobby. After many years of involvement with antiques, he had some knowledge of the industry and numerous contacts in it.
Tuiskula decided to go to auctioneering school. In 2001, he attended the Yankee School of Auctioneering in New Hampshire, where he took an eight-day course that consisted of 80 hours of training; he then took and passed an exam to get a Massachusetts auctioneer's license. After his schooling, combined with his years of experience with the antiques business, Tuiskula felt, ''I was ready.''
Tuiskula then started his business, which involved a significant investment. Tuiskula estimated that he probably spent about $40,000 on start-up costs, including the purchase of a truck. He rents a hall in Worcester for auction days, and he also rents storage space. His bonus from his earlier job came in handy; Tuiskula said he was able to launch his business without taking out loans.
For Tuiskula, a key aspect of getting started was designing his website, www.centralmassauctions.com, with the help of a nephew. The Web is a key part of his business; he spends a lot of time uploading photos of items he will be auctioning so potential bidders can preview the wares.
''That's been a big part of why I've grown, I think, so fast -- because I've taken the time to put the pictures on the website,'' he said.
That part of the work is ''very time-consuming,'' Tuiskula said, but it's important in today's auction world, where bidders may bid in person at the live auction, may bid remotely via cellphone during the auction, or may make a ''left bid'' before the auction over the phone, via e-mail, or in person. That ''left bid'' is then incorporated into the bidding process during the auction.
In fact, auctions today are a mix of media, observed Ina Steiner, editor of AuctionBytes.com, a Natick-based e-mail newsletter. Although Steiner's publication targets sellers in online auctions, she also attends traditional auction events such as Tuiskula's. Typically, she said, when she gets a postcard about a traditional auction event, she'll first preview the auction's website before deciding whether or not to go.
She said she and her husband and business partner, David Steiner, have worked with Tuiskula in a number of capacities -- placing bids with him, having him auction some items for them, and publishing some articles by him.
Back in 2002, when Tuiskula held his first auction, his wife admits she was nervous. Although she supported his decision to attend auction school, she didn't think he had the type of ''forceful personality'' to be an auctioneer. ''He's just a very quiet guy,'' Amy Tuiskula said.
However, she said he did well at the auction -- and that, in fact, he's become more outgoing in his new career. ''He's just so much in his element now,'' she said.
But the business was slow to develop. At first, Wayne Tuiskula said, it was hard, as a new auctioneer, to get good items to auction. ''You don't get the quality consignments'' when you're just starting out, he said. ''It's a tough business at first.''
He had some good luck: in late 2003, he auctioned an antique chest that sold for $20,900. That auction, he felt, really put him and his business on the map.
Before that happened, Tuiskula considered going back to the high-tech field. A former boss called about a job at a company where she was working, he recalled, and he interviewed. At the time, he said, he felt that the fact that he was earning less in his business was a bit of a hardship for his family.
In the end, the Tuiskulas didn't have to face the decision about whether or not he should take the job; the job order got cancelled. ''That just kind of reinforced the volatility of the high-tech world,'' Amy Tuiskula said.
Wayne Tuiskula said he enjoyed his work in software and it was nice to work as part of a team. He now works much of the time on his own, although Amy Tuiskula, who works full-time as office services manager at a law firm, also helps out with the business. As auctions approach, he also receives a great deal of help from other friends and family, including his daughter, Lauren.
Overall, Tuiskula feels lucky to be doing work he loves. ''If your hobby can turn into a business, how much better can it be than that?'' he observed.
Software, he said, is something he had an aptitude for, but antiques are something he loves. While he took a big pay cut when he started the business -- in 2002 he earned about half his former salary -- he estimated that, for 2004, he will earn a roughly comparable amount, a salary he characterized as moderate-to-high five figures. Tuiskula's current compensation doesn't include health insurance, however; the family gets health insurance through Amy Tuiskula's job.
Despite the risks involved in starting a business, Wayne Tuiskula thinks he's now attaining something hard to find in the corporate world: job security. ''I'm a business of one,'' he said. ''And I don't see any layoffs in the future.''
Martha E. Mangelsdorf () is a freelance business and careers writer who writes ''Transitions'' each month.