When Camille Booker was a child, she said she was shy and terrified of getting in front of a crowd.
Now the Washington native is a bid spotter for Scottsdale-based Barrett-Jackson, a premier car auction. The Scottsdale 2021 auction is set for Saturday, March 20, to Saturday, March 27, at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
“The idea of getting up in front a crowd didn’t exactly appeal to me at the time,” Booker said. “It wasn’t until my last year at the University of Washington when I realized this was the profession I wanted to pursue. The interactions with people were what appealed to me, as well as the opportunity to be able to help them through various life situations.
Booker has been a key member of the Barrett-Jackson team for the past five years, and many members of the car community recognize her from the main auction block, where she works as a professional bid spotter.
“I serve as the liaison between the lead auctioneer and the bidder,” Booker explained. “The auctioneer is up on the stage but can’t see every person in the crowd that raises their hand, especially with bids coming in from all across the room. Our team consists of multiple bid spotters that help relay bids to the auctioneer. For some people, this is their first experience buying a car at an auction, so we’re there to provide assistance and help them feel more comfortable during the bidding process.”
Booker’s role requires her to read people’s body language as well as understand each person’s specific needs and bidding style.
“Everyone is different, from first-timers and car dealers to the guy who has been coming to Barrett-Jackson auctions since the very beginning,” Booker said. “One person may want to stand on the opposite end, away from the bid spotter, because they don’t want to be seen, while somebody else will want me right next to them the entire time. I also have to be able to recognize when someone is done bidding or if they want to keep going. It’s about understanding everyone’s personalities and comfort levels.”
Booker has been an auctioneer for more than 20 years and helps run her family’s auction business, Booker Auction Company, which was established in 1980 in her home state of Washington. A third-generation auctioneer, Booker’s grandfather and father were both auctioneers, along with several of her uncles and all three of her siblings. As a kid, she grew up helping her family with their auction business and attended auction school when she was 16 but didn’t plan on becoming an auctioneer.
She underestimated herself. In 2011, Booker won the woman’s title for top auctioneer at the International Auctioneer Championship, which is sponsored by the National Auctioneers Association and brings together top auctioneers as they compete for the world title. Booker also met and befriended Joseph Mast, who won the men’s title that same year. After he became the lead auctioneer with Barrett-Jackson in 2015, Mast invited Booker to join the team.
“I had the privilege of going to a couple of Barrett-Jackson auctions before I went to work for them, and it’s definitely one of those bucket list experiences,” Booker said. “It’s the premier auction to be a part of. It’s truly amazing to see how many people show up to enjoy the show. Besides the auctions, there is so much else going on for people to see and enjoy. They’re a fabulous company to work for, from their professionalism to their overall presentation and how the entire event flows from start to finish. There are so many moving parts that are going on to make everything look absolutely flawless. I love the work that I get to do with Barrett-Jackson, because it’s completely different from what I normally do.”
Booker has worked for a variety of auctions, from agricultural equipment and livestock to charity fundraisers. She loves the diversity and new experiences that each auction provides.
“I often tell people that one of the coolest parts of my job is that one day I’ll be wearing boots and jeans up on stage, then the next day I’m in a gown for a charity fundraiser,” Booker shared. “It keeps my life interesting, and I learn something different each time. I get to meet all kinds of people, and being exposed to so many things is an extremely rewarding part of this job.”
Booker said some people’s decision to bid on a car is based on an emotion or memory that holds special meaning for them.
“Whether it’s the same car that their parent had growing up or the car they drove when they were in high school or always wanted to drive, there is often a lot of emotion associated with bidding on a car,” Booker explained.
Each auctioneer has his or her own “chant,” also known as bid calling, which is the rapid-fire speech that is used to help sell the items during an auction. Booker has developed her own chant over the years that has contributed to the success of her auctions.
“Having good general cadence and pace is important, because when people are listening to an auctioneer all day long, they don’t want to be annoyed by the person’s voice,” Booker pointed out. “You also don’t want to go too fast, because people need to be able to understand you. I adjust my chant depending on the type of event that I’m working at. At a car auction, we need to maintain a relatively quick speed so that we can get through hundreds of cars in a limited amount of time. But at a fundraiser where people are enjoying their drinks, you don’t want to whip through the items. Chanting helps escalate the excitement and enthusiasm at every auction.”
As a result of COVID-19, the auction industry has faced its fair share of challenges and has successfully pivoted in new directions. At the onset of the pandemic, Barrett-Jackson shifted to online auctions for several months. In October, the company returned to live events and hosted its first fall auction at WestWorld of Scottsdale, proving that it could safely hold in-person auctions while following safety guidelines and protocols. Booker is looking forward to participating in the Scottsdale auction in January.
“Everybody is doing things a bit differently this year, and we’re all just trying to adapt,” Booker said. “With their online auctions, Barrett-Jackson has done a really great job at making people feel engaged and connected. At our October auction, we had to maintain a certain distance, and everyone was wearing masks, so since we couldn’t read lips, we had to learn other ways to communicate with buyers. Barrett-Jackson did a phenomenal job of making sure that all of the right protocols were in place in order to make people feel safe. At the end of the day, everyone was so happy to be there and excited to have some sense of normalcy again.”
Fundraising auctions are among Booker’s favorite events in which to participate. She always looks forward to the annual charity car auctions that Barrett-Jackson hosts.
“Barrett-Jackson does an amazing job every year at supporting a wide variety of charities,” she said. “People love those moments at the events. I remember a couple of years ago when Jay Leno introduced George Bush on stage, and seeing how excited the crowd got was definitely one of the top moments. Another time, we were in Las Vegas a few weeks after the mass shooting had occurred, and Barrett-Jackson’s president, Steve Davis, donated one of his cars to the charity auction, with proceeds going to the first responders. That was a very touching moment for all of us.”
Booker’s 10-year-old son is also showing prowess as a future auctioneer, having already participated in local fundraising events for their community. While Booker may send him to auction school when he gets older, she wants him to follow his dreams, which may or may not result in following in his mother’s footsteps.
“I’m very grateful to be in this position where I get the opportunity to interact with and help so many people in different capacities,” Booker shares.
“I enjoy working with my family, and I love my team — my co-workers have also become my extended family. Maintaining professionalism and a strong work ethic are very important to me. Even though auctioneering has been a man’s world, there are a lot more women working in this industry now. I’ve worked hard and have been privileged to have success, but I always remember where I came from. I look forward to continuing on this path, and I feel truly blessed to be where I’m at.”