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Read the Exclusive Interview between Senior VP Mike Thurston & CEG

CEG Contributing Editor, Eric Olson had the privilege to interview our new Senior Vice President, Mike Thurston about his time in the industry and how he came to work for Yoder & Frey and Euro Auctions. Read the full interview below.

By Eric Olson

CEG Contributing Editor

Although Mike Thurston loved his job as vice president of TLG Peterbilt in Springfield, Mo., a job he had had for the previous 15 years, he found himself open to listening to a proposal late in 2022 with the owner of Europe’s largest construction equipment auction company.

Thurston enjoyed a long business relationship with Jonnie Keys, one of the owners of Euro Auctions in the United Kingdom, where the two friends discussed a series of topics, among them Keys’ vision for his North American subsidiary, Yoder & Frey Auctioneers, LLC in Kissimmee, Fla.

What Thurston heard in his talks with Keys both intrigued and challenged him, including the offer to become Yoder & Frey’s new senior vice president in the U.S.

“I really wasn’t looking to do something different,” he explained. “I had a wonderful career at a great family-owned company, so the question was: Why would I leave a company and a job I loved? The answer, quite honestly, is that I saw it as a challenge to help Jonnie build a North American market and finish my career in the auction business, an industry I started in and had missed.”

Later, more discussion between the two finally led Thurston to accept the new position with Yoder & Frey last April.

He was brought on board at the auction company to help accelerate its ongoing expansion and popularize its brand nationwide, Yoder & Frey said in a press release announcing Thurston’s hire. Euro Auctions was attracted to his more than 30 years in auctions and finance, including funding large assets in the construction and machinery sector.

Thurston’s responsibilities include overseeing Yoder & Frey’s entire North American enterprise, where he will pay close attention to building a top-shelf sales and operations apparatus. That means identifying and hiring salespeople, equipment experts, shop personnel, and parts specialists – all done with the primary goal of expanding the company.

Establishing Company Viability is Thurston’s Specialty

Born in Minnesota, Thurston graduated from the University of Notre Dame,

before obtaining his MBA from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

“My first job out of college was with Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, where I worked for eight years, first as yard manager before I moved into sales,” he explained. “Following that, I spent three years with Firstar Equipment Finance, which I left when it merged with a bank.”

As he moved up in his career, Thurston next served as equipment asset manager for TCF Bank in his home state, before an opportunity came up for him to become the director of used equipment worldwide for Seattle-based PACCAR, a global leader in the design, manufacture, and customer support of high-quality premium trucks such as Kenilworth and Peterbilt.

After three years, that job led to his top management position at TLG Peterbilt in Missouri and, eventually, to Yoder & Frey, where he started on May 1.

Thurston is proud of the fact that every management-level job he has had has been to either establish or rebuild viability within a business or one of its departments. The challenge for him is being able to accomplish that successfully and is at the core of what drives him.

“When you look at Firstar, TCF, and PACCAR – especially TLG Peterbilt, and now Yoder & Frey – that was what I was hired to do each time,” he said.

Giving Yoder & Frey a Bigger Presence in U.S.

Euro Auctions, with headquarters in Dromore, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, wants Keys’ vision for Yoder & Frey transformed into reality by allowing Thurston to apply those same talents that worked so well for his previous employers. The auction company’s case means establishing a larger market presence across North America.

As it stands currently, Yoder & Frey has three properties on the continent, all in the U.S. They include one auction site each in North Baltimore, Ohio (which serves as its North America Head Quarters); Houston, Texas; and the Kissimmee, just south of Orlando between Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike.

“Euro Auctions’ vision and my vision are focused squarely on Yoder & Frey’s expansion, and we want to do that by building new facilities, buying new properties, and hiring more salespeople,” Thurston explained. “I have been working on that last task already by bringing in three new salespeople, bringing our total sales force up to 11. In addition, we expect to be coast-to-coast with our auctions, just like how our parent company does it in Europe.

“Euro Auction is the top player in Europe; no one is bigger than them,” he added. “Will we become that big in the U.S.? That is probably not realistic, but the vision is that we become significantly bigger than we are now with multiple locations.”

He insists there is no set number of branches planned as yet but added that he could easily see Yoder & Frey having anywhere from six to 10 locations across the country and 40 or 50 salespeople coast-to-coast.

“We want to do expansion organically and through acquisition, and that could be through either buying more property or other auction companies.”

The dominant heavy equipment auction company in Europe, Euro Auctions’ 2017 purchase of Yoder & Frey is a continuation of its long reach across the globe. It also has established operations in the Middle East, Australia, and other locales.

Like its parent company, Yoder & Frey will also start to think bigger in terms of finding new markets, Thurston said, and does not want to limit its operational bounds.

The question of whether the Florida-based auction company will make any moves beyond the U.S. borders to other parts of the continent is still being considered, he noted.

“It would definitely include North America,” according to Thurston. “We are looking at Canada, a place where we certainly want to have a footprint.”

Combined with Euro Auctions, Yoder & Frey already compares very favorably to its competition, several of which are also located in Central Florida.

“If you look at worldwide, we are easily number two because of our association with Euro Auction, but as far as the U.S. market, it is hard to say,” he said.

Yoder & Frey Works to Make the Auction Process Easy

Next February’s Florida Auctions in the Orlando, Fla. area, attended by auction firms and customers from all over the world, is the industry’s most important event of the year. It is also an occasion for contractors looking for the machines they need at prices that fit their budgets.

“Everybody’s Florida sale is the big one in February, a five-to-seven-day sale for all the auction companies,” described Thurston, “and all the major auction firms like us are based within a 75-mile radius of Orlando.”

But for Yoder & Frey, the 2024 Florida Auctions will be even more special in that it will mark the company’s 50th anniversary. Additionally, with Thurston at the helm, it will give him an opportunity to see how his operation stacks up against the industry’s other top players.

Like other heavy equipment auctioneers, Yoder & Frey holds sales events several times a year, but how each of them conducts their auctions varies from company to company.

“I think there are a few things that differentiate us from our competitors in that the majority of our sales are live, in-person auctions,” he explained. “This year in the U.S., we will do right around 20 sales events. They are all live auctions, but all are hosted virtually as well to accommodate domestic customers who can’t be there and our customers from overseas. We still like the environment of a live auction, though, with the equipment running and people onsite – that is important to us. Plus, we are also very aggressive on our pricing and on our admission structure.”

Thurston also believes that Yoder & Frey has succeeded in removing the hassle for buyers and sellers in the auction process.

“I think that is another of our key differentiators,” he elaborated. “I think the thing to focus on is that we are offering unreserved auctions. When customers know that – and that the equipment is going to be sold to a buyer – a new and better clientele is likely to attend because they understand that no games will be played. Yoder & Frey and Ritchie Bros. do it that way, but it is a fairly unique practice in our industry.”

One of the most powerful tools in Yoder & Frey’s arsenal is that it will hold auctions off site at a customer’s yard as well, something the company’s largest competitor has shied away from, he said.

“Any time you can have a complete dispersal in an owner’s yard who has been in business for 25 or 50 years, it is very powerful. For instance, we just did an auction for a customer in Ohio whose company had been in business for over 100 years.”

In addition to these selling options, Yoder & Frey is one of the few auctioneers who also offer an online marketplace where customers can make an offer or there is a ‘Buy It Now’ price.  This is a great option for large or niche items that don’t lend themselves to auctions," Thurston added.

Right Job in Perfect Place

Thurston indicated that his move to Yoder & Frey could be the last of his many jobs in his career, but, if nothing else, it finally puts him in a state with a sunnier climate than the other places where he lived and worked.

In addition, it reunites him with his brother, Joe, who has been a salesman at the auction company for more than seven years.

“My wife and I always knew that this was our end game, and the job certainly accelerated our plan of getting to Florida,” he noted. “That was a piece of the puzzle that fit well into this latest career change.”


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