Brown Auction and Real Estate: Generations thrive in business with input from many family members

Hannah Brown/Kiowa County Signal
Pratt Tribune
From left, Scott Brown, Ashlind Gumpenberger, and Jamie Brown all cry for Brown Auction and Real Estate, part of the team that has kept the Kiowa County business going for more than 80 years. Ashlind is the fourth generation to cry for the family business.

Started in the 1940s, Brown Auction and Real Estate continues to thrive and serving a much bigger area than just Kiowa County in real estate and antique sales. Four generations of family contribute to the longevity of this well-respected business that isn't afraid to think outside-of-the-box when needed.

“My grandfather (John Brown) started the business in 1940. In 1942 John was drafted into WWII with 3 sales lined up,” said Jamie Brown, current owner. “He convinced his brother, Keith, to cry (that's what an auctioneer calls his chant) the sales for him.”

Until this point, Keith’s role in the family business had been a bid-catcher, but he had quite the knack for auctioneering himself. After John returned from WWII, the two brothers were officially in business together. The second generation of Brown’s to work in the business were Scott and Steve. Steve moved to Ulysses after college to teach school before being drafted to fight in Vietnam. After being wounded in the war, Steve taught school a few more years before moving back home to Mullinville to farm. He helps area auctioneers, working mostly with the Kirk Brothers out of Bucklin. Scott moved away for school but came back home to Mullinville after that to pursue farming and to continue working with his father full time at the family auction business. Scott took over the family business after his father was killed in a car accident in 1976. 

Jamie, Lori, and Traci, Scott and Susan Brown’s three children, were raised helping out in the family business ever since they were five, running clerk sheets, earning a whopping five cents per sheet. Eventually, each kid was given jobs with more responsibility. Anything from handing out items, catching bids, clerking the sale, cashiering, and balancing the books after the auction was finished. Jamie started “crying” when he became a teenager. 

Jamie went to college for a short time where he was the self proclaimed “most social guy on campus.”

After college, he moved back to Kiowa County to work full-time at the family auction and helping out at the family farm as much as he could. Until 2012, Jamie and Scott did business with a boss-employee relationship. It was in the year that the two moved into a business partner relationship.

“That worked well, and in 2019 dad decided he was ready to basically retire from the day to day and sold the business to me,” said Jamie. “Throughout this entire time, though engrossed in their own families and careers, both of my sisters have continued to help consistently with auctions, and have raised their children to do so, just as we were raised to do.”

The fourth generation in the Brown family to cry is Ashlind Gumpenberger, son of Traci and Brian Gumpenberger. Ashlind graduated from Kiowa County High School in 2020 and is currently a freshman at K-State. Ashlind started his auctioneering career at age 13, when he started crying at auctions, and just like his uncle Jamie and Grandpa Scott, his time with the mic progressed as his skill did. 

“Much like the progression for me and Scott, the better he got, the more mic time he got. Currently, he's about to overtake both of us on mic time. He's really turning into a great auctioneer,” said Brown. “Other nieces and nephews, including Noah Myers, Tayt Myers & Emry Myers, Atleigh Gumpenberger & Lochlan Gumpenberger all help with the auctions on a regular basis in different roles. Even my daughters Elizabeth (8) and Elsie (6) willingly get thrown into various roles to help.”

When asked how his family’s business has endured so long and through so much, Jamie had two works: Honesty and Integrity. According to Jamie, Scott has consistently said a business can’t stay in business for 80 years in the same place without treating people right. 

“This is the number 1 value that has been handed down from generation to generation. Treat people right. Sometimes the news we have to tell people isn't what they are hoping to hear, but as long as you are honest with them, they will respect you for that,” said Jamie. 

In the 1970’s John and Scott realized they had not had a farm sale in a year. This was a big deal for two reasons. The first, that this was their bread and butter during that time, according to Jamie. The second reason this was such a big deal was because there just weren’t any farm sales during that year. This made the Brown’s think outside the box on how to keep their family business going for years to come, and the answer to that was branching out to sell other things. They decided on antiques, and this new layer of business is what carried the business through the 80’s, 90’s, and the early part of the 21st century. 

“We began conducting auctions all throughout the midwest, and receiving consignments from all over the country. After the economic crash in 2008, the antique market was hit hard,” said Jamie. “In order to remain profitable and do the best job for our sellers, we recognized that the best way to conduct auctions was with integrated online bidding.” 

Brown Auction offered simulcast internet auctions starting in 2010, and Jamie thinks they were probably the first to do it anywhere between Wichita and Denver. Although this new way to bid had a steep learning curve, it helped the Brown’s compensate for crowds that seemed to grow smaller and smaller for in-person bidding. Not only does it allow more people to bid, but it allows people from all over the world, literally, to bid on an item. 

“The very first item we sold online went to Australia, a ceramic pie bird for $20.00,” said Jamie. “Often at our big antique auctions, we may only have 70-80 people in the crowd, but we usually have 500-700 bidders registered online.”

Having people travel to Greensburg from multiple states for an auction is great, but having bidders representing all 50 states as well as different countries is beneficial to both the auction house and the sellers. 

Brown Auction has several big antique auctions per year along with a New Year sale that lasts multiple days, a “Spring Fling” in early May, and a Labor Day Sale, all held in Greensburg. Jamie says they typically manage to squeeze a 4th in someone. 5-6 “overflow” auctions are held per year in Kinsley at a building they own. All of these annual auctions are in conjunction with farm auctions, estate auctions, farm ground and residential real estate auctions, and recently they have started offering online-only auctions. Another new thing Brown Auction is doing to keep clients engaged in between auctions is a facebook group called Brown Auction Group. In this group an item will be posted and someone can bid by commenting. After no bids/comments have been added for 24 hours, the item is sold. 

As Brown Auction enters its 81st year in business, Jamie recognizes that it takes a village to keep things running smoothly. 

“As I mentioned before, nearly all of the immediate family works as many auctions as their schedule permits. Additionally, we have a few non-blood family members that have helped with auctions for a long time, including Talma Maris of Coldwater who has worked with us for 35+ years. Bob Schmidt of Greensburg who helped for 20+ years, and a handful of other friends that we rope in from time to time,” said Jamie. 

For information on upcoming auctions, visit Brown Auction and Real Estate on Facebook, or their website at brownauction.net