Hooked on market magic

Alex Fleming has always wanted to be an auctioneer.

Brought up on a 730ha (1800-acre) livestock farm overlooking the River Clyde to the west of Glasgow, for young Alex market days were always a highlight, with the gavel-swinging auctioneers holding as much fascination as the prices.

In 1995, still a teenager, he joined Perth-based United Auctions. Now aged 30, he is acting manager for United Auctions’ North Division, with responsibility for three markets, Huntly, Thurso and Lairg, over a huge livestock area in the north of Scotland.

Alex’s rostrum debut in December 1996 is still fresh in his memory.

“It was a Christmas dressed turkey sale.

The night before, I was really nervous and spent hours standing in front of a mirror, practising moves and spotting bids.

“At the close of the sale I’d sold several turkeys, but had also somehow bought five.

I persuaded our local butcher in Clydebank to buy them, and set off that night in the Land Rover with five turkeys for the butcher, two bags of laundry for Mum and a Suffolk gimmer for Dad.

All went well until a flat tyre in the centre of Glasgow.

The spare was underneath everything in the back.

To cut a long story short, the police were very understanding.”

Alex admires the quality of the commercial sheep and cattle, plus the ability and resilience of the livestock producers in his patch. However he admits that the pedigree beef cattle sales, held each October and February at Perth, are the icing on his auctioneering cake.

Here he auctions some of the pedigree cattle and mans the “tick-tack” box, passing bids from the jumbled throng of humans and cattle outside the sale ring to the auctioneer in the sale ring rostrum.

At the recent Spring Bull Sales, he passed on the highest bid ever made in Perth’s Huntingtower market, 55,000gns for Charolais bull Thrunton Voldemort.

“I tingled all over as the bidding went higher and higher”, says Alex.

Watching Alex on the rostrum, it’s clear he loves his job.

The sparkle in his eyes, his radar detecting a hesitant bidder, the determination to extract another bid, the victorious smack of his treasured hazelwood gavel and the enthusiastic exploitation of every opportunity to crack a joke confirm the judgement of the United Auctions interview panel in 1995.

Flockmasters say they spot a stock-tup the day the lamb is born. David Leggat, chairman of United Auctions, recalls Alex’s interview.

“In between walking through the door and sitting down, Alex had virtually got the job.

His manner, the way he presented himself – he just looked the business.

Had he been a tup lamb you would certainly have nicked his ear and saved a rubber ring.”

Alex has since been nicknamed Flog It and combined with David Leggat (pronounced Leg It), the Scottish auctioneering duo have become known as Flog It and Leg It.

Over the last 10 years Alex has achieved much in his chosen career.

What was his highlight of the last decade?

“August 9, 2004.

After 36 hours’ labour, my wife Leigh-Anne produced our son Murray.

It was exhausting, and I was shattered, but so far it’s the best thing that’s ever happened.”

And his main dislikes?

Pessimism, gloom, misery and prophecies of doom.

And following CAP reforms, there are plenty of those about.

What about the future?

“The lifting of the beef export ban is at the top of my wish-list,” he says.

From a personal point of view I’m delighted to be gaining managerial experience and hope, along with the team, to ensure the long-term prosperity of the business in this part of Scotland.

“I would also like to move higher up the pedigree auctioneering ladder.

But ultimately I hope I’m making a positive contribution to the Scottish livestock industry”.