With her warm smile and magazine model looks, Johnna Wells most likely could sell anyone anything.
When Wells, 27, added her brains and inherited talent to the mix, she earned international honors for her salesmanship. On July 22, she won the women’s division of the International Auctioneers Championship in Pittsburgh. The auction world’s most prestigious affair, the championship awards winners $10,000, a larger-than-life trophy and the job of representing the National Auctioneers Association throughout the world for a year.
“My knees went weak. I was totally shocked,” Wells said about the moment judges announced her the winner out of 22 female contestants. “It’s the most prestigious award in the industry.”
Her father, Randy Wells, is a popular auctioneer in North Idaho. He’s on the National Auctioneers Association board of directors.
“This is a parent’s proudest moment,” he said. “It goes along with the day she was born.”
Wells decided to compete after only two years as a professional auctioneer. She had planned a career teaching art and earned a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Idaho after graduating in 1996 from Post Falls High. She’d relayed bids to her dad during auctions as she grew up, but she’d resisted becoming an auctioneer.
“Dad tried to get me and my brother to call bids,” Wells said. “I thought it was too embarrassing, too fast.”
Randy Wells didn’t push.
“I always let them figure out what they want to do,” he said.
Johnna settled in Portland after college and designed jewelry from sterling silver and vintage tin. In May 2003, she returned to Post Falls to help her parents move into a condominium overlooking the Spokane River. Over 20 years, Randy and Annette Wells had accumulated piles of items they no longer needed or wanted. They invited the public to an auction. “That’s what everyone should do,” Randy Wells said, grinning.
Something clicked in Johnna’s head during the family auction.
“I loved being with my family and friends. It was fun,” she said. “I decided to go to auction school.”
Her father was elated. Her mother, Annette, was stunned.
“I was taken aback,” said Annette Wells, from whom Johnna inherited her talent in art. “It was so unexpected.”
Three months later, Johnna headed to Reppert School of Auctioneering in Auburn, Ind. For 13 10- to 13-hour days she practiced chanting “A big black bug bit a big black bear” until she could speed through the phrase without tripping over her tongue. She learned how to connect with buyers and push the bids up to the fair market value of the auction item.
She now works for Talbot Auctions and Fundraising in Portland, helping arts in education programs raise money for children’s programs, she said.
At the International Auctioneer Championship, Wells was judged on poise, clarity and her ability to connect with an audience as she auctioned off a laptop computer, Victorian-style bracelets and a full-page magazine ad.
Some 1,800 auctioneers filled the audience and bid on the items.
“One of the most difficult things is to get up in front of your peers,” Wells said.
She’s learning to chant in French now, a skill that interests Disney World’s auctioneer, a friend of Randy Wells.
“He wants her to do an auction at Disney World in Paris,” Randy Wells said, beaming at his daughter. “The opportunities now are phenomenal.”