In the wake of COVID-19, Phoebe Wiles creates an online and streaming auction service
Necessity is the mother of invention. The old English proverb became apparent to Phoebe Wiles when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Phoebe, a longtime Angus producer from Willow Springs, Mo., is the Southwest Missouri Performance Tested Bull Sale manager, a position she assumed in the fall of 2019.
“Right before my second sale was in the middle of COVID,” she said. “I thought long and hard about what I could do to have the sale. I had cleaning stations and reminded everyone not to sit together, but the consigners were calling and were distraught.”
If the sale didn’t take place, not only would consigners not be able to sell their bulls at a premium, it could impact other areas of their operation.
“For me, there was never an option not to have a sale,” Phoebe said. “On top of that, the buyers were depending on those bulls because that’s their livelihood as well. I had to put my feet down and get to work.”
Pulling from her off-the-farm education and experience, Phoebe developed and an online auction platform called Live Wire Auction. She started working on the website immediately following the 2020 spring sale. The first sale on the platform was the October 2020 Missouri Performance Tested Bull Sale, which was livestreamed and provided real-time bidding options. Buyers could also place proxy bids via the website.
“After that sale in April, consigners were asking me what the next step would be,” Phoebe said. “By September, I had everything built and finalized with graphics and security.”
It wasn’t the first time Phoebe had developed a website. Her first project was when she was the president of the Heart of America Junior Angus Association in high school. She developed a site to keep track of points for year-end awards.
Phoebe has a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance, as well as in mathematics. She went on to achieve a master’s in agricultural economics and a master’s in engineering management.
“With engineering management, you use a lot of coding, so writing code is like a second language for me.”
Live Wire Auctions was created for a specific sale, but Phoebe saw a growing need for online services in the agriculture world, especially for smaller producers, giving them a new marketing potential for their livestock.
“There are so many good farmers who have only 40 head of cattle,” she explained. “When you search EPDs and you find a great cow, you start asking where is this farm? Whose farm is this? Those smaller producers get overlooked. Live Wire is set up for any sized operation. If you go to some of these other auctions won’t even talk to a producer for less than $2,500. We will get things going online for $750.
“I feel there’s a lot of producers who are getting overlooked because they don’t even know where to start, or if they can afford it. This was built with all farmers in mind.”
Producers who want to book an auction with Live Wire have the option of a completely online sale or a live sale with a livestream.
For an online-only sale, producers must provide all information to Live Wire, such as registration numbers, photos and videos. Phoebe said Live Wire does not take pictures or produce video, but she can provide information for those services if needed.
The information is then placed online and opened for bidding. All lots open and close at the same time using a horse-race style bidding format. If a bid is received minutes before the ending time, the sale for that lot will be extended 5 minutes. The additional time will continue until no bids are received for 5 minutes. If no bids are received, the lot is closed. Bidders receive email and text alerts during the bidding process.
For a livestream sale, Live Wire is at the sale location and realtime bids are accepted through the website.
“Our camera does the encoding inside of the camera,” Phoebe said. “If you’re at home on your computer watching the sale, you’re going to have a 2-second or less lag between the computer and the live auction. That lag is going to be if you’re on the back 40 of the boonies; most people have a second or less lag time.”
The live auction service also allows bidders to ask questions in realtime
“Any questions you might have about picking up, what lot we’re on or anything else, you can ask,” Phoebe said. “I’m big on customer service, and I want to do everything fairly. I will give you the facts and my honest opinion. I want people to have the opportunity to sell their cattle in a legitimate and fair way, and in a way that’s profitable. I’m proud of the customer service we offer because it’s the same for everyone.”
Both services offer online payment options, and animals will not be delivered or picked up until all payments are received. Sale terms are outlined in the user agreement prior any bids being accepted from a bidder.
Live Wire’s service fees and commissions vary based on services required and the type of sale.
“We help you with every aspect of your sale,” Phoebe said. “We want to make things as simple as we can.”
A pandemic disrupting business as usual is never an ideal situation, but if it weren’t for COVID, Live Wire Auction would not have developed.
“Agriculture is pushing the internet; we’re pushing the technology,” Phoebe said. “I’m proud of my guys who are going out there and working hard to get their bulls halter broken and looking good because now I have the ability to market their bulls in Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and all over the U.S. We wouldn’t have done that if it weren’t for COVID. I think that’s the silver lining and it’s helped us become better. I don’t want to stay stagnant; I want to keep pushing to make things better than they used to be.”
Phoebe hopes to grow the Live Wire customer base and expand into other areas of agricultural-related sales and marketing.
“With this format, we can sell anything,” she said. “We want this to be a tool for all farmers.”