Owner of Ritchie’s Auctioneers retools business with leaner budget, staff

TORONTO (ACNI) – Following recent published reports of staff upheaval, a seemingly closed gallery and “nervous consignors,” the owner and CEO of Ritchie’s Auctioneers, Ira Hopmeyer, has spoken at length to Auction Central News, countering what he describes as “sour grapes,” and “misconstrued information from sore losers that was conveyed to the media.”

Hopmeyer, who bought Ritchie’s Auctioneers 15 years ago, is involved with several other businesses, either as an owner or investor. He said he took the initiative to assume control at the auction house after certain events took place that he says occurred without his knowledge.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009, that a small contingent of consignors had congregated in Ritchie’s parking lot the day before, hoping to collect either unsold items or money owed to them by the auction house. Instead, the Globe and Mail newspaper said, they found an unattended gallery and a sign on the door advising that the company was on “summer holiday” until Aug. 17. The sign also indicated that the auction scheduled for that day had been postponed.

Further, the article stated that 27 employees had been laid off for financial reasons not long after Sotheby’s Canada’s abrupt dissolution of a nearly 8-year partnership with Ritchie’s, and that the company’s president and chief operating officer, Stephen Ranger, had resigned.

Hopmeyer told Auction Central News, “Yes, former management laid off some staff, and yes, Ranger had resigned previous to the layoffs. He had tried to increase his stake in the company and made an offer that was not accepted. He then made a second offer for a lesser share that was accepted, but he later reneged…He wanted [the increased stake] for nothing. I’m not interested in giving it away.”

In an Aug. 13, 2009 blog posting attributed to Stephen Ranger, Ritchie’s former president writes in part: “The central problem was a liquidity issue that I as a former minority shareholder had no control over, none…Anyone out there who actually believes that I didn’t try repeatedly to fix this situation should examine the logic. Why would someone with as much time, energy and commitment to this business leave if I hadn’t exhausted every avenue to try and make it right? There have been no underhanded machinations here. Everyone knows at this point that I tried repeatedly to buy this business, to fix it, to salvage it, but ultimately could not.”

Hopmeyer – who acted as interim president from 1999 until “2004 or 2005” – said he considers Ranger to have been “very competent with the auction part” of Ritchie’s operation, “but not the business part.”

On Aug. 3, Hopmeyer stepped in to assume the executive management reins at Ritchie’s. He said a trimmed-down team of “loyal employees” has been reinstated to pick up where they left off before the shakeout.

Hopmeyer said he has been at the gallery “24 hours a day,” fielding calls, reassuring consignors, and reviewing previous expenditures as he tightens up the going-forward operating budget.

“It’s all part of business,” he told Auction Central News. “The overhead had gotten out of control. We’re not a New York or London auction house. There will be no more fancy cocktail parties, flying around the country or paying outside consultants exorbitant amounts of money. Now we are concentrating on our future auctions. We’ve been in negotiations and have secured consignors. Everything was delayed for about two weeks, but we’ll have our next sale the third week of September.”

Because of the current economic climate, Hopmeyer says he expects Ritchie’s to be “busier than ever, and we’re preparing for that. Especially during a recession, we provide a necessary service.”

In an effort to maintain transparency and allay misapprehensions, Hopmeyer has been posting updates on Ritchie’s Web site. In his most recent posting, he writes: “Change of management, accounting and company infrastructure have delayed the autumn auction schedule…[we are] work(ing) quickly to resume normal operations and continue to provide the best and most trusted auction services in Canada.”

Hopmeyer said he intends to remain in his current, hands-on executive post until “an appropriate new president” can be found. “I’m in no hurry,” he added. “I’m kind of liking it. On a daily basis, my accountants give me the bills, and I handle each one personally. It’s a learning curve for me.”

Hopmeyer said that anyone wishing to collect auction purchases should call 416-364-1864.

Copyright 2009 Auction Central News International. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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About Ritchie’s:

Originally established as a trading company in 1868, Ritchie’s entered the auction arena in 1967. Headquartered in Toronto, Ritchie’s maintains an auction agenda of more than 20 sales per year, with its specialties including fine art, decorative art, fine furniture and jewelry.

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