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Kurt Coates has been running Blue Mule Auctions in Shelley with his wife Becky for the past 14 years. Kurt typically gathers the items for the auctions and Becky photographs them and uploads the images to the website. Blue Mule holds 30 to 40 auctions a year and usually has between 300 to 700 items for each auction. Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com

SHELLEY — Kurt Coates doesn’t deny it: going to an auction house can be a bit of a gamble.

“Selling something at an auction is kind of like going to Vegas,” Coates said. “You’ve got to roll the dice. You might hit it big or you might walk away with nothing.”

The 37-year-old Coates owns Shelley-based Blue Mule Auctions. The auction house at 195 S. Spud Alley is one of two auction houses in eastern Idaho. Coates opened the business 14 years ago, in his hometown of Shelley. Blue Mule has four employees, with a few additional hands coming in to help out during auctions.

Coates said he sells a little bit of everything.

“I say our specialty is guns, coins and antiques, but we do so much more than just that,” he said. “We’ve sold household items, books. Before the housing collapse, we actually sold some houses at auction. We had one go for half a million dollars.”

Coates said each auction features between 300 and 700 items. He said Blue Mule averages 30 to 40 auctions a year.

“It’s a lot of hard work getting ready for an auction,” Coates said. “It takes us about a month and a half to get ready for an auction. We’ll be working on getting ready for several auctions at once. I stay pretty busy.”

Here’s how the business works: People interested in selling items at auction contact Coates, usually by telephone. After that initial contact, Coates meets with the seller and inspects the item or items to be offered for sale. Coates said he looks at each item to make sure it is in good condition and when possible he takes down serial numbers to make sure the items aren’t stolen.

Once Coates decides that the items will attract bidders, he negotiates a commission with the seller. Once a commission is agreed upon, Coates takes the items back to the auction house, where he conducts more research as to the value and prepares the items for sale.

Coates said the commission price depends on several factors such as what the item is, whether it had to be moved to the auction house and the expected value of the item.

When preparing for an auction, Coates photographs the items, labels them, puts them into categories and figures out a starting price.

After working in auction houses in Payson, Utah, and Montrose, Colo., Coates decided he wanted to open his own and enrolled in auctioneer school in St. Louis 14 years ago. Coates chose to go to St. Louis because of the school’s reputation.

Mason Coffman, a 43-year-old Rigby resident attends auctions throughout eastern Idaho and Utah.

“I’m kind of an auction addict,” Coffman said. “I really like Blue Mule … they always have a great selection of items and I’ve always felt they treat you fair. They put a lot of research into what they sell, they make sure it’s a quality item. You know if you buy something at one of their auctions, you’re getting something good.”

Coates said he hopes all customers leave feeling happy but knows the nature of the business doesn’t guarantee that.

“We try to make people as happy as we can,” Coates said. “Sometimes, though, a seller is disappointed with the price that their item went for. Generally, prices are pretty consistent, but sometimes you’ll just get a bad crowd. Like I said though, going to an auction house is a bit of a gamble.”

Nathan Davis can be reached at 542-6762.

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