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Brian Morse: Trading a Car Wrench for an Auction Gavel

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Brian Morse. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Brian Morse. Photo by Carla Occaso.

by Nat Frothingham

Brian Morse of Morse Auto Sales & Service is ready to take on something new after working as a car mechanic at some level for 35 years.

Morse got his start fixing cars as a 12-year-old working with his father in East Montpelier. As a teenager he ran a garbage hauling business in central Vermont, which he sold in 2000 to the solid waste giant, Casella.

After that sale, he opened Morse Auto Sales & Service in Northfield Falls. Five years later he moved Morse Auto into a new building where the Dog River Road intersects with Route 12, about a mile south of Montpelier.

At a recent breakfast meeting at the Coffee Corner in Montpelier, Morse reflected on some of the changes in his life that led him to sell Morse Auto and embrace something new and different.

Morse began by talking about some of the personal losses he has experienced in recent years, losses that intensified the value of life, that made him understand that life is not only precious, but here and gone — and here and gone quickly.

About seven years ago when he and others were constructing the new building on Dog River Road, Morse turned to his father-in-law to help him with the construction. Soon after that, his father-in-law died. Then five years later his mother-in-law died. Morse was close to both of them. “It became rather clear to me how short life is and how important each day is,” he said.

After working on cars for 35 years or so, Morse said, “It was taking a toll on my body.”

There were other things that weighed on his mind as well, such as his customers. Said Morse, “I don’t like giving people bad news about their cars.”

For all the reasons Morse had for wanting to get out of the car business, there were compelling reasons for sticking with it. The car business was doing well, and, said Morse, “I had about 2,000 customers and a few customers that had been with me for 35 years.”

In 2013, Morse decided to sell Morse Auto to the company’s two key employees, Erica Rogers and Rob Blondin. The deal took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, and Morse stayed on as an employee for one year. It was a straight 50-50 deal with Rogers and Blondin each owning exactly half of the business.

Rogers is Morse’s stepdaughter. She is pursuing a master’s degree in business from Clarkson University and she is clearly the general manager and runs the front office of the company. Blondin is an experienced mechanic who has worked at Morse Auto for seven years. Morse calls Blondin “his clone,” meaning that Blondin knows everything that Morse knows about cars and car repairs.

Morse was fairly hopping with excitement about his new business venture.

It all happened very quickly after a salesman walked through the door of Morse Auto this past December and suggested to Morse that he go to auction school; that he’d be good at it.

So he enrolled in an eight-day (80-hour) auctioneering course at the Northeast School of Auctioneering in Manchester, New Hampshire — a course that involved law and ethics as well as the details of auctioneering.

Morse is hardly a rank newcomer to auctioneering. He had already been selling tools online with a strong clientele – also coins. “There’s a big market for that,” he said.

If all goes well, Morse will be holding his first auction with his new business, “Vermont Heritage Auctions,” sometime this April and hopes to follow with bi-monthly auctions.

Morse has already arranged for two auction sites. The first is on the second floor over the House of Tang restaurant at 114 River St. in Montpelier. That second floor has been approved for a crowd of 130 people. The House of Tang can provide food and there’s more than adequate parking thanks to generous business neighbors. The second auction site will be under a tent in good weather out on a field that Morse owns on Dog River Road in Berlin.

In a brief follow-up phone call, Morse said he has plenty of auction inventory on hand at the moment, inventory he has acquired from business liquidations, estates and people moving or downsizing. He has years of experience running businesses based on word of mouth and looks forward to a new way of interacting with the public.

“Are you good on your feet?” I asked him. “Yes,” he replied.

“Are you shy?” “No,” he said.

“Are you frightened,” I asked.

“Not really — ‘intrigued’ is a better word. I’ve tried a lot of things in my life. I love the adventure of unexpected phone calls from people wanting to liquidate their excess.”

“And what about value? Do you know value?” I asked finally.

“Yes,” Morse said. “I have a reasonable knowledge of value through years of interest in auctions.” Then he added, “In today’s world, you can also research values on the Internet.”

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