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Leading Lady

Cheri Boots-Sutton is an unlikely superstar. But in the competitive, male-driven world of Texas auto auctions, this middle-aged grandmother of seven has established herself as a force to be reckoned with. Jennifer Miller visits the auction house to find out why.

Author Jennifer Miller Photography Misty Keasler

cheri

Cheri Boots-Sutton is standing in a room roughly the size of an aircraft hangar, hollering in a hybrid of English and gobbledygook. “Thirty-three thousand!” she cries. “Kinigedabid?” (This translates, roughly, to “Can I get a bid?”) A gleaming white Mercedes rolls by. “Look at the color on that baby! Thirty-three now! Thirty-four! Kinigedabid!” It’s not the most elegant vocal performance ever, or even the most intelligible, but it’s effective. Boots-Sutton has moved nearly 300 luxury cars today.

We’re on the Mercedes line at Manheim Dallas–Fort Worth Auto Auction in Euless, Texas, one of two auction houses where the 46-year-old former restaurant manager plies her trade. She’s an attractive, well-turned-out woman, with perfectly manicured hands, chestnut hair and a taut energy. “Thirty-six thousand!” she demands between bursts of gibberish. “Come on, fellas! It’s not too late for Valentine’s Day!” Another car rolls off the lot.
Anyone who knows Boots-Sutton would not be surprised by her hot streak today. She’s been auctioning cars since the late 1980s, and is widely considered to be one of the best in the business. Her résumé lists a number of national and international awards, and there seems little doubt that she will one day be inducted into the National Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame (an institution that does not boast an overabundance of female honorees).

Boots-Sutton in full-on selling mode is a thing to see. She works the block six feet above the car lane, her manner flitting between amused, exasperated and totally deadpan as she belts out a spellbinding, rapid-fire mantra that makes even the casual bystander want to put in a bid. So renowned is Boots-Sutton’s vocal style that she teaches a course on how to do it, “Auction Chant 101,” which is consistently among the most popular classes at the Dallas-based Texas Auction Academy.

To a degree, Boots-Sutton’s ascent to the top of her field has coincided with a rise in the fortunes of the industry as a whole. Popular reality shows like “Auction Hunters” and “Storage Wars” have sparked interest in auctions, as has the faltering economy, which has made bargain hunting a necessity rather than a diversion. But auctioneers haven’t had it all good.

Not so long ago, before people realized they could bid on cars via the Internet, this hangar would have been packed with dealers. These days Boots-Sutton can have as many as 150 people bidding online and as few as 10 standing in front of her. As she points out, powers of enchantment and showmanship don’t count for much when the primary means of communication is a clicked icon.

“Auctioneering,” she says, “is kind of a dying art.”

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