Special Profile Series: Charlotte Pyle

ST. ALBANS, W.Va.  - 

AR: Are you a West Virginia native or did you move here later in life?

Pyle: I am a West Virginia girl through and through, but our home is just over the line in Pennsylvania. If you step out our front door it is like you have one foot in Pennsylvania and one foot in West Virginia. So my physical address might be Pennsylvania but everything we do is West Virginia: My family went to WVU (West Virginia University), my kids went to WVU and I am a diehard Mountaineer fan. I’ve been that way all my life.

The little Pennsylvania town we live in is Mount Morris and Joe (Pyle, husband) and I grew up there. It is only about four miles to the WVU campus so we definitely think of ourselves as West Virginians more than Pennsylvanians.

AR: Tell us about when you were a little girl. For instance, what type of work did your parents do?

Pyle: Both of my parents were in education, mom as the secretary for the school district and my father a school teacher. My father’s WVU connection was running track for the university. It’s funny now, but he has saved an invoice from his first semester of college tuition and the total amount was only $442. Net.
My parents are divorced so probably the most influential person in my life when I was growing up was my grandmother. She is now 87 years old and she played a big role with me. I was the oldest of the three kids, a senior in high school when they divorced, so in my mind I had to assume a lot of responsibility at a very young age. My brother, sister and I are extremely close with my sister being my best friend and closest confidant.

AR: What did you like to do when you were a young girl?

Pyle: I hate to admit it, but I was a real tomboy! (laughter) I played softball and loved it. When recess came, I was never with the girls but instead was always looking to play football with the boys … basketball, softball … any sport imaginable. In a lot of cases … I’m proud to say … I would often be the first chosen! (laughter) I didn’t worry about my fingernails back then!

I think people who look at the way I dress today may not believe it, but I was a terrible tomboy. My family has always been a sports family. Dad has always coached basketball and he ran track in college; my brother and my uncles also played football. I was destined to love sports.

In fact, I am the sports fan in my family; if Joe never went to a sporting event, he would be happy, but I could go to any and all of them.

AR: Did you play high school sports?

Pyle: A little, but I think I went through a stage in which I did not want to be so “Tommy” so I tried out and made the cheerleading squad.

The big thing in our high school was to be the band drum major. I had played in the band since middle school, playing the flute, and in my senior year I tried out for drum major and was selected. I was so excited and it definitely was the highlight of my high school career.

The band would play for football games on Friday nights, but we would have our band competition throughout the Pittsburgh area on Saturdays. One routine we had was for me, as the female drum major, to jump off the podium, do a split and end up in the arms of the male drum major. That is how we ended our show, and I think the judges thought it was pretty good as well because we won a lot of competitions with that routine.

AR: Did you have career goals back then?

Pyle: Keep in mind that I grew up in such a small town … I think the population was only 752 people! To be honest with you, I remember thinking I wanted to live on a farm and raise horses.

AR: Were you a horse lover? Did you ride a lot?

Pyle: Never had them! I just had this vision that living on a farm and raising horses would be the ultimate life. I did have a friend who had a horse and we would go over to Morgantown and ride occasionally, but we never had any of our own.

AR: With your parents having difficulties, was your grandmother the one who influenced you a lot growing up?

Pyle: Definitely. She has always been everything to me. My grandmother actually lived next door to us so I would escape to her house. I was there just about all the time. Her son, and my uncle, was a late-in-life child and he was not much older than me … actually he and Joe have always been good friends and were about the same age. So when I spent so much time with my grandmother, he was more like a brother than an uncle. I still have a close bond with her … talking with her every day,  taking her shopping … things like that. We are very close.

AR: What characteristics do you think you inherited from each of your parents?

Pyle: I would definitely say my competitiveness comes from my dad. He was both an athlete and a coach. Even though he is officially retired today, he still teaches school enough days that allows him to be the basketball coach at the middle school! I think I got that drive to succeed from him. That drive to win, to be the best, is just ingrained in me.

Mom is a very caring person, always putting the needs of others above herself. That is admirable, but she also never took care of herself. I like to think that she has taught me to understand the needs of others and do that while still maintaining my own health.

Speaking of that competitive drive, Joe has done a lot to help me get the right perspective between not always winning and not necessarily losing. He is my hero.

I’ve known Joe for a long time and we got married when I was only 19. He teases me that he married me when I was so young so he could raise me the way he wanted to! (laughter)

AR: You’ve mentioned Joe quite a few times. How did you meet?

Pyle: As I said earlier, Joe and my uncle are about the same age, a few years older than I am, so I have known Joe just about as long as I can remember. He was one of my uncle’s friends so I would see him a lot.

I remember my senior year in high school and our little community like a lot of others had a fireman’s carnival. One game was called a cake walk, where you would buy a ticket for a chance to win a homemade cake.

My best friend and I were standing there and Joe came up and said he was going to win the cake. I said, “Right, Joe” and laughed. He said that if he won the cake, we all had to go to his house afterwards. I’ll be darned if he didn’t win the cake! We all went to his house, had cake and played Monopoly until about 2 o’clock in the morning. The next week he asked me out for date. I had known him all my life but things just seemed different then.

We dated through my senior year in high school and then got married after dating for about two years.

AR: Did you ever think about going to college?

Pyle: Not a lot right then, but over the years I have continued my pursuit of a college degree. In fact, I am about three-fourths of the way toward obtaining a children’s pastor degree. I work with kids every Sunday and volunteer a day and a half every week at my church with between 75 and 100 kids. I conduct their service and teach age-appropriate curriculum.

Because of my involvement with the NAAA, I have had to put that pursuit on hold right now, but I plan on finishing. The church doesn’t require me to have a degree to do what I am doing, but it is very important to me. I will achieve that goal.

AR: Getting back to when you and Joe were first married, were you already in the auction business?

Pyle: Well, yes and no. Joe was in the estate auction business, not the car auction world. His mother was the item clerk early in his career. After we had been dating for some time, she wanted to train me to be the clerk. So, Joe would be auctioning off the item and I would record the price and who purchased it. I actually worked for him about a year before we got engaged, so working with Joe on so many fronts has been a natural progression.

Joe is an excellent auctioneer, and from the estate sales he was given the opportunity to sell at a car auction. In fact, it was at Dave Angelicchio’s uncle, Clo’s facility that he conducted one of his first automobile auctions. He also worked at Butler Auto Auction (now Manheim Pittsburgh) By then other auctions continued to call on him as an auctioneer.

AR: Is this how you migrated into owning an auction?

Pyle: It is a rather interesting story.

Joe began to work a little Monday night sale in Fairmont and the two of us would ride up together. I would drop him off, go shopping … I don’t think anyone who knows me would be surprised at this … and then pick him up after the sale. One night the clerk didn’t show up and Joe told them that I had clerked for him at other sales so I began to clerk for that little one-lane sale.

Well, the auction started writing bad checks. We had seen there was a need for an auction, but not one writing bad checks. So, we asked around and found some property we could lease to start an auction. As I look back, it was pretty brazen because we were both in our early 20s! And here we were opening a two-lane auction. It was a little frightening because I never had anything when I was growing up. We were not poor, but there was not a lot of room for extras.

AR: How did the startup go? Did you purchase the other auction?

Pyle: Oh no, we just knew that if they were bouncing checks that it would not survive. We opened a greenfield auction on leased property. It was two lanes, but the auction has been added on 11 times … adding lanes, moving offices around the property, moving fences and adding black top.

AR: Are you saying the location of Mountain State today is the same basic property you started with?

Pyle: Absolutely, with all the additions and improvements we have made over the years.

What’s funny is that even on the day of the opening sale, we were still painting the auction. If you know Joe, there is no other color other than red and we had painted the auction block red. Of course, I had also bought a new dress for the opening day.

This was before computers, and everything had to be handwritten and stamped with a little card. Picture this: Joe is auctioning off a car from the block, announces it sold, looks at me and I am just sitting there. “Charlotte,” he says, “that car just sold.”

I calmly reply, “I understand that. But I am stuck to the auction block because my clothes are stuck to the paint!” (laughter) “I had to rip my arms up off the auction block and there was this red paint stuck to the sleeves of my brand-spanking-new dress!” (laughter)

We laughed for years that I left my arm prints on that countertop! I still have that dress and am keeping it in my hope chest for future memories.

AR: Other than that, how did the first sale go?

Pyle: Oh, in our mind it went great. We sold 70 cars our first auction. We’ve come a long way since those days.

AR: That you have. Back then, did you envision the business as it is today?

Pyle: We thought when we had those first few sales that we were big-time. It was so much more than we had ever had and where we are today could not even have been imagined. We were so proud.

I took to the auction business like a duck to water. As I mentioned, I am a Christian and I firmly believe Joe is the person I was supposed to be with and the auction industry is where I was destined to be. It fits my personality, my energy, everything about me. And I love every minute of it.

AR: Starting what was basically an auction from scratch must have been challenging, especially since the other one was bouncing checks. Was getting the trust of dealers a problem?

Pyle: No because Joe had such a strong reputation as an auctioneer, a lot of which was built off his estate sale business. He was known throughout the state and people trusted him. Dealers knew him and knew that he just worked at the other auction.

Also, you may not know this, but Joe’s dad was in the used car business and people would come from throughout West Virginia to his used car lot because they knew his dad was an honest man. Joe also worked there as a youngster and that reputation carried over. That trust in him was already established so the opening was seamless 

AR: Was this when you first became involved with NAAA?

Pyle: We got involved with the association as quickly as we could. There is a wait period of two years from when an auction begins and when it can apply for NAAA membership. As soon as that two years was over we joined. We knew that in order to get lease business, we had to be a part of NAAA, and at the first convention we saw tremendous value in networking and sharing ideas. 

I still remember that the first convention we attended was in San Diego and it was there that I met Ruth Hart-Stephens (former NAAA president). She took me under wing, so to speak, and she loved the fact that Joe and I worked together because when she first began she also worked with her husband.
We loved the association — the people, the things we learned, and we got two accounts from that first meeting. It was there that we started to build those relationships.

AR: The auction industry, even today, is male dominated but more and more women are taking active roles. You mentioned Ruth Hart-Stephens; were there others who influenced you?

Pyle: There were others who mentored me a lot in addition to Ruth. There was Barbara Wheatley and Patty Stanley; I’m sure I’m leaving out others as well. But, there were no better mentors for me than these ladies. I feel like I’m a product of all they taught me … truly.

Those women were really pioneers because when I first started women did not for the most part take a role in association activities. For instance, nearly all of the committees were made up of men. It was the older mentality where the wife stayed at home. Joe and I, on the other hand, built our business together. It has worked tremendously well for us.

AR: Do you think the industry has become more accepting of women in leadership roles?

Pyle: Absolutely! I feel like I receive tremendous respect and people come to me because I have been around for such a long time and have gained the experience. There are things that I have learned, some of which by making mistakes, but I have learned from those instances and am very glad to share with others.

AR: Why did you also open Capital City Auto Auction when you already had Mountain State?

Pyle: The two sales are totally different, appealing to dealers differently. Mountain State is more of a rural sale, while Capital City, located adjacent to Charleston (W.Va.) is more of an urban sale. Both fit into their geographical makeup.

We looked at the Charleston area as what Joe calls “the hub.” By that I mean the center point of where there are several states meeting together and many dealers who need an auction.

AR: Was there a sale already here?

Pyle: No, it was another greenfield. But we knew from talking with dealers that there was a lot of support for a new sale in Charleston. 

It was a little scary at first. After all, we had built up the other sale to be very strong, and here we were launching out with another ground-floor sale. But I am thrilled we did. We’ve met new people and built new relationships. It has been great. We don’t just draw from Charleston, but from surrounding states as well.

AR: Is there an additional sale in your future?

Pyle: (laughter) Probably. Joe is always thinking and planning. But, nothing as yet.

AR: A national trend over the past decade or so has been for the national chains, Manheim and ADESA, to purchase independent auctions. Do you think the days of the independent auction are limited?

Pyle: Absolutely not. There are too many mom-and-pop stores run by very independent people that just don’t want that corporate stamp on them. We have our own way of doing things. We (independents) feel like we have a whole lot better customer service; For example: I don’t have to call a corporate office to see if I can work a deal with someone particularly in a crisis situation. It allows us to provide quicker responses to the customer.
This doesn’t mean I disagree with corporate auctions. I have a lot of friends who work for the major chains, but it is a different chain of command.

AR: You have seen a lot of changes take place in the auction industry. As NAAA’s president-elect, what do you see as some of the biggest challenges?

Pyle: Our biggest challenge, I believe, is the Internet. It bothers me that so many car dealers don’t realize a lot of the benefits of utilizing a physical auction. We’ve made a lot of changes in recent years, and if a dealer stereotypes an auction based on what he knew five, 10 or 15 years ago, he is sadly mistaken.
Dealers too often don’t realize everything we (an auction) do for them. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to take the place of being in a competitive bidding situation. Looking online, even with the best condition report possible, is still not the same as being at the fair — the carnival — and getting that experience unless you are actually there. It worries me that the younger generation doesn’t know the experience of being in an actual auction lane.

AR: Do you think the Internet is a threat?

Pyle: It is a threat, but it is also a necessary component that an auction must have. I’m not opposed to Internet sales, but it is not a replacement. It should be a complement to the physical auction. And, we have to be creative and embrace the technology brought by the OVEs and SmartAuction. We need to always look for new ways to do business.

I think it bothers me some because I am more of a people person than a computer-screen person. It is a big challenge to the entire industry.  There is potential there, but we have to search for ways to marry the two of them — traditional auctions and Internet sales.

AR: What would you recommend to a dealer who for years has not been to a physical auction?

Pyle: If they are committed to being an Internet sales dealer, I would recommend they still attend a physical sale once a month. You don’t buy your groceries or all of your clothes online all of the time. I think you lose touch with the reality of the industry if you don’t ever go to a physical auction. You need to touch and feel the live market, and that will make you better when you do buy over the Internet. After all, all physical auctions also now have Internet sales activities.

We’ve adapted and it has enlarged our dealer base. We’ve sold cars in California, Wisconsin and so on. I don’t really understand why someone would purchase a car in California from us and then pay the shipping costs to get it there. Why would they do that instead of buying a car from a local auction? I don’t understand, but they do.

I think dealers have to be well-rounded … both in the lanes and on the Internet.

AR: Speaking of being well-rounded, what do you like to do outside of working?

Pyle: (laughter) If you asked my kids, they would say I don’t do anything but work! Actually, I like to read and I work a lot with the kids at my church. I think that that (working with kids) is a calling, especially coming from background where my parents had marital problems. I would say that 80 percent of the kids I work with come from divorced families. They get that I understand, and I get a lot of satisfaction when I am able to help a child.

There was this one girl whose parents were having problems. I picked her up after school, helped her with her homework, went to the park and had ice cream. She didn’t have to do anything but relax and have a good time.  I did that with her for about three weeks, and there was such a change. She thanked me. Her mom thanked me. Her grandparents thanked me. I felt like I made such a difference in her life. To me, you cannot replace that with anything. It is tremendous gratification.

AR: OK, you’ve mentioned working in the auction, your church and reading. What else do you do?

Pyle: (laughter) Not much of anything! I’m a workaholic. The auction is our passion. We love it. We are still doing estate auctions … over 120 of them a year. We did three of them this past Saturday. Then we go to church on Sunday morning and I crash for a nap on Sunday afternoon — I have to have my nap on Sunday afternoon or I couldn’t function. Then we get up Monday morning and do it all over again. It’s great.

AR: Finally, are you still having fun?

Pyle: Absolutely! I love the auction business and I cannot think of anything else I would rather do. I cannot wait to see the dealers, the people I work with. Those kinds of relationships you have with you forever.            

Charlotte Pyle is the president elect of the National Auto Auction Association.

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