When the second generation to own and manage Perlich Bros. Auction took over the reigns of a well-established southern Alberta livestock auction service their timing couldn’t have been much worse.
A few months after buying the business from their aunt in late 2002, BSE hit Alberta and the world livestock industry, recalls Maureen Perlich, who is one of five sibling partners owning the Lethbridge, Alta. area company.
“It was probably just about the worst time, not only for the auction business, but also for the Canadian beef industry,” says Perlich. “But we survived. Tough times like that can go one of two ways in a family business — in some situations it might tear you apart and in others, like ours, I think it made us stronger. We all worked together, we got to know each other’s strengths and talents and we got through it. BSE was hard on the entire beef industry, but if there was a silver lining it forced us all to stick together and become closer.”
And the Perlich family has never hesitated in moving forward. The company is marking its 50th anniversary as a family-run livestock auction service this year. And if you happen to be in the Broxburn Road area, about seven kilometres east of Lethbridge on August 24, you’ll not only have a chance to buy an animal at a special yearling sale that day, but that will be followed by a customer appreciation BBQ. August 24 is the actual 50th anniversary date of the first sale conducted by the founding Perlich brothers in 1967. Details will be posted on the company website at: www.perlich.auction.
The livestock auction that was established by two farm boys from the Iron Springs area, Joe and Tony Perlich is today owned and managed by the five children of the Joe and Irene Perlich side of the family. John, Bob and Stan have worked for the company their entire careers, while Ken and their “much, much younger” sister Maureen both had careers in economics and finance before joining the family operation about 14 years ago. “Just like the Canadian Tire commercial — where you start out is where you end up,” says Perlich with a laugh.
And now seven members of the third generation of the Perlich family are also actively involved in the business. Four of John Perlich’s children — Katelyn, Megan, Joe and Mike Perlich; and three of Bob Perlich’s children — Nicole McNeil, Richelle French and Justin Perlich, are all involved in some capacity in the business which hasn’t missed a regular Thursday cattle sale in 50 years. Among other duties, Justin and Joe are also both auctioneers.
Company founders, Joe and Irene and Tony and Joanne, built the first sale yard at the Broxburn Road location (just off Highway 3 near Coaldale) in 1967. As the auction service established and grew, the sale facility underwent a major expansion about 25 years ago in 1992. That facility is still the headquarters for the auction service, although there is an ongoing program to not only maintain, but to upgrade and improve facilities, says Maureen, promotions director for the company. She also trained as an auctioneer, but leaves those duties to her brothers Bob and John. “It was on the advice of my mother that I took the auctioneer training,” says Perlich. “She said ‘if you’re going to be involved in the business someday, you need to understand all aspects of it,’ and it is advice that has served me well over the years.”
The auction mart today has covered holding facilities for about 2,000 head of cattle and yard facilities for another 3,500 head. While numbers vary, on average they process about 100,000 head of cattle through the sale facility each year. There is a full-time staff of 25 people, which expands to about 50 employees during the seasonal busy fall run of calves.
“With all that is going on, there really isn’t much down time,” says Perlich. Along with the regular Thursday sale day, they also run special calf and yearling sales, bull sales, presort sales, internet sales, horse sales, antique sales, farm and ranch sales, equipment sales, hog exports, sheep sales, real estate auctions and several charity sales throughout the community.
“We have very good facilities, but there is always room for improvement,” she says. “There are always new ideas on how to change something to improve the comfort of cattle while they are in the yard, and to improve cattle flow through the facility. An important part of running an auction service is to ensure cattle are handled with the least amount of stress as possible and ensure they receive proper care and feed and water while they are here.
“With one of our last presort sales of about 3,800 head, we had everything sorted by 10 a.m. and the next day we had the sale and it only took about two hours. So having facilities that provide good flow for cattle just makes everything work better. Our motto is to work smarter, not harder — and it is better for both the animals and people.”
Along with upgrades on the bricks and mortar side, the auction mart is always working to improve services. “We strive to keep current with the latest technology,” says Perlich. “Several years ago we introduced our own electronic sales service, so people can log into our regular sales on sale day through our website.” They also conduct electronic farm-based sales and of course they have an active presence on social media services such as Facebook and Twitter.
While new services and latest technology are important, Perlich says the sale ring on sale day is still the heart of the auction business. “There are always changes, but for the majority of buyers and sellers sale day is still very vital,” she says. “People — buyers in particular — still like to see a live animal… they like to see what they are buying. I wondered myself at one time if the sale ring might be replaced with electronic and video services. Those services have a place, but the more direct contact between buyers and sellers and seeing live animals in the ring is still very important to people.”