Auctioneer honored as family business reaches milestone
Family is the tie that binds.
It binds loved ones together in life and after life.
It binds people to land and homes and property, farms and animals and equipment, furniture and trinkets and dishes; anything that is a reminder of a loved one lost or a lifetime of hard work or dedication to a hobby or craft.
One local auctioneer knows exactly what family means.
Russell T. Kiko Jr., known as Rusty, has literally spent a lifetime in the family business. His father and mother, Russ and Coletta Kiko, started Kiko Auctions and Associates 75 years ago.
One of 13 children, Rusty as a child would help get the auctions ready, providing a complete auction service that featured the washing, cleaning and oiling of equipment and clipping of cattle among other activities.
“We learned the business from the grass roots up,” Rusty said. “Almost every Saturday was a sale.”
And despite stepping away from the auction business for a few years with the intent to be a farmer – “I was too bashful to be an auctioneer, I always like the cows better,” he said – the growth of his own family led him back.
Now, after more than four decades of helping families transition from one phase of life to another, Rusty is joining his father in the Ohio Auctioneer’s Association (OAA) Hall of Fame.
Family: The Beginning
Russell started the company in 1945, opening an auction barn at the family farm south of Canton. A dairy farmer with turkeys on 238 acres, Russell and Coletta, had 13 children, Rusty being the second from youngest.
Operating off the farm, the Kikos butchered turkeys at a processing plant, offering the first “oven ready” birds, before eventually pioneering real estate sale at auction and absolute auction, Rusty said. As a result their children grew up in the farm and auction businesses.
After graduating from high school, Rusty began his career as a dairy farmer with his older brother Dan, and as a seed salesman working in Stark and Columbiana counties.
Dan moved to Columbiana County in 1969, two miles east of Rusty’s family’s current location on McCann Road south of King Road. Rusty bought the adjoining farm in 1973 and the two farmed the land together.
The partnership led to a whole new branch of the Kiko Auction operation.
Rusty’s future wife, Pam, babysat for Dan’s children and lived just down the road. They married in 1974 and purchased the current Kiko farmstead in 1975.
“The farm was rough, a turn key operation we bought whole, livestock and all, and started on our own,” Rusty said.
It took six months to get the property home-ready, but Rusty and Pam moved into the home and eventually had eight children.
As the family grew, the family business grew. In 1977, the couple had 40 cows and a house that needed added on to. Rusty went to real estate classes at Kent State University and earned his auctioneer’s license in 1978. He worked in both real estate and auctions for several years, but the auction opportunities grew more rapidly than the property sales.
After selling off the cattle multiple times, Rusty turned the farm over to his eldest son, Russell, who still manages the family farming business.
Rusty focused on the auctions and became a successful second-generation auctioneer specializing in absolute auctions. He has consistently been in the Top 3 for production as an Auctioneer and Real Estate agent for the KIKO organization during the past 20 years.
Much like his father, Rusty shared his profession with his children. In addition to his son Russell managing the farm, sons Randall, Rudy and Ryan are auctioneers, realtors and farmers; daughters Stephanie, Natalie and Melanie are realtors; and daughter Emily is an attorney. All work closely with the auction company.
“I’ve been very blessed,” Rusty said. “It’s a complete family business. I get to work with my sons every day, and my daughters are very involved as realtors and an attorney. It’s been very rewarding.”
Family: The Career
The Kiko Company conducts approximately 1,000 auction per year with about 30 auctioneers in a three, four, five county area, generally within 100 miles of this area. Northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania is nucleus.
Despite the high volume of sales, though, Rusty said the people he meets – both as buyers and sellers – become acquaintances that last a lifetime.
“I’ve met some wonderful, wonderful people,” he said.
And he has to develop a kinship with those people, become an extension of their family to help them make the most of their decision to part with, in many cases, property or farms or valuables that have played a vital role in their lives or those of their loved ones. He “keeps my ears open and mouth shut,” he said, a lesson passed down by his father.
“It’s a very emotional business,” Rusty said. “You’re helping sell for homes for retirees, estates for widows or widowers and farms for families. You have to meet with people who have just lost a loved one and are looking for advice.
“We’re kind of like problemsolvers. We have to find out what people want and help them meet their goals.”
In order to do that, Rusty said he has to make people comfortable, talk to them, understand them.
“People need to know that you’re working in their best interest,” he said, noting a particular time a client was selling his farm including the equipment. “You’re selling a tractor that someone had used for their career. You have to talk about it, examine it, then ask if you can sit on it; show respect for it and let the person know you understand how important it is.”
“It’s the little things that count. Treat their things with respect because it is important to them; it’s tough to let family items and farms go. There is a history behind places and homes that you have to respect.”
Rusty said being sincere with their feelings is the most important step in helping clients through a tough time.
“We carry a lot more burden on our shoulders than people realize,” he explained. “We’re carrying people’s assets and we have to make them believe in the public, the buyer who sets the price. We have to talk about the positives of a property, bring the buyers together, then work up the price and trust in the buyer. There is a lot of knowledge in the crowd. Don’t ever think you’re smarter than them.”
Over the years, through connections he has made with buyers and sellers, Rusty said there have been far more successes than failures.
Some of those experiences have been bittersweet.
Rusty did an auction for a longtime farmer in the area who was having a hard time letting go, to which Rusty assured him he had been a good steward of the land and cattle and his fellow farmers would recognize that. The land and cattle sold unusually high for that time, Rusty said.
Then there was his mentors, fellow auctioneers Ted and Jerry Mounts. Rusty said he did the sale for Ted’s herd, then sold their mother’s farm, then both of their estate sales after their passing. Seeing how hard it was for them to part with their farms was difficult, but Rusty said he felt honored they came to him. Rusty also sold farms, cattle and machinery for Harry Anderson, a retired auctioneer in the Pennsylvania auctioneers hall of fame who also served as a sort of mentor to him.
“It’s one of the greatest honors to be asked to do a sale for a fellow auctioneer,” Rusty said.
On the other hand, some of the sales are memorable for their celebration of life.
In the past year and a half, Rusty helped a longtime friend, an antique buyer who frequented Kiko auctions, sell his collection due to his failing health. He wanted to see others take joy in the purchase of items he had so long enjoyed. Rusty said he found the friend’s garage packed, then discovered his old two-story house was packed as well.
It took 12 auctions at the Kiko auction house in Louisville and one at the friend’s home to sell all the rare merchandise and collectibles, with many people coming to each sale.
“Everybody knew each other and we all had a ball,” Rusty said.
Another time, a New Cumberland, W.Va., resident, who also regularly attended Kiko auctions, wrote in his will to have Rusty auction his estate.
“He said ‘he did it to me and now he can do it for me,'” Rusty said. “We did it right there at his home in the driveway and every around came. It was a kind of celebration of his life.”
His passion for his clients is obvious when you look around an old shed on his property he converted into a banquet hall. The walls are adorned with memorabilia that he has collected from sales he conducted, each with a story of its own.
“[The auction business] has been a very satisfying experience,” he said.
Family: The Reflection
Now that the third generation of Kikos have reached adulthood, Rusty has and his brothers have turned the business over to them. A past president and chairman of the board, Rusty is no longer a stockholder, but remains a top salesman. His son Randall is now the chairman of the board and his nephew Dick Jr. is CEO.
But Rusty is not retiring just yet.
“Working with my kids is fun. Family means a lot and I feel blessed,” he said.
An now he gets to see his grandchildren, of which there are 21, starting to help out at auctions, just like him and his brothers and then their children.
Community service also played a role in Rusty’s life, and is something he tried to instill in his children. He serves on board of directors at Copeland Oaks and advocate committee for Farm Credit and the family was active in the Just Rite 4-H Club. He is a member of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, has dedicated many years to the 4-H program – selling annually at the Columbiana County Fair – and conducts many benefit auctions for Copeland Oaks, churches and youth groups.
Now his sons are involved in the Holstein association and judge dairy shows and show registered cows at Columbiana County Fair and Canfield Fair.
“That’s one thing I’ve learned, get you’re children involved early, in farming, hunting, sales, whatever,” he said. “If you stay busy, it keeps you out of mischief.”
The OAA recently recognized Rusty’s career by inducting him into its hall of fame during the annual conference in Columbus last month.
In its announcement, the OAA acknowledged Rusty averages more than 140 real estate and chattel auctions per year and focuses on all types of real estate and personal property, but has a passion for land and farms.
“That passion and knowledge has made him a valuable resource to others in his field, and a trusted advisor to his clients, family and friends,” the statement read.
Rusty joins his father Russ Kiko, inducted in 1986, brothers Richard Kiko (1991) and James Kiko (2003) and niece Lori Kiko (2013).
Family: 75 years of auctions
KIKO Realtors, Auctioneers & Advisors is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Now in its fourth generation, KIKO advises clients on how to reach their buying and selling goals in real estate, land, commercial property, firearms, equipment and more.
“We have all learned from Rusty about the value of working hard, showing integrity and staying committed to your clients and the auction and real estate industry,” said CEO Dick Kiko Jr. “Celebrating Rusty and his induction into the OAA Hall of Fame is a great way to kick off our 75th anniversary this year.”
Visit www.kikoauctions.com and www.kikorealestate.com to see upcoming auctions and new real estate for sale.