Every good auctioneer is a bit of a showman and, after more than 25 years in the business, Eddy Rogo is used to performing in front of large audiences.
But nothing, he says, compares to being one of the stars of the new CBC reality television series Four Rooms, where contestants try to get the best price for their unusual and often very valuable items from the four professional dealers on the show each week.
Rogo is co-owner of Empire Auctions, a business his father Abe, who still comes into the office every day, founded about 45 years ago. It runs monthly auctions, from its Montreal and Toronto locations, of valuables and collectibles, from antiques and art to fine housewares to vintage toys and rare automobiles.
Four Rooms, which debuted Jan. 5, continues for eight episodes on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. through this month, takes a break for the Sochi Olympics and resumes in March.
Rogo describes Four Rooms as “a cross between Antiques Roadshow and Dragons’ Den,” with an important difference.
“On [PBS’s] Antiques Roadshow, dealers evaluate what an item could be worth or could go for at auction. On Four Rooms, our offers are concrete. There is a cheque on the spot,” he said.
CBC went across the country looking for contestants with interesting things to sell who are also interesting people.
The four dealers did not know in advance what items would be presented to them at each show (all episodes were taped.) From the initial encounter, the canny contestant should judge which dealer is likely to make them the sweetest offer.
Each dealer then shows a bid to the viewing audience that is not seen by their fellow dealers before going into their respective “rooms.”
The contestant decides the order in which he or she enters a room. They can accept the first offer, try to negotiate a better offer, or move to another room, or three more rooms.
It’s a gamble, because they can’t go back to an earlier dealer if theirs was a better offer. If they turn down an offer, it’s off the table for good.
While he can’t reveal what he bought, Rogo did say, “ I bought quite a few things and I’m very happy with them… Some are rare, even one of a kind.”
He found so many of the objects to be fascinating, so he figures he was the most avid bidder of the bunch. He’s also confident in skills as a buyer and that Empire, with its international reach, will find a market for almost any treasure.
Rogo prides himself on his meticulous eye for quality and authenticity. Both a Harvard Law School trained negotiator and a graduate of the fabled Missouri Auction School, Rogo’s clients include celebrities, billionaires and royalty from North America, Asia and the Middle East.
The shomer Shabbat Rogo, who frequently donates his time and talent to charity events in the Jewish community and beyond, stressed that his negotiating code is not hard-nosed.
“As was my father’s mentality, I concentrate on building relationships. I’d rather have a customer tell a friend what a good price he got with me than go after that last dollar.”
Despite the bounty he regularly handles in his working life, Rogo found his Four Rooms stint enthralling.
“There was really interesting stuff, like the shirt Wayne Gretzky wore during his first season and the sculpture a lady dug up in her garden, which was worth $100,000,” said Rogo. “There were things that had been in families for hundreds of years.”
Some contestants were astounded at what their prized possessions fetched.
On the other hand, there were those who came with “huge expectations” that were far from realistic.
“Some people left really happy, some left upset,” he said. One man had to be escorted out by security.
Rogo’s fellow dealers are Derreck Martin, the third-generation owner of 507 Antiques of Toronto and New York; former RCMP officer Scott Landon, who heads a self-named antiques business in Vancouver specializing in Canadiana; and Jessica Lindsay Phillips, a Toronto-based tribal art and “oddities” dealer.
Rogo said he was approached by the CBC after being recommended by his friend and art collector Andy Nulman, an executive of the Just for Laughs Festival.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t sure TV was for me, but the screen test was really fun and the shooting even more fun. There was a production crew of 74, the exact same people as on Dragons’ Den. They were so professional, so experienced.
“Everyone worked very hard. We spent 14 hours a day shooting, locked on the 10th floor of the CBC building in Toronto for a month.”
Getting used to having six cameras trained on him did take a bit of adjustment, Rogo admits, but he said the makeup and wardrobe staff kept him feeling like a star.