Redmond’s Larry Snyder: Popular auctioneer also is a barista, an author, and a compassionate soul

Photo by Rachel Coward

Photo by Rachel Coward

If you haven’t seen him in action, it’s safe to say you might not get out as much as you should.

There might be only a handful of Eastside residents to which the above statement applies, but Larry Snyder is one of them. The longtime auctioneer has worked countless events for countless more organizations in the roughly two decades he’s been fast-talking his way into making you open your pocketbooks — for a good cause, of course. He’s worked with several famous individuals, yet it’s those less fortunate that move him most.

“One thing few people would think about when I say I’m an auctioneer is my whole-hearted connection to some that I serve,” Snyder said. “I became an evangelist for pediatric brain tumor research, autism advocacy, Africa village development, homeless street ministry, education, stillbirth research, and the performing arts by investing the needed time to execute successful fundraising events. I’ve tried to align myself with nonprofits and foundations that I have a personal passion for.”

Twenty hours a week, you also can find Snyder behind the counter at the Starbucks in the Civica building in Bellevue, sometimes serving individuals who have donated to the causes he’s championed. A renaissance man if ever there was one, Snyder’s also a photographer and is working on a book about the tiny village of Montanare, Italy, where he and his family spend half of each summer. His book’s working title: Miracles in Montanare: Ten Years in Tuscany. Published by Iron Twine Press, an independent publisher based in Bothell, Snyder’s book is set for release this spring.

Photo by Mark Kitaoka

Photo by Mark Kitaoka

Prior to his current collection of livelihoods, the Seattle-born, Des Moines-raised Snyder spent years working in the family business. His grandfather, Chuck, operated an independent home furnishings business in Burien for 30 years. With a handful of others, he founded Greater Burien Inc., which became an accomplished business organization that held large-scale events to attract shoppers and more small business to the area. When his grandfather retired, Snyder, and his father, went to work for La-Z-Boy, opening the company’s first area store at Southcenter Parkway in 1976. Snyder was just 14 at the time.

Snyder now calls the Eastside home — Redmond, to be exact — and that home includes his partner, Jill, and daughter, Daniela. Snyder sat down with 425 Business to talk about auctioneering, how it’s changed over the years, his philosophy on life, and why he loves his craft.

Q: When and how did you start your auctioneering career? 
A: In 1998, a friend asked me to volunteer for a charity auction that benefitted the Washington State Olympic Committee at the Four Seasons (now Fairmont) Hotel in Seattle. The first person I met as I entered the venerable Spanish Ballroom was Muhammad Ali. Thus began one of the most important nights of my life.

My role included holding the bronzed fists and autographed gloves of the greatest fighters of all time. The other live auction items included a large autographed photo of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” United States Olympic hockey team. Team captain Mike Eruzione and four of his teammates sat at a table 20 feet from me.

I marveled at how the audience responded to auctioneer Jeff Stokes, who has won three international auctioneering contests. The evening concluded in an upscale bar listening to Olympic champion Bob Beamon share what it was like to have America’s national anthem playing while he received a gold medal. I was hooked.

I called a lunch with Jeff Stokes. His advice was to attend the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana. He made it clear — this might be the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. He was right. For 15 hours a day, seven days a week, we holed up in an oversized conference room learning how to “chant” at speeds unknown to my simple brain. Being a professional fundraising auctioneer comes with giant responsibility and liability.

28Q: Tell us something most people might not know about the craft. 
A: Most people ask me, “Does that mean you can talk really fast?” Although my days in Billings did prepare me for that, the most important feature of being a fundraising auctioneer is preparation.

I was really lucky to have met my mentor, Graham Crow, a decade ago. Graham is one of the most sought-after in our field. Graham and I meet once a week to discuss ideas and talk through challenges we faced the week before. Some of our best ideas come from that weekly lunch at Chef John Howie’s Seastar Restaurant in Bellevue.

Q: What are the most memorable events you’ve worked? 
A: I have three events that are quite memorable. Recently in the Bellevue Hyatt Regency ballroom, 800 generous donors gave over a million dollars to make sure Jubilee Reach continues its important and effective work right here in Bellevue. Secondly, I was asked to lead an event in San Francisco on behalf of an organization closely tied to the country of Tanzania. This special event attended by many Tanzanian nationals opened my eyes and mind to how my craft could benefit children in Africa. Lastly, and most deeply connected to my heart and soul, are the events that benefit Dr. Jim Olson’s pediatric brain tumor research lab. Recently, on a stormy night in downtown Seattle, a room full of people gathered to fundraise for Dr. Olson’s lab in honor of the late Brandon Brauns, who courageously battled a series of brain tumors until a week after his 11th birthday.

Q: You’ve worked with some big names. Can you tell us a few, and are you ever star-struck working with these individuals? 
A: I can’t recall a time that I was without words in front of a luminary person. I try to focus on my role and leverage the attention to the cause that a well-known person brings. But I’ve been super fortunate to meet some really special and generous people in my work.

Many are not celebrities. I believe one of the most important people I’ve ever met is Tim Rose, founder of Camp Korey. My partner, Jill, was on the formation team that brought Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp to Carnation. Mr. Newman would hardly accept any praise except to say he hoped that these camps would be his legacy.

Other important names include Dr. Olson; Seattle Children’s neurosurgeon Dr. Rich Ellenbogen; Cindy Nofziger, a Seattle Public Schools physical therapist who has helped build a dozen schools in Sierra Leone; and Arzu Forough of the Washington Autism Advocacy Alliance. Also, Barry Horn, founder of Liberty Road Foundation, opened my eyes to international village development in Guatemala.

Q: What was the strangest event you’ve led?
A: Without a doubt, it was at a school benefit auction when I was relatively young in this business. One item featured a bag of frozen peas and a case of Miller Lite. It was donated by Dr. Snip (a vasectomy clinic in Seattle). Fortunate for me, it was well into the last half of the event, and most attendees had several adult beverages in them. I’ve never seen an audience uncontrollably laugh and bid at the same time.

Q: Do you negotiate rates with nonprofits so as to not break their banks? 
A: I’m more sensitive to fees than anyone I know. The more I take, the less goes to fulfilling their mission.

Q: You are one of four auctioneers working under the Benefit Auction Associates umbrella. Can you tell us about that organization? 
A: Four of us formed this alliance a decade ago. It allows us to share ideas and a calendar.

Q: How has auctioneering, or fundraising in general, changed since you began working in the profession? Did the recession affect giving?
A: On the day the market lost hundreds of points, I was standing before a local foundation asking them to support a mission in Guatemala. Most of the attendees were mortgage bankers, including the principal funders themselves. I learned an important lesson about philanthropy that day. As the market melted, the supporters of Liberty Road Foundation still gave. They knew that in America we can recover, but in Batzchocolá, Guatemala … (and) too much good was in motion to stop now. This is yet another reason why I seek out groups that have answered a calling and will not quit until the need is met. Today, although most supporters’ confidence in the markets is renewed, there is still caution in the air. Donors are asking more questions about how their discretionary giving is being invested. Outcomes are important, as are expenses.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of “425 Business.”