Meet one of few American-American women making moves in the auctioneering business. Bene Raia stars on PBS’s treasure-seeking show Market Warriors airing Mondays at 9 p.m. ET. She, along with her fellow pickers, travel the country purchasing valuable antiques at flea markets and reselling them at auctions at much higher prices. Learn how Raia got into the business and what keeps her invested in her career.
ESSENCE.com: We don’t see many African-American women in your field. What brought you to auctioneering?
BENE RAIA: Since high school, but especially in college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I really enjoyed antiquing in upstate New York and Vermont. Finding unique and old objects, buying, selling and bartering was exciting. After years of working as an architect, this passion continued and when we decided to have a family, I went back to school with the plan to start my own auction business upon graduation. The auction business is a lifelong dream and offers the kind of flexible schedule that is perfect for a working mom. I met my husband in architecture school and we have four children.
ESSENCE.com: Do you find a lot of women in your field?
RAIA: Although the majority of auctioneers are men, there are several women in the field. My inspiration is Leslie Hindman. She is a Chicago-based auctioneer. I became aware of her from a TV show. She has also appeared on Oprah. She’s been around for three decades and is considered one of the midwest’s leading fine art auctioneers.
ESSENCE.com: What have been some of your favorite finds over the years?
RAIA: The finds are what keeps me excited about this business. I love stuff and it’s exciting to find and buy a much sought-after piece for my collection. I purchased a vintage cardboard dollhouse at auction for under $20 and sold it online for $350. I bought several doll collections and sold them to private collectors and online. I recently purchased a signed Herman Miller chair in my favorite color (orange) for $14.99 plus tax at a thrift shop. The same chair is listed online for $450!
ESSENCE.com: How did you get on Market Warriors?
RAIA: I originally went to a casting call in October, 2011, but I was not included in the first round of episodes when they premiered in July. In 2013, the producers were looking to provide an auctioneer’s perspective so we reconnected and the rest is history.
ESSENCE.com: You also own your own antiques shop. Tell us a little about it.
RAIA: My shop is called the Auction Marketplace, a large open space that we have divided into an auction gallery and shop. The shop is filled with antique and vintage items that I have picked. I like to build relationships with my customers, some of whom are interior designers. When I shop for items for the shop, it’s with an eye towards filling a need or want for the buyer. My shop also showcases my repurposed and recycled items. I collect architectural salvage and I make new pieces out of old materials. My husband Joe works with me because he enjoys the construction that is necessary to create functional pieces out of salvaged materials.
Catch Bene Raina on PBS’ Market Warriors tonight at 9pm.