Valley Forge Auction sales prosper despite slumping economy

By Bob Robinson

Star STAFF

   When Willie McVey was growing up, his father had a service station, trucking company and auction business in Valley Forge. Little did Willie know that tragedy and "divine intervention" 13 years later would help shape a thriving business.
   In 1991, after his father, Bradley "Buster" McVey, was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident in Stoney Creek, Willie and his wife, Debbie, took over the modest auction business his father started in 1978.
   After his father's untimely death, the business quickly grew and the bulging warehouse in Valley Forge would no longer hold all inventory items.
   "We were at a crossroads in the business. We needed a bigger warehouse but had limited funds to expand. We prayed for the Lord to help us find a bigger place," Willie said.
   Willie said their prayers were answered when they found a facility left vacant by the former East Tennessee Undergarment Plant on Hudson Drive in Elizabethton.
   Willie believes divine intervention prompted him to relocate the business in October 1997, three months before a tragic flood struck Carter County. Flood waters nearly destroyed the former Valley Forge Auction building in Valley Forge.
   Four years later, in October 2001, an important milestone was reached when Valley Forge Auction moved into a new 68,000 square-foot warehouse at 412 Cherokee Park Drive in Elizabethton.
   Today, the customer base has more than doubled, totaling more than 1,500 and climbing, mostly from word of mouth. Bidders come from out-of-state and fill the Valley Forge Auction parking lot with trucks and vans every Tuesday when an auction is held for wholesalers and retailers.
   On Fridays, from October to Christmas, an auction is held for the general public. If customers desire to bid, they are issued a distinct and permanent number, written on a piece of cardboard, which they hold up for the auctioneer to see.
   Debbie McVey keeps track of all bids and purchases on a real time basis with the aid of auction software on her personal computer.
   At the end of the evening, all bids are tabulated and payment is made with cash, credit card or check.
   Among popular items this year are porcelain angels, dolls, deer, bears, roosters, santas and flags, t-shirts and caps with patriotic themes.
   Valley Forge Auction now has its own product line of giftware. A once-a-year trip to China began in April of 2001. Their China supplier also develops a prototype of new product ideas originated by Willie and Debbie before the item is added to their inventory.
   In an effort to "give back" to the community, Valley Forge Auction sponsors an annual school auction. "All sales commissions go to the particular school," Willie said.
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   The Valley Forge Auction school schedule is as follows:
   Nov. 10, 6 p.m., Valley Forge Elementary School
   Nov. 17, 6:30 p.m., Happy Valley high School
   Nov. 24, 7 p.m., Unaka High School
   Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m., Little Milligan
   Dec. 15, 6:30 p.m., Cloudland High School
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   Today, Valley Forge Auction has nine full-time employees and a host of followers -- fellow members of Zion Baptist Church, Gap Creek Road, and others in the community who attend Friday night auctions on a regular basis and an expanding multi-state wholesaler base.
   "Valley Forge Auction has an excellent reputation of a clean and healthy place. We don't tolerate swearing or vulgarity," Willie said.
   Willie and Debbie have two children, Bradley, 11, a student at Happy Valley Middle School, and Megan, 7, a student at Happy Valley Elementary School.
   "The Lord has blessed us. I had no idea that I would be running the business when I was young, following in my dad's footsteps," Willie said.
   For more information, call 423-543-3051 or fax 423-543-6792.