Deborah Weidenhamer seemed destined for a career in finance until a chance conversation led her to become an auctioneer. Sixteen years later, Weidenhamer's business, Auction Systems Auctioneers & Appraisers, is thriving, with revenue of $93.3 million—and the No. 1,532 spot on the 2010 Inc. 5000, the company's seventh appearance on the list.

I was on a flight to Phoenix, and I started talking to the gentleman next to me, who happened to be an auctioneer. I learned that auctions are a huge industry—$270 billion in 2010—dominated by a few family-run firms. I was mesmerized.

The first thing I did was to sign up for auction school, where I learned how to chant and talk fast. My husband thought I had lost my mind. He has since gotten over it.

We sell for banks, lawyers, courts, government agencies, and individuals. We sell everything from bulldozers from the Department of Transportation to stolen and confiscated goods from law enforcement. We once sold a decree from the Salem witch trials.

My firm has a TV show called Auctioneer$, where they film us at work. I think the recent craze of reality shows has made auctions more popular, but what really changed things was the economy. Ordinary folks were looking for the fastest way to sell their stuff. People are also looking to maintain their lifestyle without spending as much.

What gives us our competitive advantage is that all of our auctions are simulcast online, which means we have people bidding live and on their computers. Everything is transparent.

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