Schokman and Samerawickrema: Striking the gavel for 125 years | Sunday Observer

Schokman and Samerawickrema: Striking the gavel for 125 years

9 July, 2017

The pioneer auctioneers Schokman and Samerawickrema are celebrating 125 years this year. The Managing partner Navinda Samerawickrema says, “We are still managing as a family business. My brother is partner and my sister is in the management. We have about 40 in our staff, both associate and the executive staff. We have three offices, one in Kandy and two in Colombo. Completing 125 years in business is an achievement as only a few companies in Sri Lanka have a history of 125 years or more. We are very happy and very proud of our achievements, but we are also humbled by the progress we have made and it has been a very long journey. We are very happy and thankful for this journey and what we have achieved.”

The name Schokman is attributed to a British planter who was involved in the initial stages of the formation of the firm. Samerawickrema says, “It was my grandfather, Edwin De Alwis Samerawickrema who was domiciled in Kandy who began this company. When my grandfather was working for Tuckers he was interested in horse racing and he was a regular visitor of the Ceylon Turf Club in Nuwara Eliya. He had met a gentleman named Schokman who was a planter. As a hobby Schokman used to collect the disposable furniture when foreigners were leaving Sri Lanka at a monthly get together on a Sunday evening. He was doing it as a hobby and they had met at the horse races and my grandfather also had similar interests and they struck a partnership. That is why we still carry on the name of Schokman and Samerawickrema. Schokman went back to England after some time.”

Schokman and Samerawickrema’s core business is auctioneering. Samerawickrema explains, “We auction motor vehicles, furniture, antiques and collectible items such as paintings. We also do auctioning of properties. We also do valuations of immovable and moveable properties, antiques, paintings, motor vehicles, plant and machinery. We have a real estate side as well, but we don’t do much of real estate as a general business. We handle mostly property sales for embassies and conglomerates and we have a transport company.”

The company plans to digitalise its auctions in the future. Samerawickrema says, “Now everything is Information Technology based. During those days and even now, for example, the practice at an auction, if you are having a furniture auction we generally have it in our premises or auction rooms or in the customers’ premises. For example, if a family is migrating, we have the auction at their premises. People have to come and view the items physically and then participate in the auction and sometimes they spend the whole day or several days. So now we have come up with an IT based solution to launch an auction portal where certain auctions are done on a trial basis at first, and we are going to have auctions broadcast live online so that people will be able to bid and buy and purchase items from their home or office or from where ever they are and the payment will be made through a payment gateway. This is scheduled to start in August as the finishing touches are being done for this auction engine. There are people who produce furniture and bring to our show room for auctioning. We have made a lot of job opportunities for the people.”

Samerawickrema says: “We have improved the market for antiques in Sri Lanka. There is a market for antiques and for paintings where people can buy and sell. A lot of our customers who come to the furniture auctions and motor vehicle auctions are engaged in ‘buying and selling’. What they do is they will buy the vehicle from us and take it to their village or their city and they re-sell it. So we have created that business opportunity for them. And we sell about 300 to 400 vehicles a month. And we are encouraging people to re-use things, for example, to re-use a table or a computer. So there is an impact on the environment and job opportunities for people to make a living. There are so many positive points from our business to the environment and the community. There have been many unique opportunities that have come our way. Not everything has been good.”

“Sometimes we have faced difficulties in conducting these auctions. There are unique instances where we have sold very valuable paintings. We have sold the former British High Commission property. Then we have sold elephants. We have sold an elephant for the zoo in Dehiwela where the elephant had not been manageable and the Wildlife Department decided to auction it. So we auctioned it and an outside person came and bought the elephant. Then we auctioned a Jaguar belonging to the Sri Lanka Police department which was used by Queen Elizabeth II when she first visited Sri Lanka. These are significant auctions that we have done in the past.”

However, the company had to face setbacks during the war period. Samerawickrema recalled that he was going to school during the war. We had to face a lot of difficulties, especially with the sudden closure of the offices and the negative impact on the economy. There were bomb blasts happening and curfew was declared. So what we sometimes planned we couldn’t work out. “My father sometimes had to postpone auctions or to cancel auctions. But even through this difficult period we managed to come out because we have not had any political affiliations. We are a neutral company, we are a family company. We do our job to our best ability, and I think it is through this we have reached the position today. Both furniture and vehicle sales bring us the income. Generally at an auction we sell about 100 or 150 vehicles from motor cycles to buses to cars. The vehicle auctions generate the most income.”

Schokman and Samerawickrema is known islandwide and overseas. Samerawickrema says, “People who have migrated to other countries know us. When you say Schokman and Samerawickrema anywhere in the world or in Sri Lanka people know that it is an auctioneering firm. We have on several occasions tied up with international firms like Savills, and Cushman & Wakefield in Australia. We have made real estate transactions with them. And we have been the first in South East Asia to get the ISO certification for auctioning and real estate brokering. So that is also a first that we have come up with.”

Samerawickrema wishes to thank those who have contributed to the development of the firm. He says, “We should always remember our forefathers and the earlier generations of our staff because without their hard work we wouldn’t have been here today. We thank our clients, our customers, our stake holders for what they have given to make Schokman and Samerawickrema a very stable company in Sri Lanka.”