SAME JUNK, NEW IM­AGE

Auto re­cy­clers use tech­nol­ogy to con­nect with cus­tomers

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY TAMMIE SMITH

RICH­MOND | The auto re­cy­cling busi­ness has em­braced tech­nol­ogy, and it could save you some dough if you are a bar­gain hunter or the do-it-your­self type.

That’s the mes­sage au­to­mo­bile re­cy­clers are pro­mot­ing as they cope with a chang­ing in­dus­try.

For in­stance, no longer is junk­yard the pre­ferred term for lots where auto re­cy­clers store their acres of busted-up cars. They are called sim­ply “yards.”

And shade tree or boot­leg me­chan­ics who work on cars in the back­yard in their spare time are just a frac­tion of the cus­tomer base for many yards, which sell pri­mar­ily to other busi­nesses and in­sur­ers.

Auto parts re­cy­cling is a $32 bil­lion-ayear in­dus­try based on sales, ac­cord­ing to Manassas-based Au­to­mo­tive Re­cy­clers As­so­ci­a­tion, a na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing auto re­cy­clers.

An es­ti­mated 11.5 mil­lion to 14 mil­lion ve­hi­cles are re­cy­cled ev­ery year in the U.S., the Au­to­mo­tive Re­cy­clers As­so­ci­a­tion notes. In Vir­ginia, there are 492 ac­tive sal­vage dealer li­censes, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles.

“Ev­ery­body can’t af­ford a new car. That is where we come in,” said Lisa Street, pres­i­dent of the Vir­ginia Au­to­mo­tive Re­cy­clers As­so­ci­a­tion and of­fice man­ager at her fam­ily’s Lew’s Auto Ser­vice and Sal­vage in Spot­syl­va­nia.

A re­us­able part sal­vaged from a wrecked ve­hi­cle can cost a frac­tion of the cost of a new, af­ter­mar­ket part. Sal­vaged parts can be small items such as side view mir­rors and tail­lights or big­ger ticket items such al­ter­na­tors, en­gines and trans­mis­sions.

“This is not junk,” said Michael E. Wil­son, CEO of the Au­to­mo­tive Re­cy­clers As­so­ci­a­tion. “This is high-priced stuff and some­thing that has be­come very so­phis­ti­cated over the years with com­put­er­ized sys­tems. … Our parts are [orig­i­nal equip­ment manufacturer] parts. The price can be a 30 per­cent to 80 per­cent dis­count de­pend­ing on what the part is.”

But like much of re­tail, the used auto parts busi­ness is hav­ing to find new ways to reach cus­tomers — both old and new.

“Our motto for this year was change … to change what peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of what a junk­yard was,” said Troy Web­ber, the third gen­er­a­tion of his fam­ily to op­er­ate Ch­ester­field Auto Parts, which has three lo­ca­tions in the Rich­mond area.

Mr. Web­ber is not so op­posed to us­ing the “j” word be­cause that’s how their cus­tomers know them, but he is try­ing to re­de­fine it.

“For a long time, we had been try­ing to con­vince peo­ple that we weren’t a junk­yard. But what we found is that more peo­ple are fa­mil­iar, re­ally, with us be­ing a junk­yard. So what we wanted to do was change peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of what a junk­yard was. This is not some dirty, junky scrap heap where you have to get greasy and muddy. We put a lot of ef­fort into mak­ing this [yard] user-friendly,” Web­ber said.

One means of get­ting their mes­sage out is through the use of tech­nol­ogy — so­cial me­dia and on­line search por­tals that let cus­tomers look for parts by points and clicks or taps and swipes.

“The pro­gres­sive yards are em­brac­ing that tech­nol­ogy in or­der to get their parts out to the con­sumer who is buy­ing nowa­days,” Ms. Street said.

Ms. Street was in her teens when she started work­ing at Lew’s Auto Ser­vice and Sal­vage in Spot­syl­va­nia, which her par­ents started oper­at­ing in the early 1980s. With her three sons work­ing there now, there are three gen­er­a­tions of her fam­ily in the busi­ness.

“Old-time yards … where peo­ple walk in and ask for the parts, they are not do­ing as well as the pro­gres­sive-type yards,” Ms. Street said.

Be­fore, she said, cus­tomers would call ask­ing if a yard had a part. Or the cus­tomer would walk in and yard staff would go through books called Hol­lan­der man­u­als, which de­tail parts that are in­ter­change­able among dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cles.

“Now when they call you, they know you’ve got it be­cause you’ve got a Face­book page, you’ve got some type of soft­ware that puts your parts out there for peo­ple to see. Peo­ple are do­ing Craigslist, do­ing eBay,” Ms. Street said.

“A lot of the yards are do­ing as much as they can to try to hit as many peo­ple as they can,” Ms. Street said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TOGRAPHS

“Our motto for this year was change ... to change what peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of what a junk­yard was,” said Troy Web­ber of Ch­ester­field Auto Parts, which is lo­cated in the Rich­mond area of Vir­ginia. He’s the third gen­er­a­tion of his fam­ily to op­er­ate the yard.

Al­varo Be­doya works on pulling a trans­mis­sion out of a car. The auto re­cy­cling busi­ness has em­braced tech­nol­ogy, which could help bar­gain hunters save money.

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