SAME JUNK, NEW IMAGE
Auto recyclers use technology to connect with customers
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.
“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.