ARA’s 78th Annual Convention & Expo was a welcomed in-person meeting of industry minds. Strong auto recycler attendance and showing from vendors created opportunity to take a hard look at challenges, opportunity, and future strategy by Caryn Smith
Succeeding in automotive recycling involves understanding the status of many industry aspects, many of which were discussed in sessions and hallways at the 78th Annual Convention & Expo in November 2021, held in Dallas, Texas. Facility efficiency, understanding the future of artificial intelligence in insurance estimating, electric vehicle safety, end-of-life utilization of the electric battery, certification and standards, workforce shortages, technology and cyber-security were just some of the buzzwords mentioned over the course of several days of peer networking.
A stellar list of speakers and keynotes brought the high-level view of these topics and more, that create both opportunities and concerns. The most important benefit of attending the annual convention is the opportunity to receive this information first-hand.
One thing is for sure: There are many unknowns currently working themselves out in real-time in the industry. As they unfold, an auto recycler’s best strategy is to stay ahead of the curve with business best practices, training, certification, information, and collaboration until the dust settles on some of these issues.
The leadership of the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) emphasized their commitment to continue providing ongoing avenues for auto recyclers to gain the knowledge they need. Their current efforts include joining with stakeholders in various aspects of the supply chain and process management to ensure ARA members, and the entire industry, are considered in all high-level decisions impacting recyclers.
A significant aspect of every convention is the passing of the Executive Committee leadership torch. This year, Marty Hollingshead (Northlake Auto Recyclers in Hammond, IN) takes the helm as President. Hollingshead has been instrumental in developing the ARA Mentoring Program and is a strong supporter of certification and ARA University, topics you will likely hear more about in the coming year.
Also changing roles are First Vice President Shan Lathem (Cocoa Auto Salvage, Cocoa, FL); Second Vice President/Treasurer Nick Daurio (Daurio Auto Truck, Pueblo, CO); and new EC member Secretary Eric Wilbert (Wilbert’s U-Pull It, Williamson, NY). After a historic two-year term as President, Scott Robertson Jr. (Robertson’s Auto Salvage, Inc., Wareham, MA) becomes Immediate Past President.
The ARA Annual Star Awards were bestowed on very worthy recipients who are strong leaders across the industry. They included:
- ARA Member of the Year – Shannon Nordstrom, Nordstrom’s Automotive, Inc., Garretson, SD
- ARA Affiliate Chapter of the Year – Pennsylvania Automotive Recycling Trade Society (PARTS)
- ARA Certification Member of the Year – Chuck’s Auto Salvage, Inc., Douglassville, PA
- President’s Award – Sandy Blalock
- Lifetime Achievement Members – Posthumous – James Watson, Jr. – ABC Auto Parts & Sales, Inc., Riverdale, IL and Charles Arcangelo – Mitchells Auto Parts dba Chuck & Eddies Used Auto Parts, Plantsville, CT
- ARA Educational Foundation Apple Award – Automotive Recyclers of Massachusetts, Inc.
ARA in the News
At the ARA annual membership meeting, the news was positive and progressive. The highlights include:
- ARA announced a new educational arm of the association, the Automotive Recyclers Training Institute (ARTI). This will be pivotal in the future creation and disbursement of critical educational data needed in handling new technologies in vehicle dismantling.
- The ARA Scholarship Foundation raised almost $20,000 at its annual fundraiser and is pleased to announce three newly named scholarships: Don & Rachel Egelseer Honorial Scholarship; Ron, Keith & Brian Sturgeon Honorial Scholarship; and Gary Bevell Honorial Scholarship.
- ARA created a new soon-to-be registered trademark for use in the industry – Reuse, then Recycle™ to call attention to reusing auto parts. If you would like this logo for use, contact email@example.com.
- ARA is leading the way with involvement in electric vehicle battery discussions across the automotive industry, including being active in NAATBAT, an organization dedicated to advocating for advanced battery technology in North America.
- ARA launched “MyARA,” which is a social media platform specifically for ARA members, and where ARA committees can conduct meetings in a Zoom-like setting. They invite members to check it out by going to www.ara.tradewing.com and entering your membership login for the ARA website.
- The AutoRecyclers ToolBox® announced that it is now selling regional advertising to automotive recyclers who want to connect with their peers in business. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Recyclers Roundtable, facilitated by Scott Robertson, Greg Condon (Condon’s Auto Parts) and Greg Daurio (Daurio’s Auto Truck), opened the discussion by discussing lingering pandemic conditions. Many roundtable participants in the U.S. and across the world discussed implementing new processes and working with limited staff while enjoying sales that were “the best ever” for many. Condon noted he had spent several years prior to COVID cross-training his staff for multiple positions, proving the time spent was a great asset to his company during the height of pandemic conditions.
A discussion on hiring practices brought to light that with electronics invading the automotive design, it is prudent to start hiring “trained electronic automotive staff members to help us.” Complex automotive technology, increasing cyber security risks and the far-off but looming ban on internal combustion engines are writing on the wall to bring your business model into the technological age.
Other hiring strategies were discussed, such as developing an advanced onboarding process. Amber Kendrick (Pete’s Auto Recycling) shared her multi-week process where a new hire will get a list of tasks each week, which includes interview questions for peers to learn the full scope of automotive recycling and specifics of the company. She then meets with the new hire on a weekly basis to discuss what they learned. She noted it has improved retention, as a worker understands how they fit into the process and what to expect from the company as an employer.
Putting a return-on-investment price tag on certification was also discussed. Often overlooked as a priority, the feeling is that recyclers can be shortsighted when it comes to its value. “Certification ROI is hard to quantify when we implement this thing today, that sometimes comes to full value in year three or five,” says Greg Condon. It was acknowledged that certification is an investment in the future, and the overall feeling is that auto recyclers who embrace it today will rise to the top quicker as vehicle dismantling becomes more complex and dangerous.
Electric vehicle certification is becoming is a hot topic within ARAUniversity.org. It was noted that electric vehicle management standards are going to take a dismantler some time to learn. There are risks, and awareness is a top priority for the ARA. “We must write our own protocols,” noted Shannon Nordstrom (Nordstrom’s Automotive Inc.), “or they will be written for us. Certification adds value to our business.” Following standards allows the industry to stay in control of their own processes, he emphasized, and notes that ARA University offers a number of resources on electric vehicles, free to ARA members.
Expo for All
This year, the Exposition was buzzing with excitement as vendors and recyclers reconnected on matters of business and friendship. Over 70 exhibitors gathered to share their business intelligence on their products and services. As usual, it delivered on expectations. Here are some thoughts from vendors:
Reed Trueblood, Managing Director, ATSG said:
“ETE and ATSG agree the 78th Annual ARA Convention and Expo was a very well executed event. Attendance was high and the attendees were exactly who we wanted to talk shop with. We plan to be there again in 2022!”
Melissa Sullivan, Business Development Manager, PMR INC. said:
“The ARA 2021 show in Dallas was a wonderful event for our team. The location, staff and organizers were fantastic from start to finish. After no in-person convention in 2020 due to COVID-19, it was great to see all the familiar faces and to meet many new faces as well. Our booth was well attended, and we had a constant flow of foot traffic throughout the entire show. Looking forward to ARA 2022!”
Amanda Zmolek, Industry Relations, Copart said:
“ARA has always been a great show for us. It’s nice to be able to catch up with everyone, and I always learn something too. The dedicated trade show hours help to make sure we’ve had a chance to speak with all the attendees.”
Kirk Monger, Director of Sales, Hollander said:
“It was great being a part of the 78th Annual ARA Convention after not being face to face with our recycling friends for so long. The energy on the trade show floor was something that we haven’t felt for a long time, and the steady traffic into our booth was also proof of a successful event. The event sessions were inspiring and informative, and we were able to network with recyclers and other vendors throughout the entirety of the convention.”
Estimating the Future
Ryan Mandell conducted an informative session on insurance estimating advancements. Data is the name of the game, with 58,000 items that can potentially show up on an estimate. Consistency with parts descriptions is more important now than ever before. Overcoming the bad habits of incorrectly listing parts is imperative, he urged. Decisions about repairs are now being made onsite of the accident. It is important to position your inventory to be considered for the repair. Mandell stresses that “Quality and accuracy of your inventory is more important than ever. Eventually, AI will have the parts on the way before a shop gets a car to repair.”
It was noted that more estimates are being generated by the carriers, instead of the DRPs. Despite the data-driven technology in the repair process, you still must have a human close the loop. It was recommended that auto recyclers spend time creating relationships with insurance representatives to be a preferred vendor in their network. “We must understand their business,” noted Dan Snyder (Snyder’s Certified Auto and Truck Parts), “and that they understand ours so that everyone can make and save money along the way.”
Eric Wilbert (Wilbert’s Inc.) spoke to attendees on best practices in the self-service sector. More recyclers are diversifying into self-service or operating that model. Vehicle acquisition continues to be a problem for everyone, and he suggests advertising to get vehicles from the public. “Auctions are so expensive, so try to get cars in other ways,” he says. “When someone reaches out to sell their car, get the vehicle as soon as possible. Towing is not an extension of your business; it is the face of your business.”
In her session, Using Your Data to Cultivate Leaders, Tiffany Whitmire (Fenix) noted, “Nothing ruins a good story like data – it shows what’s really happening in your business.” In other words, you may think things are one way, but through tracking, another story of your business may emerge. Defining what a good job looks like and then using data to measure the job provides a consistency in performances. Define what your key indicators are, what is unique to your business that affects the business. Hone it down to what drives your bottom line and that is unique to your success.
For instance, evaluate where your hand-off points are and measure the process. Is there room for improvement? Are there “leaks” in the process? Look at the quality versus quantity for each KPI. In dismantling, set your goals based on your desired outcomes. If quality is suffering, could it be the dismantling performance model you have in your facility?
Andy Latham (Salvage Wire) led discussions on the electric vehicle revolution. “There is lots of opportunity for the recycling community,” he shared, but he did predict that he would not see full autonomous cars in his lifetime. What will continue to flourish and improve are advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), which lessen the instances of high-speed accidents. This will make more cars repairable in the future. With that will come the need for recyclers to adopt systems or processes that will calibrate parts, and even be certified to do so or use labs that will provide that service, such as what is being done in the UK.
Customer Service Reigns
In growing profits, Pat Huesers and Mike Meyer (PAM’s Auto) discussed how their efforts on consistent customer service and business policy helped streamline bottlenecks in their business and made all parties aware of expectations prior to sale. PAM’s Auto has a written “no hassle” return policy. “If you are reasonable with people, they will be reasonable with you,” they expressed. With a written policy, you will need to deviate from it for good customers. “Just be careful whatever you do, as the customer will expect it again.”
It is a given – you will have returns, but think of returns as a way to save the customer, and maybe even the sale or an opportunity to make a new sale. “If you are able to track returns by the customer, the results may surprise you.”
On the warranty, you must expect that auto parts fail, they said. Your customers will never remember the twenty deals that went right; they remember the one deal that was painful. Have one warranty, make sure the staff has it memorized and outlines it at the point of sale. Upsell customers to a no-fault warranty and the resolution on both sides is much better.
In 2022, you will be hearing more about the value of the ARA Certified Auto Recycler (CAR) program for your business. In two sessions, Shannon Nordstrom and Sue Schauls discussed the program in detail and its benefits. From best practices in dismantling to parts washing and waste disposal, the program is designed so that your team is utilizing best practices that keep them safe and your facility minimized from exposure to a potential danger.
“The best thing you can do is be certified,” emphasized Schauls. For instance, waste disposal in automotive recycling has become somewhat of a hot topic. There is an increased emphasis on this in inspections processes, especially in disposal of led acid batteries, mercury switches, refrigerants, tires and scrap metal. “In our CAR Compliance Checkpoint program, you can scan and upload your bill of lading on batteries, switches, etc. for safekeeping. The key is that you keep the paperwork when you send out shipments for disposal.”
Using a name brand company in the disposal of waste is also recommended. If an independent person offers more per battery, but then accidentally dumps 1,000 batteries on the road, you are involved, warns Nordstrom. “It’s not worth the liability in my opinion for the extra .50 cents a battery.”
The COVID pandemic changed the way recyclers interact. With the cancellation of 2020’s ARA Convention, the association pivoted to a virtual event and therefore started a trend that is being more widely embraced – online meetings. Nothing replaces the “Together” part of “Together We Succeed.” It brought the best of our industry back out under one roof this year, which was a very good feeling to be reunited with friends and colleagues. Yet, continued collaboration is required to ensure change tracks in favor of the automotive recycling industry, not working against it.
Therefore, you can expect to see more online meetings than before, as ARA now hosts their own recycler-driven social media – “MyARA” – for members to participate in a Zoom-like meeting format. Where before, there would be an aversion to technology-hosted meetings, it is becoming an essential way to stay informed and do business. Facebook Live, YouTube and other social media are gaining traction with progressive auto recyclers.
ARA urges the industry to take advantage of all the education and information sharing you can – it could be what gets you to the level of business you are working to achieve. Next year, ARA will be back in Orlando, Florida from Sept. 22-24 for “Agents of Change,” as the 79th Annual ARA Convention & Expo focuses on being proactive as change comes upon the industry.
About the author
Caryn Smith is the editor of ARA’s Automotive Recycling magazine and has been covering the industry for almost 25 years.