Auto Recycling World spoke to Martijn Traas, Director of Van der Ven Autos in The Netherlands, about their unique set-up, including their self-service department, and where he believes the vehicle recycling industry is heading.
In the beginning and growth
Martijn, please give us a brief history of the company and how you came to be involved in the auto recycling industry.
My father-in-law started the business on a very small scale back in the late 70s. At first, he traded in scrap, then progressed onto dismantling a few cars a week. It was a small family business with just one employee.
In 2002 I was studying commercial economics, and at that time, there were only seven employees at Van der Ven Autos. One of them was my brother-in-law and Director; he asked me if I could help out at the company two days a week as well as study. I did this for one year and then started working in a financial company. I carried on going to University in the evenings and after three years, in 2006, the company, which now employed about 15 people, asked me to join the business’s trade section. We developed a plan to sell auto parts and build a warehouse, and by 2008, we were ready.
The company grew very quickly; we were processing between 3000-4000 cars a year, so we took the opportunity to buy more land from the neighbours, and in 2010, I became a partner at the company.
Now, I am one of the two directors at the company; I run the business with my brother-in-law, Wim Van der Ven, the other director. My responsibilities include organisation, finance and marketing, and my brother-in-law is in charge of the technical side, buying and selling and processing. Together with our qualified employees, we are able to run the company successfully.
You said that from 2008, the business ‘grew quickly’; what was the company’s ethos behind this sudden growth?
First, we focussed on buying as many cars as possible. We did not specialise in one brand; we processed all brands. After this, we worked on the channels to sell our parts, we worked on our efficiency with scrap processing, and we set up an export department; now it is a large department, and we sell all over the world. We also developed our own software and focussed on employing skilled workers.
So, where is the company today?
We now have 140 employees. We have our own buying department; Four people work in this department and purchase cars through our website and from repair shops. We also have our own transport company, of which there are 40 trucks which collect vehicles from all over the Netherlands. There is a dismantling department with six depollution units, the export department, which processes around 150 engines a week for export. We have three Powerhand vehicle dismantler systems for the scrap, and two years ago, we developed the self-serve department. We also operate a 2700m2 Green Parts Warehouse where 75.000 parts are located ready for shipment. We operate 6 webshops in different countries.
What made you decide to go into self-serve?
We were having 150 to 200 phone calls asking for parts that we didn’t have in the warehouse, and even though we had the parts in the yard, they had not been removed from the vehicles, plus we didn’t have space for all of these parts in the warehouse, and labour from our mechanics was expensive. We saw that in the US, the self-service market was good, but we wondered, would people in the Netherlands want to remove a part by themselves?
We decided to make an adjustment and not charge a fee. We then had the opportunity to buy 40,000 square metres (nine acres) extra land. We invested heavily and created a very clean area, fully paved and put in 1250 cars with plenty of room for people to dismantle the cars for parts. Now, every week, 135 cars are exchanged for new ones. We also built a new website and created new software with an interactive map so that people can find the vehicle they are looking for and find out which parts have been sold.
Brands of vehicles stay together, and the more popular the brand, the closer they are to the entrance. The brand popularity is reviewed every six months, and brands will be moved around according to popularity and how much money has been earned from them. We also charge fixed prices, and people like that; it’s fairly cheap.
Have you seen an increase in people using self-service?
Yes, this is because the facility is very clean and comfortable; there is background music playing in the yard, we have a good inventory of cars, and it is cheap.
We have also integrated this department into our webshop, so people will immediately see if the part they require is available or not. They can do a search, and if we don’t have the part on full-service, we have the cars on self-service, so vehicles are mixed between departments. We also developed an alert. So if someone cannot find a part, an alert will be sent to their email when that particular car part comes into the yard.
The parts are cheap and original, and they can choose to use the self-service option to remove it themselves, which will work out cheaper, or they can use the full-service and have our mechanics do it for them. The choice is theirs and is slightly different from that of the US as these services are separate.
How do you deal with health & safety, and security?
We do have tight regulations. Not more than two people in the same group can come into the yard. First, they need to sign in. They have to read all the regulations, such as, don’t damage the cars, be responsible etc. And we have two people in the yard changing the cars and helping the customers.
We have about 70 cameras around the yard for security, so we can always watch for safety issues. Plus, we have only one entrance/exit that the people can use, which allows us to check bags on arrival and departure to ensure no tools or extra parts have been picked up along the way.
Challenges and the future
What are the challenges that you are facing at the moment when it comes to vehicle recycling?
There are many government rules. We have spent a lot of time and money filling in forms, having training and gaining certification from the relevant government bodies, such as the environment agency, so that we can operate legally, but in the Netherlands, there are those who, although on paper, only sell cars, they are also doing dismantling activities and not gaining the correct certification.
Concerning electric vehicles, it is inevitable there will be an increase in these vehicles entering our yards, so we are beginning to develop this side of the business, and we now have trained people who can dismantle EVs. And I think the use of the internet and having good software is becoming more and more important now and in the future.
When it comes to the image of a vehicle recycler and how they are perceived, we have tried hard over the last ten years. Still, I think the government can do a lot more to show that buying a part from a vehicle dismantler is economically beneficial, and the service experience is fast and efficient. The government needs to convince the people that a used part can be a good, cheap, viable solution.
We need to educate the public and convince them that companies can deliver the correct used parts, and we have to provide the best service to stay ahead of the competition.
To find out more about Van der Ven Autos visit www.venauto.nl