Betsy Finnell talks openly of her family’s history in the auto recycling industry, and how it led to her to becoming the owner of Hotlines, sellers of software for auto salvage yards based in the US.
I smile when I tell people I don’t have grease under my nails, but I’ve got plenty in my blood. And it’s true. For many years my parents owned A & A Auto Salvage in Topeka, Kansas. They started right after WWII with $500 in cash and a flatbed wrecker. For over 30 years they worked hard to build the business until they sold it in 1976.
Like most owners have experienced, creating a business out of nothing wasn’t easy. I remember seeing my father’s legs scarred from wrestling with the dismantling himself in the early days. Meanwhile, mom was fighting not only the challenges of being a woman in business in the 1960s but also President Johnson’s Beautification Act, which essentially declared war on the “filthy junkyards polluting our beautiful landscape.” And mom, being a class act, would manage all this while still wearing her tight pencil skirt, pearls and 4” heels.
As a result, I grew up around lively dinner table discussions on topics such as eminent domain, the price of scrap and the challenge of opening the auctions to buyers without dealer’s licenses. In our household, OSHA was a dirty word.
When concern over the ramifications of the Beautification Act reached a peak in the early 60s, mom wrote an impassioned letter to President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, describing the vital role auto recycling facilities played in keeping the cars from cluttering the landscape. She explained in detail the lengths many recyclers went to in making their businesses clean and attractive. Lady Bird was so thrilled to receive the letter she invited mom to sit on the National Beautification Council and attend several receptions at the White House.
After dad passed on, in 1984, I joined mom in the business. She had already started one of the first voice networks (some of you may remember the old Occupational Safety and Health Administration ‘hoot and holler’ lines) in the country and was actively running it. Additionally, she had worked with the Bell Labs engineers to create the first data network in the country.
I figured if a regional network was good, a national network was even better, so I reached out to foreign recyclers across the country and sold them on the idea of a foreign car trade group and network. After 88 yards bought into the idea, I called to order the voice line equipment only to find the phones were on backorder for at least nine months, if not longer. And not only that, we received a letter the same day stating AT&T would be implementing a massive rate increase on the voice line networks.
My first thought was, “that’s it, we’re toast, and mom will be eating dirt and turnips the rest of her life.” Mom just laughed and picked up the phone. The next thing I knew, she was talking to the Regional Vice President of AT&T. She said, “You know, I’m a poor old widow woman and there’s no way I can pay this, so you’re going to have to come up with something we can both live with.” And, to my utter amazement, he did. Then she placed another call to an engineer and said, “We’re going into the phone manufacturing business.” And with that, another business was born.
Over the years, mom did many things for the industry. She was instrumental in starting the Kansas Automotive Wreckers Association as well as a national lobbying group. Finally, in 1986 (I’m sure she was exhausted at that point), she sold the business to AutoInfo. I remained with them to run the business unit.
In 2003, Mike Vande Voort approached me to become his partner in Hotlines, the national communication and brokering network. Not more than four months after, I joined Mike, and the satellite we were using to power the network communications spun out of orbit. I thought, “that’s it, we’re done. I’m going to be eating dirt and turnips for the rest of my life.” But I remembered the indomitable spirit of my mom and concluded, “NO, we’re not.” We were able to find a new satellite, put on a full-court press and converted everyone to the new satellite within a month.
Hotlines has come a long way since then. We’re now cloud-based and have over 1,000 members and clients for our various services. Our Dynamic Brokering component of Hotlines is designed specifically for the sales teams on the front lines to make brokering and messaging easy and error-free.
We also offer a long list of services to recyclers in addition to the Hotlines Network. We provide a PartsTrader SmartQuoter service to over 200 recyclers. We’re proud partners with EZQC to provide complete integration for their Pinnacle clients and with Midwest Runner to provide cross-platform messaging and brokering to their members. We’ve worked with Recyclers Cross Dock to offer their members automatic updates of their Work Orders into their system. Just recently, SmartCycle asked us to partner with them to create SmartLIVE, which offers live S10 sales data, current to the minute, to their SmartCycle clients. We’ve also recently worked with Mike Lambert at Buddy AI to offer part-level image import to Pinnacle users.
We just recently rolled out an automatic pricing service. It employs over 52 formula components and uses 32 settings options to update prices on current and newly acquired parts automatically.
I have several young business owners that I mentor, and one of the questions they ask me is, what one trait do you think is most important for success?
The answer is easy. The trait that’s most important for success is one that I think best defines each and every one of you in this industry, as well as my mom – and that is: You never quit. You never give up. No matter how bleak it looks, no matter how stacked the deck appears to be against you – you are succeeding at the end of each day because you know: that the only way you ever truly lose – is if you quit.