AR: Tell us about your company.
My father purchased the Wally’s Auto Inc. business and location in Beaver Dam, WI, back in 2008 (he had always been in the automotive recycling industry since he was 20 years old with various locations in Southeastern Wisconsin). We never changed the name from the original owner of the business (Wally) as it was already an operating, profitable business. Specifics include:
Size of facility: 20 acres
Number of employees: 9
Number of vehicles cars processed per year: 2,000+
Specialties: Late model auto salvage
On-site mobile car crusher
Scrap metal recycling
What is your background? How did you get into automotive recycling?
My story is unique because I was thrown into automotive recycling much quicker than I anticipated. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and History back in 2011, I was not having luck with finding a job that “clicked” or that I even wanted. That is until my father asked me to come on board for about two weeks to oversee the transition of a manager from a different location to this location. Two weeks, became two months, which became two years.
I loved the hustle and the ability to learn daily as well as the fact that every day is different. In 2013, my father died of a massive heart attack unexpectedly at the age of 57. There I was, at 24 years old, taking over a successful business all while I struggled to grieve my father’s passing. I had lost a father, a boss, and a best friend.
As a woman automotive recycler, what about your career or your business are you most proud? What has been your biggest obstacle?
I am most proud of the respect I have gained and earned while being a female in this industry and a young one at that. My biggest obstacle at times has been people taking me seriously. I’ve had employees feel as though they don’t need to take orders from someone half their age, or a female at that (clearly they haven’t lasted long by me … LOL).
Who are your heroes or mentors in the business who directly or indirectly impacted you during your career? And why?
I would definitely without a doubt have to say my father, Jon Curro. He was extremely successful and knowledgeable in this industry. I saw what he had obtained throughout his career and all the achievements and goals he crushed (literally) in life. I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps while adding a modern flare to it. Plus, I get to continue his legacy daily which brings me a huge sense of satisfaction.
My sister, Alexandra Hartl, has also impacted my career. She joined our crew in 2016 with a role in the office. It’s a blessing and a curse working with family sometimes, but it brings me a lot of joy working side by side with my sister knowing we are making our father proud, while continuing to build our empire.
What unique or significant changes have you made to improve your business and what compelled you to make these changes?
Our social media presence has definitely increased by posting content that followers like to see, such as a video of us crushing vehicles, or our holiday décor that is made from repurposed tires. I believe it is important to educate the general public on both the importance of recycling, as well as about what it is that we do – from towing vehicles, to cleaning up your yard with our container service, to purchasing a used battery for half the price of a new one, etc. By engaging with our current customers or future customers, it helps to try and get rebranded into an automotive recycling facility versus the old way of thinking of a “junk-yard” or “bone-yard.” These vehicles that we are purchasing from the insurance auctions are costing us quite a bit of money in order to stay relevant in this industry, as well as competitive.
How has your experience as a member of the ARA and other industry organizations benefited your business?
I really appreciate the networking abilities and relationships that are formed along the way by meeting new people within these organizations that are all here for a common goal. We all might be in the same industry therefore we might be all “competitors” in a sense, but we all help each other along the way with our knowledge, lessons, etc.
How are you balancing work and life in this time of global crisis? How have you led your team to navigate these times?
Well, this has definitely been difficult at times. During the pandemic, we closed our office to only allow curbside pickup and still operated. Our crew numbers did drop at times due to employees needing time with their families, or quarantining themselves.
Personally, I have not been able to balance it perfectly myself. As bosses, we usually always jump in and pick up the pieces, so some days have been long and very trying at times. I do believe that this global crisis has definitely shown us auto recyclers just how important we all are to both the retail customer, small scale auto shop, as well as the big car dealership down the road. We know in this industry we were considered “essential” and at the end of the day, I believe that word itself shows just how important we really are.
What is your one achievement you are most proud of and why?
I had hope in our industry that we would come out of our low steel prices that we experienced in 2015, 2016, and longer. I continued to purchase aggressively (beating out competition), while other yards were not buying at all; we continued to be a company our customers could trust to still pay the current market rate on their vehicles and scrap metal. When the market increased consistently, we pieced out some volume, but not much. Toward the end of 2020, we were able to unload significant volume, therefore definitely generating some more money with which to purchase new vehicles. This was a huge achievement in my eyes, as we had been able to hold out on selling while we were still buying quite of bit of volume (“money going out but not enough coming in” philosophy).
Ultimately, we survived those low steel prices because we purchase scrap metal and are also an automotive salvage facility. Quite a few scrapyards around us that only relied on the metals market folded. It was sad to see as many of these businesses were family-run for quite some time. I am thankful for this accomplishment, as it was trying at times, but we made it through and were able to achieve success.
How do you contribute to your community or to the auto recycling industry that is rewarding to you?
We always donate vehicles for extraction exercises to local fire departments and police departments. We also donate vehicles that were in accidents due to texting while driving, etc. to local high schools and companies that want to get their drivers and/or students informed of the repercussions of being distracted drivers. We also donate to many charitable organizations within Beaver Dam, as well as Dodge County (the city & county of our business).