By Scott Robertson Jr.
Our industry has an identity problem. Most of the general population has little knowledge of the benefits we offer and has preconceived notions about auto recycling. We are the most misunderstood industry in the world. Unfortunately, many of the first auto recyclers began as an offshoot from an unrelated business plan – some were rag merchants, others paper and some scrap dealers. There were very little, if any, standards of environmental or quality control. We were the place that collected junk, hence the name “junkyard.”
During World War II, all manufacturing was geared toward the production of war support products. The only place to buy replacement repair auto parts was at a junkyard, but we never improved our image. People started to buy our products more and more, but we never improved our processes. Recycling end-of-life vehicles was a time-consuming, dirty process mostly done by hand. Just imagine chopping up a car with a hatchet by hand, not paying too much attention as to where the oil, gasoline and other fluids flowed. We were on par with the trash dumps, but handling old abandoned vehicles.
There are many auto recycling facilities that never evolved into the modern professional auto recycler of today. These facilities most likely are not computerized, do not follow environmental protocols and are an eyesore to their neighbors. The unknowing consumer might think that all auto recyclers operate and look the same.
Most of these operators die off when new generations inherit the junkyard, while some are newly formed as illegal operators working out of chop shops or tow yard locations. Whatever the case, we are often judged by the lowest common denominator. Often we have long-standing customers who forget about the many great parts we supplied to them and latch onto the one part that failed after installation.
We do a pretty good job in promoting our industry to those who know about us, including fellow recyclers, insurance companies, and body and mechanical shops. The problem here is that in most instances we are preaching to the choir. Body and mechanical shops have a love/hate relationship with us – they hate us when our parts are mandated and love us when they are fixing their own vehicle and want to save money. Lots of times the consumer formulates their opinion of our parts from a shop writing the estimate. Our parts are classified as “junk” and why would you take the chance with a worn-out part. Some even have signs saying they don’t perform repairs with junkyard parts. We have allowed the industry that installs our parts to formulate the consumer’s perception of our product.
In the past, every time you saw a salvage yard in the movies, there was a drug deal or someone was being shot and thrown into the trunk of a car. Unfortunately, movies, TV shows and the media can formulate people’s opinions for the good and bad. It seems like after getting a bad reputation, it takes forever to make it good. I don’t think we have a bad reputation, just a misunderstanding of the benefits of our industry. Next time you take an Uber, ask the driver if they would utilize our parts in repairs. Better yet, ask a waiter their opinion, but be ready to explain why our parts are good for their wallet and the environment. An educated consumer is our best customer.
Just imagine if every salvage yard around the world started promoting the benefits of our industry to the consumer and the “not yet” consumer. Ideology is formatted early in life, let’s reach out to the younger generation. They might not own a car, but they are zealot environmentalists, the perfect match for our industry.
We must be viewed as stewards of the environment as a carbon-negative industry, not as the polluters that our forefathers portrayed. We should all be utilizing social media in promoting our industry, it’s cheap and far-reaching. Call your local news media and offer a tour and story on the benefits of our industry. Do the same with your town leaders and planners. Maybe we could all offer public tours on World Auto Recycling Day on September 18th!
Perceptions are easy to form but difficult to change.