Interview by Caryn Smith
Business building on the east coast of Canada, Dalbert Livingstone, president of Island Auto Supply in Charlottetown PEI, is a progressive automotive recycler to watch. He owns the business with his wife, Tabitha, who serves as its secretary/treasurer. Operating this family-owned facility is just one of his many roles in the industry. In 2012, Livingstone took on a board position in Automotive Recyclers Association of Atlantic Canada (ARAAC). He also is a past-ARA board member, serving for the last four years. Both positions have led him straight to his newest endeavor as chair of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC), succeeding Wally Dingman who stepped down after 13 years of service to ARC (see page 12).
“I loved getting to know the people on the ARA and ARAAC boards. It is a really great group and I learned a lot. My biggest take away from both board experiences is a drive to succeed that I saw in other auto recyclers, like Scott Robertson Jr. and Chad Councilman on the ARA board,” says Livingstone.
“I have watched Dalbert grow as a person and as a business leader over his young career,” says Steve Fletcher, the Managing Director of ARC. “He takes on any challenge head on with a desire to learn, grow – and help those around him achieve success too. Dalbert not only runs a top-notch business, but he has taken the leadership of our national association in Canada – and he is a good, kind person along the way. Yes – Dalbert is a recycler to watch.”
Now that he has a larger role in the Canadian industry, Automotive Recycling caught up with him to learn more about his journey in the business.
The Early Days
Island Auto Supply was founded in 1966 by Harvey Livingstone, Dalbert’s grandfather. After years of collecting parts to fix cars, he finally had enough to make a business out of it. “He was originally getting parts for a car he had that needed fixing, and then just kept getting more parts which people would come and buy from him. By 1980s, he had a big warehouse of parts on the original property. Eventually, we moved the business to this location,”says Livingstone.
While his father had little interest in the parts business – he went on to own a landscaping business – Livingstone’s grandfather set his eyes on his grandson. “As a child, I was always around the business, playing out back, stealing pop from the pop machine. My punishment for wrong doings was picking up garbage in the yard,” he says.
“I was recruited by my grandfather in 2002, fresh out of University, to help him integrate the company’s bookkeeping system from paper to digital,” says Livingstone, who brought his accounting education to the business. “After that project was completed, and the accounting took half as much time, I took on other projects. I was introduced to various positions around the facility – shipping/warehouse, tow truck operator, loader operator, dismantling and, eventually, sales.”
“I can’t help but wonder if my grandfather was grooming me for a potential take over all along,” he says of his various jobs within the business. “I spent most of my time in sales, and then my wife came on in 2010 working with inventory and accounting for a few years, until we purchased the business together in 2013.”
As for Livingstone’s service to the industry, he comes by it naturally. “My grandfather is a founding member of ARA of Atlantic Canada (ARAAC) and, at first, he would drag me to the events. But I started to see there was more to these opportunities. I came onto the ARAAC board a year before I bought the business, and traveled to the U.S. and Ontario, a real eye opener.”
Down to Business
The full-service business utilizes approximately 40,000 sq. ft. warehouse space and sits on 16 acres on a small island on the Canadian east coast. The u-pull-it side of the business sits on 12 additional acres. The couple is currently in the process of purchasing it from Livingstone’s uncle, who opened the business in 1996.
Island Auto Supply employees 18 in the full-service, who work to dismantle 800 late model vehicles a year. The self-serve business handles about 500 vehicles a year, and both accept all makes and models. Some employees are originally from Harvey’s tenure, like Debbie, an administrative employee who has 35 years with the company.
The business also has a service center, runs local delivery and operates an eBay store.
Making the Business Run
“We have a strong sales team, very experienced and knowledgeable,” says Livingstone. “I view sales as the foundation. That is the hardest position to hire and train. Once that foundation is laid, we built a team that can help deliver the sales teams’ promises to our customers. Our yard staff can work quickly to meet timelines, our dismantlers quality test as much as possible to limit returns, and our shipping department ensures that our parts get to the customer on time, as described.” To ensure that the sales force is successful, the company is always looking for new ways to increase production. They are not afraid to bring in new technologies and production software. Their goal is to have no paper. “We digitize our inventory with barcoding,” he says, “which allows for a seamless workflow. Also, one thing I did was open delivery routes. There was none before; and, once the delivery route was established, our sales really grew.”
“We are most proud of embracing technological changes,” he says. “We have integrated production software, barcoding inventory system, Wi-Fi in the yard and warehouse, and really streamlined our processes. We shop for services at convention expos to see what vendors have to offer. We enjoy visiting other facilities for tours, where we see the potential in how they operate.”
“For instance, in 2013, we didn’t have a core program. I didn’t know about them. It took one vendor at one show. And now, our core program contributes greatly to the bottom line. If it wasn’t for an association event, I would not know. We can’t operate in a bubble,” he says.
Operating as an independent business, he knows there are trading groups that Island Auto Supply could be a part of. “Honestly, two sales guys here trained me. They are seasoned veterans and taught me the business. They know what they are doing and where the business is,” he says.
“We are always looking to expand revenues; we are hoping to grow the service department and the u-pull-it part of the business. Improving ecommerce is always ongoing, as well,” he says.
In an effort to sell more parts and minimize returns, Livingstone had the vision to open a small service center. “I was seeing opportunities for engine and transmission sales, where the customer could not find anyone to install them. We created a service center to alleviate that problem. We also install brakes, windshields, and provide other services which has yielded a nice stream of revenue.”
As of a few years ago, Island Auto Supply was about 40% wholesale, 40% retail, and 20% to other automotive recyclers. “We have heavy walk in traffic to both the full and self service locations,” he says.
Service and EVs
“When I started going to industry meetings, I admired the board members and executive directors. The peer respect and comradery was appealing, and I wanted to be a part of that someday,” says Livingstone. Now as chair of the ARC and former board member for ARA and ARAAC, he is achieving that reality. Yet, he has new goals in place.
Looking at the industry’s future, he sees the impact that electric vehicles will have on automotive recycling. “EVs are going to be the biggest game changer for us. It will affect how we buy cars, how we sell parts, and even how warehousing our current best-selling parts will change.
“At ARC – the wave of EVs that are coming towards us is the #1 priority. We have to make sure all our members and their employees are trained to dismantle and sell these parts to remain profitable. ARC has co-funded training modules that are being developed by the British Columbia Auto Recyclers (BCAR) for EVs that will be ready soon, similar to the ones on ARA University. We also use the ARAU training. Other training, ARC’s depollution modules, are already for release now.”
At Livingstone’s facility, they have EVs already in their inventory. “We have the safety kits with tools on site, and are already training our employees.”
As for fellow recyclers and the generation coming, Livingstone’s advice is, “Use your associations to keep in the know of what the industry is doing. Lean on one another, we learn better together as an industry. Don’t try to do this all on your own.”
This philosophy is certainly serving him well.