Recycler to Watch: Emily Yancey, Yancey Auto Parts

Jan 1, 2022 | Industry

Interview by Caryn Smith

Emily Yancey is a third-generation automotive recycler who has accomplished much already in her short twenty-something years. She readily admits there are many more things coming in her career due to her limited time in the industry and generation-next position in the company. Yet, when talking to her, you quickly find out her innovation and experience has already made a huge impact on this full-service facility.

Yancey Auto Parts, with two locations in Perry and Columbia, MO, was founded in 1981 by the Yancey family. Emily’s grandparents Bill and Frances Yancey –Papa and Granny – her dad Dean, and her Uncle Jason.

“They decided to concentrate on one thing really well and just went to selling recycled auto parts,” after originally starting a body shop, Emily says of the founders. “Everyone is still involved in the business, except my Papa who passed in 2009. Granny is still here and comes to work every day, along with my dad, Uncle Jason, my uncle’s two daughters, Liz and Tori, and myself. We’re all here and someday my two cousins and I will operate the business. Tori works in the accounting department and Liz is involved in inventory. So, it will eventually be all three women running the business.”

Yancey Auto encompasses 30 acres, processes about 1,100 vehicles, and has 45 employees. The facility is Gold Seal and CAR Certified. “Gold Seal is something that I’ve heard about forever as a kid, you know, within the yard,” says Emily, “I think it holds you accountable. My father really believes in it, and he serves on the ARA Certification Committee.”

Here is our insightful interview with recycler to watch, Emily Yancey.

Automotive Recycling magazine: What is your role at Yancey’s?

Emily Yancey: Well, I don’t really have a title per se, but I’ve pretty much been here my whole life – born and raised in the business. I was home-schooled and that allowed me to work part-time and join the company full-time after graduation.

While I’ve kind of bounced around and did a little bit of everything, my day-to-day duties are ecommerce, production and buying cars. I have had a huge involvement with our e-commerce division. I also buy cars and work with the production/truck routing. I’m kind of here, there, and everywhere. I think I’ve pretty much done every job in the business except for dismantling cars.

AR:  Specialties? EY: I can’t say that we have one thing that we really specialize in. We buy a wide variety of late model vehicles and sell to a large customer base. One thing that we do put a lot of time and focus on is our customers. All of them matter, from the largest one down to the smallest. We strive to put the customer first and to keep loyalty in a world where loyalty is not what it used to be.

AR: Your background is automotive recycling. Did you ever want to do anything else?

EY: I think everybody has thoughts growing up of things that they want to do. I thought seriously about becoming an equine veterinarian because I have always owned and worked with horses. I was very involved in the equine world, traveling to AQHA shows and working with horses a lot. Being home-schooled, I was able to devote the time needed to the horse arena.

At the same time, it has pretty much always been about working in automotive recycling. I would attend the auto auctions with my dad when I wasn’t even old enough to actually go in the auction.  I remember as a 13-year-old the inspectors would come and say,  ‘Don’t come next week. You can’t be here. You’re not over 18.’ But I still went. It’s pretty much been a lifelong thing.

AR: What is it about your career you think you’re most proud of?

EY: I think at this point in my career I’m the proudest of our growth in ecommerce. We set a goal as a company to really increase that area, because we felt that the industry was headed in that direction. At the time we had one employee in our ecommerce department. We’ve grown that and now we’re running around 10-12 people in that department. It feels great to grow those sales and bring in more employees.

Also, we’ve put a huge emphasis on training. So that’s something else that I’m proud of getting our employees and myself certified and trained in many areas. We’ve used the ARA University and their training videos for a lot of that. It’s a great program that yards should be utilizing more.

AR: If someone’s still struggling with eBay or ecommerce, what advice would you give them to get going or grow it?

EY: I think training is critical – just getting to know the systems, figuring out the little loopholes, and where you can save money on your packing and your supplies. Involving yourself in the trainings that eBay has and the trainings that your state association and ARA offers will make a difference. They can really help you start, because you could quickly get depressed and kick it to the curb. But just sticking with it, involving yourself in a lot of available training, and studying the way it’s done is important.

AR: Who are your heroes or mentors in the industry that helped grow you into your career?

EY: Well, my dad is the main one. I’ve been stuck to his hip since I was born. Here at the yard, there are so many pictures of me as a baby and growing up. His work ethic has been a big influence on me. He’s always put me in positions to grow, learn, and further my training. Putting me into owners’ groups, attending state and national conventions, and even taking me to the sales when I was just a little pest.

All my family has had a large influence on me. We’ve all worked here at one point in time – and we all know family businesses can be a struggle sometimes. Even though my Papa passed away when I was just 16 and I didn’t get to work with him a ton, I was really close with him and he was a big influence.

I think if I had to name somebody outside of my family in the industry, someone that I look up to and aspire to be like one day, it would be Sandy Blalock. I admire her leadership skills and how she directs the ship for ARA, and especially being a woman in the industry. She is a great role model for anybody in the industry, especially women.

AR: You’ve been around industry events, and things in your state association. How has that experience helped you as an auto recycler?

EY: I can be shy at times, so it has brought me out of my shell, especially going into owners’ groups and ARA and state meetings. The relationships that you can build not only help you within business, but also with everyday life if you need it.

AR: You’re currently in a committee role at ARA, how is that going?

EY: Yes, I’m the chair of the Interchange Committee, which is just getting started. I’m very, very excited and honored that ARA would ask me be the chairperson.

We’re working to further the interchange for the industry and look to the future of what needs to come. Hopefully we will work on some electric vehicle interchange for the industry. I truly believe that if we had more interchange available to us that we would sell more, and we’d also experience fewer returns. When repair facilities and estimating companies know all of what we have to offer, they will be less likely to go new or aftermarket.

I’m excited to hopefully bring some more interchange, more sales, and less returns to yards!

AR: Do you have any advice for people working in these stressful economies?

EY: I’m a very goal-driven competitive person. As you know, the economy for recycled auto parts is pretty good right now. Some people maybe are not having to try as much as they were. Keep running those reports, stay on top of your owners’ group meetings, meetings within your company and keeping the morale good especially now. The biggest struggle is finding good employees and keeping them, so take care of your people and do things to keep them because it’s not like they are lined up at the door to apply for jobs.

I think that COVID made all of us bend and do things we might not normally consider, and honestly it may have been good for some of us. I’ve talked to a lot of people who shut their lobby doors due to COVID and their production went up dramatically. I know people that have kept their doors closed to all walk-in traffic. I think it probably taught us how to get around some things and maybe be a little bit tougher.

AR: Is there anything you do there to keep morale up and reward your people?

EY: We try to set goals. We have dinners. Everybody loves food, right? We also offer gift cards as rewards so they can purchase what they like. We try to reward goals met based on growth percentages, instead of who sold the most. You can’t always let your top sales/dismantling guy win because that can really bring down the morale for the rest of the team. I also like to put goals in place for each department. That really helps with the teamwork of the business.

AR: Because you’re an owners’ kid and you’re a woman, have you had any difficulties being accepted by others at work?

EY: That is something that I think any owners’ kid and, especially an owner’s kid that’s a girl, fights because you’ve got some employees that have been here longer. I’ve been very fortunate. I used to deal with a lot of it when I went to the auctions, and it really didn’t bother me. I love beating the guys at the auction. It was like my favorite thing to go bid on the cars and beat them because I’m super competitive.

I was fortunate enough that some of the guys would take time out of their day and help me in situations I wasn’t sure about. I’m sure I completely annoyed them.

AR: What advice do you have for other young professional women in the industry?

EY: Get out there and prove that you can do it. Outsell and outwork people. My biggest piece of advice would be stay on top of training, stay current with what ARA and your state association are doing. I’ve heard so many times that ARA has your back. Since becoming the chair of the committee, I’ve witnessed it firsthand that they most definitely do. But until you get more involved you hear it, but you may not feel it.

ARA has the auto recyclers’ back and are here to help. My advice would be get involved. ARA works to stay a couple steps ahead. If you’re involved in that, you and your facility are going to be steps ahead.

AR: Do you have goals that you’re working to accomplish in the future?

EY: One goal that we’re working on right now is the intake of electric vehicles. We’re trying to gear up for that. We’ve been doing a lot of training on it and trying to get all the equipment. Get people ready to go. People say it’s in the future, but I believe it’s here now.

We would like to be a yard that is at the forefront of buying electric vehicles, dismantling them, and selling the parts. We would like to be a yard that is at the top of that level and training other yards to do it. It’s something that people are going to need to know and it’s very dangerous if you do not do it correctly. And we, as an industry, don’t want to be known for dismantling these vehicles improperly. We should put people’s safety first and foremost. 

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