Interview by Caryn Smith
ARA awarded several outstanding automotive recyclers with awards during the 77th Annual ARA Convention & Expo, EDGE 2020 virtual event. This year’s ARA Member of the Year is our Recycler to Watch.
Rodney Krawczyk was chosen for the work he’s accomplished for the industry over the last three years, but what some don’t realize is that this work is a lot more years in the making.
Long Way Around
Ace Auto Wreckers was started in 1965 by John Gwaldis, Krawczyk’s grandfather. “I grew up there in a play pen. I literally grew up in a junkyard atmosphere. At age 12, I was running machines. The business – Ace Auto Wreckers in East Brunswick, NJ – was very old school,” says Krawczyk. As the years progressed being around it, he was taking mental notes.
“My first ARA convention was in Baltimore. I was 18,” says Krawczyk. “It was a real eye-opener. I came back with so many ideas that my grandfather didn’t want to implement, so I ended up going out on my own and we bought a facility in Lakewood, NY – Tilton Auto Parts – in 1990. My mother, Ann, father, Ziggy, and myself ran it.
“In a turn of events, my grandfather passed away and my mother inherited the Ace location. My father wasn’t that interested in the business – which is the current facility we are at now. So, my mom ran Ace, and I bought out my mom from the Tilton location and ran that myself until 2002.”
“Eventually I sold the Lakewood property in 2002 and vowed never to be in this industry again. I was burnt out,” says Krawczyk. With some earnings from the sale, Krawczyk took a couple years off from auto recycling and became a real estate agent.
In 2006, he got back into the “car” space with a used car lot in Trenton, NJ. All was going well until October 2008, which can be described in one word – “recession.” “We lost all our lenders overnight,” says Krawczyk. “Working to recover, I asked my mother if she wanted to make a go of it with me at the Ace Auto Wreckers location, improving the operation. She said ‘yes.’”
By December 1, 2008, Krawczyk closed the car lot and joined his mother back at Ace. The rest has been a ten year run toward professionalism.
Now rebranded as Gear Six Auto Parts, the facility consists of 7.5 acres with 22 employees, and 850 cars processed a year. Krawczyk’s five year goal is to double that. Automotive Recycling asked Krawczyk to share thoughts on his ongoing industry journey.
Automotive Recycling: What about your career and business are you most proud?
Rodney Krawczyk: Coming back to Ace was like starting over. Business was marginal. So, I am very proud of taking a facility from nothing and raising the level of business to become a rising upper tier auto recycler in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania region over the last ten years.
AR: What are your thoughts on being awarded Member of the Year from the ARA?
RK: Member of the Year – wow, I felt I didn’t do anything to deserve it. I was told I received it for the level of involvement that I brought about in my state from dormant to active. I have been with the Auto Recyclers Association of New Jersey for three years as a board member for two and president for one year. I just wanted to make a difference and didn’t see anything happening in my area, so I got involved.
I feel the pathway to the level of business I want to achieve includes service to the industry. ARA has been a tremendous help. We’ve developed a relationship with Auto Recyclers Association of New York and partnered with Sandy Blalock at the Pennsylvania Automotive Recycling Trade Society (PARTS) convention. We are hoping to strengthen relationships from a regional perspective.
Our chapter also was able to revive our annual meetings. We had our first one before COVID hit where we had 50-60 people attend, and it included a yard tour and some great conversations. We also had a four-person meeting with a legislator to introduce ourselves on December 19, 2019.
Being involved in the ARA and the affiliate chapter opened my eyes and energized my business. I am a competitive person by nature – I want to catch those ahead of me. Being around our industry’s excellent business leaders has made me a better auto recycler and better person. Our ARA leadership, members and industry vendors are absolutely fantastic.
ARA is the key to inspiration.
AR: Who are your heroes or mentors in the business who have impacted you?
RK: I am very observant and I copy, borrow and modify things from many auto recyclers whom I aspire to be like. I watch what the top tier recyclers are doing all the time. In 2019, PRPNE graciously let my general manager and I visit a majority of their member facilities over a two-week period. This was an absolutely fantastic educational experience to interact and learn from these recyclers. The amount of time they spent with us was a game changer. We spent about five hours with Bill Tolpa – his depth of knowledge was insightful.
I have basically modeled myself after what another recycler was doing. I looked at their quality, how they treated team members. If I was going to be someone – that is who I wanted to be.
AR: What significant changes have you made to improve your business and what compelled you to make them?
RK: We have made a lot of progress. I have large goals. We rebranded the company from Ace Auto Wreckers to Gear Six Auto Parts in order to distance ourselves from the wrecking stigma. We redid our website and are still transitioning many things.
Having inventory is very important to us, we are an inventory-driven yard. We are processing more into the car now. We scaled back our prior buying (before, we were mostly an end-of-life facility, doing 1,500 cars a year) and focus now on increasing the quality of vehicles we get. We are now processing about 850 cars a year.
Before, we were a one-lift, one-overhead-door facility with no warehouse, no racking, no YMS, no phone system. We actually had a payphone on a wall that was our main phone line.
We determined the level of growth we could have with our current configuration. Then we reinvested as we grew, and are now adding the 25,000-square-foot warehouse that will house our shipping, receiving and quality control departments.
Our sales team – well, we have a sales staff of three full-time and one part-time, which we didn’t have before I came back to the business.
We reconfigured our complete dismantling area. We knocked down a 100-foot wall, put in five bay doors and five lifts, an overhead crane system, and a dedicated wash area on overhead crane system. We became up-to-date on systems and safety.
We purchased a foam machine for our shipping department so that parts leave here in boxes properly packaged. Our doors are shipped clean and polished. People deserve a quality clean auto part. If you are a tier one supplier, and you don’t give them a part the way they want to get it, you won’t do business.
We had no training early on, and it wasn’t until I got involved in ARA that it exposed me to training and what progressive auto recyclers are doing. We invest a lot in training and ARA University is a great resource.
AR: What is one business goal you are working towards?
RK: Getting my new building up. We’ve been working on its construction for five years now; we’ve gotten delayed by various things. I am really excited about that because it allows us to become even more efficient. We feel that is important in the future to be more efficient, work more with less, and be more competitive.
Actually, we already put the racking up for the building because we really needed it, and are building the warehouse around it (pictured on page 65).
AR: What do you see in your future and in the future of the industry?
RK: Quality control is critical. We are in a large area of PRPNE and the level of quality is very high to compete. It is a real focus for 2021.
I want to see standards in the industry that all recyclers will embrace. We are CAR Certified with a goal for 2021 to work on the Gold Seal certification. I think what ARA did with ROE – Recycled Original Parts® is brilliant. We sell OEM parts built to all standards and need to emphasize this as an industry.
Moving toward the future, from my viewpoint, we might be a re-manufacturer and re-conditioner; where auto recyclers learn how to recondition existing parts to bring them up to “like new” condition and standards – not just taking a spray bottle to clean a part.
AR: How are your operations during COVID?
RK: We saw a short decrease in sales at the end of March, down 30 percent for three weeks. And then, it just took off. We had our best May to August that we have ever had. We can’t understand why.
I think those that focused on inventory had similar months. It has leveled off a bit and is more manageable now.
In February, the cars were relatively cheap, so we purchased almost triple the amount of cars than we normally do. We’ve had to be more aggressive, and pay more for vehicles to get more out of them. You can’t sell from an empty shelf.
We had our best eBay month ever in August. We have a three-member dedicated team and a system to cleaning, taking pictures and listing eBay parts. This has really grown into an important part of our business. In fact, we have doubled it over the last six months and buy cars specifically for eBay.
AR: What is one failure that defined a turning point in your business?
RK: One huge failure – our facility in Lakewood burnt to the ground from a series of events that can never be duplicated. It was the most trying time in my life, with a 95 percent loss. We relocated to an office trailer and temporary structure to take cars apart while trying to make the best of it. We were insured and valued correctly, and rebuilt.
My advice to everyone is get educated on your insurance, now, before a fire. Ask about co-insurance – understand your entire policy on the front end, and it will pay off should you need it.
AR: Why is it important to get involved in the industry?
RK: I didn’t learn until later in life that successful recyclers were always really, really involved in industry matters. I know its echoed in articles and off of platforms, but it didn’t resonate with me until I got involved.
When I was younger watching older recyclers, I wanted to get involved. But like some, I thought I didn’t know enough yet or I was too young. My recommendation is don’t wait, truly get involved no matter what stage you are at. The leadership of ARA is very inclusive. They have made a huge impact on me personally.
AR: What is your advice for the next generation?
RK: Do the same thing the same way, every day. Get your parts cleaned, boxed, and ready to get to customers before the sale, if possible. At my shop, engines and transmissions are individually palletized and wrapped ready to ship because of weather. (Racks of inventory are currently out in the elements, waiting for the building completion.)
Find a mentor or an industry peer to help you if you need it. For example, Paul D’Adamo of RAS helped me at my first ARA Hill Day. I was so nervous and he let me shadow him at his meeting so I would know how to handle the meeting with my legislator. I’ll always be grateful for it.