Two ARA Past Presidents share their stories of constructing new facilities
By Maura Keller
For most automotive recyclers, their facilities are truly the backbone of their operations. Small or large, these structures house the most important facets of their business – their inventory, as well as their sales, management, dismantling and parts storage. And while many automotive recyclers have modified their facilities over the decades to meet the needs of their growing enterprises, others have completely rebuilt their facilities due to growing pains or because tragic events, such as fires and floods, have damaged their buildings beyond repair.
Two former ARA presidents, Norm Wright, owner of Stadium Auto & Truck Parts in Commerce City, CO and Billy Roberts, owner of Roberts Salvage in Moffett, OK recently embarked on the journey of building brand new facilities. Although their reasons for doing so were vastly different, the result has been similar: new facilities that have changed the way they do business.
For more than 78 years, Stadium Auto & Truck Parts has served as one of Colorado’s leader in the automotive recycling industry. Founded in 1945 by Hyman Wright, the company originally operated out of a single garage. For nearly three decades following its founding, Hyman worked diligently to grow his business until handing the proverbial reins to his son Norm Wright, who served at the President of ARA in 1998, and who has continued to grow the company into what it has become today.
Stadium Auto & Truck Parts had been operating two four-acre facilities in the Denver area for nearly 50 years. Both facilities were designed to process as many vehicles and parts as possible.
So what prompted Wright to build a new facility?
“We relied on an extensive racking system in each building to store dismantled parts since there was limited outside storage available. The industry changed over the years from one that needed to store glass, starters, alternators, brake parts, etc., to one that needed more warehouse space for large mechanical parts and more room to store dismantled vehicles in the yard area,” Wright says. “We decided that our current facilities could not adapt to the changes we saw in our industry and decided to consolidate into one large new facility.”
Stadium’s new facility is located on 25 acres with a new 35,000-square-foot building. The company can now store nearly 2,000 dismantled vehicles in the yard with parts easy to locate. Their new dismantling area consists of seven bays specifically designed for efficient processing of salvage vehicles. The new building also has a two-level section that houses offices, a lunchroom/meeting room, and sales area.
“We now can keep our vehicles for a longer time where we can continue to sell available parts instead of having to inventory and store them,” Wright says. “We evaluate every vehicle and crush those with few remaining parts to sell or we have inventoried duplications.”
Thanks to the new digs, Stadium’s dismantling process has vastly improved, increasing the number of units being processed by three to four times. Their sales have also increased by 16% for the first 10 months of operations in the new facility.
“We now have consolidated all our operations into one, providing the efficiencies we needed,” Wright says. “Another bonus is employee morale has drastically improved since our move.”
After having operated in the same two facilities for 50 years, changing course and building one cohesive facility came with its fair share of challenges.
As Wright explains, the first challenge was looking for a site that would fit their plans and needs. Wanting to remain in the Denver metropolitan area, it took two to three years to find a large enough parcel where they could locate and obtain a permit to operate.
“Of course there were lots of challenges just in moving. At first we had planned to move 20% to 25% of the inventory,” Wright says. “But we learned that our time frame was cut in half which resulted in our disposing of 95% of the inventory. After evaluating the inventory, we moved mostly engines and transmissions.”
Stadium’s new location was 25 acres of bare ground. This required extensive ground work and the construction of the new building. There was also a special use permit required by the city which took months of preparation and presentations to obtain.
“We were fortunate to find a qualified and respected contractor to perform the construction,” Wright says. “Many hours were spent planning and designing layout of the facility to optimize its operations. Existing racks and equipment had to be assessed to determine what could be reused and what more was needed.”
For those considering building a new facility of their own, Wright advises that you make sure you have a plan and evaluate what your business requires. Evaluate where you want to locate, the amount of real estate you need, and the proper zoning and permits you will have to obtain.
“Research and interview contractors who are recommended, well established and honest,” Wright says. “Interview and make certain you can work well with their company. They need to be bonded and well insured. Next determine an affordable budget and ensure you have proper financing. Then double both the time to build and the cost. Be flexible.”
Rebuilding With Passion
Situated in the flood plain of the Arkansas River you will find the small town of Moffet, Oklahoma, home to Roberts Salvage. Throughout the town’s history, flooding of the river has been a problem but in 2015, Billy Roberts, owner of Roberts Salvage who served as ARA President in 2004, experienced not one, but two floods that damaged his recycling operations and costing him thousands and thousands of dollars due to lost revenue and damaged parts. At the time, Roberts told KFSM Channel 5, “It’s kind of surreal isn’t it? In some areas it’s 10 feet deep. We have currently about 1,650 vehicles on the premises. It’s a tremendous set back and everything. No sales, nothing coming in. Customers can’t get to us. We are at a standstill until the water goes down.”
While the 2015 flooding was significant, it was the devastating flooding of 2019 that not only reshaped the Arkansas River but also was the final blow to Roberts Salvage facilities, which the Roberts family has owned for nearly 60 years.
“Tuesday night, May 21, 2019, I received a call from a county official that said that the Corps of Engineers were going to release enough water from recent rainfalls from Corps-controlled reservoirs to flood the Arkansas River basin,” Roberts recalls. “The Corps of Engineers said the release would result in historic flood levels.”
At 6 am the next morning Roberts and his team started the evacuation of the company’s two recycling facilities. They moved as much equipment, inventory and furnishings as they could for the next two days.
“On the 4th of June, we were able to re-enter the community and businesses to find severe destruction from up to seven feet of flood waters for the previous 10 days,” Roberts says.
Due to the extensive flooding, Roberts Salvage was out of action for about 16 months.
“We lost over 90% of our inventory which included 700 engines and about 1,000 transmissions. We received not one dime from insurance, or the federal, state or local government,” Roberts says. “We had a huge task ahead of us. We started cleanup and rebuilding with our employees and help from customers and friends.” One of Roberts’ employees’ church congregation even provided them with lunch every Friday for seven weeks.
“After working from a mobile construction trailer and remote sales and administration office for 16 months, we moved into our new sales, administration, and warehouse building,” Roberts says.
Roberts Salvage’s original main office and warehouse was about 20,000 square feet and was totally destroyed by the flood waters. The new building has a smaller footprint, about 8,000 square feet, but is substantially taller, allowing functional space higher on the inside.
“Naturally our building was built out of necessity and with urgency so we set about designing a building for utility, being functional, practical, and with ease of maintenance,” Roberts says.
Roberts took proactive damage control measures to make sure another flood doesn’t destroy the company’s facilities again.
“Our construction materials are almost all concrete or steel with a minimum amount of wood on the lower level for a manager’s office. We utilized some salvaged materials out of our old building and recycled some of our warehouse racking,” Roberts says. “Sales counter and customer area are on the lower level with plenty of room to display parts and promotions.”
Roberts also had an engineer design a free-standing steel structure in which to house their administration offices, electronics room and employee break room on a second floor.
While Roberts Salvage has faced a wealth of challenges through its long-standing history, they have emerged stronger than ever. “We also restructured some of our pallet racking into a three-level small parts warehouse inside the building,” Roberts says. “It was a tough way to get a new building, but we are really enjoying the new facility.”
Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Maura Keller is a seasoned writer, editor, and published author, with more than 20 years of experience. She frequently writes for various regional and national publications.