The ARA Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program was the missing piece that brought in R&J Pickup Truck Parts as ARA members. Then, attending the ARA Convention in 2021 confirmed they made the right decision.
By Maura Keller
For more than four years, the ARA Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program has provided an avenue for automotive recyclers to provide insights and advice to fellow recyclers looking for guidance. Originally the brainchild of RD Hopper, the mentoring program gives experienced recyclers the opportunity to help other recyclers who may need coaching, guidance or advice.
According to Marty Hollingshead, president of Northlake Auto Recyclers in Hammond, IN and current president of the Automotive Recyclers Association, the mentoring program is geared toward every type of company – from those recyclers who may need a lot of work to get their company back on its feet to recyclers who simply need feedback on an idea or program they are developing.
“I’ve been schooled by some smart people throughout my career. They have played a big part in the success that I’ve experienced,” Hollingshead says. “While we want to give back to others, we also want to improve the overall image of the industry. When we help each other improve our processes and our companies, it improves the industry as a whole.”
According to recent data, about 6 percent of automotive recyclers fail each year. ARA is working to slow, stop, or reverse this trend and one way the association is doing this is by pairing leading-edge facility owners with those who need help and fresh insights into establishing or improving their current business practices.
As RD Hopper, ARA past president and founder of the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program explains, while the ARA Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program has been around for only four years, everyone from the executive committee to members have been mentoring each other for decades.
“We really have been mentoring each other all along within different groups and when meeting people at ARA events. We’ve formed groups along the way and those people have been mentoring each other and building lifelong friendships. Now we have a more formalized approach to this mentoring.”
ARA’s Peer-To-Peer Mentoring program is monitored by the ARA, and is available to any auto recycling facility owner or manager who is looking for a fresh perspective on their business strategy and daily business operations. Mentors & Mentees are paired based on criteria developed to create a successful match. “We are really trying to grow the volume of the program and we’re trying to meet a need,” Hopper says. “And so looking to the future, I hope that this program will be impactful on the need of our members. We just want to make it available to anyone who needs it. One thing’s for sure: You can’t make progress without determination and hard work.”
Recently Rene Cuellar and Shonna Kirkes of R&J Pickup Truck Parts in Odessa, Texas looked to participate in the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program. Automotive Recycling connected with them to learn more about their experience with the program.
Since 2000, R&J Pickup Truck Parks has specialized in providing high-quality OEM used parts for gas and diesel pickup trucks. Together, Rene Cuellar, Shonna Kirkes and their team have worked to provide the high-quality used parts truck parts and service in the region.
AR: What initially led you to enter the ARA Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program?
Shonna: We knew we needed help, then we both found the article about the Peer Mentoring Program. I found it online while I was in Oklahoma and Rene found it online while in Texas. He texted me a picture of the article and so we both knew that this was what we were going to try. That article is why we joined the ARA.
Rene: I decided to enter the ARA mentoring program as a result of my partner telling me, “We don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”
AR: What were your expectations going into the peer mentoring program? What were you hoping to learn from the experience?
Rene: Having the old school mentality of always doing everything on your own and never sharing your business with anyone else, I was hesitant but willing to learn.
Shonna: I was excited but also anxious. I felt like we were too small of an operation to be taken seriously. I just wanted to learn everything all at once and RD Hopper reminded us, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
AR: What kinds of things did your peer mentor do with you to bring insight into running your business?
Rene: They spoke to us, not down to us.
Shonna: When we arrived, RD Hopper was going out to inventory the trucks and he let us go with him. As we talked, he said that the most important thing for us to do first was to train our employees. He stressed that we should empower them to some of the tasks that we think only we can do. It was something to the effect of, “Every process I’m involved in stops everything if I don’t do my job.” It was exactly what we needed to hear.
From there, they opened their business to us, let us walk around, take pictures, and ask questions. They even showed us what the numbers can look like if you do things right. They gave us hope, reassurance, and renewed our faith in ourselves to be able to do what we knew God had placed in our hearts to do.
AR: Where did you see the most progress in your business while in the ARA Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program?
Rene: For me, it was my attitude. I realized that I wasn’t an island and that asking for help did not make me less of a man.
Shonna: We have seen so much progress in every area, it’s very hard for me to define what sticks out the most. We have put systems in place where there were none. We have organized where there was no organization. We added space and people to the business. We have both changed and adapted to make this all work. So, yeah, we’ve made a lot of changes in one year!
AR: What was the most surprising thing that you discovered through your experience with the ARA Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program?
Shonna: Being new to the industry (I came from the healthcare industry), I was most surprised by the people, specifically the genuineness of the people and their willingness to help us. Also, their acceptance of us, even though we were so small compared to everyone else.
We have truly felt supported and welcomed by the people we have encountered and have developed many relationships as a result.
AR: After completing the program, in hindsight, how is the experience different from your expectations?
Shonna: It was better. It has resulted in me feeling more empowered to be successful where I felt overwhelmed and not so confident when I started.
Rene: The willingness of all to help us. It was not about lecturing or criticizing, but about building and empowering.
AR: What would you say to others who might be considering participating in the ARA Mentoring program?
Rene: It’s absolutely worth the effort! It’s well worth the time needed to invest in the program. As with all things, you must be willing to listen and implement the plan.
Shonna: Do it! Do not worry that you are too small, or that they are going to think you are wasting their time. RD Hopper told us, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” RD and his wife, Jennifer are so gracious and trusting and encouraging to us. It gave us the tools we needed to move forward and head toward our goal.
AR: Beyond your experience with the ARA Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program, how has your membership in ARA been beneficial to you?
Rene: The fellow recyclers are phenomenal and most generous with their time and advice. It is an excellent group of people. I should have gotten off my butt and joined years ago!
Shonna: Honestly, going to the ARA Convention & Expo last year and meeting all of the people was just amazing. They were so inspiring to me. It led us to join TARA and I joined LARA. So, I would say it has given me support, confidence, knowledge, friendships, and resources.
AR: How did you first get involved in automotive recycling?
Rene: My family was in the business, so I grew up working in their yards.
Shonna: I was a nurse in Oklahoma working as a clinic administrator for a 20-physician residency program and I started working with Rene on his business from there. That was in December 2020. After our visit to RD and Jennifer Hopper’s place, I quit my job and moved to Midland to devote 100 percent of my time to build and grow our business. I am learning a whole new industry and loving it. I enjoy all of it – from being able to go out in the yard and be involved in the hands-on to producing processes and organizing the shop. Mostly though, I enjoy the interaction with customers and being able to help them find economical solutions to a usually stressful situation.
AR: Can you tell us more about the history of your business?
Rene: I bought my first yard when I was 19 years old and my second yard when I was 25. I had many, many ups and downs but by the grace of the good Lord, we are still here. I started as a general yard but moved to specializing in pickup trucks only. As with most endeavors, it has been a struggle, but hard work always pays off.
Our motto is, “Come see who we are!” We specialize in Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and GMC pickup trucks from 1991 to the present. We have four employees, including us.
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.