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8 Questions: Mike Swift & the Future of Automotive Recycling

PartCycle prides itself on only selling top-quality auto parts, from professional automotive recyclers. Never junk. Sellers on the PartCycle Marketplace represent the top echelon of automotive recyclers, who are committed to doing things the right way every time. But what exactly is the ARA?

The Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) is the voice of the professional automotive recycling industry. Founded in 1943, ARA represents an industry dedicated to the efficient removal and reuse of automotive parts, and the safe disposal of inoperable motor vehicles.

ARA’s mission is to advance the automotive recycling industry and promote its beneficial effects on society.  ARA aims to further the automotive recycling industry and ARA member businesses through services and programs to increase public awareness of the industry’s role in conserving the future through automotive recycling and to build awareness of the industry’s value as a high quality, low cost alternative for the automotive consumer.  ARA provides safety, educational, advocacy, networking, business, market intelligence and technical resources to serve the collective interests of our members (from http://a-r-a.org/who-we-are/about-us/).

Why ARA and PartCycle is a Match Made in Recycling Heaven

Most professional automotive recyclers have told us that if you are great at recycling cars, it is hard to find time to promote your parts. That is exactly what PartCycle does. Check out this video that we made to let Mike explain the process. 

Eight Questions with Mike Swift, ARA President 2015-2016

used auto partsQ: What makes Automotive Recycling Association different from a Junkyard?

A: The goal of the Automotive Recycling Association is to get rid of the junkyard name. We are not the junkyards of our grandfathers, we are automotive recyclers and have been computerized since 1980. We’re just trying to get rid of the stigma of junkyard: not selling greasy parts, just selling good, used OEM parts that are factory made and inspected. That’s ARA’s goal- to sell more auto parts. It’s not something that we’ve redesigned, it’s a plug and play part made by the manufacturers. There are still junkyards around, but the modern auto recycler is connected through computer systems and it makes it a much easier way to locate parts.

Q: What is Automotive Recycling Gold Seal Certification?

A: ARA Gold Seal certification is a certification you must adhere to. First, you have to be CAR certified- Certified Automotive Recycler. So what Gold Seal standard means is that you are going to adhere to certain standards- you aren’t going to send out dirty or greasy parts, you’ll make sure the part is inspected, you’re going give it a 90 day to 6 month warranty, and just certain criteria you’re going to make sure you adhere to when you sell this part. So not only is the person selling the part important, it becomes important for everyone at the facility to come up with those quality standards- something that was never in the industry when I first started in ’79. It’s mainly selling a part and not selling a surprise. Whenever you sell a part to a customer, the goal of Gold Seal is don’t sell surprises, sell a good part the first time.

Q: How do Automotive Recycling Association Gold Seal Members Currently Sell their Parts Online?

A: There’s several different ways Automotive Recycling Association Members sell their parts online. The original Hollander system sells EDEN, our parts are displayed to insurance companies and stuff like that, and Car-Part.com is another common company that started a few years ago that puts parts are out there. A lot of recyclers are now selling on eBay, selling on Facebook, any place you can get your parts in front of people, third party providers as [PartCycle], I mean, it’s a whole new world. I believe that if a lot of recyclers don’t jump on this and get on sites like PartCycle or that type of venue, I think you’re selling yourself short.

At least PartCycle is out there promoting our industry to the world. That’s the big part about it.   We can’t do this by ourselves. Auto recyclers don’t have time to promote themselves and ARA can only do so much. It’s Automotive Recycling Association members and ARA vendors that will change the public persona of parts. I do believe that’s what PartCycle is trying to do. They’re trying to promote our industry and sell used auto parts not only to the public but also to mechanic shops and to body shops. The more companies like PartCycle keep pushing that for us, I think we will be more successful.

Q: What is Good About the Way Parts Are Sold Now?

A: So much is different from when I started in ’79. I think the internet has brought that on. I think inventorying cars has gotten more precise. Another thing has really developed in the last few years is taking photos of the cars and making sure people are seeing photographs of the parts and of the cars. I think that has really helped our industry.
Something we talk about is options. I don’t think people know they have the option to buy a used auto part. It’s fascinating when you talk to people -they don’t have any idea what I do. It could be my own neighbors. My own neighbors, half of them think I’m a garbage man. It’s just funny that I have to show them that actually what we do is provide a service to customers. We’re selling OEM parts at a much lower price with warranties, with guarantees and that sort of stuff. A lot of that stuff has helped sell parts too. I think if you don’t sell with parts at least 90 day or 6-month warranties, you just can’t sell parts like you used to. When we check the cars we test all of the parts, so there are so any more avenues of selling parts now. I know people are videotaping engines and showing radios work, and there’s just an unlimited amount of tech that is helping. I know the older recyclers say the internet killed our industry but, I can see where it’s really improved it a lot also.

Q: What could be better about the way parts are sold now?

automotive recycling associationA: I’ve touched on this before in the Association, but I do wholeheartedly believe that the public and auto recyclers need access to the OEM part number. That will move us ahead light years.  A couple of industries have that already and we don’t. We are working on that now. For the public, a lot of times the consumer would have called the dealer already and found out this part is $300. Let’s say it’s a sun visor. A lot of auto recyclers don’t have inventory on sun visors, but if we have the manufacturer part number that the consumer already has, and they call us looking for this part, I can put that number in and then be able to sell this part. So something that I’m not selling now, with the OEM part number can give us the knowledge to sell a $300 sun visor for $50-$100 instead of just not know we didn’t have it all all. So for me, out industry needs the manufacturer OEM part number today.  

Q: What makes PartyCycle a good fit for Gold Seal members?

A: PartCycle promotes good, usable parts. They are promoting that a part from my facility that we’re sending to one of their customers is not going to look like junk when they get it. It’s not going to be greasy or dirty. I’m not saying that all recyclers are perfect by any means because we’re not, but we try to send out something that is a good part and gives us a good name. Stuff happens- we know that- stuff gets broken or chipped. But for us, with PartCycle I believe it’s going to make us better. There’s so many other recyclers out there that don’t want to use a 3rd party vendor, but what sets PartCycle apart is you’ve got a company that is promoting the industry, and they want us to sell good used auto parts and were upholding the standards that Gold Seal has already set. PartCycle is just using those standards.

A lot of times feedback is good- positive or negative. You’ve gotta take it both ways.  A lot of people take negative feedback as “these people hate us and don’t want to use junkyard auto parts.” That’s not the case at all. I think you can take so many negatives and turn them into positives. If people never give you feedback- positive or negative, how do you know if you are doing a good job or not? So for me, PartCycle is helping hold recyclers’ hands to be better. They want you to sell a better part; they don’t want to you to sell junk. They’re helping promote used auto parts and if we send junk out, that won’t be any good for PartCycle and it won’t be any good for auto recyclers either.

So that’s what I think PartCycle is doing – making us be accountable to somebody for these parts. If I sell a part on PartCycle and it’s bad, I’d much rather hear from PartCycle that it’s bad or the consumer that it’s bad and what I did wrong. And of course, try to make them happy. That’s the other thing: We live now in the eBay 5-star gold world. If you don’t try to appease a customer, you’re being searched every day online.  People don’t have to go through the phone book or have to know you face-to-face. They can look right at you and see how many bad things that have been said about you, and as I tell people who send me bad comments, I appreciate those as much as I appreciate good comments. A lot of people don’t take the time to give you bad feedback, but there are a lot of people, thank goodness, that do. I think that all helps us become better at selling parts and be better at customer awareness.

Q: How easy is it for Gold Seal Members to Sell Parts on PartCycle?

automotive recycling associationA: PartCycle is not only a 3rd party provider for auto recyclers, but they are promoting our parts to the public and consumers, mechanic shops, whoever they can get this out to, and they’re promoting our industry. For me, I just see it growing and growing every day. Our parts are seamlessly on there and I think they are adding more parts and more part types. I think it’s going to be the wave of the future, and how we’re going to sell our parts. The nice part about it is your parts are listed.  It’s something that goes on behind the scenes that I don’t have to worry about it. My parts are listed on there, the prices are on there and the consumer has the option to buy it. Then the consumer already knows that with PartCycle standards, that is the part they are going to receive. So for me, once again back to Gold Seal or PartCycle Standards, whatever it is, it is the basis of how we want to sell parts and how we want to portray ourselves.

Most of the world believes in recycling and the number one way to recycle right now is to reuse. I can tell you that I’ve been to several meetings around the country and we are still so unattached from the world as far as recycling goes, but the automobile is the number one thing that can be recycled. Ninety-five percent of an automobile can be recycled. Instead of crushing these parts, PartCycle is helping us get those parts out to the consumer. PartCycle is promoting that whoever it is that is going to buy this part is going to get a good used part, ready to bolt-on and ready to go, with no hassles. We, as recyclers, should want to do that.

The goal is not to have 25 acres with 10,000 cars out there- the goal is to sell parts. That’s what PartCycle helps us do. It not only promotes us environmentally, and the things we do right, but the thing that we really do right is sell auto parts. We sell great, green recycled parts and that is what PartCycle’s going to help not only ARA Gold Seal members adhere to, but I believe all recyclers can adhere to these standards. I do believe PartCycle as an ARA member will help more people get involved in Gold Seal. We’re going to sell good, used, usable parts to the consumer and we’re going to get it right the first time. We don’t have time to make mistakes. Of course they’re going to be made, but we need to cut these mistakes down. That’s what PartCycle is going to do. They are going to promote us and help us sell more auto parts, and as a recycler since 1979 that’s what I want to do-sell more auto parts.

Q: Where do you see the future of the automotive recycling industry going?

A: {Laughs} the future of the automotive industry is scary. I do believe there are some very intriguing things coming around the corner. We’re working on some legislative stuff to get the OEM part number available to automotive recyclers, which would be the biggest change ever in the history of automotive recycling. That’s the goal right now, and it’s the number one thing that automotive recyclers should be working on. I believe everybody should have the knowledge of the build sheet data of the vehicle. I think consumers should know the gear ratio of their car or what trim color they have. Everybody should have that stuff. So for us, as an Automotive Recycling Association member and on the legislative team to help get this, that’s the key to the future.

With [the future of] the electronics, with the lane-change stuff, the automatic braking, the autonomous cars, I think there’s going to be a big future for us in that, especially when we have the manufacturer number. Some of the electronics in these cars now are just so so expensive, that when a car gets wrecked, no one will be able to afford to put new ones in. So I believe that the insurance company is going to start working with auto recyclers and start getting these products from us. I think that when we get a wrecked vehicle, a lot of these electronic parts will be purchased from us from the insurance company because they are going to have to have this stuff on hand. They know they won’t be able to put a $5,000 module in this car, but they’ll be able to get a used one from a recycler, that can re-certify them and reuse these parts.

I see this right now- the manufacturers have never really embraced auto recycling. The goal for us is to work with the manufacturers and make the manufacturers understand that our parts are their parts. We aren’t their enemy. We are 10% of the entire repair industry parts. We’ve never been more than 12%. Manufactured OE parts are 65-75%, even 80% sometimes. We’re the little brother or little cousin in the room. The manufacturers don’t look at utilizing our parts. If the manufacturers need 100,000 of these widgets, how can they get those without having to manufacture them again? We know how to get these parts to them. We have the databases and enough information working with 3rd party providers that if an OEM needed 100,000 widgets, they should buy them from us, re-certify them at their manufacturing plants, and re-sell these parts. We’ll sell these parts as soon as we get them in: the lane change, all these modules, all these different things they don’t have to remanufacture. They’ve already made them once so all they have to do is get them from us, re-certify them and sell them. That’s the future of our industry. I believe it’s  bright future.

Some of us believe it’s over and that we are going to be gone. I’ve been in several of those meetings. In 5 years, some predictions are that there will be 50% fewer auto recyclers in the country. That’s a big number and that doesn’t help any of us if 50% of us are gone. So we need to work together and work with companies like PartCycle to make sure our parts get sold, adhere to a standard, hold that standard high, and be proud of that standard. A lot of things I also hear about from recyclers, “What is my return on investment for being CAR certified or Gold Seal Certified?” Your return on investment is that the public and the consumer knows you’ve got skin in the game and you aren’t just here for a hobby. This is your life and your livelihood. So the future is bright, the future is scary, but I do believe there are some good things to happen in this industry and when those good things happen, we are going to be just fine.

 Mike Swift is the owner of Swift’s Trails End Auto Recyclers in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Laura Bethea
Laura Bethea
Laura is PartCycle's Marketing and Social Media Director. She has a husband, three kids, two dogs, and one Toyota Sienna Minivan that she calls Deborah.
Categories: Eight Questions, Not A Junkyard, Recycling, Suppliers, Videos