Erickson’s Auto Parts Thrives For 40 Years
Brothers Wayne and Brian Erickson run the business with their father.
What is the secret to success in the auto recycling industry? At Erickson’s Auto Parts & Sales, it’s not complicated.
Work hard. Be honest. Clean up after yourself.
It’s simple, straightforward values like these that have helped the yard in South Beloit, Ill., thrive for 40 years and through two generations of family ownership.
Founder Elden Erickson was a farmer in Wisconsin who moved to Illinois in the 1970s to look for better opportunities. He worked at a factory job and started a salvage business on the side. Soon, the business had grown enough that he could quit his factory job and focus on his new company full time.
“He came here with nothing,” said Elden’s son, Brian, who now co-owns the business with his father and brother, Wayne. “When we first started, we lived in a very small house, a 1,000-square-foot house. We always had something to eat, but we pretty much had nothing.”
The first yard was located on five acres in Poplar Grove, Ill. In 1976, the company moved to its current location in South Beloit, and Elden bought all of the 50 acres that surrounded it.
Erickson’s Auto Parts & Sales (www.ericksonautoparts.net) occupies 20 acres, and it rents out surrounding businesses on its property, including a car lot, a mechanic shop, and an auction site. The company processes around 3,000 vehicles a year, has an auto parts division and also a non-ferrous recycling division.
“It’s the American dream,” Brian said. “You start out with nothing, but you come up with something. You make something. The American dream is still out there.”
Both Brian and Wayne grew up in the business and began working at Erickson’s Auto Parts & Sales in middle school.
“When we first started working here, we just rode around in the truck,” Brian said.
Wayne remembered learning to operate the car crusher at age 15 and then learning to drive the tow truck.
“We started young at that,” he said.
Spic And Span
Another early duty was sweeping the floor. Both brothers say their father stressed cleanliness and organization right from the beginning.
“Our number-one concern is being very neat and clean,” Wayne said. Everything is in rows. That’s the way we are. We’re constantly cleaning every day, and everything needs to be in order. That’s how we were brought up.”
“When we get new employees, the first thing we tell them is clean, clean and clean again,” Brian added.
Brian believes this dedication to organizing, cleaning and closely following EPA regulations separates Erickson’s Auto Parts & Sales from the old-fashioned, stereotypical junkyards that existed decades ago.
“Junkyards of yesteryear, they had a bad name,” he explained. “When you say junkyard, what do you think? Maybe a lower class of people, scrap all piled up. Today, your yard has to be clean. You have to be friendly. You want a classy and clean place.”
“What happened yesterday is not what is happening today,” he added. “You need to go big and do it the right way. My father was never afraid to buy new equipment. You have to keep up with the times.”
Wayne said new technology is the biggest change he’s seen during his decades in the industry.
“Everything is more high tech these days,” he said. “It used to be pretty simple. The technology these days is unbelievable.”
Another change - the automotive industry isn’t quite the male-dominated industry it once was. Brian said he wants to create an environment where his daughter or granddaughter would not feel intimidated buying a part. Three of Erickson’s Auto Parts & Sales’ six employees are women, and all three work at the counter.
“They do better than the guys,” Brian laughed. “The customers like them, and they do a good job.”
“We have a lot of women customers, and I think they feel better when they come in and see a woman working the counter,” Wayne added. “Plus, when it comes to the computer, they’re so much more capable and quicker. I’m a one-button-at-a-time person.”
But no matter who is working the counter at Erickson’s Auto Parts & Sales, customers are always treated fairly and honestly.
“We have a lot of repeat customers because we’re honest with them,” Wayne said. “We don’t try to upsell. We sell them what they need. I’ve sent people away because they didn’t need new tires. We’re straight up and honest with them, and that’s why they keep coming back.”
Extras For Sale
Tires are a huge seller at Erickson’s Auto Parts & Sales. The company sells about 150 tires per week, both new and used. Selling so many tires means complying with some additional EPA regulations, but Wayne said this is not difficult.
“We just do it as we go and stay on top of it as it comes along, and we’re in good shape,” he said. “Tires are just a big business for us. We are constantly selling tires.”
Another big seller is recycled antifreeze. The company filters it, bottles it and sells it mostly to walk-in customers.
“When the weather turns cold, we’ll sell a ton of antifreeze,” Wayne said. “In the wintertime, we can sell 100 gallons a day. Even in the summer, we’ll sell 50 gallons a week.”
Brian and Wayne said they share duties and work together in the yard every day, something that won’t change for the foreseeable future.
“I’ll probably be doing this 20 years from now,” laughed Wayne. “It’s in the blood. My dad is 82, and he still works every day.”
Does Elden plan to ever fully retire from the company he founded more than 40 years ago?
“Nope,” said Wayne. “That won’t happen. It’s what he lives for.”
Brian agreed. “He’s still the boss.”