Cornellʼs Builds Unexpected Family Legacy
Isabelle and Casey Cornell took over Cornell’s Used Auto Parts as second-generation owners and made it their own.
Casey Cornell didn’t plan to be in the auto recycling industry, despite the fact that his father was in the business. First, Casey had never worked at Cornell’s Used Auto Parts, LLC, in Greenfield Center, N.Y.; secondly, Duane Cornell encouraged his son to find a career other than auto recycling. But then, everything changed.
“In 2003, dad had something similar to a stroke,” said Casey. “He wasn’t able to talk, to articulate at all. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t work.”
That left the business in jeopardy. So Casey stepped in, at first just to keep it alive.
“I was working for State Farm Insurance, and so I was on the road anyway,” said Casey. “State Farm worked with me quite a bit. They let me manage Cornell’s during the day and file my paperwork for the claims at night.”
Casey jumped in with both feet. He had never run a business and didn’t really know the auto recycling industry. Cornell’s Used Auto Parts had an answering machine and no computers. So the challenges were great.
“I just realized that I had to get the right products to the right people on time,” explained Casey. “The rest would have to fall into place.”
After two months of working two jobs, Casey took a leave of absence from State Farm Insurance so he could focus on the auto recycling business more completely. Even so, he was prepared to turn it back to his father once he recovered. But in 2004, Duane passed away. The business was Casey’s, if he chose to continue with it.
Casey and his wife, Isabelle, made the decision to take over Cornell’s Used Auto Parts. Isabelle worked at State Farm Insurance to support the family, and for health benefits, since they had just had their first child. In the meantime, Casey concentrated on taking Cornell’s Used Auto Parts to the next level.
“Before my dad ever had the recycling yard, he had dedicated 30 years to building a repair shop business,” explained Casey. “By the time that he entered auto recycling, it was more of a hobby. He wanted to scrap some cars, sell a few parts and tinker. He wasn’t interested in growing the business.”
Casey and Isabelle, however, were interested in growing Cornell’s Used Auto Parts, if it were going to be the family’s livelihood. They immediately beganinvesting in it.
“I sold my brand new truck because I couldn’t afford to drive it anymore,” remembered Casey. "Everything went into the business. We got our first computer, and then a yard management system. It was a gamble. But we started increasing business slowly but surely."
The scrap boom a few years ago helped provide an infusion of cash. So did an increased base of cars. Cornell’s Used Auto Parts was sitting on two square fields, and at first, only one six-acre field was being used.
“We ended up developing the other field and adding another six acres,” Casey stated. “My dad used to keep 500 to 600 cars; today we have 2,000 cars.”
The Cornells also tripled the size of their building by adding a dismantling area to the warehouse and enlarging the office space.
“We had been working in a ten-by-ten space, and it was difficult to get three people in there,” explained Casey. “Now we have plenty of room.”
In fact, the business was doing so well that Isabelle quit her job at State Farm Insurance to work part-time at Cornell’s Used Auto Parts. Isabelle is the company’s human resources department, She handles all of the the paperwork, including paychecks, reporting and billing. And the business that started without a single computer now has a dozen. It also has 15 employees.
“We’ve grown every single year, even with the economy,” admitted Casey. “This is no longer a hobby business. It’s a serious business.”
Cornell’s Used Auto Parts handles all makes and models, and focuses on the last five to 10 years of production.
“We’ll pay a lot more for the newer parts, but we’ll also be able to sell the body parts right away,” noted Casey. “The drive train might hang around for five years before we have a sale.”
The business does two to three deliveries a day, and also ships nationwide. Walk-in customers account for about 20 percent of sales. The business sells on the Internet, too, but mostly through Car-Part.com.
“It’s not unusual for someone to call at 10 a.m. and ask for an engine and we’ll have it to them that afternoon,” said Casey. “I push my guys, and tell them regularly that our customers don’t need it next week. They’re calling us because they want it now. We’re not here to staff an auto parts museum.”
“We also work hard on providing a quality product,” Casey added. “We wash everything, make sure our parts are clean, and if necessary painted. We really step up quality control. That’s helped with repeat business. Plus, our prices are right."
If Casey sounds like an old auto recycling pro, it’s because he’s learned a lot on the job. But, he has also picked up his share of tips and business tactics at industry conventions.
“We’ve learned a lot at trade shows,” he said. “I’m the one asking all the questions since I didn’t come from the business. Over the years, I bought a lot of equipment that I never even knew existed, that has made our job easier. ARA and the American Recyclers Association of New York have been great resources.”
The Cornells have also partnered with Car-Part.com, most recently raising and personally delivering $5,000 worth of supplies for a Hurricane Sandy relief effort. (Cornell's Used Auto Parts wasn't affected by the Hurricane.)
We had a drop box at our location to collect food, water, batteries, blankets and toiletries,” said Casey. “We picked up the donations at various places, and took the cash donations to buy more supplies. Then we drove two loads the four or five hours to Long Island.
That’s the sort of community spirit that you’ll conintually find at Cornell’s Used Auto Parts.
“We want to help our neighbors,” said Casey. “It’s why we drop cars to our local fire departments for jaws-oflife testing. Sure, it’s good PR, but it also makes a di erence in our community.”
After all, Casey and Isabelle aren’t just building a business; they’re creating a legacy that could very well be passed along to daughters, Megan, 9, and Rylee, 6.
“I see it as very doable,” stated Casey, “not to mention the fact that Megan has already answered phones here with, ‘Cornell’s, can you hold?’”
Cornell’s Used Auto Parts has tripled the size of its workspace, more than doubled its vehicles and added severa employes in he 10 years that owners Casey and Isabelle Cornell have managed it.