BREAKING GROUND

Wilbert’s Expansion Changes Ideas About Auto Recycling



Back Row (From Left To Right): Josh Kuhn, Daniel Wilbert, Aaron Wilbert, Eric Wilbert & Kevin Wilbert. Front Row (From Left To Right): Rick Wilbert, Bob Wilbert, Ron Wilbert & Pete Wilbert.

PHOTO: JIM PARATORE

Auto recycling is unlike any other sect of the automotive industry. It is not one-size-fits-all; two identical parts can have different amounts of damage, wear, warranty, price, etc. Because it can’t be pigeonholed, the industry sometimes takes a beating in the public eye.

“When I meet someone, I always start out by asking, ‘Have you ever been to an auto recycling facility?’ And it’s almost nonexistent that the person says, ‘Yes,’” said Rick Wilbert, co-owner of Wilbert’s, Inc. (www.wilbertsinc.com) with brothers Pete and Ron, which opened in 1952 and how has three locations in New York.

“For as long as Wilbert’s has been here, people just don’t know what we do. They don’t understand automotive recycling,” added Bob Wilbert, the senior project manager.

It was that type of misunderstanding that almost derailed a huge undertaking to expand Wilbert’s Lakeside, the company’s full-service facility in Ontario, N.Y., by more than four-times its original size.

Wilbert’s Lakeside is 95 percent wholesale. It is the company’s second location, opened in 2004. The owners acknowledged there was a definite need to remodel it - which was delayed slightly by a fire at the company’s U-Pull-It location in 2013. They wanted to demolish the existing 5,500 square-feet of buildings and build 21,000-square-feet of new structures, in two phases. But, town officials still saw the location as being a “junk yard” and said it couldn’t expand under that moniker.

 

Old Prejudices

Town code for Ontario states: In any district no lot may hereafter be used nor any building or structure erected, reconstructed, structurally altered or moved for use as a junkyard as defined in this chapter.

The definition was just as archaic as the code and included: Junkyard - A lot, land or structure or building where junk or discarded or salvaged materials are bought, sold, exchanged, sorted, baled, packed, disassembled, handled or abandoned whether for the purpose of resale or sale of used parts therefrom.

“We are actually zoned for adult entertainment, that’s how we’re seen in the community,” commented Rick.

The business had to do the work to make sure the town officials knew the difference between its definition of a junkyard and what Wilbert’s actually does. Bob said he tried to explain to the building inspector they were auto recyclers and junk yards were a thing of the past. The inspector asked for something in writing that explained the difference, which he could then pass along to the town attorney. Bob got to work to find an existing description, but came up empty-handed. So he wrote one himself.

Bob officially came on board to the family company two years ago. But he actually started in auto recycling much earlier. “I worked for Uncle Art (Arthur Wilbert, the company’s founder) while in high school,” he explained. Bob’s career later involved computers, which included manufacturing order fulfillment and traveling the world. He put those skills to work for Wilbert’s.

Bob relied on his own experience with the company - especially being mentored by his cousin, Rick - and industry peers to put together the auto recycling definition. He called Ginny Whelan at ARA University and Betsy Beckwith with ARA, along with members of the ARA safety committee and PRP, to get feedback on what he was trying to create.

Once finished, the document was presented to the building inspector. Bob initially thought the town supervisors would reject the permit and Wilbert’s would have to take the next step and go for a variance. But, lo and behold, the definition helped the company’s proposal go forward. Bob and Rick said once the city officials better understood the business, they were just really concerned with aesthetics, how the business would look once remodeled. A detailed site plan was given and Wilbert’s was granted approval to go ahead with its renovations. Work begins May 1 and should be completed by November 1.

 

Moving Forward

“We really opened up to the town to show them what Wilbert’s was planning to do,” added Aaron Wilbert, operations manager. “That really got the ball rolling.”

“Last year we were business of the year,” Rick stated. “We did a marketing campaign and presentation for it. That did a lot for us.”

Rick said the community and the business have had a contentious relationship over the years because of preconceived notions about auto recycling. The original location, Wilbert’s Premium Recycled Parts located in Webster, N.Y., became a political hotspot a couple decades ago when it tried to expand. But Rick acknowledged that many auto recyclers face similar challenges, even though they are modern facilities. The auto recycling definition should help going forward.

Upgrades are now being plan for the original Webster location next. Bob created a PowerPoint presentation and has been showing it to different groups in the community.

“The key is education,” said Bob. “We need to show our value to community. We’re not a hindrance, we’re an asset.”

“We’ve had 20 people going to Albany (the state’s capital),” said Rick. “That’s huge for education - which is very important for the future of our industry.”

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