Family Drives The Business
Russell and Ina Howard (center) started 422 Auto Sales in 1965. Their sons, Roger and Rusty, run it today.
The first thing you might notice about 422 Auto Sales, Inc. is its great expanse of concrete. Almost 90 percent of the 25-acre yard is covered in the resilient material. But it’s the out-of-state license plates in the customer lot that might cause you to take a second look. 422 Auto Sales may be located in northeastern Ohio but the yard gets plenty of traffic from New York, Pennsylvania and other locations hundreds of miles away.
“We had one guy drive five hours from Cincinnati for a part he couldn’t get anywhere else,” recalled Rusty Howard, president of 422 Auto Sales. “We keep a good selection of late-model parts. It’s not unusual for us to have customers who travel between 100 and 300 miles because we have the right part at the right time — and at the right price.”
Rusty is second generation in this family business started by his parents, Russell and Ina Howard. The couple bought the auto recycling yard back in 1965, and elected not to change the name. After all, it provided some direction; 422 is the four-lane highway that runs in front of the Warren, Ohio-based business.
At the beginning, only about half of the yard was cleared, and very little, if any, of it was paved. Back in the 1970s, Russell made a deal with a concrete plant down the road to take their leftover concrete. “For the next 20 years, we poured concrete,” remembered Rusty.
The plant is no longer in operation, but the streamlined look of the yard adds more than just visual appeal. “It’s so much nicer to park your cars on concrete instead of mud, dirt and weeds,” he said. “It makes it easier driving with the loader, too, and it keeps your parts cleaner. Environmentally, we don’t have to worry about fluids seeping into the ground, either. If you have a spill on concrete, it’s easily controlled.”
Growth And Renovation
In addition to the concrete, the Howards made several significant changes to the property over the years. They gradually cleared the full 25 acres of land to allow for more storage of vehicles. The original house that served as their first office was relocated off property in the 1970s, and given to an employee at the time. It was replaced with a more expansive 60- by 80-foot building featuring a front office space, retail counter and parts warehouse. “Over the years, we’ve added on extra bays,” said Rusty. “We don’t strip cars outside; we do all of our dismantling inside.”
Rusty, the youngest of the four Howard children, practically grew up at the yard. He joined his siblings there after school and during summers. Once he graduated high school in 1983, he was there to stay. His brothers Gary and Roger also made it a career move and officially joined 422 Auto Sales, though sister Glynda did not. When Gary died in 2011, the two younger brothers were left at the helm of the second generation.
As president and vice president, respectively, Rusty and Roger do most of the decision making these days for 422 Auto Sales. Their dad Russell, however, still enjoys coming to work. He likes to keep his hand in the business and shows up at 7:30 a.m. each day to check in with his sons over a cup of coffee. If there are deliveries to be made, he’s ready to make them. Rusty comes in around 6:10 a.m. to take advantage of the quiet time to get things done, before the day begins. Roger works the counter and loads the trucks.
It remains a family business with just one yard worker who’s not related to somebody. The other yard worker is Roger’s son-in-law. Ina handles the secretarial and bookkeeping duties as she has from the beginning, assisted these days by Rusty’s wife Janet. Janet also helps with deliveries. Rusty’s daughter, Stacy Estep, and Roger’s wife, Patty Howard, share cleaning duties.
“As a relatively small family business, it is sometimes tough to compete with the larger operations like LKQ,” said Rusty. “What it is able to process compared to what we do is a big difference. It has how many employees, and we really only have the four of us here processing. That’s why being successful these days is keeping the doors open and the bills paid.”
422 Auto Sales inventories cars every day and processes about 400 - 450 a year. The business specializes in models that are 1995 or newer, and mostly domestic. “The foreign models that we carry are the ones that people drive in this area, mostly Toyotas and Hondas.”
Rusty takes great care in pricing his parts, which are a key to the business’ success. “When I inventory a car, I always look up the price of what the part is new,” he said. “Then I look to see how other places are pricing the part. It can be costly to make repairs to vehicles. We focus on getting our customers the correct auto parts at a fair and affordable price, which is why I think so many people are willing to travel to see us.”
Customers are 50 percent “walk-in” retail and 50 percent who purchase over the phone. Parts are catalogued via a computerized inventory system that’s easily searchable on the website. 422 Auto Sales will ship parts anywhere, so technically customers don’t have to make the long drive if they’re not close by.
Rusty prides himself on the business’ excellent customer service. “I think the key is having a good attitude when you’re talking to people, then giving them what they want at a good price.”
After 52 years in business, 422 Auto Sales isn’t going anywhere. “We’re just taking it day by day,” he said. “As long as there are cars, we will be here.”