BUSINESS MAN

Hobby Turns In To Full-Time Business



Airborne Auto Salvage owner Jerry Bennett, in Big Rapids, Mich., retired once and said he'll never do that again.

PHOTO: MOTLEYCATSTUDIO.COM

Jerry Bennett is a businessman. He has owned several businesses throughout the years including video stores, frozen yogurt shops, equipment rental places and construction ventures. Most recently, he decided to try his hand at auto recycling and opened Airborne Auto Salvage in Big Rapids, Mich. (AirborneAutoSalvage.com).

This new venture wasn't quite planned. Ready for retirement, Bennett sold most of his businesses in the early '00s so he and wife Judy Bennett could spend long weekends at their Michigan lake house. Sadly, things turned out much differently than planned. Judy got sick in the summer of 2002. Doctors soon discovered her liver was only functioning at 3 percent. She had a transplant that fall, but it left her without much of an immune system. Trips to the lake were now near impossible.

Bennett spent the next year helping Judy recover and finding projects to fill his extra time. He started to work at his property outside of Big Rapids, Mich. where he allows companies to excavate the sand and gravel.

"I didn't have much to do there except count the sand trucks," he said. "So I started to rebuild wrecks for fun. I ended up with extra cars and people started coming to me for parts."

It wasn't the first time Bennett sold used parts. In 1990, he started Big Rapids Towing, which he sold about 10 years ago. He admitted his company wasn't the major player in town so he got most of the junked or abandoned cars. Unable to do much with the vehicles, he got a dealer's license and began selling the parts.

Cut to retirement. Bennett, with tons of free time, a growing number of parts and a dealers license in hand, opened Airborne Auto Salvage in 2003 at his sand and gravel pit site.

"I can't sit down," he explained. "I was bored being retired."

The facility sits on 67 acres. The constant selling of sand and gravel allows Bennett to have more space if he needs it.

He admits he is a small facility, dismantling 300 vehicles a year, but he is organized. He has been on Powerlink II and Car-Part.com since day one. He started to specialize in Saturn parts, but now carries a little bit of everything. He also just got involved in Hollander e-Commerce to sell parts directly from his web site.

"My whole thought is we're in this little small town of 12,000 people and only 2,000 fix cars," he acknowledged. "My idea was I want to be able to reach out farther than my local area."

Bennett said selling used auto parts isn't much different from renting videos.

"Business is business," he said. "It's the customers who make the difference. You've got to make your customers happy and take care of the person."

Bennett and one employee, Eric Meyer, do it all. They work the counter, answer the phone and cut the grass. Bennett is there from 6:30 a.m. to around 5:30 p.m. almost every day, far from retirement hours.

"It's really not a job," Bennett explained. "I've worked in a factory and hated that. But I love this."

As for retirement, Bennett said that's a thing of the past.

"I'll do this until there isn't anything left of me."

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