Auto Sports Unlimited Embraces Dual Setup
General Manager Kirt Koeller helps President Scott Bosgraff manage a unique set-up at Auto Sports Unlimited in Michigan.
Visit Auto Sports Unlimited's large warehouse in Zeeland, Mich., and you'll see a lot of parts. What you won't see are vehicles. A remote location six miles away stores all the parts.
"We had to work around the zoning rules," explained President Scott Bosgraaf. "We aren't allowed to keep the cars in a commercially-zoned area, which is where our warehouse is located. So we keep them in a rural location where the zoning allows for the cars."
You won't necessarily notice vehicles there either. The rural location stretches 50 acres, which makes it difficult to see the vehicles and helps with security.
"It's not necessarily ideal to have two locations," confessed Bosgraaf. "But we've made it work."
The split facility is seamless to the customers, who don't visit either location, the warehouse or the storage lot. That's why there are no signs to indicate the business is there. Auto Sports Unlimited sells only to dealerships, insurance companies or individuals via the Internet.
"We found that when people walk through the door, they might have a single part in mind," Bosgraaf said. "But they still want to touch and see everything. It takes significantly more time to sell that way. We're able to accomplish much more when we sell parts online."
Bosgraaf initially became an auto recycler almost by chance. His passion for cars was a hobby. He would buy old cars to get parts for repairs. After awhile, Bosgraaf discovered other people wanted those parts, too. His profitable side business evolved into a full-time enterprise.
Auto Sports Unlimited (AutoSportsUnlimited.com) officially opened in 1984. Bosgraaf started out buying used vehicles and dismantling parts. Within a decade, he and his team began rebuilding transmissions for Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
According to the company web site, "What started as a small, used, European car-parts company 30 years ago has grown into one of the largest European / import / foreign used car parts warehouse and remanufacturing business in the nation." Today, Auto Sports Unlimited dismantles an average of 600 vehicles a year and employs 75 people.
Because of how the company has grown, it needed a substantial space. Over the years, it acquired neighborhood buildings as they became available. As a result, employees worked in 11 separate buildings, all located in a two-block radius. That's when a large warehouse went on the market.
"It was the old A & E Tyco building [and before that] it was Batts, Inc., a garment hanger manufacturer," explained Bosgraaf. "The building had 240,000 square feet and it was perfect for our needs. It had the space, the power and the sprinkler system. We settled on a price, and moved in. It was nice not having to move motors and transmissions in and out of different buildings, especially when it was raining or snowing. We could consolidate in one place in a nice clean, well-lit facility and stay indoors. It was a good purchase for the company. We were able to create better workflow and greater efficiencies."
You wouldn't know there was anything unusual about the company. Its two locations work seamlessly in harmony. Parts are pulled when vehicles come into the rural location. The shells are tagged, marked and stored, while fast moving parts are transported a couple of times a day to the warehouse, where they are catalogued, priced and bar coded. These include the drive train components, tires and cores.
"We're trying not to spend any more labor on the car than needed," said Bosgraaf. "You don't want to spend the money in heat and energy to warehouse a part that simply won't sell. We track what sells, and pull those parts. You can go to the rack and find exactly what you need. It's very well organized. Then, as orders come in for other parts, we fill them."
The two facilities are connected electronically. An order for a parts request from the warehouse can be printed nearly instantaneously at the rural location. The remaining parts are pulled as needed. The downside is parts have to travel between locations to be delivered or shipped out.
There are unseen advantages to this system, noted Bosgraaf. "First, we save money by storing the vehicles in a rural setting. That same acreage in a commercial zone, where the warehouse is located, would be more expensive, possibly prohibitively so."
Auto Sports Unlimited opened its business to auto recyclers when it hosted the 2010 Automotive Recyclers of Michigan (ARM) Road Show in April. There was even a tour of "The Farm" area where the vehicles are stored.
"People were surprised," said Bosgraaf. "But a lot of people here were local yards who knew how we worked."
"They were impressed with the organization, and the fact that everything is stored indoors," added Kirt Koeller, general manager. "That adds to the value. If you're storing parts inside, it increases their longevity. The vehicle carcasses are the only things outside. That is advantageous environmentally. The feedback we got from recyclers at that show was very positive."
The innovative split yard is not the only thing different about Auto Sports Unlimited. It also takes a decidedly unique approach to its cores.
"A lot of yards will smelt a used core, or maybe sell it for some minimal price," explained Koeller. "There's far more profit potential. We put the extra time into it to remanufacture and rebuild it. That makes it automatically more valuable. Whereas you might get $100 for a used core, you could get $700 or more for a remanufactured one. Plus, we can build custom engines and transmissions to meet any client's needs."
Koeller said Auto Sports Unlimited began to rebuild the cores because there were so many of them arriving. It started remanufacturing in the early 1990s, using new OEM parts for the transmissions. The technicians built each one by hand, allowing for customization.
In 2008, the line expanded with the purchase of Roadmaster Transmissions. Now the company could include a full line of remanufactured, domestic transmissions, as well.
The business also operates a state-of-the-art service center, which offers more than most mechanics. ASU Service Center provides routine maintenance, tire rotation, oil change, major transmission and engine repair at competitive prices with professional customer service and dealership quality repairs.
"The broader your product line is, the more avenues you have to sell it," emphasized Koeller. "We sell a lot to AAMCO, the transmission franchise, because we specialize in transmissions, too."
The warehouse is compliant, environmentally, and Koeller and his staff work hard to stay one-step ahead of corresponding legislation. The company recycles by selling used vehicle parts, and it does everything it can to save materials and be smart about how it affects the environment. Recycled oil and gas heat the building, shredded paper becomes packing material and other materials are recycled.
"I'm not second or third generation in the recycling industry," noted Bosgraaf. "I didn't come into this with a clear idea on how it should be done. We did what seemed to work for us. It came down to zoning. We're working around that in the smartest way possible. Even the fuel used [to drive] back-and-forth between yards is the gas we've taken out of vehicles. That's part of the environmental responsibility we have as recyclers."