On Her Own
Ann Tittle Takes Over Ohio Yard
AUDREY MESAROS-GALE, CARDINGTON, OHIO
Nothing stops Ann Tittle.
She has survived a devastating motorcycle accident, weathered a divorce, jumped headfirst into business ownership and faced sexism in a male-dominated industry.
Today, Tittle is the sole owner of Ann’s Auto Parts, a thriving auto recycling business in Galion, Ohio.
“Failure is not an option for me,” she said. “Some days I do want to throw in the towel, so I’ll have a little pity party for myself, but then I’ll get right back to work.”
Tittle and her former husband, Dave Tittle, founded the business (formerly known as Tittle’s Auto Wrecking and Recycling) in 2004. The pair owned a mechanic shop, which they ran from their home. They decided to purchase an existing salvage yard, despite having no experience in the auto recycling industry. Before opening the mechanic shop, Dave was an appliance repairman and Ann worked in accounting.
“No one in our family ever owned a salvage yard,” she admitted. “No one we knew owned a salvage yard. It was an opportunity we just grabbed. When we started, we didn’t know what we were getting into. There’s no handbook when you start a salvage yard. You figure it out as you go.”
They purchased a facility on the site of a former granary, complete with 100-year-old silos. The site had previously been home to a salvage yard, but it had stood empty for years.
“It was seven acres of grown-up weeds,” Ann explained. “The main office was a disaster.”
On a June night in 2004, just months before the opening, the Tittles were on their motorcycle when a car hit them head-on. Dave broke his back and his arm and needed surgery. Ann broke ribs and a toe, and had serious issues with her leg. Their son - who fortunately had been at home with his grandparents at the time of the accident - was just seven years old at the time.
The pair spent the summer recovering, enduring hospital stays, doctor appointments and physical therapy - all while running their mechanic shop and getting the yard ready to open.
“I’d be on the couch with my leg propped up and customers would come and I’d say, ‘OK, here’s your bill,” she said. “Even to this day, I still have issues from it, but in a couple of weeks we were back to working full-time. You can’t just stop. That was the only way we had money.”
The Tittles officially opened their yard in January 2005. The couple separated at the end of 2010 and divorced about two years later. About a week before the divorce was final, Ann was surprised when Dave asked if she wanted the yard.
“I was thrown in at the last minute,” she admitted. “I had a couple of hours to make a decision.”
Ann took over the company in December 2012 and changed its name to Ann’s Auto Parts. She faced a steep learning curve, but she turned to the Automotive Recycling Association (ARA) and sought the advice of Sandy Blalock, of Blalock Consulting, who became a mentor. Blalock said she liked Ann’s desire to learn and admired the fact that she was not afraid to ask questions.
“My first impression of Ann was that of a young woman profoundly interested in making her way in the auto recycling industry,” Blalock said. “She had been dealt a bad hand, but her determination to succeed and put it in her past was what impressed me the most.”
Ann also found support from Ladies of the Automotive Recycling Association (LARA), a business network co-founded by Blalock, Ginny Whelan and Linda Pittman about four years ago. The group provides education, training and resources to women who work in the auto recycling industry.
“We hope to become the foundation for women working or entering into our industry by bringing together some of the most talented women in auto recycling to build programs for women auto recyclers in the future,” Blalock explained.
For Ann, LARA was a lifeline.
“LARA inundated me with emails offering help and support,” she said. “That has been such a blessing. They reached out to me and embraced me. The support I get from them has been overwhelming. Women in general tend to reach out and help other women. This is a male-dominated industry, and sometimes I do feel alone.”
Once Ann took over the business, she organized the yard, streamlined the dismantling process and put processes in place for day-to-day operations. For example, she created a checklist for everything that needs to be done each day at opening and closing time.
“We’re always improving and organizing,” she stated. “It’s not a perfect system, but we are trying to put processes into place.”
Ann also established an “open-door” policy with her employees, to encourage open communication. In fact, she credits her three employees with much of the company’s success.
“They are who help me keep this place flowing,” she said. “It’s definitely not all me. I may have the idea, but someone has to help put it in motion. They are each very talented and bring something great to the table.”
Rob Hudson, who has worked as the front line manager at Ann’s Auto Parts for the past six months, said Ann is one of the best bosses he has worked for. Hudson has three years of experience in the automotive industry and 20 years of experience working in sales.
“I’ve had bosses that you’d never see,” he said. “Ann isn’t like that. It’s nice to have an employer who cares about people as much as the business. She is always here, and she is very hands-on. There is not a job here she can’t do. She can hop in a loader; she can dismantle a car.”
Despite Ann’s knowledge of the industry, she still occasionally faces discrimination from male customers. She remembered one such phone call.
“I said, ‘How can I help you?’” she remembered. “He said, ‘I don’t think you can help me. Is one of the guys around?’” Ann insisted she could help him, but he disagreed, so she hung up on him. He called back and again asked to speak to a man. She hung up again. By his third phone call, he grudgingly agreed to let Ann help him and she was able to find the part he needed.
“I still have some men who come in and talk so rudely to me or try to get my phone number,” she laughed. “It’s crazy that they have that mentality. I’m just here to sell a part. It’s not speed dating!” She went on to clarify that customers like these are not the norm.
“We have a really great customer base,” she stressed. “That has just happened a handful of times. I have to understand that everyone comes from a different background. Once I start talking to them, they understand that I can help them.”
Ann sees a bright future for her company and she continues to forge ahead with determination and a positive attitude. Her plans include adding a self-service facility, increasing the size of the staff and bringing back the mechanic shop.
“I have a big vision for us,” she said. “I believe it is attainable.”