And Get Involved In Everything
Donna Middleton’s hard work and dedication to the Automotive Recyclers of Michigan association earned her the title of Michigan’s 2014 Recycler of the Year.
STACY SHAEFFER PHOTOGRAPHY
It was Saturday during the 6th Annual Automotive Recyclers of Michigan (ARM) Road Show and Business Networking Conference when Donna Middleton, of Middleton Auto Parts in Fraser, Mich., was announced as being the state’s auto Recycler of the Year.
Every year during the conference a Saturday luncheon is held to announce the Presidential Award, as well as the auto Recycler of the Year. After the Presidential award was given out, Barb Utter, ARM’s executive director, took the stage to announce the Auto Recycler of the Year. Middleton, seated with her children and staff, heard Utter name off some of the accomplishments of the yet-to-be announced winner. As each was listed off she recalled noting, “Gee I did that.” Yet when her name was announced she was taken completely by surprise. “I was unbelievably shocked,” Middleton admitted, adding that she was happy to have received this award with her children and staff present.
Middleton is only the second female to receive the award in the state of Michigan. The 2013 winner of the award, Kim Gray of Doug’s Auto Recyclers in Coldwater, Mich., was the first female to win, and Middleton pointed out, “I am very honored to follow in her footsteps.” Middleton also remarked, “I am very, very proud to belong to Automotive Recyclers of Michigan.”
Middleton explained that although she is honored to be named the auto Recycler of the Year, belonging to an association like ARM is about so much more than getting awards. She explained that in the world of auto recycling there is so much to know from government regulations to customer service. “You don’t take a class in this,” she said and explained that thanks to the association’s meetings, round-table discussions, speakers, and events, much needed information can be learned to improve an auto recycling business. She explained that there are auto recyclers who operate on 10 – 15 acres or more, and there are others that operate on four acres, like Middleton Auto Parts. At these meetings she meets the owners and operators of other companies and learns how they do things, while sharing what works for her company. “I guess they call it networking,” she said pointing out that this is one of the greatest benefits of being part of ARM.
Middleton’s involvement in the organization began in the early 1990s when she sat on the board and began her involvement with fundraising. Middleton noted that back then there weren’t a lot of females in the mostly male-dominated industry, but thanks to all members’ willingness to listen, her ideas were accepted. “When people make you feel like you know what you’re talking about, you want to learn more.” Due to the association’s need for additional funds at the time, Middleton teamed up with Dave Creedon of Ernie’s Auto Parts, in Harrison Township, Mich., and Abcat Auto Salvage’s Mike Sinta, in Ypsilanti, Mich., on a fundraising effort to raffle off a car hauler. They continued to do a big ticket fundraiser like this for about 10 years.
Later on, she got involved with handling the registration for the Kent Utter Jr. Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing, which raises money for scholarships for college bound children of ARM members. “She’s always there for that,” stated Utter when speaking of Middleton’s involvement with the golf outing, now in its 14th year. “She’s there for everything.”
Middleton’s next undertaking was the creation of Yardtalk, the association newsletter she started with her husband, Gordon, at their kitchen table. Not since the early 1970s had ARM had any sort of publication. According to Utter, “There was a big need to have a way to communicate with the members.” With this in mind the Middletons came up with Yardtalk. “We thought we’d be able to provide information to people and attract people to grow our membership,” Middleton explained. The publication began as a bimonthly publication, and she was sure to note the importance of others being involved for Yardtalk’s success. Now several years later Middleton and her husband are no longer are in charge of Yardtalk, but it is still published quarterly and sent to all licensed auto recyclers in Michigan. “We’re real proud of that,” she noted.
Success Equals Benefits
As far as future goals for the association, Middleton is quick to point out that continued involvement is key to the association’s success. Of Middleton’s four children, two sons and a daughter work at Middleton Auto Parts, and the other son runs his own auto recycling business just down the road. She said that she would like to see her family members continue to be involved because it’s not just about taking, but it is also about giving back.
Middleton is quite modest about her efforts working with, and building, ARM as a successful organization. “When you put forth an effort to do for the organization, you learn and get back many times over,” she stated. “If you’re willing to go and listen, you’ll bring back information which increases sales and builds your network.” She also stressed the importance of ARM to keep auto recyclers informed on the ever-changing myriad of government regulations in the industry. In the years since opening its doors in January of 1982, Middleton Auto Parts has seen many changes in not only the industry, but also closer to home as both the Middleton family and business grew. It started small, as Middleton recalled bringing their small children to work with her. Now those same children are grown and work there. Technology improved and business went from walk-in traffic and buying cars off the street - to buying at auctions and having a completely-computerized inventory. Eventually, in 2010 the Middleton’s were able to purchase the Enterprise Rent-A-Car business next door and expand their operation.
In the early days Middleton noted that there were “three and quarter” people that worked at Middleton Auto Parts - the fraction counting as her dividing her time between the business and being a full-time mom to small children. Nowadays the staff numbers 14, and since the expansion in 2010, they are no longer crowded into their much smaller old building. Middleton cited the expansion as one of her proudest accomplishments in the company’s 30 years.
The next big undertaking at Middleton Auto Parts is the building and improving of the shipping and receiving department.
Middleton is quick to point out that her recent honor of Auto Recycler of the Year is not something she came by on her own. “You don’t come by this award by yourself,” Middleton said, noting that there were many others by her side.