J & W Auto Wreckers Is All About Jeeps
Co-owners Neil Duncan and Mark Duncan (center) and their staff sell new and used Jeep and 4x4 parts in Antelope, Calif.
Mark Duncan took the plunge into four-wheeling back in 1987, building his first jeep and heading out on an adventure like he’d never experienced before. It was a pivotal moment for Mark, who until then had just been selling Jeep parts. He finally understood what the fuss was all about. Now as president of J & W Auto Wreckers, Inc. in Antelope, Calif., he’s sharing his passion for Jeeps with his sons, Neil and Spencer, the third generation in this family business.
J & W Auto Wreckers was founded in 1945 by James Auld and “Wegge” Wigren. The Duncan family got involved in 1981. Jack and Jean Duncan, their son Mark, their daughter and her husband each put in $100 to form CAN-GRO, Inc., a combination of their last names. They then purchased the business, and a month later acquired their first Jeep. The rest is history.
“Everyone was specializing at the time,” remembered Mark. “There would be Ford, Chevy or Chrysler yards. J & W was originally American Motor Cars. But as the business grew, we started to be known for our Jeeps. At one time, we had 1,500 Jeeps on the lot. We don’t have that many today, but I’d say 95 percent of our customers are Jeep customers.”
Mark’s sister and brother-in-law are no longer in the business, and his parents now serve as advisors. “When my father was here, we were big at auctions,” said Mark. “Dad would go and just hold his number up, and nobody could bid against him. We’d earn every penny back when we sold it for parts.”
Now J & W Auto Wreckers sources parts from wrecks, farmyards and even old customers who have passed away. The business is also willing to travel for parts; Mark has driven 350 miles to get a Jeep. The Duncans also pride themselves on carrying a variety of Jeep parts, including vintage as early as 1946, early models up to full-size Wagoneers, and early military up to the 2000s, among others. “We try to be up on the latest models,” said Mark.
The Duncans also make an effort to be where their customers go — and that’s four-wheeling. “Twenty-five years ago, we were fortunate to hook up with Jeepers Jamboree,” said Mark. “The one closest to us travels the Rubicon Trail. This is a place where you can only get to by four-wheeling, walking or by helicopter. At the end of July, 2,000 people descend on there, and we’re with them to provide parts if they break down. In doing that, you meet so many people and you learn so much more about the vehicles, because they’re run fast and hard.”
Neil Duncan is a member of the Highlanders Four Wheel Drive Club. It’s clear he’s as enthusiastic about four-wheeling as his dad. “The reason that I like selling these parts is because four-wheeling is my passion,” he said. “To go someplace where there’s no cell phone service, no noise, it’s the best stress reliever around. I want to help others experience it.”
If anyone can get someone excited about Jeeps, it would be Neil who grew up in the business. He started cleaning grease spots at age 12; now he’s a co-owner. Not only does he drive a Jeep, he’s built three of the four that he’s owned. “I feel as if I know every single thing about Jeeps,” he said. “And all of our friends know that we know it. Other wrecking yards will call us; even the dealerships call us. If the books show something generic, they’ll call us.”
But it did take some time to build that reputation beyond the local region. “At first, we were selling to everybody who walked in the door,” said Mark. “When we created our website, that’s when it really took off.”
The first website launched 10 years ago, and J & W Auto Wreckers recently did an update that boosted web traffic so much that they had to hire three more employees.
“We’re doing a big push with social media, too,” said Neil. “We’ve got 38,000 hits on our website, and Instagram followers throughout southern Oregon and Calif.
As auto recyclers, the Duncans prioritize the environment in everything they do at J & W Auto Wreckers. The business is a seven-time winner in the Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP). Its vehicle processing protocol is equally impressive. According to the website, “When a vehicle is first brought into the shop, all liquids are removed according to EPA regulations: the oil is drained and contained for recycling, the radiator fluid is drained and recycled, and a specialist is brought in to remove Freon gas following EPA hazardous material regulations.”
“We recycle wherever we can,” noted Mark. “Our shredded paper is used for packing parts. Foam from the seats is used for wrapping parts.”
Every part is cleaned, carefully inspected, and if necessary rebuilt to be in working order. “What sets us apart is honesty,” said Mark. “We’re 100 percent honest about every part. If we’re not sure about it, we’re not selling it. We take care of our customers. If a guy calls to tell me he got a bad part, I’ll say, okay. I’ll send you another free of charge.”
After 36 years in the business, Mark still loves coming to work. “I like going fishing,” he said, “but I like coming to work more. It’s a new challenge, every time a customer calls up. I’m digging through the books, trying to learn more and help them get what they need. Of course, the most fun is coming to work and having my kids here. They’re bringing new ideas and we’re working together to make the business better than ever.”