Whitey’s Wrecking Thrives For 57 Years
Owner Dustin Koerper with wife Kara and kids Kiara, Teige and Neila.
Northwest Images Photography
Whitey’s Wrecking, Inc. of Spokane, Wash., has operated under one simple motto for three generations: Honesty pays.
Owner Dustin Koerper, grandson of company founder Marvin “Whitey” Koerper, remembers how his grandfather had that motto stamped onto the covers of matchbooks that he would hand out to customers.
“That motto was totally my grandpa,” Dustin said. “You don’t steal. You don’t lie. You don’t cheat people. Both my grandpa and my dad were very honest people. They were as honest and hardworking as anyone I’ve ever met.”
Dustin said his grandfather and his father, Buck Koerper, who ran the company from 1980 to 2001, believed in helping others and giving second chances. He likes to tell the story of the time his grandfather caught two teenage boys stealing parts from the yard.
“Instead of having them arrested, he had them work at the yard for the summer,” he said. “Both have been close family friends ever since.”
Marvin - nicknamed Whitey because of his white hair - founded the company in 1960. He had been running a small service station and started buying parts cars, which he kept at home in his yard. Over the next 20 years, he bought all of the houses on his block, tore the houses down, and turned the property into a 10-acre salvage yard.
“Our property took the shape it has now in roughly 1980,” Dustin said. “He sold the service station to focus on the wrecking yard. He did domestic, imports, everything.”
When Dustin’s father, Buck, took over the business in 1980, he made a risky move and decided to specialize in imports.
“Grandpa told my dad he’d never be successful,” Dustin said. “Dad, the stubborn person he is, of course, proved Grandpa wrong, which he took pride in. You didn’t get to prove Grandpa wrong very often.”
In 1980, the northeast section of Spokane was home to at least six other yards focusing on domestic vehicles.
“He thought, let’s go the other way. There’s a market to focus on imports,” Dustin said. “I was impressed with his insightfulness that imports were about to make such a surge. In 1980, it was a small part of the market.”
Only about 25 percent of Whitey’s inventory was imports at the time, so Buck had to rebuild the business almost from scratch.
“It was a gutsy thing to do,” Dustin said. “I’m glad he had the foresight to do it.”
Dustin started working at the company when he was just 11 years old, cutting down weeds, raking, cleaning and doing other odd jobs.
“We didn’t get babysitters,” he said. “We’d help in the yard and stay out of their hair, stay out of trouble.”
By high school, Dustin had already done “a little bit of everything” at the business, working afternoons after school and during the summers. When the company’s parts-puller quit the summer before Dustin’s sophomore year, he volunteered to take over the job until school started again.
Even though he grew up working at the yard, Dustin said his parents never pushed him to take over the company.
“They were always really cool,” he said. “They would have liked for me to take over, but it was always an option. But I always looked up to my dad. He was my idol - him and my grandpa, both. It was always something I wanted to do.”
When Buck retired in 2001, Dustin was just 24, but he was eager to take over the company.
“I was a 24-year-old kid with a great big playground,” he said. “It was an amazing learning experience of trial and error, things that work and things that don’t. There were a lot of lessons learned the difficult way.”
Dustin said he did a lot of research into the inventory to see which cars were the most profitable.
“We have a limited amount of space,” he said. “We’re constantly looking at inventory and saying, ‘OK, these parts are on the shelf. What do we need to clear out?’”
A Family Company
He said he also learned how important it is to find and retain quality employees.
“The qualities we look for are honesty, dependability, people with knowledge and friendliness,” he said. “We spend more time with each other than awake at home with our families. We emphasize that we’re a team and we support each other. We back each other up.”
It’s not a problem, for example, if an employee needs to take time off at the last minute to stay home with a sick child.
“We try to keep in mind that we’re a small, family-owned business and we all have lives and families,” he said. “We bend over backwards for all of them to be able to spend time with their families. We all really try to have that extended family feeling with each other.”
As for Dustin’s own family, his wife, Kara, is the company’s office manager. They have three children, ages 15, 11 and 8, who may or may not take over the company someday.
“We’re waiting to see,” Dustin said. “We’re taking the same approach that my parents did. It’s definitely open to all three of them.”
Dustin said his short-term goal is simply to continue to improve the company. Whitey’s just built a 60-foot-by-100-foot warehouse for engines and transmissions and will start work soon on a new building for inventorying vehicles.
“We’re in a phase where we’re not looking to grow more, just refine what we’re doing and continue to do it better,” he said. “Just to make the best company we can is our goal at this point.”