Ready, Set, Go!
High-Speed Success For Industry Newcomers
Brian Shell and Jason Finley opened GO Auto Recycling without a stitch of auto recycling experience and never looked back.
PHOTO: DAN HARRIS PHOTOART
When Brian Shell and Jason Finley opened GO Auto Recycling in Jacksonville, Fla. in 2009, it seemed the odds were stacked against them.
Neither of them had operated an auto recycling facility. On top of that, their fledgling company was opening at time when the Great Recession was forcing millions of small businesses across the country to shut down.
After two years, however, GO Auto Recycling (GOAutoRecycling.com) did not merely survive a tough economy - it thrived. Shell and Finley's business is now one of the fastest-growing businesses in the automotive recycling industry.
GO Auto Recycling started with just two employees and 100 vehicles. Now the company has 25 employees, processes 1,200 vehicles per year and sales have increased tenfold.
The secret to their success? Plain, old-fashioned hard work, dedication and enthusiasm.
"My advice," Finley disclosed, "is to do your homework, do your research. Come into it with a passion, because not all days are good. There are days where things break down, when someone doesn't show up, things don't go well and you have to be the leader."
Shell and Finley's passion and enthusiasm for the auto recycling industry is apparent to everyone who meets them, divulged Charles Martin Jr., Mid-Atlantic regional director for Team PRP (TeamPRP.com). GO Auto Recycling joined Team PRP last summer, and Martin clearly remembers his first meeting with Shell and Finley at the annual United Recyclers Group, LLC (URG, U-R-G.com) conference in April 2011.
"I could just see the enthusiasm in their eyes and in the way they spoke when they introduced themselves," Martin said. "I could tell they were the types who wanted to know more."
Martin called the pair two impressive young men.
"Everyone who meets them just feels good," he added. "They've got the mindset, they've got the intelligence and they want to embrace new technology and new ideas. They bring a lot of energy, and they challenge the establishment in a very positive way."
Shell, 39, and Finley, 36, admit they are younger than most first-time auto recyclers are and don't exactly "fit the mold." In an industry where businesses commonly succeed from generation-to-generation, many young owners, like Shell and Finley, have been involved at their parents' or grandparents' auto recycling facilities since childhood.
Shell and Finley, on the other hand, did not grow up in the auto recycling industry. They spent the first part of their careers in corporate America. While working in steel and scrap metal commodity trading in Charleston, S.C., they met and became best friends. In 2008, the duo decided to leave their corporate jobs and jump into the auto recycling industry.
They wanted to purchase an existing facility and spent nearly a year researching options. Both were willing to relocate to a new city; Shell is originally from Kentucky, and Finley is from Indiana. After working in cities across the country, they decided to focus their search on the Southeast, a culture and climate they both loved.
The quest began with Internet research, as Shell and Finley explored facilities' web sites and even checked photos on Google Earth. After narrowing the choices to about 50 businesses, Shell and Finley hit the road, spending about a month traveling to every major city on the Eastern Seaboard looking for a company to buy. They knocked on doors and spoke to the owners. Nearly all of the owners were willing to sit down and talk to them about the industry.
Finally, all of the pieces fell into place. They found a 30-year-old facility in Jacksonville. The owner was ready to retire and his children were not interested in taking over the business.
"Once we saw the facility ... it's not the Taj Mahal ... but it gave us the opportunity to immediately jump in," Shell said. "It had pretty good bones, so we started up with at least some structure."
Shell and Finley also realized that Jacksonville was the perfect location for their new business, as the area lacked a progressive, independent auto recycling facility.
"We bought a big facility, but we wanted to focus on the people, focus on being local, focus on being part of the community," Finley explained.
Shell added, "And now we're calling Jacksonville home. My wife Francine said I can't move again."
Martin visited GO Auto Recycling last summer, and said it gave him a good feeling.
"When I pulled into the parking lot, I could see the property was very neat and very clean," he elaborated. "It's an old building and doesn't have a lot of space, but they have utilized every inch of what they have."
Shell and Finley got help from Bill Stevens at Counts Consulting (CountsConsulting.com) in Fort Worth, Texas to fine-tune their business plan. The most important aspect, they agreed, is customer service.
"All of our decisions are based on serving the customer," Shell remarked. "It's all about trying to get them what they want."
In the beginning, the pair ran GO Auto Recycling with just two employees.
"We came into this business with no set way of doing things," Shell admitted. "We had no good habits, but we had no bad habits, either.
"We literally touched or did everything in this yard by hand," he added. "We realized quickly that if we wanted to grow, we had to hire more good people. We wouldn't be where we are today without good employees."
Shell and Finley built the business step by step, hiring additional employees one at a time. Their corporate experience taught them how to treat employees, and how to create a friendly, family-like environment. It's common, for example, for the company to grill steaks to celebrate a good week or a good month.
"Employees know our door is always open," Shell said. "It's as fun as it can be and as productive as it can be at the same time."
Shell and Finley are extremely "numbers driven" and support that mindset from employees.
"If you look at the numbers, the numbers will tell the story," Finley explained. "Numbers don't lie. You can't snap your fingers and say, ‘I want sales to go up 40 percent.' We look at the numbers and say, ‘What do we have to do to get sales up 40 percent?' All of the employees then know what number we need to hit."
Each employee has a goal that helps the company, Shell added.
"We try to take the goals to a level where each individual person knows what needs to be done to succeed as a team," he confessed. "We hold people accountable. It can't be Jason and I saying, ‘This is what we're going to do.' Each employee knows what is expected of them."
Martin said when he visited GO Auto Recycling, he didn't hear a single negative comment from an employee.
"That's hard to find in today's climate," he attested. "I spoke to the majority of the employees, and they indicated that Brian and Jason are excellent employers. The employees fully understand the expectations of them. [Shell and Finley] are fair and there to help the employees learn."
GO Auto Recycling
Shell and Finley are constantly learning and finding ways to move ahead, too. They enjoy visiting auto recycling facilities across the country, speaking with other owners, and gathering ideas to help improve the business. Joining Team PRP has also helped them network with other auto recyclers.
"Everyone works differently," Finley admitted. "I don't think there is one right way to run an auto recycling yard."