50-Year-Old Yard Gets New Look
Sandy Saltsman and Ross Lewicki are poised to make Highway Auto Parts Metro Detroit's number one auto recycling facility.
Photos: John Dawson
Big changes are underway at Highway Auto Parts in Roseville, Mich. It has been under new ownership since May 2012. The current owners and managers - most of them industry veterans with decades of experience - plan to completely overhaul the 50-year-old automotive recycling facility, bring it up to date and transform it into the premier auto parts supplier to the Detroit metropolitan area.
“I’m extremely excited about this company, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” stated sales manager Sandy Saltsman, who has worked in the auto recycling industry for 53 years. “We’re trying to separate ourselves as an upcoming yard.”
When Highway Auto Parts first opened its doors in 1962, it was a state-of-the-art auto recycling facility with a solid reputation in Detroit. The company changed ownership in 1989 and became Don & Hank’s Highway Auto Parts. Although Don , & Hank’s continued to provide quality customer service, the economic downturn took its toll and the owners decided to sell the recycling facility.
This was good news for Marty Lewicki, owner of Ryan’s Northend Auto Parts in Ferndale, Mich. and Ryan’s Pick-a-Part in Detroit. Marty dreamed of owning Highway Auto Parts since childhood, explained his son, Ross Lewicki.
“My father grew up less than a mile from here, and he wanted to own this store since he was 11 or 12 years old,” said Ross, who is now co-owner of Highway Auto Parts. “He did what he had to do to get it.”
Marty got into the salvage industry in 1999 after owning a towing company for many years. He sold his towing company and purchased Ryan’s Hubbell, an auto recycling facility located on Hubbell Street in Detroit. He purchased Ryan’s Northend Auto Parts in 2004. In 2010, he turned Ryan’s Hubbell’s 25-acres into a self-service yard and changed the name to Ryan’s Pick-a-Part. He began negotiations to purchase Don & Hank’s in February 2012, and changed the name back to Highway Auto Parts. Along the way, he convinced his son to get involved in the business.
“Five years ago I had graduated from college and moved to North Carolina,” Ross explained. “I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing there. My father convinced me to come back and run one of the stores. He got me back, and I have loved it ever since.”
Marty still owns all three locations, and Ross describes him as a “behind-the-scenes kind of a guy.” “But he’s also a good ‘pat-onthe- back’-type individual,” Saltsman added. “He’ll always give you credit for a job well done.”
Although Ross is fairly new to the industry, he’s found mentors in the two industry veterans he works with. Larry Bagwell, the general manager for all three locations, previously owned Kensington Motors and also worked for GreenLeaf Auto Recyclers. Saltsman, who started working at his father’s auto recycling facility 53 years ago, is the former owner of Harry & Sons Auto Parts, a well-respected yard in Warren, Mich.
“Everybody that I meet that knows Sandy or knew Harry & Sons, they talk about it like it was the place to be,” Ross admitted. “Even before we hired Sandy, I’d hear everybody talk about him like he knows everything there is to know about the industry.”
Saltsman likes to point out that he, Larry, Ross and Marty have 125 years of combined recycling industry experience.
“Sandy and Larry, they’ve both been great mentors,” Ross added. “They have 100 years of experience between them, and I’ve only been here for five. I learn from them every day, and having them here has been a great asset to me.”
Prime Real Estate
Another asset to the business is its location on one of the busiest segments of road in the area. Ross and Saltsman estimate about 70,000 cars pass by each day.
Although Highway Auto Parts was in rough shape when Marty first purchased it, a few minor changes early on were enough to bring in a steady stream of customers even before the major renovations began.
“It really was a diamond in the rough,” said Ross. “It was always a very busy store, but for whatever reason, (the previous owners) didn’t change with the times. We came in and made a few small changes at first, and we started making money right away.”
Ross said the facility “looked like it had been kind of abandoned for a while,” so the Highway Auto Parts team got to work cleaning and clearing away overgrowth on the six-acre property until it looked like new.
Major work includes renovations to the lobby, the office and the front warehouse, which now has new racks. Renovations are now underway in the rear warehouse.
“We’re about to fill that thing up,” Ross added.
The overhaul is still a work in progress, and Ross and Saltsman estimate that it’s only 70 to 90 percent complete. Upcoming projects include redoing the older offices, adding more storage space and changing the façade of the front building.
“It’s pretty old and raggedy,” Ross explained. “Once that’s done, it will look like a completely new business.”
Although work remains to be done, Saltsman said customers are already amazed by the company’s transformation.
“A lot of customers walk through the door and say, ‘Is this the right place? What happened?’” he said. “It keeps getting busier and busier, which is great.”
The “new” company is also taking steps to be environmentally friendly; the renovations also included new equipment to catch fluids, twelve oil separators and self-contained washing basins. All dismantling is done indoors.
“We’re trying to be as green as possible,” Ross said.
While Highway Auto Parts specializes in late-model parts, all three locations - which together process 10,000 vehicles per year - are linked by computer. Highway Auto Parts’ main competitive advantage, said Ross, is the vast inventory that’s spread through all three yards.
“With our three locations, we have everything, literally all makes and models from 1950 to 2013,” Ross said. “Wherever you’re located, you can come to one of our stores, and, any part, we’ll have it for you.
Renovations are currently underway at Highway Auto Parts. They're expected to be complete next year.