Fresh Face For American Auto Parts

Amber Elenbaas left her family's auto recycling business in Michigan to manage Omaha, Neb.-based American Auto Parts.

Photo: Courtney Rae Photography

Amber Elenbaas has no doubts that she’s a true auto recycler. She first realized it one freezing night when her shipping department nearly became an ice rink.

Elenbaas was working late at Pete’s Auto Parts, the business her father, Ron Elenbaas, owns in Jenison, Mich. She stepped outside into a puddle of water and saw a pipe had burst. As water gushed into the building, she called her brother, Scott Elenbaas, to help her clean up.

“At the very end of it, my gloves  were frozen together, it was nearly midnight, and Scott said to me, ‘Do you want to order a pizza and figure out how we’re going to fit another bay in the dismantling building?’” Elenbaas remembered. “And my answer was yes.” But Elenbaas hasn’t always felt this way. She said her parents “practically forced” her to work at Pete’s Auto Parts when she was in high school, and she couldn’t wait to get away.

“I ran screaming from the family business,” she admitted. “I went away to college and never thought I would want to get into automotive recycling.”

After college, Elenbaas became the financial manager for a condominium management company, and soon became dissatisfied with her job. She returned to work at Pete’s Auto Parts in 2006, thinking it would be temporary until she could get back on her feet.

“The next thing I knew, I loved it,” she said. “I eat, sleep and breathe recycling.”

Elenbaas worked at Pete’s Auto Parts for six years and eventually became general manager. Her success at increasing profits at Pete’s Auto Parts caught the attention of Peter Fink, the owner of American Auto Parts in Omaha, Neb., who met Elenbaas though a Counts Consulting group.

“I was impressed with Amber’s knowledge and the skills she brought to each meeting,” said Fink, who has owned American since 1989. “I also liked her desire to make things better.”

Fink asked Elenbaas to relocate and become his general manager. Elenbaas decided to leave her family’s business, move 600 miles from home and jump into her position at American Auto Parts.

“Although I’ve been here less than six months, we’ve already increased production and improved sales,” Elenbaas stated. “I’m developing excellent relationships with supplier yards, re-pricing the inventory and increasing efficiency.”

American Auto Parts, founded in 1946, is located on the site of a former brewery. Although the original buildings have been torn down, the brewery’s smokestack - now a historic Omaha landmark - still stands in the middle of the facility. The business specializes in late-model parts. Before Elenbaas arrived, American Auto Parts processed 250 vehicles annually; next year, that number is expected to rise to 500.

Elenbaas said that while it was difficult to leave the family business, she did so with her father’s blessing, and she hopes to return someday, after she has worked at several other yards.

“I don’t have any regrets, because I am learning so much and really thriving here,” she said. “It is just so exciting to be part of a growing, changing business.”

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