Long Haul

Old School Meets New School At Chesney Auto Salvage

Jerry Chesney has owned and operated Chesney Auto Salvage for 50 years.

Alan Johnson Photography

Fifty years is a long time to do anything. Fifty years with a look towards the next fifty is a feature few businesses can boast these days, but Chesney Auto Salvage in Duluth, Minn., is doing just that. This year marks Chesney’s 50th year of business since it was first opened by Jerry Chesney in 1965, and with two daughters and a grandson on staff, the future of Chesney Auto Salvage looks bright.

Jerry Chesney wasn’t always in the salvage industry. He started out as a barber and worked in that field for 10 years, but when he began racing stock cars in his 20s, he started buying used cars for parts. It was in this way that he began selling used auto parts. “The seller business became more of a business than the barber business,” he said.

Since its inception in 1965, Chesney Auto Salvage, and the auto recycling industry as a whole, has seen great changes. “It’s changed so much you can’t believe it.” Jerry credits computers and other technology, as well as improvements in shipping for having the biggest impact on the business.

“It’s such a change,” he acknowledged. “I can remember when you had to remember every part you had. Now you look in the computer.”

Considering Chesney Auto Salvage has more than 7,000 vehicles on over 40 acres and more than one million parts in stock, it’s easy to see how today’s technology has been a game changer.

With a business that’s been around as long as Chesney Auto Salvage, having three generations on the team is a great way to learn from the past and move into the future especially when it means getting to work with the people who mean the most to you. Jerry’s daughters, Brooke Chesney and Britt Hess have been with the company for 24 and 30 years, respectively, and have worked their way up from cleaning and paperwork to their present roles running the office.

Jerry’s grandson, Codie Chesney, has also been with the company for nearly half his life. “I grew up across the road,” Codie said. “I started at the bottom breaking down tires on Saturdays or after school to make money.”

After college, Codie returned to the family business and started working in sales. “I just kept learning and learning,” he said. “I’m kind of a jack of all trades. There isn’t much here I haven’t done.”

Codie stated that technology has been the driving force behind the evolution of the business from 1965 to today. He’s embraced streamlining the inventory and pricing through computers and the Internet to make Chesney Auto Salvage (www.chesneyautosalvage.com) more efficient and competitive going forward.

“We’re using the computers to help the salesmen, help us sell more parts and help us identify parts better,” said Codie. “We’re using the internet to get us out there more and to sell to a broader range of people not just in the Midwest, but all across the country.”

Although Codie said that he and his grandfather have always been very close and they spend a lot of time together going hunting and even having breakfast together every morning before work. But occasionally they differ on their opinions of how things should be done.

“Sometimes it’s the old school versus the new school,” Codie said. “He’s old school, and I’m more new school. He wants to do things a certain way because that’s how he’s always done it.”

Ultimately when it comes to goals for the future, there is no difference in opinion there. Jerry said he wants to continue to see the kids growing up and helping out. He said that his grandson is coming up and very interested in the business. “I want to keep it a family business,” Jerry acknowledged. Codie agreed with his grandfather and confirmed that he’d love to take over for his grandfather someday but doesn’t think that will be anytime soon.

“I don’t know when that would be. He’s 73, and he is still here every day.”

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