Road Ready

Illinois Yard Keeps Rolling With Wheel Business



Bill Smith Auto Parts is a family-run business. From left to right: Jonathan Smith, Marion Smith, Jonah Smith and Bob Smith.

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Can a company that’s been in business since the 1920s still survive in today’s industry? Bill Smith Auto Parts, Inc., which has been in business for 86 years, isn’t merely surviving in 2015. It’s thriving.

The secret?

“I think a lot of it is adapting to the changes, pushing through the tough times, and trying to be progressive,” said Corporate Sales Manager Jonathan Smith. “We put in a lot of hard work. Our staff does an amazing job.”

Jonathan and his brother, Finance Vice President Jonah Smith, are the fourth generation of Smith family members to run the company, headquartered in Danville, Ill.

Strong Family Roots

The business was founded in 1929 by Jonathan and Jonah’s great-grandfather, Bill Smith. Bill passed the company down to his sons, Phil and Alfred. Alfred’s son, Bob, purchased the company in 1984 and still owns the business today.

Jonathan and Jonah said that while their father is in “soft retirement,” he is still active at the company and serves as their mentor as they run the day-to-day operations. Their mother, Marion, also worked at the company for 35 years.

“We’re thankful for all of the people who have helped us,” Jonah said. “We’ve had a lot of good mentors, especially our parents.”

Both Jonathan and Jonah grew up in the business, and both returned to work there after attending college.

“Part of me always felt I’d come back here,” Jonathan said. “I’ve fallen in love with the industry.”

Multiple Locations

Bill Smith Auto Parts now boasts three locations: the headquarters in Danville, as well as satellite locations in Urbana and Bloomington. Jonathan and Jonah said they strive to be progressive and to keep up with technology. For example, all of their drivers have tablets, and the company has its own YouTube channel and eBay store.

“Jonathan and I are young, so we embrace technology,” Jonah said. “The salvage business has changed, and we’ve always had to adapt to those changes.”

“There have been more changes in the past five years than in the past 20 years,” Jonathan added.

Wheel Division

One of the biggest changes? The brothers decided to start a separate wheel business, Road Ready Wheels, which specializes in aftermarket OEM replica steel wheels.

“We were trying to transform our model and continue to improve and find new revenue streams to keep us going,” Jonah explained. “We got started about a year ago, really diving into the aftermarket parts business. Aftermarket parts are changing this industry. That’s the direction this industry is going, so it’s important to be progressive in that respect.”

The brothers spent a lot of time researching before deciding to specialize in wheels, and they enlisted their youngest brother, Alex, to develop Road Ready’s website, www.roadreadywheels.com.

“We came across wheels, and it was something we were able to utilize heavily on the e-commerce end,” Jonah said. “It’s been really exciting to watch grow and see the potential possibilities of it.”

And while they have considered adding other products, such as wheel covers or aluminum wheels, they said they’d like to perfect the wheel business before adding anything new.

“We still have a salvage yard to run,” Jonah said. “That keeps us plenty busy. With three locations and a growing wheel business, it’s hard to do much more, especially when you want to be the best at wheels. We want to be the best wheel supplier in the United States.”

The brothers said they’re constantly working on improving Road Ready’s selection and bringing more wheels to market.

“Increasing our offering is really important,” Jonah said. “We want to keep improving our quality control and being as competitive as possible.”

What is their biggest piece of advice? Don’t be afraid to reach out to other recyclers.

“Talk to people, other yards,” Jonathan said. “That’s what helps us grow. We have a great group of people that we can call at any time.”

The brothers said they are confident that Bill Smith Auto Parts will continue to grow.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Jonathan said, “and that’s all we can ask for.”

 

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