DRIVEN TO SUCCEED
Bootheel Tractor Parts Goes the Extra Mile
PHOTOS BY JACKIE CALBERT PHOTOGRAPHY
In the southeastern corner of Missouri, in the part of the state that resembles a boot heel, you’ll find the last of the agricultural tractor recycling start-ups. Named for the location’s unique shape on the map, Bootheel Tractor Parts was started by Shawn Archie in 1999 out of a shop at his house. Fast forward 18 years, and Bootheel is a thriving business employing 22, and occupying a 100,000-square-foot warehouse and dismantling bay in a town of 3,000 known as East Prairie.
While it may seem unusual for an 18-year-old company to be considered the newest entrant in the market, you only have to look at today’s economy. “One of our competitors just started selling mailboxes to make ends meet,” said Bootheel’s General Manager Kristen Jones. “Meanwhile, we had the most successful year of our history in 2017.”
The milestone was under Kristen’s direction as manager, a position she earned in January this year, which marks her 12th with the company. She started as a temporary employee at age 17, brought in by her sister, B.J. Duenne, to do a mailing. Kristen had always loved cars; her father and uncle used to drag race when she was young. As she began to learn more about the tractor recycling business, she realized that she enjoyed it - and was good at it.
“I’ve worked in every department since then,” said Kristen who believes it gives her perspective. She shares her success readily with her sister, who is second-in-command in this women-run business, noting, “It’s the teamwork that has made it successful. With the support of our boss, we’ve been able to take the business to a whole new level.”
It also doesn’t hurt that in the small town where Bootheel is based, everyone knows everyone - and well. “We know our employees personally, including their work ethic even before we hire them,” she said. “They’re part of our ‘family’ and we treat them with respect. We make sure to acknowledge their contributions, so that they know they’re valued. It also encourages them to go above and beyond, which is often.”
That work ethic is important. “We don’t cut corners; we go the extra mile,” explained Kristen. “When we buy a tractor, we test every component on it. We know if the hubs are leaking or if we need to rebuild a part. We have a shop here, too, so we can do that right on-site. Then, when we’re confident it’s ready for sale, we’ll inventory the part and put it on the shelf.” According to Kristen, some competitors are not so diligent. “They will sell and ship parts without knowing whether they work,” she said.
A Different Recycler
Customers appreciate the due diligence, since tractor parts can range from $500 to $30,000. The weight also is considerably heavier than traditional auto recycling - from as little as 5 pounds to as much as 3,500 pounds. There is a dedicated truck driver who picks up the tractors to be recycled, but since customers aren’t local, delivery is done via shipping - including overseas. Bootheel regularly ships to South America and Europe, due to its increasing presence on the Internet and its growing reputation in the tractor parts industry.
“Bootheel moved from Shawn’s house to this location in 2003,” said Kristen, “and ever since, we’ve been building a reputation for excellence. We now own the southeastern corner of East Prairie.”
Drag Racing Family
The same drive that propelled Kristen to the management position is evident in her off hours too. She continues her father’s legacy of drag racing, along with her husband, brother and kids. “It’s a family thing,” she explains. “On the weekends, you’ll most likely find us on the track.”
Kristen drag races with her 1967 Firebird, her self-professed “dream car” which has taken her to first place in the grueling Car Chix Pro at the 2016 World Series of Drag Racing in Memphis, Tenn. “The race lasted two long days, on and off, and ended at 3 a.m.,” remembered Kristen. Car Chix is the premier motorsports organization for women, founded to encourage participation in a typically male-dominated pastime. Kristen is a Car Chix regular, featured in the calendar in 2015 and 2016 for her many accomplishments in the drag racing world.
Her children are following suit, including 11-year-old daughter Taylor and 6-year-old son Gavin, both of whom took first place in a kids’ Power Wheels race. “We put a lawnmower battery on the Power Wheels and both won in their classes,” Kristen said. Her daughter also races a junior dragster, a rail car that travels up to 79 miles an hour. “You race against yourself in a way,” explained Kristen, “because you predict your time and then have to hit it.”
The growing number of plaques and trophies that adorn the Jones household are a constant reminder of the quest for excellence. It’s not that far from what Kristen advocates every day at Bootheel.
“To be successful, you have to have a team, people whom you trust,” said Kristen. “We are fortunate to have Team BTP - that’s what we call ourselves - and we are willing to put the time and effort into being the best.”
Along those lines, the business regularly sends staff members to United Recyclers Group (URG) training as well as to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) when they’re able. “We find that we learn more from the auto recyclers than from the tractor associations,” Kristen said. “We’ve gained insights that we were able to immediately apply to our business, everything from how they’re doing their metrics to buying sheets and reporting. Every year we bring something back that makes our company better.”