GreenStar Takes Recycling to the Next Level
The third time’s a charm, or so they say. Just ask Neil Harrow. He’s on the third iteration of his auto recycling career and it’s bigger, better and more innovative than ever.
The first phase began in 1979 when Neil and his wife Sharon opened Michael Auto Parts, in Orlando, Fla. It was a successful operation, at its height employing 65 and processing 4,400 vehicles annually. After 27 years devoted to such an enterprise, the Harrows contemplated retirement. They sold to LKQ in 2006. But as it turned out, Neil couldn’t fully abandon the industry that was the focus of so much of his life. In 2011, he opened GreenStar Auto Recyclers, also in Orlando. Named for its environmentally-friendly focus, GreenStar was to be a boutique operation on 2.5 acres that could be run with less than 15 employees. It was the perfect size to manage during retirement. But Neil’s customers didn’t let that happen.
“In 2012, we were dismantling 1,200 cars per year and we were doing that with 12 employees,” said Neil. “But my customers started coming back to me, all three generations of them. We couldn’t support the increasing demand, and that forced us to look for a new location and expand.”
Luckily, the property across the street was for sale — a former fabrication factory for structural steel for high rise buildings. Enter stage three of Neil’s career. In 2015, he bought the property, which included an 88,000 square-foot building on 7.5 acres of land.
The building came with some interesting features. “We have our own railroad spur that runs from the main track into the building,” said Neil. “That’s very unusual. But it means that I could bring a train inside the building. It hasn’t happened yet but if we need it in the future for inbound cars or scrap, it would be handy.”
However, there wasn’t an office, and the property wasn’t yet a true recycling yard. Neil had a vision that would take this business into the 21st century.
He started by constructing a 5,000 square-foot office within the building and installing an electric security fence along the perimeter — all 7.5 acres. Then, over a period of 18 months, he had 29,000 square feet of concrete poured, and over 55 custom fabricated industrial strength car trees built. The goal is to have 450 cars in trees total, with 200 of them inside. The ones outdoors are under a covered storage area, which doubles as a cooler workspace for parts pullers.
Parts pullers also used custom carts, developed to increase efficiency. Neil retrofitted the Sellick Equipment Limited S100s with such features as a locking cabinet for part-puller equipment, storage cubbies to keep small electrical parts dry, overhead storage for bumpers and running boards, and padded dividers to mitigate dings and damage to body parts in transit. The carts are also air conditioned for employee comfort. They are large enough to handle about 15 small parts or five large ones, which Neil says translates to about five orders.
GreenStar recently debuted a state-of-the-art wash station. It features mechanical hoists, durable chains, waist-high tables and rotating platforms to provide easy access to inspect all aspects of any engine or transmission. It eliminates the need for a forklift and as a result, efficiency has gone up over 85 percent. Importantly, it doesn’t use any water, a nod to GreenStar’s continuing environmental focus. “We didn’t want water runoff,” explained Neil, “and so we strictly use safety clean chemicals. Each month, they pick up the old fluid and change it for new.”
The wash station and many of the other innovations have been widely viewed on GreenStar’s popular Facebook page. Neil noted that, at Michael’s, he used to have to run 18 ads in 18 different Yellow Page books to cover the state of Florida. That came with a monthly bill totaling $14,000. Now the cost is minimal, and he gets statewide and even national exposure.
Neil is proud of the fact that GreenStar can now satisfy its ever-growing customer needs with 97 to 98 percent of its on-site inventory. Their need for parts brokering is minimal, approximately 2.5 percent. “We track our customer requests very closely,” he said, “and we travel further than most to procure our cars. We go through Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Another difference between us and other recyclers is the retention of our vehicles. We’re able to process and / or scrap 80 percent of the cars, which is a significant amount.”
The current building can store 200 complete cars inside. “I don’t know anyone else who can do that,” noted Neil. Outside, GreenStar can store between 600-700 cars. “We’re probably going to process 3,000+ cars for 2019, and we’re doing it with 27 employees. My goal is to be able process 3,500 cars per year with 27 employees at this facility.”
Neil has no doubt that they’ll hit that mark and credits his dedicated team, which includes two managers (among 12 others) who followed him from Michael’s. Vinny Priolo is general manager and John Kraus is sales manager. In addition, Neil’s son-in-law, Chris Sauls, is operations and procurement manager. He is poised to take over Neil’s role when he officially retires.
“I am semi-retired,” said Neil. “At this point, I’m mostly involved in the remodel. My plan is to have the most modern auto recycling facility in the state of Florida by the end of 2020,” he said. “It took me 27 years to do this at Michael’s and now I’ll be able to do it in three. I’m only going to do this one more time so I’m going to do it right.”