Frank Heckenast was 16 years old when he realized a lot of money could be made recycling different metals. He started recycling aluminum cans and later progressed to old vehicles. He eventually saved enough money to buy a tool truck and start A-1 Towing - named so it would appear first in the Chicago, Ill. area phone book.
Three years later, Frank was ready to expand. He opened A-1 Reliable Auto Parts in Blue Island, Ill. in 1975.
"It turned into a huge success," said Frank's daughter, Sherri Heckenast. "It was one of the largest salvage businesses in the Midwest."
After six years, Frank purchased 20 additional acres for the business and changed the name to A-Reliable Auto Parts & Wreckers, Inc. The business eventually grew to include five facilities in the Chicago area.
LKQ Corporation (LKQCorp.com) made the Heckenast family an offer they couldn't refuse in 2007.
"We sold the business," explained Sherri. "The contract's non-compete clause stated we couldn't work in the industry within 100 miles."
Still, a desire to work in auto recycling prompted the Heckenast family to relocate to Indianapolis, Ind. The city provided the closest major market outside the 100-mile radius. The Heckenasts opened Pic-A-Part LLC in Indianapolis in 2007, and later added another facility, Phoenix Pull-A-Part Self Serv Auto & Truck Parts, in Phoenix, Ariz. (PhoenixPullAPart.com).
Pic-A-Part (IndyPicAPart.com) covers 15 acres. The business offers domestic and foreign autos and trucks from 1970 to newer. It averages 25,000 to 30,000 retail customers, and turns over 1,500 vehicles per month.
"Pic-A-Part was a natural extension to what we were doing in Chicago," explained Sherri. "A-Reliable had [grown] so big that we couldn't always get to every customer as soon as we liked. My dad would [tell customers], 'Go out and get what you need, and then we'll ring you up.' He really started the self-service business."
Pic-A-Part's customers pay a $2 fee to enter the self-service facility. The inventory changes so frequently it would be impractical to print lists of what the company has in stock.
"We take pride in our inventory, and we have so much there's a very good chance we're going to have what you need," Sherri declared. "It's very rare that we get a complaint."
Pic-A-Part generally draws customers from a 50-mile radius, although some come as far as Chicago, Ill. There's a 45-day free exchange warranty on every part.
On the second weekend in July, customers line up outside Pic-A-Part for its annual Pull-A-Thon. For $39.99, customers keep everything they can carry 20 feet.
"People are excited," admitted Sherri. "They're parked in-line as early as 5 a.m."
Pic-A-Part advertises regularly. Since many customers come from the racing industry - which the Heckenasts compete in - it sponsors racing events. The company also sponsors community events and concerts, gives out 15,000 free T-shirts per year and maintains a presence on radio, TV and local billboards. The business posts specials - such as free admission for Mother's Day - on its Facebook page, and its web site generates a lot of traffic.
"What I like best about the business is that I feel that the hard work has finally paid off," Sherri admitted. "We've got to the point where we know how many people it takes; how many vehicles. We have a nice clean yard for our customers, a solid customer base and a really good business."
Owners: Frank Heckenast & Sherri Heckenast
Location: Indianapolis, Ind.
Years In Business: 4