Do It Your Self
Design your self-service facility with both simplicity and success in mind.
Right now, the growth curve for self-service facilities is phenomenal,” said Dimitri Gerontis of S3 Software Solutions. “We’ll definitely see more of these in the future.” According to Gerontis, “There is a 50/50 trend in the self-service facilities. Half of the facilities are ‘newbies’ to the industry and the other half are auto recyclers with full service yards who are transitioning to open self-service yards.”

With a national increase of approximately 20 percent in the last few years, self-service facilities are attracting those on the peripheral of the automotive recycling industry. Gerontis believes that they see the potential of the self-service yard and also have the cash to invest.

“The newbies are often starting with a green field, which is land that was not previously a recycling facility. While it takes longer to get the approval from the authorities and to build from the ground up, the advantage is that it can make more sense than buying an established yard and turning it into what you want,” said Gerontis. 

Many existing auto recyclers are also starting self-service yards next to their full-service yards and the trend is likely to continue as obtaining good quality salvage gets tougher.    

“We opened our self-service yard in May 2008 in response to several factors,” said Shannon Nordstrom, one of the owners of Nordstrom’s Automotive, Inc., located in Garretson, South Dakota. “We had people calling to sell us cars that we had to turn down and we wanted to give our customers more options. We have been operating a full-service yard and repairable lot since 1969 so it seemed like a normal progression for the business.”

“We started our u-pull-it yard out of necessity because we had a lease on the property and had to figure out some way to pay the rent,” notes Joe Bessler, Bessler Auto Parts, based in Wilder, Kentucky.

“The best thing we did in starting our self-service yard was keeping it low budget which allowed us to cover our bills.” 

Simplicity and Efficiency

Efficiency is a key element when designing the lay-out of a self-service facility. You want a clean and efficient yard that is visually appealing to the customer. Make the experience easy and user-friendly for all involved and design your yard using proven consumer methods that have worked in other businesses, especially when it comes to the retail area.

“When we started we had no layout or design,” said Bessler. “It came over several years of trial and error. We are currently re-designing the layout to better meet the needs of our customers.” 

“Many self-service yards we are working with are currently upgrading the look and feel of their operation to a more professional operation,” said Jim Stewart, Advanced Data Systems. “Most are implementing retail space similar to your traditional retail stores with counters and POS systems. Some are implementing rewards systems and even doing text and e-mail marketing.” 

In the retail area, make sure that price lists are posted and visible, as well as rules and regulations, and any other information that the customer might want to know. Standardize all the features of the shopping experience at the facility so that everyone receives the same level of customer service. Make sure that the effects of any changes made are measurable.

“By treating all customers the same you will make it easier on everyone,” adds Gerontis, “and you will be able to examine whether changes you might implement to your business are paying off or not.”

Do It Right

When designing your retail area, consider designs that you like and sketch them on paper. There is no one right way to design your yard, so don’t be afraid to rip the paper up and start all over again.  In fact, your design is something that should stay fluid and change as needs change over time.

Shannon Nordstrom’s father, Art Nordstrom, sketched the first idea of what the self-service yard would look like on a piece of paper and then a group of managers from Nordstrom’s Auto took a look at it and decided to go all out.

“We decided that if we were really going to invest in a self-service yard then we should really dream big,” said Shannon. “So, we upgraded what my Dad had done and created our ‘ideal’ self-service yard. We closed off a section of our existing yard and built a new office building and what we call the Pull Barn where customers can come for their parts.”

From the beginning, Nordstrom’s Auto treated the new venture like a different company, with its own dedicated resources such as sales and a retail staff. As time has passed the original layout and design of the yard, which is called Ewe-Pullet, have not changed, but they have tweaked some areas and made changes to programs they offer.

Dale Bevell, of Bevell’s Pull-IT-Yourself Used Auto Parts in Goldsboro, North Carolina agrees that high quality staff and excellent customer service is key to a successful self-service facility. “One of the slogans we used when we first opened was, ‘We’re different and more than you expect!’” said Bevell. “We had a lot of people who on the way out would say something like, ‘Wow, you guys are different.’”

“Putting the right people in the right positions is key to any operations success,” said Bevell. “A self-serve yard is no different. People make the business. We offer good attitudes, smiles, compassion, and great service. It’s what brings people back.”

It’s All in the Details

When it comes to the overall yard layout, doing a little research before you design it, will pay off.

Do the obvious things, such as:
• Make it easy to find a car; keep the high demand cars in the front near the customer; and, clearly mark the rows and cars with numbers.
• Make the yard easy to navigate, with few turns and corners, keeping rows and walkways free of clutter.
• Provide your customer with the necessary tools to buy your parts, such as wheelbarrows, engine hoists, or offer help to avoid any safety concerns.

Dale Bevell says that their attention to laying the yard out in an efficient manner has been an important part of their success.

“I feel like we were successful in the way we organized the yard by make of vehicle, and placed them in nice straight rows on wheel stands with locations recorded for easy finding of vehicles by customers,”  said Bevell.

Some Important Tips

Things to consider when planning or improving a self-service facility:
• Make sure to brand it as a self-service yard and treat it like a separate business to your full-service yard. Buy the right equipment for each business, i.e. the right drainage equipment for a full-service and the right drainage equipment for a self-service yard.
• Don’t scavenge the inventory; don’t strip off all the good parts then put out the left-over cars. Your customers want the same parts as full-service customers. 
• In marketing, inform people of what you are doing.
• Promote all your positives, such as that you are clean, friendly, well-stocked, etc.
• Listen to customer feedback and try to incorporate their ideas into your retail area.
• Set up the processing area in a fashion that vehicles progress through the yard.
• In the processing area, do not touch the vehicles more than you have to and do not co-mingle the paths of equipment or tow trucks or vehicle vendors. 

As Gerontis points out, “Vehicle vendors are your life blood, and you should make all the difference to those who sell you vehicles. You want to make it easy for them to sell to you again. Create a special drop-off area and keep it free from clutter and debris.”

While this information is helpful, you must do your own research and crunch your own pro forma numbers to make sure a self-serve yard is for you. 

Michelle Keadle-Taylor is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.

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