Featured in Automotive Recycling Magazine // January-February 2020
Interview by Caryn Smith, Editor
Greg Condon of Condon’s Auto Parts (Westminster, Maryland) was proactive to inspire automotive recyclers to communicate with each other for everyone’s benefit in the “Professional Salvage Yard Information Forum” setting. He is an inspirational figure in automotive recycling, with a knack to bring people together. Automotive Recycling Magazine interviewed Greg to find out more about him and his idea to bring auto recyclers together through Facebook.
Our story is much like many other salvage yard families. My grandfather, Ralph Condon, started the business in 1954 as an auto repair facility that slowly accumulated cars and started selling parts off those cars. My father, Jerry Condon bought the facility in 1978 with three employees.
In 2005, I graduated college and started selling parts on the front counter the next day. I have worked every position in the company other than vehicle dismantler. Honestly, I am not that great of a mechanic and would probably do more harm than good tearing cars apart! When I moved into general manager role in 2010, we had 18 employees. We currently have 38.
I was always interested in expanding the business, just as my father had done after purchasing from his father. In 2017, we joined PRP-NE in an effort to have better access to quality recycled parts to feed the need of our growing customer base. Through the partnership with fellow recyclers and Team PRP, we have been able to expand rapidly in the past two years. Ten of those 38 employees have been added in the last 24 months.
Automotive Recycling: How did you get into the industry?
Greg Condon: In high school, I took a few AutoCAD and drafting classes. I have always and still do have a huge interest in housing, construction and real estate. I was thinking of becoming an architect, but after visiting and being accepted to several colleges I decided that a business track was better suited for me. In 2005, I graduated on Sunday and was selling parts on Monday. I haven’t turned back since.
AR: What attracted you to the business?
GC: I have pride in our family business and everything it has provided for our family and the families of all our great employees. While I have been told many times over by the “old-timers” that this business is not as easy or good as it used to be, I see some real potential for small- and medium-sized family businesses to succeed for years to come.
AR: Who are your “heroes” in the business who directly or indirectly mentor you or whom you follow? And why?
GC: The obvious answer here would be my father and grandfather. Both of those men have and had work ethics that rival anyone I know. They positioned the company perfectly for me as the third generation to get it to the next level. But both my mother and grandmother were a huge part of their strength in the business. The fact that they were there to keep the family together and going in the right direction is a huge part of why my father and his father were successful.
I would be remiss not to mention my wife along with the rest of my family. She is a fantastic wife and mother to my two amazing daughters. Her help allows me to work some crazy hours and vent about the pressures that my work life puts on me sometimes.
There are dozens of people in the industry that I look to with great respect. It would be impossible to name them all in one article. I have learned so much from some of the smartest minds in the business. Many of them are technically my competitors, but still they openly share thoughts and ideas that help us all grow. That is really one of the biggest reasons that the Facebook page has been so successful. Just scan through the posts in the group and take a look at how competitors will openly give away secrets they have learned over the years to help others.
As far as mentors are concerned, I have almost too many to list whom I know I can call with questions and problems. I have gained most of these connections from attending industry conventions like ARA and URG.
Also, participating in consulting peer groups has given me insights that I could have never stumbled on by myself. The members of those groups are competitors, but they understand that a rising tide raises all ships. If we work together, we are all better for it.
Outside of the industry, I have a group of guys in my hometown that I regularly meet with as part of an accountability group. We are not all business owners, but are all highly motivated to make ourselves better men, husbands, fathers and people. I highly suggest finding or creating a group like this for yourself. Make it diverse. Reach outside of your comfort level when creating the group. Do not make it with just your friends, but all of you will end being great friends.
The last heroes who do not get enough credit are the people that keep the business running every day. Our employees are heroes as well. Without a good team; none of our companies would be able to do what we do. Owners and managers need to be there to steer the ship, but there would be no ship without the team. I struggle on a daily basis to give enough recognition to those around me that help me accomplish most of the crazy ideas that pop out of my brain.
AR: What things have you learned recently that have helped your business
GC: Business is simpler than most of us understand. In today’s world there is an app for everything, and that makes us spend too much time learning and not enough time doing. I am constantly seeking out learning opportunities. But I also have learned to stop, take some time to digest what I have learned, and figure out how to put it into use in my company. There is no benefit to learning anything new if you can’t find practical application for that knowledge.
At one time or another everyone has heard of KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid). If we are constantly finding solutions to all the fires that we put out every day instead of finding the source of the flames, we will end up with an intricate maze of systems developed to fix the symptoms and not the source of the issues.
AR: Why did you start the Professional Salvage Yard Information Forum on Facebook?
GC: During and after college, I participated in numerous online forum websites related to my hobbies and ATV racing. There were 100’s of posts every day and I actually got to meet and become friends with many of the members of those forums. The wealth of knowledge and willingness to help was amazing to me. I thought that maybe I could bring some of that to our industry. Not everyone is able to attend meetings and conferences.
When I started the Facebook group, my intention was to create a similar environment, but without spending the money to start a new website. I also knew that with the short attention spans of people today, getting them to go to another website every day was probably going to be hard. Most people already have a Facebook profile for themselves or work, so they would already be logging into Facebook each day.
AR: How do you think it helps others?
GC: I started the page with the intention of only the best of the best being allowed to join the page at first.
I wanted to keep the content strong and truly only contain ideas that is what the best really should be doing. This was short-sighted and probably limited its growth in the first year. After the page got some traction, I allowed all sorts of facilities to contribute what they thought was positive, and let the masses sort out the quality information.
What happened was, members of the Forum have held each other accountable. When someone posts something of questionable character, or a “junkyard” mentality, many of the members are quick to question them and raise counter points as to why they believe that information to be less effective or less positive. This has opened the eyes of many members as to what a truly professional recycling facility really should be and how one really should be operating.
Just today, a conversation about ECM’s and return policies was questioned. Some good points were brought up on both sides and not everyone will always agree. But if we want our industry to progress, doing it as we always did probably isn’t the quickest way forward. I also wanted to spread information to make all
recycled original equipment auto parts businesses better.
This included some that might not be considered “professional” or up-to-standard of where the industry is currently headed. But without a place to gather some education about how the best in the industry are doing what they do, how can we help those operations improve?
I have been told many times by some operators from “junkyards” that they want to get better, but didn’t know how to take the first few steps. It’s not like many local community colleges offer degree programs in Salvage Yard Management. I hope the page can continue to be a good resource to learn from those who were in that junkyard mentality and now operate first-class recycling facilities.
AR: Has the Forum lived up to your expectations?
GC: It has far exceeded my expectations. In today’s world of 6-second click-through rates on YouTube videos, the fact that so many people keep coming back every day is impressive. I have had many people tell me that the only reason they still have a Facebook account or come to Facebook every day is to check in on the Forum. There have been requests to branch the Forum out in several different ways. I and other members have started other pages, some with more success than others. But it goes back to my simplicity comment from before. It’s impossible to be good at every great idea.
AR: What other thoughts do you have to share with your fellow automotive recyclers?
GC: I will wrap up with a few quick comments. We are all in this fight together. While we are competitors, we also need to be allies. As with all businesses, there are constant struggles that we will face, and as a united front we will be much stronger. The more professional we all operate, the better our image will be with the consumer. Stop delivering parts not as they were described in our Yard Management Systems. Stop delivering dirty greasy motors and not standing behind our warranties when we do have a failure. The better everyone does the better we all do.
With the complexity of today’s vehicles, getting the right part to the consumer the first time is paramount in our industry doing well in the next evolution of our businesses. Help ARA fight for VIN-level build data on cars to match the proper part to the order the first time every time. This helps the insurance company save time and money, and the weekend repair warrior not getting frustrated when the “junkyard” sent him another wrong part and then orders a new aftermarket part instead.
We are all in this fight together. There is a lot of good still to be had in this industry. I’m going to steal a line I saw on Facebook from Mike Kunkel the other day. “Let’s make these the days the ones that the next generation looks at in 20 years and calls the ‘good-ole-days.’” Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope to see you in the Forum.
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