Oregon Shop Makes It Easy, Profitable to Be Green
By Leona Dalavai Scott
The 2004 Small Business Owner of the Year proves that a commitment to the environment can be a profitable avenue for automotive service shops.
The commitment of AJ's Auto Repair Inc. to its community and state is so strong that it is reflected in its goal as a business. Consider its mission statement: "We believe that our company's responsibility is much greater than merely meeting our customer's auto repair needs. Our goal is to also address the current needs of our neighbors, community and the long-term health of our community's environment ... As a business in this area, we are committed to minimizing that impact [to the environment]. We further believe that any process that is designed to benefit the environment without first weighing social and business consequences is not sustainable in the long term and that conversely, doing business at the expense of our environment is even more unacceptable ..."
Bob Anderson, owner of AJ's Auto Repair in Salem, Ore., believes that being friendly to the environment can be a profitable proposition for many automotive repair facilities. He should know. His projected annual sales volume this year is $2 million. AJ's is housed in three different buildings totaling 12,000 square feet. From its humble beginnings in a one-car garage attached to Anderson's rented home, the shop has grown in 35 years to be an enviable facility employing 18 people and doing approximately 120 repairs per week. Anderson's brother-in-law, Glen Jones, is vice president of AJ's and has been with him since the beginning. In fact, the two at one time were the firm's sole employees.
Anderson's interest in automotive service as a profession developed from his extreme curiosity as a child to figure out how things worked and why they broke. His interest in environmental issues developed naturally.
"Everyone knows how important it is to take care of the environment," he said. "[As a shop owner], I've always been concerned that we could do a better job. After working in the independent automotive service sector, I realized that it could be done profitably as well."
Some of the many ways that AJ's has been committed to the environment include:
- Heating its facility with used motor oil, saving it $9,500 annually.
- Recycling antifreeze.
- Using EPA-certified equipment and technicians to repair automotive air conditioners.
- Using a non-toxic, water-based product in place of a toxic carburetor cleaner.
AJ's Auto Repair's efforts when it comes to its use of innovation in the environmental arena have not gone unnoticed. Among the many accolades Anderson and his shop have earned, he was named the 2004 Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2001, AJ's was selected by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce as the Small Business of the Year. Also that year, the shop became the first Salem Eco-Logical Business (ELB) certified auto repair shop.
The staff of A.J.'s Auto repair shows a strong commitment to the environment as well.
Perhaps one of AJ's greatest acts of service to the environment is its leadership and participation in a pilot collection project for mercury switches from automobiles. The project, begun in 2002, allowed for the collection and storage of switches from other participating auto shops and recyclers. Roller balls replaced the mercury switches in the cars.
Anderson said even a single switch could affect the mercury level in fish.
The growth of A.J.'s Auto Repair is impressive. The shop will generate close to $2 million in projected revenue this year.
"If the switches go unreplaced and one day when an automobile is melted down, it can release methyl mercury, which is highly toxic," he said.
The pilot program was not only successful from a "green" standpoint but also financially. Of the first 90 customers who participated in the program, 89 of them spent about $25,000 in various car care services as a result of bringing in their cars to Anderson's shop.
Not surprisingly, the shop's commitment to its community and state is one of its most promising marketing strategies. The publicity and recognition that it gains from its successful efforts build on themselves and foster greater business opportunities.
Looking ahead, Anderson has plans to expand his business to a second location. As with many shops experiencing abundant growth, he would like to also increase his existing floor space.
Anderson says it's not difficult to get started on being more environmentally conscious as a shop.
"Start by doing some research on the Internet," he said. "Educate yourself, work with your state EPA office. Those types of offices have many ideas on how to be more environmentally sound as a business."
As a result of Anderson's environmental leadership, his shop has advised others in the state of Oregon to follow suit. He said shops have a responsibility to be more sensitive to ecological concerns.
"It is an issue that we have to deal with," said Anderson. "If everyone worked even moderately to help our environment, we would all see a huge change."
Name: AJ's Auto Repair Inc.
Location: Salem, Ore.
No. of employees: 18
No. of years in business: 35
Projected annual sales volume: $2 million
Web site: www.ajsautorepair.com
On what makes his business unique: Our business is a bit different than some other businesses in that we encourage each person to color outside of the lines, so to speak. We first identify the necessary outcomes and then allow our staff to reach those required outcomes by using their individual talents. This process has proven to generate some pretty unique, productive and profitable procedures. We manage our business through the collective thoughts and skills of our entire group.
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