Larry Rushton from Sunrise Towing & Salvage in Port Howe NS, has been in the auto salvage business for just over 33 years. He has seen a lot of change over the decades and reflected on those changes and how his business and approach to auto recycling has changed over time in our recent discussion.
Tell me about the early days in the auto wrecking business.
I bought the yard from a guy that had a salvage yard license who ran a traditional, old-style junkyard back in 1988. He was more of a junk collector, trading in metals where he could. He had some old wrecks on site, but a lot of other junk too. It was hard to see a business in there, but we did. He did have an old wrecker towing vehicle, and that was new to me, but that helped me see a potential business in amongst the junk. That’s when I started the business as Sunrise Towing & Salvage.
What kind of changes did you make early on?
Organization. Understanding what we had in the place, what could be salvaged, what was just junk and needed to be disposed of – just trying to make sense of the place. We definitely operated on a shoestring back then, although I guess we still do, but we were determined to plow back any small profits we made in to continual improvements. That’s been my goal from day one – make small changes every day in the right direction to keep your business on track.
What helped you the most in making the transition from a junkyard to a more progressive operation?
I joined the Automotive Recyclers Association of Atlantic Canada (ARAAC) back in 2012. Originally I thought I was too small to join that group. Those are the big auto recyclers across the four Atlantic provinces and they are part of a national association – the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC). But I screwed up my courage and submitted my application. Back in those days you had to attend a meeting and tell them about your business, why you wanted to join, etc. Then they voted on whether to accept your application. I got in the first time, and I think it was my stated reason for joining that got me in – I wanted to learn from the best. Since then, I’ve attended virtually every meeting and learn something every time. Many of the meetings have yard tours of other members, and that is a great way to learn. I’ve always been impressed that other members open their doors and share so much great information. They really believe that if we individually grow and get better, we all get better.
You’ve now even joined the Board of ARAAC – what’s that like?
When I was first asked to join the Board, the same thought crossed my mind about joining the association – I’m too small to do that. But I quickly realized that the issues I was seeing were affecting the industry regardless of the size of the operation. It was also interesting to see and hear about the development of the Canadian Auto Recyclers Environmental Code (CAREC). We are audited to this Code every two-three years, and it not only helps my business but it has been great at separating the ARAAC members from the backyarders and scrappers that are unfortunately still out there.
What would you like to change about the industry?
Unfortunately we still need to compete with backyarders that are out there who can pay more money for a wreck or end-of-life vehicle – as they don’t have the overhead we have. In Nova Scotia, there are regulations but the government has left in an exemption from the rules if you operate on less than a quarter hectare. This exemption allows for an unlevel playing field we are trying to change.
What would you like to change about your business?
Nothing specific – just continual improvement and challenging the way we do things. I work in the business every day, and it’s the small things done every day that help build a strong business.