Spotlight on Gold Seal
Time for Business
Father-Son ownership has been in place for much of this facility’s 77-year history. Their key to longevity is keeping priorities in order. By Caryn Smith
In life and business, you just have to set priorities and be happy with the outcomes, or adjust accordingly. At least that is the opinion of the team at All Auto Parts Co. (eallauto.com), located in Fontana, Calif., where the father-son partners Ed and Jared Milmeister have a pretty good system worked out. Setting the right priorities has produced dividends beyond profits for both men and keeps this family-owned business (which started in 1941) going strong.
The duo is proud that their business is steeped in history operating under the same name for 77 exciting years. “My father, Milton, purchased All Auto Parts Co. after a stint in the military,” says Ed Milmeister. “From the beginning, he
was very involved in the industry and the then National Auto Wreckers Association [NAWA], and I believe was a founding member. I was around this industry my whole life. In fact, I was only twelve when dad took me to my first meeting.” (In 1943, a group of auto wreckers formed the NAWA; which is now known as ARA).
“My dad ran the business from 1941-1966, until I graduated from UCLA at 21 with a business degree. He really loved buying cars, but he wasn’t a numbers guy. He didn’t care much about the bank account, and he let my mom do that part. When I came into the business, I took over that function and aggressively started to run the business. Dad wanted to maintain authority, but ultimately whoever runs the finances runs the business. It actually worked out best for both of us,” says Ed. “Dad and I continued to work as a team for many years.”
Running the Business
Today, as President of the company, Ed has assumed the role as primary inventory buyer and sets the pricing, while his son Jared is the General Manager running the day-to-day operations, including managing the production, employees, and the hazard safety program. He assists with buying and pricing, and both men collaborate on strategic planning.
The business was nomadic-like for many years until they landed in Fontana, in Southern California. “We would buy land, and my brother would develop mini-storage units on the property. As the land increased in value, we would relocate the recycling operation, and in turn, lease out the land for more money. Now, with land getting scarce in California, we have settled in our current location for many years.”
All Auto Parts Co., a full-service operation, covers 4 acres and is a late model specialist in foreign & American cars, trucks, and vans. They have 26 employees, many who have been at the business for over 20 years. “Our team is a big part of our success,” says Jared. “I think of us as a family.” Always anticipating the future, Jared notes, “We had a long-time manager leave. Instead of replacing the one position, we put two employees as the key managers, and added younger team members to learn management skills.”
“Since All Auto presently has six dismantlers; buying large amounts of inventory is a major issue for us. We have been processing about 120 more expensive units per month, but our goal is 140-160 less expensive units,” says Ed. “We have a 2,400 sq. ft. main office, three dismantling areas, with one that is under a 5,000 sq. ft. overhang, and two other good-sized buildings that serve our company well (even though our buildings are old and ugly). I tried to get an idea of the costs from the county to build new ones, and they couldn’t or wouldn’t give us a cost for permits and fees. It was frustrating. But we are in the parts-selling business, not the nice-building business, so our location works fine,” jokes Ed. “We made the choice to put our money into inventory and equipment, instead.”
All Auto Parts serves primarily Southern California. “We don’t do any marketing. Zero,” says Ed. “Most of our business comes from the online services, Car-Part, Hollander, CCC, eBay. And most of business is in LA. Los Angeles is the biggest car market in the world, and we buy all kinds of inventory to serve it from trucks to vans, to high-end cars. There are more Mercedes and BMWs in our area to bid on, than any other place in the U.S.
“Our promise to customers is, we provide what you thought you ordered when promised. Basically, to increase profits, we work hard to get more out of each car by inventorying and pulling more parts per car (gross profit is higher, so is labor). Our retail sales have also improved. We buy a lot of cars, although these days you are lucky to get 5 percent out of every 100 you bid on. We have to work on every part of business every day with the goal of selling more parts per car,” says Ed.
“Because of the internet, it is more of a level playing field for the industry. Our business now is very transactional in our area, not relationship-driven like it used to be, and I like it that way. I know that my competitors are confronted with the same problems. We all have to pay high and sell low. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot fairer (fair is in the eyes of the beholder) business environment than it used to be. The insurance company sets the price; if you have the part, you have a good shot of selling the part to the shop.”
“Our survival plan is to always look for ways to improve. It keeps us motivated and I love it. In our area during the 1980’s, many of our competitors were dependent on buying and selling rebuilders. We did not participate in that line of business. I actively worked with other recyclers to have members of our state association give up the right to sell rebuilders, so the salvage pools could not use a dismantlers license to sell them. We wanted an association to represent the parts only segment of the business. Ultimately, the rebuilder yards went out of business, and we and a few other longtime recyclers are still around.”
“My philosophy is ‘We must adapt to the world; the world will not adapt to us.’ We have moved on to make the changes necessary in today’s market.”
Priorities & Partnership
Ed has four priorities that guide his decisions in both the personal and business part of his life. At All Auto Parts, making money is just third on Ed’s list. “We run our business to enjoy our lives. The purpose of owning a business, in my opinion, is you run the business, it shouldn’t run you,” Ed says. “My main goal is to minimize aggravation. More time to play and have fun is number two. Planning for the future comes fourth. I want to be with the family – I was a soccer and baseball coach and attended all my children’s activities. These are the things that are important to me.”
“Having my own business enables me to work and live as I please. I enjoy the freedom it offers, where I report to no one and I’m able to set my own hours. In the early days of consolidation, we were too small to be purchased. At the time, I was disappointed, but now I realize that it was the best thing that happened. I really enjoy this business and I am glad we have it. It’s very motivating to work and debate the direction of our company with Jared and a key employee, Eric Ottoson. Jared is a people person and is very strong is this area. I am a numbers guy, so we make a terrific team!”
“I am in my 15th year in the business,” says Jared. “I spent some time in college then ended up running a tennis professional coaching business, working with junior champions. When I got married and my family expanded with two stepdaughters, and then my first daughter was born, I started to consider my options. I needed to do something else, so I came to work at All Auto, starting from the bottom up. I left a high-paying coaching career to work for $10 an hour as inventory person. Even now, every day I learn something new. My motto is ‘yesterday’s history and tomorrow’s a mystery.’ I want to take advantage of today.”
“I am excited to get to work every day,” says Ed. “If you can achieve that, I think you’ve made it. I have friends that are wealthy and are retired. They are envious that I have a purpose; and it is priceless. Yes, there are ups and downs. I know many in our industry are not doing fantastic, we do okay, we are in the fight, we don’t want to sell; we want to continue operating our business.”
Service & Certification
In the early years, Ed was very involved in industry matters. But he admits he was just too busy with the business to continue. “I want to give back to society, so my wife is involved with charitable activities that help our community, and I heartily support that. Jared has taken the lead in industry activities. Jared is a leader, he enjoys it.”
“I am the immediate Past President of Inland Auto Dismantlers Association (IADA), and have been on the Board of Directors since 2013,” says Jared. “I also serve on the Board for California Auto Dismantlers and Recyclers Association. My wife Sheila and I are very active in the industry as we attend the ARA conventions, URG meetings, SCADA’s West Coast Auto Dismantlers convention. My wife is also the current Executive Director of the IADA.”
When it comes to their ARA Gold Seal Certification, Ed says they’ve have participated since it started. “One of our priorities is we want to keep a clean operation, we have to. We want to be good environmental citizens.” And, keeping high standards ensures that their customers get great service and competitive prices.
Going for 100
As for the future, the duo shares the same view. It is harder than ever to buy inventory, as most auto recyclers know, but they work hard to do it. They will keep an eye on the autonomous car, which will present costly problems to both repairers and auto recyclers. “As we always have, we will acclimate to the changes,” says Ed.
The ultimate goal for Jared is, “I want to hit the 100-year mark. And we can get there one day at a time.”
Realizing that this business isn’t just about making money, Jared says, “I am extremely proud of my dad. All Auto Parts has been the best experience of my life. He is not only an amazing father, but also is more like a life coach to me. He has always been there, in all my ups and downs. He has taught me everything in the business, how to buy cars and more. He has made All Auto Parts into what it is today, and I am proud to be a part of my family.”
Ultimately, All Auto Parts allows this father-son team to put family first, take pride in their 77 years of operation, and give all they can, together, to create a legacy business.
Caryn Smith is the editor of Automotive Recycling magazine and a writer covering the industry for over 20 years.