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SPOTLIGHT ON EXCELLENCE: Johannes Auto Sales: How a ’67 Rolls Inspired Success

Not everyone would see the potential of a derelict chicken farm on three acres in the rural countryside outside Jackson, Mo. The credit for doing so belongs to Jim Johannes who saw the possibilities for the location when he purchased it back in 1963.

Fresh out of college at the time with a business degree and no job prospects that offered the future he wanted, Johannes decided to gamble on his experience in auto body work and rebuilding and take charge of his own future. He convinced his father to co-sign a loan for the purchase of the chicken farm and established Johannes Auto Sales.

He soon added salvage to the business, primarily because of the volume of parts his rebuilding business generated. The auto body shop is long gone, phased out in the 1980s, and Johannes Auto Sales today is exclusively a recycling operation with a small volume of rebuildable sales.

Johannes Auto Sales still occupies the original three acres, surrounded by farmland, and now also sprawls across an additional 17 acres across the street. The 17 acres are primarily vehicle storage, while production, a 50,000 sq. ft. warehouse and sales operations are located on the smaller site. The yard processes about 500 vehicles per year.

Landmark and Promise Rolled into One

Several years after starting the business, Johannes acquired the burned-out hulk of a ’67 Rolls Royce and raised it up on tall poles outside the yard. It has remained there for 38 years, not only as a familiar landmark rising up above the flat farmland that surrounds the yard, but also as a testimony to how this CAR and Gold Seal Certified recycler does business.

At the same time he erected the Rolls signpost, Johannes adopted the slogan “The Rolls Royce of salvage yards.” The yard has experienced many changes in the ensuing nearly five decades, but Johannes has never swerved from his original dedication to being the best.

That commitment to excellence remains as the touchstone for the business today, says Johannes’ daughter, Donna Schuette, who now co-owns Johannes Auto Sales with her father. “We always try to do the right thing and go beyond expectations,” she explains.

There’s more to that pledge than mere platitudes.

Johannes, Schuette and each of their 11 employees have a deeply ingrained dedication to take care of their customers to the best of their ability every day. For Schuette, it was part of her upbringing. An only child, she subconsciously absorbed her father’s mission and vision early on, coming to work with him or visiting the yard.

Decades later, “doing the right thing” is second nature to Schuette. Recently, Johannes Auto Sales delivered the wrong part to a local repair shop customer. As soon as the customer called about the mix-up, Schuette pulled the correct part from inventory and hopped in a company vehicle to deliver it herself. On her arrival, the customer expressed his appreciation, adding, “You didn’t have to make a trip over here with it.” Schuette’s answer: “Yes I did. It was our mistake.”

Schuette tells the story to illustrate the company’s dedication to excellent customer service, but she doesn’t consider the special delivery anything out of the ordinary. “That’s just the way we do things,” she says.

Attention to Detail

Personal pride in going beyond the expected is apparent in every aspect of the operation, from the physical plant to its employment policies. Johannes Auto Sales has been “green” for more than 50 years, meticulous in processing vehicles and maintaining the entire operation at a high level of environmental safety. Not surprisingly, the yard has never had an environmental violation and has an enviable relationship with the city.

Johannes and Schuette take great pride in their facility’s physical appearance. One of the yard’s proudest achievements was winning first place in the 1980 ARA beautification contest. The showroom is scrupulously maintained, so clean that women feel comfortable coming in for parts, Schuette notes. Outside, an attractive fence shields the storage area from view, not because any city ordinance requires it but because father and daughter think it’s the right thing to do. Across the street, a natural screen of trees along the front of the property hides stored vehicles most seasons of the year. Not satisfied with that, Johannes planted a row of evergreen cedar trees to ensure the storage area is attractive all four seasons.

But the operation is more than just a pretty face. Johannes Auto Sales differentiates itself from the competition with one of the best warranties in the industry. Where most recyclers in their area offer a standard 30-day warranty with a sometimes-hefty restocking fee for returns, Johannes Auto Sales offers a 90-day replacement warranty on larger parts and a lifetime warranty on small parts. Engines, transmissions and rear ends with fewer than 100,000 miles that are sold locally are covered by a six-month, 12,000-mile warranty.

The warranty reflects Schuette’s confidence in the parts the yard sells. “We do everything we can to always make sure we sell quality parts,” she emphasizes, “and we stand behind our parts.” Not surprisingly, in the rare event of a problem, she works with the customer to solve it and ensure total satisfaction.

Role of Technology

To say that Johannes Auto Sales remains focused today on the same mission that has energized the business for more than 50 years is not to say nothing has changed. Schuette and her father believe in staying up-to-date on technology, vehicle processing and business practices, evaluating what’s new and adopting those practices that fit their business model.
The decision 20 years ago to computerize the inventory and, more recently, to add a tablet-compatible paperless inventory system are the two decisions that have had the greatest impact on the yard’s success, Schuette believes. She experienced that impact firsthand.

“When I first started with the company, we kept our inventory on index cards in drawers,” she recalls. “Being able to convert from manual systems to computerized systems has been a major time saver, and the computerized systems are also more efficient and more accurate. Computerization has allowed us to do more with fewer resources.” Case in point – the yard processes as many or more vehicles now with 11 employees as when it had 24 employees, prior to computerization.

Creating an Image

Johannes Auto Sales’ primary market includes Jackson, population 15,000, and Cape Girardeau, population 40,000, and other towns and cities within a 50-mile radius. With this local focus, radio advertising on selected local stations has been a good investment, Schuette notes. By writing and taping the ads for one of those stations, she has created a recognizable, consistent voice for the yard. On another station, the morning drive host, who is highly regarded and trusted by area residents and farmers, voices the ads and actually expands on them by chatting about the company on air.

The yard participates in industry partners such as Car-Part.com, Partstrader.com and other online parts locator platforms and maintains an active website, although it does not offer e-commerce transactions. Schuette and Johannes have chosen not to join recyclers groups such as PRP or QRP based on what they calculated as the potential ROI. “Belonging to a group potentially could increase our sales, but we did not believe it would be enough of an increase to justify the cost associated with membership,” Schuette explains.

She and her father do believe that ARA certifications are a worthwhile investment for their yard. Johannes Auto Sales earned CAR (Certified Auto Recycler) designation several years ago and applied for and has recently received Gold Seal certification.

“Certifications like CAR and Gold Seal add credibility and are particularly important for attracting people new to the area who are not familiar with our quality yet,” Schuette notes. “Certification is also important in doing business with other recyclers, body shops or repair shops because it assures them they are dealing with a reputable company that does things the right way.”

With five decades of automotive recycling success already achieved, Schuette was able to approach Gold Seal certification from a position of strength. “The Gold Seal requirements reflect the way we have always done business,” she explains. “In our case, we didn’t have to change anything major.”

Schuette recently completed service on the ARA Gold Seal committee, which has been working for more than a year under the leadership of Chair Amanda Matlock, HR Manager at Matlock’s Used Parts, Cleveland and Claremont, N.C., on redesigning the application process. “We reviewed the existing application line by line to see how it could be improved,” Schuette notes. “We feel the new application process will be clearer and easier to complete.” Coming in 2017, she adds, will be an online application process.

Generous Benefits Bring Benefits

Employees have contributed to the company’s success from its earliest days. Eschewing complicated commission or production-linked pay structures, Johannes Auto Sales takes a straightforward approach to compensation – pay a fair wage, expect employees to work hard and share profits at the end of a good year.

The compensation package includes a fully company-paid employee health plan (employees pay for dependent coverage), two weeks paid vacation based on length of service and a retirement plan with a three percent employer match.

Beyond the tangible rewards, employees also enjoy a corporate culture founded on the importance of family. “We pretty much try to run with that and create a family atmosphere,” Schuette says. For example, employees know they can leave early to take a child to an appointment or catch a son’s or daughter’s athletic event.

In turn, the company benefits from a hard-working, dedicated team of employees who share the company mission, vision and values. Many of the employees have been with Johannes Auto Sales for years, including a delivery driver who holds the record at 45 years and counting.

Solid work ethic, commitment to quality and a determination to exceed expectations are the simple principles that have fueled more than a half century of success for this auto recycler. And that, one might say, ain’t chicken feed.

Lynn Novelli is a freelance writer based in Ohio and a frequent writer for Automotive Recycling magazine.