By Rod Lee
Sprawled on eighteen acres at the intersection of Old Douglas Road and Rt. 16 in Webster, LKQ New England’s auto-recycling facility looks like most any other salvage operation—at first glance.
It isn’t, and the specter of forklift and back-loader trucks scurrying about the grounds all morning and afternoon, an 80,000-square-foot warehousing component and remnants of totaled vehicles stacked on a large steel rack at the back of the property are an indication that Chicago-based LKQ Corporation’s Webster site is a breed apart.
No one knows this better than Plant Manager Darrel Weston.
As an employee who started with the company as a route salesman ten years ago in Plattsburgh, New York, Mr. Weston has personally witnessed LKQ’s astounding growth with a now-worldwide presence and the recent addition of airplane engines to the inventory it acquires for reclamation.
“We are the largest distributor of salvage parts and Keystone after-market products and accessories in the U.S.,” Mr. Weston said last week from his office in a commercial building that sits at the end of an access road high above the yard. Although LKQ New England’s primary focus “is wholesale” to customers like “Twisted Piston, right down the road” and collision shops and garages, retail is not overlooked. Someone looking for an alternator for a Chevy pickup can come by LKQ for that part—for instance.
Mr. Weston describes his time with LKQ—a S&P 500 and Fortune 500 company—as “a fast-paced whirlwind tour” that initially included wintertime ferry trips across Lake Champlain from Plattsburgh to Colchester, Vermont (“a little scary”) and stints in Portland and Gorham, Maine before his arrival in Webster.
His ascension within the company is a reflection of LKQ’s own rise in its field. Formed in 1998 through the combination of a number of wholesale recycled products businesses and then expanded by way of internal development and more than 220 acquisitions of aftermarket, recycled, refurbished and remanufactured products suppliers and manufacturers, self-service enterprises and specialty aftermarket equipment and accessories suppliers, LKQ has been on a steady upward trend ever since.
One of its most recent moves, completed in April of 2016, was acquisition of Pittsburgh Plate Glass Works LLC. In a statement issued at the time, LKQ President and CEO Robert L. Wagman hailed LKQ’s entrance into “the sizeable auto-glass market” as evidence that “we continue to grow our industry-leading position and product offerings to further serve the needs of our professional repairer customer” (Mr. Wagman recently announced that he was stepping aside for health reasons and is being succeeded by Dominick P. Zarcone who was LKQ’s CFO and the man responsible for taking LKQ public in 2003 when he was with Baird—a financial services firm).
Understandably, Mr. Weston is an avid spokesperson for LKQ. As such, he makes a point of noting that the LKQ story is about more than buying late-model vehicles at auction and repurposing their parts. “We also remove the fuel in them to power our delivery trucks and we burn the oil from them in our furnaces,” he said. “As a large company we have a large responsibility to be in compliance. We even reuse washer fluid.”
Another reflection of LKQ’s environmentally-conscious approach is its all-dirt parking lot and grounds, avoiding potentially hazardous runoff.
The Webster location’s approximately eighty employees include personnel that handle all of the accounting for the company’s New England area, dismantlers, warehouse workers, loader operators, inventory workers and more. Buyers assigned to the auction conduct most of their prep work online.
LKQ New England belongs to and adheres to the Automobile Recyclers Association’s standards for grading parts, ensuring that engines, transmissions (the two most popular items sought), hoods, doors, fenders, head lamps, tail lamps and so onare top grade.
Mr. Weston also takes pride in LKQ New England’s community involvement, in partnering with such projects as the Reconciliation House and Officer Phil. And, he said, “I’m proud that we fully support our local services; the fire department’s training activities, and the police bring their search dogs here.”
The Webster site, Mr. Weston said, is “relatively small, LKQ-wise. Leominster is much bigger.”
As for the LKQ saga, the next exciting chapter remains to be written.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.