By Alex Ewalt
Ross Kogon says his family’s business was involved in recycling before “recycling” was a buzzword.
“For us, being green, caring about the environment…we did it before it was cool,” said Kogon, who’s president and CEO of Pull-A-Part, a used auto parts company. “It’s the way we’ve always done business and we think it’s good business.”
Kogon’s family has been in the scrap-metal business in Atlanta since 1917. The company holds to the principles of its founder, Morris Cohen, who recognized early on the importance of reusing metal from the burgeoning auto industry.
Founded in 1997 as an extension of that operation, Pull-A-Part started with one Atlanta location off Buford Highway. The company now operates three locations in Atlanta and 27 nationally.
The model is simple: Pull-A-Part provides a do-it-yourself way for customers to acquire rare or discontinued parts by making use of vehicles that otherwise would sit rusting or would go straight to the junkyard.
According to Executive Vice President Steve Levetan, up to 14 million cars are scrapped in the United States every year. “We all have a stake in making sure automobiles are safely and environmentally recycled, and that we get the most benefit from them,” Levetan said. “It’s not just ‘crush them up and put them in a furnace.’”
Doraville-based Pull-A-Part has spread its locations to 12 states as far west as Arizona and as far north as Ohio and Indiana. There are 1,500 to 2,000 cars at each location, Levetan said. The cars are acquired from individuals, insurance companies and auctions every day. No car stays on the lot more than 90 days, and pricing is flat — based on type of part, not type of car.
“A door is the same price whether it’s from a BMW or a VW,” Levetan said.
Pull-A-Part was one of a few pioneering companies to develop a model in which incoming cars are drained of all hazardous materials, including gasoline, oil, antifreeze, brake fluid and Freon. Those materials are then recycled off-site. “We designed our system from Day One to make sure that we’re handling all the material in the most environmentally safe and sound way possible,” Kogon said.
Pull-A-Part has collected a number of awards on the state and national level, but perhaps Kogon and Levetan are most proud of an honor by the Environmental Protection Agency for their work recovering mercury switches.
The small units were used up until 2003 under trunks and hoods to switch lights on, and contain a gram of mercury, which, Levetan said, can contaminate up to 132,000 gallons of drinking water.
The EPA honored Pull-A-Part for its work with an event at one of its Atlanta locations that was attended by Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.
After the cars have been prepped, they are organized in the lot by manufacturer. Customers use a database to locate the model of their choice and then can access the lot to look for the parts they need.
“It’s all do-it-yourself, so you see customers walking in with their own tools,” Levetan said.
Albany, Ga., resident James King drove to the Lithonia location to look for parts for a 1989 Chevrolet.
“The price that you get the parts here for is such a savings that it’s worth me driving 200 miles to get them,” King said. “You can get for $100 here what would cost way over $1,000 if you got it new from a Chevrolet dealer, if they even had it.
“So it’s a dual thing. It’s availability of parts plus the savings and price.”
Kogon and Levetan, who both live in Sandy Springs, provide the Sandy Springs Fire Department and Police Department with a venue and vehicles for training exercises such as the Jaws of Life.
The company provides similar services at its locations across the country.
“It’s not just about the business, but about our community, our place in the community and our responsibility to the community,” Kogon said. “If you’re planning on being there for generations, you have to take care of your business and make sure your business is helping your community.”