Mark Gilmore, Director of Ecopart, based in Antrim, Northern Ireland, which provides a green solution to repairing vehicles, tells us about its history, current operation, and what he predicts could happen after Brexit.
For our readers who may not know much about Ecopart, can you tell us a little about its history and growth?
The company was started by Robert Gilmore back in the 1980s not as Ecopart but under the family name Gilmore Motors. Primarily we dealt in salvage and vehicle repairs buying salvage from the mainland and selling throughout Ireland. As time progressed, we started to dismantle vehicles purchasing depollution equipment and obtaining an ATF licence.
Ecopart was incorporated in 2009 and I [Mark Gilmore] took over the business. The company has grown year on year investing heavily and has developed into the modern and progressive motor vehicle recycler we are today.
Bringing us up to date, can you describe your current operation?
We employ 20 staff, from admin, sales, dismantlers, customer service advisors, lorry drivers etc. There are currently three depollution stations and seven dismantling bays. We employ a range of equipment from various manufacturers, Green Car, Lefort, Powerhand, to name a few. We process around 5000 vehicles per annum; this is increasing year on year as we adapt and change our processes to move with current trends.
A significant volume of our sales is via the eBay platform, although we generate a healthy volume through counter sales. We are in the process of upgrading our website to make our e-commerce presence more accessible and user friendly to encourage more organic growth in sales.
With a name like Ecopart, it is apparent that you have made a conscious decision to promote the environmental benefits of recycling vehicles. Why did you decide upon this and how important do you think it is that customers need to be aware of the link between buying salvaged parts and its relationship to the environment? By stating these eco-credentials, does it help your image as a vehicle recycler?
The name was a statement by the company to illustrate our commitment to environmentally friendly practices; from the internal methods we use to extract, store and recycle the hazardous materials from ELV’s, and the benefits of using secondhand parts and their contribution makes to the circular economy.
Zero net carbon is a big target to meet by 2050. However, we can assist large multinational companies, and the general public reaches these targets by re-using quality parts that are given a second life reducing the carbon impact of the original product and diverting raw virgin materials in the production of new parts.
Speaking of image and how parts can now be shipped to customers worldwide, what role do you think vehicle recyclers can play in their local communities?
In 2020, with the impact COVID-19 has had, we feel that servicing the local community’s needs is greater than ever. Long supply chains are being stretched further than before and illustrate the weakness inherited within our reliance on manufacturers that are thousands of miles away. By sourcing, testing and providing quality used parts, hopefully, we can provide a service that can bridge the current gaps in supply chains and ensure the local community can repair and maintain their vehicles for essential use.
It is impossible not to ask about two things at the moment. The first is the COVID pandemic; how did you cope and what changes did you have to make to operate? Was there a noticeable change in the types of orders you were receiving, and were you able to utilise the time to develop the business?
Initially, we decided to close during the first lockdown, which was put down to the confusion and conflicting information that was circulating in relation to who was classed as an essential service and who was not.
After clarification and the implementation of an updated COVID-19 risk assessment and the introduction of hand sanitising stations, regular cleansing of stations, plant and equipment and refresher training for all the employees, we were able to re-open through a reduced public-facing capacity. We introduced customer parts collection bays in restricted areas, where customers could pay online or on the phone and collect their goods from the allocated collection location.
We saw an upsurge in on-line transactions, which was very helpful. But we had to adjust our processes to adapt to the increase in packing and shipping. We also changed shipping providers as we encountered an increase in shipping issues; because the volume of sales increased, the carrier just seemed unable to cope, indicating that all SLA’s were cancelled, and contractual conditions were suspended due to the pandemic. That is all in the past now as we have partnered with a carrier that is fulfilling all our current needs and provides a great service.
We also spent some of the initial lockdown period finalising the introduction of a new Wi-Fi system covering the whole site; we upgraded our servers, our network hardware and all the terminals.
We also decided to completely re-brand our company (retaining ECOPART) though giving it a new fresh and modern look, projecting a more professional and industry conscious feel. All our social media platforms are completed, and we launched a new e-bay shop, so look out for our new website coming soon.
The other elephant in the room is Brexit. What effect do you think this may have on you, especially as you are in Northern Ireland? Are you making any specific preparations?
Brexit is a tough one. To date, we have had no real clarification of what to expect. There is so much conflicting information out there, one minute the border is in the Irish sea, the next minute it is at the border with the Irish republic. The introduction of the internal market bill brings an additional uncertain element to the transition period. The effects of this are yet to be determined. We may end up with unfettered access to EU markets and GB markets. Though it seems some goods incoming to NI from GB may be subject to additional checks, tariffs or customs, so it seems like the final cost of some goods may increase.
Traditional supply chains may ebb and flow over a period until we reach a point where the trade deal has been reached, and we can unequivocally determine our position and relative costs incurred. In relation to the preparation, all we can currently do is continue to monitor the situation closely and remain flexible enough to react quickly to whatever final legislation is introduced and try to stay competitive and ahead of the pack.
With the government declaring its desire to stop sales of new petrol and diesel engines, what effect do you think this will have on vehicle recycling in the UK? Will there be benefits in potential demand for second-hand parts? Also, are you or will you start making any preparations for dealing with electric vehicles as their popularity grows and they make their way into our yards?
As previously mentioned, we are committed to continually improving our environmental performance and doing whatever we can to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.
The phase-out of the internal combustion engine and the introduction of electric propulsion vehicles is a step in the right direction. We see the change as an opportunity to embrace, sure, there will be complications, the need for additional training and modifying our operations, though change should be embraced especially when it is a change to protect and improve the quality of the environment.
We have been researching vehicle systems and components and looking at how we must prepare for the changes that are to be introduced to our operations. Keeping our staff safe and providing a quality service to our customers is paramount. The introduction of electric vehicles is just a new phase in the ever-evolving world of vehicle recycling.
To find out more about Ecopart, please visit ecopart.co.uk