JANUARY 2009

A Closer Look E-mail the author

Gray's Scrap Iron & Metal
Ashley Gray • 800-472-9722

“We’ve been in business since 1978,” Ashley Gray said, but that first business wasn’t anything like what it has grown into. In the beginning, Gray’s father was repairing Volkswagons. Later, the business moved to Nashville and expanded to include repairs of other foreign cars.

Volkswagons started fading from popularity, but new opportunities arose. “Dad started selling parts,” Gray said, “and in ’84 moved to the present location and opened a salvage yard.”

During that time, Gray was involved in the business. “I’ve worked with my dad since I was eight years old,” he said. Except for his time in college, “I’ve been working here all my life.” When his father died, Gray took over the company.

In 2006, the company bought 16 1/2 acres of property next to the salvage yard, and it was zoned to allow a scrap yard. In January of 2007, the yard opened as Gray’s Scrap Iron and Metal. Although Gray owns both, they are operated as separate businesses.

Between the two, Gray keeps busy. “I like to float around,” he said of his involvement in the two sides of the operation. “It’s hard to get me to sit still.”

One advantage to running both a salvage yard and a scrap yard is that “if inventory isn’t selling, we scrap it.” And when one business is slow, it helps to have the other. “The salvage side is doing great,” Gray said, even though the scrap business has been difficult in the current market.

Working with Gray are 27 employees, including some family members. His wife runs the scrap yard while his brother works “in the parts side” of the salvage business. His brother’s ex-wife also works for the company in the scrap business.

“We’re just a small-time business,” Gray said, “but we do all the stuff a big company can do, but with more service.” In fact, service is one thing Gray stresses. “If they want something ‘right now,’ I try to do that,” he said. It’s all about “doing what your customer asks – don’t drag your feet, do it. If we tell you we’re going to be there, we’re there.”

To get the job done, there are two tractors with four trailers, a roll-off truck with 25 containers, and a box truck for hauling nonferrous. Yard equipment includes cranes, crushers, a shear, and a car drainer for removing liquids from cars. Gray said that cars are crushed in a building, so there are no EPA issues, and all the liquids are recycled.

But it’s not all about the yards – the company will go to the customer sites for demolition jobs, to crush cars, or will send a crane to clean up piles of scrap. Gray said that his company will take heavy equipment that “nobody else will fool with.” Between his heavy-duty shear and his “two full-time torch guys,” he can scrap just about anything that comes in.

Pricing is always a challenge, and particularly with the drop in the market. “Prices fell off a cliff overnight,” Gray said. Now, people are holding onto their material rather than selling it. “Mills aren’t buying. Everything is getting stagnant.” Still, he’s looking for the best prices. “We go anywhere,” he said. “We’re looking for the best bang for the buck.”

Even with the bad economy, Gray’s likes the challenge. “I like the thrill of buying,” he said. “I like getting the deal done.”

Another challenge is “finding people to work,” and particularly finding younger employees who want to drive trucks or work in the yard rather than sitting in an office. However, low employee turnover means that he’s not hiring that often. In the salvage yard, some of the employees have been with the company for twenty years, working with Gray’s father since the beginning. On the scrap side, most have been with the company since it opened. “We’ve got a good crew,” he said.

Gray said that he was proud that he was able to carry on what his father started, and proud of the length of time the business has lasted. “I did what he told me to do – be humble – be true to your work,” And he credits that philosophy with the success of the business. “We’re growing at a steady pace; in the past two years, we’ve come a long way.”

As for the future? “I hope to God I’m here another 30 years. It’s a challenging time for everybody.”