By Michael Raine
At 62, Tom Huehn shows no signs of slowing down. Over the phone his voice is enthusiastic and his sentences punctuated with laughter. Huehn’s warm personality and infectious love of all things automotive are obvious the moment he starts talking. This, at least partially, may be the reason he has so successfully changed his local government’s perception of auto recycling. Together with his business partner, Bob Bridges, Huehn has integrated 400 Auto Wreckers in Holland Landing, ON into the local community.
Huehn has been in the automotive recycling business since 1984 and says the industry is currently in the best shape he’s seen it. ““We’ve changed so much with the accreditation and with the environmental audits, with the National Code of Practice, with the ongoing education,” he says.
Huehn is quick to give credit where it’s due, particularly to the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association (OARA). “I think that one of the most positive things for my business and our industry is our association with OARA. OARA provides us with so much education and so many benefits; OARA is really the thing that is going to save our industry,” Huehn states boldly.
For evidence of the auto recycling industry’s newfound credibility and environment awareness, Huehn points to the Retire Your Ride and Tire Take Back Days events. “When we did the tire program, I had five town councillors come to our business and want to get their picture taken and get involved. It wasn’t that they wanted their picture taken for a photo op. They were here getting their photo taken and saying, ‘we support what these guys are doing.’ Ten years ago they wouldn’t come near us.”
Huehn points out that changing negative perceptions doesn’t happen overnight. “It just happens slowly, and again I give OARA credit for that, they’ve given us so much credibility. The literature, the DVDs, the charity programs, all these things make people look at us differently than perhaps they have for the last decade.” He says that in the last three years especially, he has notice a marked shift in public and government perception of the auto recycling industry.
Within East Gwillimbury, the township in which Holland Landing is a part, Huehn has been instrumental in changing the negative perception of the industry. “You just have to approach them and invite them to your facility and show them what you’re doing and show them what you’re not doing,” he advises. "I was a speaker at the chamber of commerce and I didn’t focus on my particular business, I focused on my industry. I showed the OARA DVD and the response from those hundred people that were at that meeting was consistently, ‘I didn’t know. I wasn’t aware. Boy have things changed.’ They saw it in a whole different light once they got some education.”
However, it is not only the public has changed its mindset, Huehn says auto recyclers have shown an ability to change for the better. “Look at what the scores were and the number of people that passed independent environmental audits in order to be in the Retire Your Ride program,” he states. “The environmental audits were comprehensive and they were fair and they were honest and everybody had to work to upgrade themselves to pass and everybody did it. If you wanted in that program, you had to do some work, you had to make some changes, and you had to see things differently.”
Huehn says he doesn’t spend much money on advertising and the reason he’s been successful in getting the cooperation and support of the local government is his willingness to get out into the community. Because of this, he says, the town gave the program its full support. "We were able to put a huge tire sign on public land because they said, ‘what you’re doing is good.’ It went to council and council said this is a good thing and directed the people that run the town to get on board and do whatever they could to help.”
Looking forward, Huehn hopes that the auto recycling industry will build its credibility by issuing auto-recycling licences through the provincial government. In the meantime, he says auto recyclers should “just go out there and talk to [people]. Invite them to your business and work at changing people’s perceptions.”