Driving car recycling to new level

Poole-based Charles Trent describes its innovative new vehicle recycling facility as an eco-friendly game changer. Tim Wickham finds out why from managing director Marc Trent.

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Marc, Jonathan and Neil Trent
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Charles Trent: No 158

The land Charles Trent bought to build its £10 million state-of-the-art 100,000 sq ft recycling plant, next to its current operation in Poole, is exactly the spot where the family business started out. “Our great, great grandfather set up his scrapyard business here in the 1920s,” said Marc Trent.

The new site will allow the company to consolidate its position in the vehicle recycling market. Growth has been largely organic. Annual turnover rose from £26m last year to £30m this year.

Ground-breaking developments

Once the new Poole facility has been tried and tested it will provide the blueprint for the company’s ambitious plans to open similar recycling plants across the country, with the next one earmarked for the Midlands. Currently, Charles Trent recycles 96.2% of materials and the new facility is expected to take this up to nearer 99%. Nowadays, synthetic foam is one of the few non-recyclable parts in a car.

“We are introducing lean processes in conjunction with innovative technologies. This will allow us to take cars to pieces with everything happening inside the building from dismantling to storage of reclaimed parts.

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We’ll be able to fully strip a car in around 15 minutes,” said Trent. “We believe it will be the first of its kind in the UK, a game changer in terms of economies of scale.”

Expanding the workforce

The company plans to take on a further 30 to 40 people when the new facility opens, increasing its workforce to around 240, with the majority based in Poole. “We hope we will attract different types of people as we’ll need new skills that are far beyond those you find in a traditional breaker’s scrapyard,” said Trent.

Big part to play

Charles Trent takes cars, many from insurers, and either repurposes and auctions them via its website, trents.co.uk or breaks them down and sells their parts, mainly on eBay. What is left over is sold as scrap. Trent estimates the new facility will enable it to retrieve 80% of the copper wiring loom and convert copper to granules worth over £4,000 per tonne, compared to £75 per tonne if left in the car. Currently, the business turnover is divided roughly equally between the three areas, auction, parts and scrap.

With the high price of new cars, Trent described demand for used parts as phenomenal. “Our parts sales are up about 40% compared with last year,” he said.

That demand is growing as cars generally last longer and new replacement parts can be costly. However, as consumer attitudes shift away from car ownership even if the size of the car market declines Trent is confident the economies of scale his business can achieve will help it to stay ahead.

“With around 36 million fossil-fuel cars in the UK it’s going to take a very long time for them to all to disappear,” he observed, “and our new facility will handle electric cars too.”

Trusted brand

In an industry often regarded as mucky, noisy and old fashioned, Trent believes the company stands out. “People trust our brand,” he said. “All our parts come with warranties and we can trace every part back to the original vehicle manufacturer. We sell about 80% of our parts on eBay, which is a reliable channel that provides instant customer feedback.”

Keeping it in the family

The fourth-generation brothers Marc, Neil and Jonathan currently run the business with the fifth generation of the family already involved. Trent said: “There’s nothing better than working with your family. We are each responsible for different areas and get on really well. We’re a family business with a corporate attitude.”

In recent years, the family has turned down “very generous” offers to buy the business. “There’s too much to be done – we’re in one of the most exciting times in the past 10 years for the automotive recycling sector,” he said. “And anyway, we see ourselves as custodians of the business for our future generations.”

Electric and autonomous cars present challenges and opportunities for the company. “Whatever happens, we’re ready,” said Trent.

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