Most young adults face a professional crossroads. But few forks in the road are as stark as the one faced by Mike Meyer at age 20.
“It was either fix cars or go to law school,” says Meyer, co-owner of PAM’s Auto in St. Cloud. “I was going to St. Cloud State and was fixing cars on the side to make a few extra dollars. I had already been admitted to William Mitchell.”
A soul-searching trip to Thailand to visit a brother in the Peace Corps convinced Meyer to go where he’d already built some groundwork. With partner Pat Huesers (who’s a co-owner), he started PAM’s Auto in 1991 as a body repair shop. By 1995, PAM’s was doing mechanical repair, body work, and auto salvage.
These days, PAM’s (the acronym stands for Pat and Mike’s) is something of a high-end auto salvage yard. In addition to auto repair, the company specializes in recycling auto parts—especially sought-after original factory parts.
“We recover vehicles that were totaled through an insurance claim, and we part them out,” says Meyer. “One of our main markets for reselling product is insurance repairs. The products we look for are [original] pieces versus aftermarket knockoffs.”
Glen Sunder, co-owner of Peter’s Body Shop in St. Cloud, has been buying used parts from PAM’s since it opened. “We have really good luck with them,” Sunder says. “They help us find unique body parts and mechanical parts on a regular basis.”
Using computer databases, the company manages and distributes an inventory of more than 100,000 coveted domestic and foreign parts. By supplying original parts, insurers are less likely to have to fill a new claim based on the failure of an inferior part down the road, making PAM a useful supplier.
“In that fashion, whether we’re in a recession or a strong economy, there’s always a place for us,” Meyer says. “Insurance companies are always looking to save money, regardless of what the market is like.”
Started in a humble two-car garage, PAM’s now employs 55 (with more hiring on the horizon in 2012), and is in the middle of a major expansion of its physical facilities. “We were on a 20-acre parcel, but we recently bought 36 additional acres,” says Meyer. “Now we’re doing a 25,000-square-foot building expansion. Our intention is another growth spurt.”
That sort of small but dramatic growth has always been part of the plan for Meyer and Huesers. It’s taken them two decades, but by employing incremental steps and a realistic attitude about their prospects, they’ve been able to tap a significant market.
“We didn’t anticipate being at the point where we are now,” says Meyer. “We were always looking to move forward. We’re making decisions that are scalable—always something we can build on. Our infrastructure and product flow is very strong, so we’ll just continue to build on that.”
Meyer hopes to create a new image for the humble repair and salvage service. The company’s facilities are clean and welcoming, indicating to visitors that they can come in and do business without encountering the grime of the job.
“We come from an industry that’s associated with junkyards,” says Meyer. “There are a lot of stereotypes about what we do.
We’ve taken it to a different level, where we operate a very professional, very clean, very environmentally friendly business, and provide a product that’s high quality, with a fantastic warranty.”
The “green” aspect is a crucial part of what PAM’s does: Its very business model is built on the environmentally sound triad of reduce, reuse, recycle—a philosophy that Meyer sees other, similar companies throughout the country adopting more and more. “We’re trying to change the image of not only our company, but of the industry as a whole.”
2011 revenue: Not provided