With a truly impressive 111-year history of supporting communities through the recovery, processing, and recycling of scrap metal, ABC Recycling, a Canadian family-owned business, services clients across Western Canada with nine facilities in British Columbia and Alberta.
The company provides a wide range of services including pickup of scrap metal using its container service, off-site clean-up after demolition, brokerage, and derailment clean-up.
ABC’s long legacy began in 1912 when Joseph Yochlowitz started selling backyard scrap to make ends meet after arriving in Vancouver from Poland with his family. Sons Daniel and Charlie joined him and by the 1920s, the family firm, Service Auto Wrecking, had been founded on Main Street.
In 1949, Daniel started his own scrap metal business, ABC Salvage & Metal, which grew over the next two decades, before his sons acquired a share in the company. In the 1970s, ABC moved from its small Vancouver location to a new 10 acre Burnaby location and began the transition from salvage to recycling, as Daniel handed over control of the business to his son Harold.
Although industry competition intensified in the 1980s, ABC was able to weather the storm due to combined family efforts and the company’s solid relationships with clients, suppliers, and financial and legal counsel.
In 1988, Harold’s son David became the fourth generation of the Yochlowitz family serving full-time at ABC and continues to uphold the long-standing ideals inherited from the company’s founders, together with other family members who fill significant positions in the firm today, including Harold’s son Mike, COO, and Karen Alko, Manager of Community Relations.
“David’s been at the helm since 1990, and really pushed the business forward, as we’ve expanded dramatically in that time,” says Randy Kahlon, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
The company recently opened its newest location in Bellingham, WA, an hour-and-a-half north of Seattle, and has also entered into a long-term strategic lease agreement to utilize its deep-sea water port, enabling ABC to move into the deep-sea bulk dry vessel market for ferrous scrap material.
“Another major accomplishment that was a milestone for the business was successfully shipping our first 23,000-metric-ton bulk vessel load in October,” says Kahlon. “That’s something we’ve been working on extensively for the past year-and-a-half.”
Setting up operations and investing $9 million into the facility, for equipment and people, and making the port suitable for shipping ferrous material has led to huge economic activity in Whatcom County, and brought new life and blood into the region, he adds. “It’s 45 minutes south of the Canadian border, so it’s strategically quite advantageous from a logistical standpoint to access. It’s been a huge advancement for us.”
After previously sending ocean containers to multiple destinations for ferrous scrap—Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Bangladesh—ABC decided to go to the next level and enter the bulk vessel marketplace.
“That’s all prelude for us to continue investing in the Washington marketplace with the shredding operation,” Kahlon says. “So we’re at the preliminary stages from a permitting perspective and part of getting our shredder operational for 2024.”
The company has purchased a large chunk of land in the Bellingham region, close to the port, viewing that as the next and final stage of getting into the top tier of metal recycling organizations within North America.
“Our CEO has a vision of being in the top 20 ferrous producing companies within North America by 2030,” says Kahlon. “So we have growth ambitions to triple our volume and our revenue within this current decade.”
It appears that ABC is on its way to meeting that goal at present, with 25,000 metric tons of steel and about 2,500 metric tons of non-ferrous commodities monthly, coupled with the successful completion of its first cargo load.
“It’s a totally different way of shipping with a lot of complexity behind it,” says Kahlon. “But we plan on doing one every two months now. So, we’re right in the heart of that, we’ve broken through that wall, and we’ve successfully shipped out our first ship without any major complications.”
ABC’s successes wouldn’t be possible, however, without a fundamental dedication to company culture, which is a “huge” part of the company’s mandate.
“It’s a family-based business,” Kahlon says. “It’s a very flat organization, from the standpoint that anybody has a straight line, open-door ability to speak to the owner, any given day of the week. It’s that type of organization. It’s a very family-based, very wholesome, organic culture that we live within.”
And by treating employees “extremely well,” the company gets that back tenfold, Kahlon adds.
“They put people’s emotions, how they’re feeling and how they can be impacted and contribute to the business at the forefront of interactions with employees,” he says. “It’s tremendous to be part of an organization like that, that puts the people first.”
ABC also regularly engages in social events that bring continuity and synergy to staff, from bringing in food trucks, to allowing working from home and bringing kids to work if the need arises. Kahlon says that this sense of family extends to clients as well, who are regularly treated to hockey games and golf tournaments and are welcome to join any company activities.
ABC also makes community involvement a top priority, giving employees two paid days a year for volunteerism directed toward any sort of community initiative that has significant personal value to them, be it helping at a soup kitchen or winter jacket drive.
“It doesn’t have to be directly a company initiative, just what means something to that person,” says Kahlon.
Over and above that, ABC also participates in several initiatives for food banks, particularly during the holiday season.
“For Christmas time food drives we challenge each other about who can bring in more food,” Kahlon says. “And at a corporate level, we’re part of the Social Purpose Institute, which is led by the United Way.”
The company is one of the first 30 companies in Canada to be a part of the program which is driven toward discovering your purpose as an organization.
“We went through some of the key United Nations initiatives as a definition of social purpose. We identified four major actions within the United Nations plan such as sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, production, climate action, and Indigenous equity, and we zeroed in on that to define our purpose.”
ABC’s purpose statement included building thriving communities by accelerating metal recycling, which company leaders have taken to the next step, particularly in establishing a path toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and respecting and acknowledging the inherent rights of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples in Canada.
“We want to have our hands on supporting those Indigenous communities, through training, providing equipment—for example, Freon extraction equipment—and providing transportation and education and employment opportunities,” Kahlon says.
The company is committed to providing up to 1.5 percent yearly of its net income and directing that toward community initiatives, whether Indigenous communities or a charitable organization that may be more relevant to the communities where an ABC yard is located.
To that end, the company has routinely taken a strong and deliberate approach to getting involved with and supporting primary First Nations as far away as Slave Lake.
“Because it’s logistically incredibly difficult to service them, we’re trying to find ways of working with the local and provincial governments to find subsidy programs to help clean up those communities,” Kahlon says.
Even though ABC doesn’t have a yard in Northwest Territories, the company has invested time and energy in building relationships with the intent of creating programs to present to the governments to get subsidies to help those communities. ABC now has more than 10 joint-venture agreements with First Nations bands.
“We’ve taken a lot of time and energy focusing on that,” says Kahlon, adding that ABC has also hired a “fantastic” Indigenous consultant. Of the company’s 220 employees, about 90 percent have gone through full Indigenous awareness and sensitivity training.
“The company made major cost and time commitments to address, educate, and identify,” he says. “It’s a major part of our values, and it’s how we want to proceed as an organization in the marketplace.”
Growing through challenge
Although ABC is aware that it has already achieved much, challenges in the metal recycling industry are constant, says Kahlon, whether geopolitical—with the Russia-Ukraine war displacing commodities and disrupting supply chains all over the world—or COVID’s knock-on economic effects.
“We’re facing that all the time, major supply disruptions, commodity prices, prices, spikes, and supply-demand changes,” he says. “And now we’re facing declining economic conditions, lowering of demand for the overall production of finished goods, rising energy costs, rising interest rates, and increasing cost of overall business while revenues are diminishing. So we’re entering a very volatile period with economic turmoil in very difficult operating conditions.”
Despite the ongoing hardships, Kahlon adds, ABC is looking to grow and continually add to its network of acquisitions in the near future. Economic conditions permitting, maybe 12 yards in two years, 15 yards in five or six years, while continuing to grow organically through investment in the shredder.
And despite other challenges—including certain countries putting strict restrictions on materials such as insulated wiring to control quality—resulting in a shifting marketplace, ABC is determined to meet every challenge.
“There’s always another market and always another option. You have to figure it out or look at the arbitrage to see if that’s better for you,” Kahlon says. “What does the future hold for regulatory concerns? That’s a constant challenge for us, and we have to navigate that by being flexible and nimble which allows us to change rapidly.”