By Steve Huffman
Donnie Myers cuts straight to the chase.
“I’ll bet you think that’s a pile of junk, don’t you?” he asks, motioning to a huge piece of metal framing with at least 20 aged, rusting fuse boxes attached.
At some point, this was probably the electrical centerpiece for a factory or warehouse.
But that was years ago.
Now, to the untrained eye, the contraption sure looks like trash, like something that’s been out of service for decades and left outside to weather.
But to Myers, this isn’t junk. It’s potential profit.
“I paid $500 for it,” Myers says of the frame and accompanying electrical boxes. “It came out of Virginia. We’ll make some money off of it.”
Myers says he’ll pull the copper wiring from the various boxes, strip the plastic covering and sell the wire. Eventually, he’ll sell the remaining frame for scrap.
Myers says that with any luck, his $500 investment will return a profit of $500 to $1,000.
One of the oldest rules of business is to find a niche and fill it. That’s what Myers is doing at SMR Core & Metal.
His business is located on Statesville Boulevard near its intersection with Hurley School Road. There, Myers and his employees buy aluminum, copper, stainless steel and brass as well as transmissions, starters and catalytic converters from cars.
The business is fairly booming. SMR is one of three shops in Rowan County that buys and sells scrap metal, the others being T.H. Davis on Sherrills Ford Road and Carroll Crawford on N.C. 801.
Myers started in the business almost a year ago, his shop opened initially on a part-time basis in the late afternoons.
Now, SMR Core & Metal is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“It’s something I started on the side and it has grown to this,” Myers says.
His wife, Sylvia, and his stepson, Ben Blake, typically run the operation on weekdays while Myers works at L. Gordon Iron & Metal in Statesville. He returns to Rowan County to work most afternoons.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Wayne Ruff, a tractor-trailer driver who makes a few extra dollars buying and stripping junked automobiles, pulls into the parking lot of SMR driving an aged pickup truck.
In the truck’s bed are 10 old car batteries. They fetch $5 apiece.
That’s down from the $8.50 they were bringing a few months ago, but it still gives Ruff a few dollars.
“Now I can go get myself a steak if I want it,” he says.
Ruff says anyone with the slightest bit of ambition can make money buying junked cars. He says those trashed vehicles can usually be had for $150 or less.
If the cars have aluminum wheels, those bring about $14 apiece. A car’s catalytic converter typically sells for $75 or more.
Radiators, starters and alternators can also be pulled off and sold. When it’s all said and done, the car’s carcass can be sold for scrap metal at a price of $8 per 100 pounds.
Ruff says it’s easy to make a $200 profit off a junked car bought for $150.
He says the war in Iraq is good for those looking to sell scrap metal.
“As long as they’re shooting up ammunition, lead’s going to stay high,” Ruff says.
On this particular day, Ruff and Myers pause to discuss the much-publicized problem with people stealing catalytic converters. Myers says catalytic converters can bring as much as $300, the plutonium and other chemicals included therein commanding top dollar.
But he says the state has taken steps to cut down on such thefts, since December requiring scrap metal dealers to get the names and addresses of those looking to sell the car parts.
They must verify those addresses through the individual’s driver’s license. The license plate number from the seller’s vehicle must also be recorded.
Ruff says there are plenty of junked vehicles available without having to resort to theft.
“You ain’t got to steal the (stuff),” he says. “It’s out there. All you got to do is ask. People who steal catalytic converters, they ought to be hung.”
Myers says it’s not just the theft of catalytic converters that the state is working to curtail. He says anyone who sells any scrap metal other than aluminum cans must complete a form that requires their name and address.
It’s part of legislation passed by the N.C. House and Senate last year.
Myers, 30, is a jovial sort who obviously enjoys talking. He says that a few years ago, he never would have believed he’d wind up running a scrap metal business.
Myers played in the offensive line at West Rowan High School before graduating in 1996. He says Catawba College offered him a football scholarship, but he figured he’d had a career waiting for him working on the family farm.
His family for years ran Jim Myers Produce on Potneck Road with a store on U.S. 601. But two years after Donnie graduated high school, the business closed.
“I kind of drifted from one job to another for a few years,” Myers admits.
He says he’s happy with what he’s doing now, though he admits that, as are most things in life, working as a scrap metal dealer is largely what you make of it.
Myers notes that anyone who gets in the business and doesn’t know what they’re doing is asking for trouble.
“You can lose your rear end in a heartbeat,” he warns.
As an example, Myers shows a huge strand of wiring that appears to be copper. But the wiring is in fact made of steel that’s coated with a copper glaze.
Steel, Myers says, doesn’t bring nearly as much as copper and, therefore, the wiring isn’t worth nearly as much as it appears to be to the untrained eye.
Myers says he pays $2.50 a pound for copper, and had he paid such an amount for 500 pounds of this wiring, “I’d be out over $1,000.”
As it is, he still struggles to keep his business in the black. Myers says that a few months ago, he bought 4,000 pounds of lead just before its price fell.
He says he had to hold the lead until the price rose again.
Myers hauls his products to centers in Concord, Statesville and Virginia for resell. “It just depends on where the best prices are,” he says.
Myers typically hauls away two or three loads a week.
On a stroll through a warehouse at his shop, Myers has neatly divided large boxes filled with everything from computer memory boards to old string trimmers and lawn mowers.
Another box is filled with copper pipes and one more contains aluminum radiators.
Just inside the door of the warehouse are dumbbells that someone brought in to sell. Myers laughs when he sees them, noting that they bring only 5 cents a pound.
“I guess somebody got tired of lifting weights,” he says.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.