Spokane Journal of Business

Giving new life to outboards

  • Print Article

Need a water pump impeller for a 1974 9.8-horsepower Mercury outboard motor? How about new ignition coils for a 57 Johnson trolling motor or a switch box for a 79 115-horse Mercury outboard?

Vintage Outboard & Marine Supply, a 4-year-old mail-order business that operates out of its owners South Hill home, likely has got your part.

The one-man operation sells worldwide new, reproduction, and used parts for Johnson, Evinrude, and Mercury outboard motors built between the mid-1950s and the early 1980s.

Owner Doug Brooke says that until the Internet became popular, it had been difficult for owners of older outboard motors to find replacement parts. Many of the parts are no longer available from the manufacturers. Also, the market for the parts is fairly sparse, although the demand stretches around the globe, he says.

The Internet has become the perfect vehicle to market parts, Brooke says.

Vintage Outboard launched its Web site, at www.vintageoutboard.com, in 1998. Prior to that, Brooke mostly had sold gaskets that he had made in Southeast Asia for 1947-1960 Mercury outboard motors. His sales channel was a mail-order catalog he produced and mailed to members of antique outboard motor clubs.

Since launching his Web site, however, he has been able to expand the number of parts he sells and add to the types of motors for which he sells parts. As a result, his business volume has increased threefold since he started the company in 1997, Brooke says. He declines to disclose the businesss annual revenue, but says that Vintage Outboard currently ships orders to about 25 customers a week. He adds that Vintage Outboard wont ship an order for under $25 and some orders total as much as $900.

Brooke, an outboard-motor enthusiast himself, has helped customers in England, Portugal, New Zealand, and Australia, although most of his customers are located in the U.S. or Canada, he says.

Vintage Outboards customers generally fall into one of two categoriesthose who need parts for avocation or necessity. Theyre either restoring or rebuilding old outboard motors because they have an appreciation for them or because they race with antique motors through various boating clubs, or theyre fixing up their old motors, Brooke says.

There were tens of thousands of outboard motors made in the 80s, 70s, 60s, and 50s that still are being used regularly, Brooke says. Outboards rarely wear out, but certain parts just deteriorate with age. So, these people need a source for parts.

Brooke keeps at least 5,000 new and reproduction parts on hand in his basement and warehouses in a storage unit another about 100 old motors that he cannibalizes for additional parts when he needs them, he says.

When asked how he gets the old motors, Brooke replied, I scrounge here and there.

Additionally, Brooke is a dealer for new, aftermarket parts produced by Litchfield, Ill.-based Sierra Parts. Sierra makes a variety of replacement parts, such as water pump impellers, which draw water through the engine to cool it; switch-box assemblies; ignition coils; trigger assemblies; and stators, which are charging units that run a motors ignition system, Brooke says.

Vintage Outboards also resells service manuals to help backyard mechanics.

Brooke, who previously had worked in the finance industry for 20 years, decided to start his parts business after he realized that he wouldnt be happy continuing to work in a corporate environment.

When I started this, a lot of people thought this couldnt work, Brooke says. I was even doubtful. This wasnt a sure thing at all.

After much hard work and many long hours, he has made it goeven in the somewhat cyclical industry, Brooke says. He says Vintage Outboard tends to remain extremely busy from March through September, with sales slowing somewhat from November to February.

This winter Brooke hopes to make some changes to his operation that would help it to run more efficiently. If hes able to accomplish that, he plans to expand his product line further to include boating accessories, including fuel tanks, propellers, boat fenders, control boxes, and even epoxies and other repair products.

First I need to make things more efficient, because right now Im running out of time and energy, Brooke says.

Brooke believes one thing that sets him apart from other parts sellers is that he has worked on the old model outboards. During the 1970s, when Brooke was in his 20s, he raced, collected, repaired, and restored outboard motors. He even worked as a mechanic in a boat shop.

The people I talk to oftentimes need a lot of help and advice, and that can be difficult to come by unless youve had experience working on the motors like I have, Brooke says. There are a lot of people selling parts who have little or no experience actually working on motors.

  • Lisa Harrell

  • Follow RSS feed for Lisa Harrell

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list