ASTORIA — Englund Marine’s humble beginnings in a 50-by-50 shop 70 years ago have transformed into a regional powerhouse with retail and wholesale operations as far south as Phoenix to as far east as Missoula, Mont.
Axel Englund, Hiram Johnson, Ole Englund and a bookkeeper, Helen Koski, opened the doors on 15th Street on July 22, 1944, Jon Englund recalls.
He’s Axel’s son and he currently runs the company with his son, Kurt. His son Jay runs the raft shop in Warrenton.
Jon’s uncle Chet Vincent helped finance the business.
“I think 10,000 bucks,” Jon said. “I don’t know that exactly.”
Axel worked at the Astoria satellite of the Portland-based Beebe Company. Fishermen and Shell Oil encouraged him to open his own shop, Jon said. He sold fuel at the dock, an enticement to boats plying the river.
From that single store Jon and Englund Marine Group grew up.
The company now consists of Englund Marine & Industrial Supply with Oregon stores in Astoria, Coos Bay and Newport; the raft shop in Warrenton; Washington stores in Ilwaco and Westport; California locations in Crescent City and Eureka; Marine Wholesale in Phoenix; and U.S. Distributing in Portland and Montana.
The Portland, Arizona and Montana locations are wholesale operations.
“You wouldn’t think in Phoenix there would be anything,” Jon said, “but [there’s plenty] with the Colorado River and the lakes, and we do a big business into California out of Phoenix.”
In fact, the company just outgrew the 16,000-square-foot warehouse that’s been the Phoenix home for more than 20 years. They’re moving into a 30,000-square-foot facility.
That’s been driven by an increase in California sales, Jon said.
Jon sees the success of the company in its teamwork.
“It’s not how many stars you have on the floor all the time, it’s what kind of team you have,” he said.
A sports team with nothing but superstars usually doesn’t work as well as team working as a unit, he added.
Maintaining that attitude across a company spread out across the West Coast can be a challenge, he admits.
“We visit now with technology,” he said. “It’s really helped us communicate a lot better. It used to be by phone; of course when fax came in we thought we were really into the future, but that’s a difficult thing — to try and maintain that and try and find people who will buy into that.”
It hasn’t always been perfectly smooth sailing, but the company looks for employees who mesh with that family philosophy.
Communication and events such as the company’s five-year gatherings help maintain the family feel of the company.
The gatherings started in the 1980s, not too long after Axel Englund died, Jon explained.
“When the principal dies and everybody goes, ‘What the hell’s gonna happen?’ Suddenly they’ve got a junior guy like me and they wondered if I was going to make it.”
It’s not cheap. He said the company uses airline miles and credit card perks to help defray the costs of bringing employees and their significant others to Astoria.
“The people coming up here from Arizona think they’re really coming into the wild West,” he said. “We have a big crab feed for ‘em, and they get to see rain and big boats.”
It’s also important to get everybody to understand what everybody else does and how important they are, he said.
The Arizona staff is accustomed to moving wholesale parts and accessories for recreational boats.
Some of the merchandise crosses over, he said, some pumps are the same, but most of the parts going into the trawlers, shrimpers and other blue-water boats are heavier duty.
The Englund crews gathered on Jan. 24 for their meeting at headquarters and crab feed at the Red Building. It was a special event as the company celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
The Englunds continue to look ahead. The company recently bought the former Pacific Machine Shop behind the flagship store on Hamburg Avenue. They will use the facility to consolidate stock spread out between Warrenton and a storage area in the original store over the water at the end of 15th Street.
Jon said the company has been upgrading infrastructure the past few years. The Ilwaco store was remodeled in 2012; new stores were built in Charleston and Newport. The Crescent City store will be rebuilt this year.
Kurt Englund said the company will be working on an interactive website where retail customers can order online.
“We have over 70,000 items in the company, so it’s a lot of resources and time to get it presentable on the website, and the logistics. It’s a big unknown as far as how much it will bring us as far as business and how that will change our warehouse here…. If you knew how much business that would bring right out of the gate you could prepare for it.”
The company has offered the service to wholesale customers for the past few years.
“As far as expansion goes, as opportunities come up, we’ll take advantage if they fit us,” he said.
Like with Fisher Brothers Industrial Supply.
“It’s something that kind of came to us, so we took advantage of it,” he said. “There are things that aren’t always planned for, but if they come to us, we decide what we want to do.”
Kurt grew up in the company. He always expected to join the company some day.
“I went off to college at Oregon and came back,” he said. “I looked around at opportunities and said, ‘This suits me well and I like the area and the line of work and the people we work with,’ and I didn’t see myself putting on a coat and tie and going to work every day.”