Lakeside Marine on the move
This year, Japanese outboard manufacturer, Tohatsu, is celebrating 60 years since it introduced its first model.
This year marks the 60th anniversary since the Japanese outboard manufacturer, Tohatsu, introduced its first model - a tiny 1.5hp engine - in 1956. It was a historic moment for the boating sector, marking the arrival of the first Japanese-made outboard on the market. Over the years other Japanese-made brands have entered the market but Tohatsu was the original pioneer and it has remained a market leader ever since.
Today, Tohatsu is the second largest manufacturer of outboard engines in the world, both under its own name and as an OEM. Every engine is manufactured at the company's modern production facility at Komagane in Nagano Prefecture where it has the capacity to put out 200,000 units per year. In 2014, the group announced that it had achieved total production of 3.5 million outboards. The quality of its engineering is recognised throughout the industry, as is shown by the fact that the company makes engines for several other brands including Mercury and BRP (Evinrude) in the smaller engine sizes.
While the 60th birthday is obviously a major milestone for Tohatsu, it is also a significant moment for long-time Australian distributor, Lakeside Marine.
Based on the NSW central coast, Lakeside Marine has been a trailblazer in developing the local boating market, firstly by taking on the distribution of Tohatsu in NSW in 1988 and then in building a network of dealers and distributors throughout Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands stretching as far afield as PNG and Tahiti.
In total there are now about 100 dealers in Australia, 30 in New Zealand and another five throughout the islands, ensuring that wherever customers are located throughout the region they have access to qualified, skilled Tohatsu technicians. While perhaps lacking the brand recognition of some its high profile Japanese counterparts, over the past 28 years Tohatsu has built a well-established presence in the region and is highly regarded in the boating market.
Right place, right time
Lakeside Marine managing director, Michael Goddard, said having a locally-owned company supporting the dealership network had been key to building the Tohatsu brand in Australia.
“The fact that it is a family-backed business and Australian-owned company means we can react a lot quicker,” he said. “When people are talking to us they’re talking straight to the business owners and we are able to make decisions on the spot.”
Goddard recalled that, back in 1988 when the company first formed a relationship with Tohatsu as dealer for NSW, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
“In the mid-eighties, Tohatsu was releasing a lot of new products. Right at the point when we got involved they were producing new engine designs and what they were bringing to market was really good. So the timing was perfect. We were right at the start of the new generation engines.
“The company was very confident about what it was doing and they were coming out with a lot of well-designed lightweight, powerful engines.”
As a result, Tohatsu became the dominant force in the small engine market, trusted for its durability and reliability. Today it supplies models across all types of engine technology - two-stroke, TLDI (Two stroke Low pressure Direct Injection) and four-stroke engines. Increasingly too, the company is looking to move up the power range, reflecting the fact that in the mid-range boat market, users are opting for more powerful engines suitable for offshore excursions. Under its OEM agreement with Honda, the company also supplies a range of four-stroke engines from 60hp up to 250hp.
“When you look at the Tohatsu product it is probably one of the most complete brands,” said Goddard. “It has the full range of two stroke, direct injection two stroke engines and now a range of four stroke engines from 2.5hp right up to 250hp.”
With a wider range of engines at its disposal, Lakeside Marine is looking to provide support to its dealers - many of whom started out as small mechanic shops - to take the next step and become full-service marine outlets offering boat sales along with Tohatsu as the main outboard brand.
Having a full range of engines on offer means those dealers can now be confident of supplying the right boat package to potential customers whatever their boating needs. To assist the dealers to take that step, Lakeside Marine has appointed Brett Hampson, formerly with Yamaha, as business development manager to provide additional support.
Room for future growth
Lakeside Marine, too, has continued to grow over the years as the outboard market has evolved. Having started out as a retail and boat repair business on the lakes entrance at Budgewoi (hence Lakeside), the company moved to bigger premises at nearby Charmhaven as the Tohatsu brand took off and then, last year, opened a new purpose-built facility at Warnervale next to the Pacific Highway.
After years of managing the company’s growing pains in the previous location, gradually moving into new buildings in a piecemeal fashion, the new facility represents a quantum leap forward in terms of what it offers. The actual plot of land is four times the size of the previous place and the new building is spacious and well laid out to maximise the efficient turnaround of new stock and parts. Delivery trucks can now pull in under cover for loading and unloading, and there is plenty of room to store and locate stock within the warehouse without having to constantly move items around in order to get to them.
“It is so much easier for everything in terms of distribution, the receiving of goods, the spare parts. Just from a staff point of view it's much more user friendly. It's been a fantastic move,” said Goddard.
There is also plenty of room to expand; even with the impressive amount of new engines currently in store, the building is far from being over-loaded and there is the potential to add further product lines if required. The new premises also have dedicated workshops and training facilities with their own access so that dealers and mechanics can visit for product and skills training without affecting the warehouse operation.
At a time when there is still much uncertainty about the direction of the boating market, it is encouraging to see a local company prepared to invest substantially in new infrastructure for future growth.
“We have faith in the market and we have faith in Tohatsu as a product,” said Goddard. “When we first started with them 28 years ago they were introducing a lot of new engines into the range. They're at that point again where they are developing new products, getting into new markets, and have an exciting range of engines coming through to the market.”
While the 60th anniversary of Tohatsu outboards this year will be an opportunity to reflect on how far the company has come, the focus at Lakeside Marine is very much on the future.
This article was first published in the April-May issue of Marine Business magazine.