Now gear lube is 'E-Z'
WILLMAR -- Bruce Torell thought there must be a cleaner and faster way to change the gear lube in the lower units of his outboard motors, so his company invented one.
"You either use a small tube like a big tube of toothpaste to fill the lower unit or you buy a small soap dispenser-type pump that you pump into a quart of lubrication and it's a messy job,'' the Willmar man says. "It's time-consuming. And every year that I do it, and I've done that for 15 years, I keep thinking there's got to be a better way.''
Torell, who owns Leader's Manufacturing of Willmar, and Bob Schmit, Leader's sales and marketing manager, discussed several complex ways to change the lube but settled on a simple prototype consisting of a small plastic gas can with a hose and nozzle and pressurized by a foot pump. The prototype proved the concept.
"I took the prototype about a year ago today up to our place in Walker and rather than pumping that little soap dispenser-type pump 300 to 350 times to fill the lower unit, in my case I did it in under 30 seconds the first time,'' Torell recalls. "But when I did that, I knew we had something to sell.''
The prototype led to development of the light-weight and portable E-Z Lube System.
"In one year we came from prototype to finished product selling at the sportsmen's shows,'' Torell says proudly.
The system consists of a durable brass valve that releases pressurized gear lube through an output hose at the bottom of the see-through container and out of a tapered rubber nozzle that fits all lower units.
The rubber nozzle has an internal brass fitting for added durability. The valve has a built-in filter to keep any debris out of the power unit. The filter is easily removed and can be cleaned with soap and water.
The system is pressurized through a uniquely designed, heavy-duty pump that incorporates a sleeve to isolate the pump diaphragm from the lube. The sleeve directs pressurized air into the container at the top, which prevents aerating the lube.
Schmit says they've checked the catalogs of major outdoor retail stores and found no one else has a pumping system similar to E-Z Lube. That distinction isn't lost on boat owners attending three recent shows where Schmit and Torell have displayed E-Z Lube. People who walk up the booth basically know what the system does.
"They're half sold before they get there. Then it's just a matter of talking it through,'' said Schmit. "It's a pretty good feeling. It's being received very well by people at the shows. Almost everyone that walks up says either why didn't I think of that or this should have come about years ago. Many comments like that.''
Torell said Leader's shipped the first 100 units in early January to a large marine dealer in Mortdale, New South Wales, Australia. Last week, Leader's shipped another 100 units to the dealer.
Schmit met the dealer at a show in Orlando, Fla., last July, and the parties began talking in August. At the time, E-Z Lube had entered production, and the dealer knew that something was coming.
"We have provided to him all of the Leader's sales literature and show information so that he can capitalize on our success and sell the product over there,'' said Torell. "So, far, he's our largest purchaser.''
Leader's is planning to advertise E-Z Lube in marine catalogs and sell the product in major retail stores.
The units are currently being manufactured in China because Leader's couldn't find a company with molding capacity in the U.S., but Torell is looking for a U.S. manufacturer for the product.
"The unique thing about the product, I think, and about the concept is that we have in our company the capacity to design and to put together the marketing requirements, inventory and all the rest of it because we do that on a regular basis for other products that we sell, so we have all of the support to be successful,'' he said.
Torell, who retired in 1995 after working 39 years for 3M, is fortunate to have access to and assistance from people who have considerable business experience. Torell worked with a retired 3M vice president of marketing who came up with the E-Z name. Torell's son-in-law is an attorney who handles the company's legal issues.
"He put us in touch with a patent attorney and that's why we have a patent pending at the present time,'' Torell said. "We have access to a lot of support and that makes it easy to do. We're just not starting out without any experience in manufacturing or sales.''
Leader's Manufacturing, a privately-owned company, was founded in 1991 as a contract converting facility. Since Torell bought Leader's in 1996, the company has added several new products, including Sparky Abrasives, a retail abrasive company. Other marine products may be in the offing in addition to E-Z Lube.
"This is just another example of adding a product to help us grow and diversify,'' said Torell.