BEAUFORT — As of this year, Barbour Marine Supply Co. has been in the business of boat parts and repair for 100 continuous years, serving the boating community near and far.
Through the company’s century-long history, it has changed ownership once and has remained a local, family-owned business. Its current owners are Jackie Booth, who has been with the company for 50 years, his wife Deborah and his brother-in-law, Ms. Booth’s brother, Bryan Gillikin, who has been with the business for about 40 years.
Mr. Booth provided a history of the company in the June/July edition of Tradewinds magazine.
In 1919, on the heels of World War I and before the Great Depression, brothers John Owen Barbour and Edwin Barbour left their sawmill business in Swansboro and moved to Beaufort to open Barbour Brothers Machine Shop at 218 Front St., where the Spouter Inn is now. The original building was right on the Beaufort waterfront for easy access to the repair shop for boats.
The Barbours’ other brother, Herbert William Barbour, went on to found a boatbuilding business in New Bern.
“The other brother went to New Bern and started Barbour Boat Works, most local people here have heard of them also,” Mr. Booth said. “They build a lot of boats, but we were always in the hardware, service business. We did a lot of work for them, sold them a lot of hardware and that sort thing.”
In the 1940s, John Owen Barbour Jr. joined his father in the family business after returning from World War II, and the company expanded into the business of hardware retail sales while still operating the machine shop. With a growing business in the 1950s, the company built a warehouse at 410 Hedrick St., which is today the primary location of the business’s retail space and machine shop.
Mr. Booth said he grew up across the street from the Barbours and cut their grass when he was kid, which is his original connection to the family. He began working at Barbour Marine during summers and holidays when he was in high school, and continued to do so through college. In the mid 70s, Mr. Booth became a partner at the company.
“Mr. Barbour Sr. had really retired by then, so really I came to work for J.O. Barbour Jr. after college. I came back and worked for them,” he said.
Mr. Gillikin started working at Barbour Marine after high school and became an owner in the 80s.
Both families, like the Barbours before them, have been in eastern North Carolina for generations. Mr. Booth has lived in Beaufort his whole life, and Mr. Gillikin grew up Down East in Bettie.
In the early 70s, Beaufort undertook an urban renewal project to redesign the downtown waterfront area to be more commercial and retail friendly, and Beaufort Marine left its Front Street building shortly after.
Barbour Marine serves boaters of all kinds, from commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, recreational boaters, boatbuilders and everyone in between. While wholesale marine hardware is Barbour’s main business, the company still has a machine shop where boaters can bring in parts for repair. The company can send specialty parts to customers all over the country, but most of the customers are in coastal North and South Carolina.
“We’re in the wholesale business pretty much, but we run the retail counter here for the local guys, and it’s always worked well for us,” Mr. Booth said.
In addition to fishermen and recreational boaters, Barbour Marine works with the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
While the past century has brought new technology and an ever-changing world, Mr. Booth and Mr. Gillikin said the Barbour Marine business model isn’t all that different from what it was 100 years ago.
“We’re essentially doing the same business, after we started the retail and wholesale sales back in the 50s, we’re still keeping it going,” Mr. Booth said. “The people have changed a little bit, but it’s essentially the same business we have been doing.”
Although technology has changed a lot – Mr. Gillikin said the advent of computers for taking inventory and writing invoices was a game-changer for the company – Barbour Marine still does some things the old-fashioned way, like taking most orders by phone and hand-delivering parts to customers. Mr. Gillikin said it adds a personal touch that people seem to miss with the big box retailers and online stores.
“These days you never talk to an actual person,” he said. “It’s that personal touch I think keeps people coming back.”
At the end of the day, the Barbour Marine owners said being in business for so long means they have had to adapt and change with the times, but they attribute their success to the customers who have been loyal for so many years.
“If it wasn’t for the people patronizing and coming here, then we wouldn’t be here,” Mr. Gillikin said. “In the end, you have to try to do enough to keep the right stuff, but people have to want to come back and buy from you.”
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.