Dave Hall likes to believe that behind many a corporate executive, there's a little kid who loves planes specifically, the parts of planes.
Hall, along with his partner Donovan Fell, have figured that there's a business in taking propellers, engines, seats and landing gear doors and turning them into conference tables, coffee tables, aquariums and artwork.
The result is four-year-old MotoArt Inc., where on a recent morning a half-dozen drillers and machinists were handling large aircraft parts, including C-119 landing gear doors and the wing flap of a C-130 being used as a headboard for a bed. "We don't let anything go to waste," said Fell.
Some of MotoArt's most popular items include a Boeing 707 wheel table that sells for $2,700, a $225 radial piston lamp, and the "Aqua Bomb," a 10-gallon fish tank made from an MK-84 bomb tail that goes for $3,400.
Customers are a varied lot. A Florida dentist bought eight propeller sculptures for his operating rooms. Saks Inc. bought 20 wing desks for its Saks Fifth Avenue menswear departments. And a 23-foot-long table made from the wings of a 1929 bi-plane went for $35,000 and wound up in the conference room of a mortgage company.
"Corporations are always looking for a fresh look for their offices, something people will talk about," Fell said. "It stirs an interest or shows they have great artistic taste."
When architect Cosimo Pizzulli was asked to design an office space with vintage airplane wings hanging from the ceiling and a reception desk made from aircraft engines, his staff discovered MotoArt.
"We're creating and developing something that's new and fresh and has a sense of movement like an aircraft," said Pizzulli, owner of Santa Monica-based Pizzulli Associates Inc., which is working with MotoArt to design new offices on Sunset Boulevard for 19 Entertainment, producers of "American Idol." "I thought it was very cool."
Access to 'boneyards'
Fell, who grew up with a fascination for airplanes, had decorated his office at a commercial signage firm with old propeller blades. After 14 years, Fell wanted to start his own sign business, and in 2001, he recruited co-worker Hall while continuing to work on propeller blades on the side.
The pair traveled to Arizona to see if they could sell propeller blades at a car show. "It was a Barrett Jackson classic car event," Fell said. "Everything was car oriented. We weren't. But a gear head is a gear head."
They generated $16,000 in sales at the event, scrapped their commercial signage business and stuck with selling propellers.
Developing a supply chain proved to be a challenge because many old plane parts come from "boneyards," where retired or damaged aircraft get turned into scrap metal and at first they weren't given access to the old planes.
One day, Fell and Hall came across one of the few boneyards open to the public. "His yard is on the main road, with lots of stuff displayed," Fell said. "We walked in and told him what we were doing and asked to look around. He took us under his wing and drove us around and showed us everything and a good relationship started."
After that, several of the other boneyards opened their doors. "The whole aircraft community is very small," he said. "Everybody knows each other."
While World War II aircraft are tough to come by, MotoArt finds a regular flow of parts from airliners and newer aircraft that get discontinued. One of its recent finds were parts from 18 of Raytheon's Beechcraft Starships from the late 1980s and early 1990s. "The real thrill for us is finding this stuff," said Fell.
When energy drink giant Red Bull GmbH began hosting air races, it hired MotoArt to design awards shaped like propeller blades, as well as providing airplane-themed furniture for a VIP area of 1,000 guests.
Greg Nevolo, aviation marketing manager at Red Bull's U.S. headquarters in Santa Monica, said the company began hosting air races because its founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, owns an aerobatic fleet called the Flying Bulls. He discovered MotoArt after noticing one of its decorative propeller blades at a friend's house.
"They have a great design style about them," said Nevolo. "It's unique, one of a kind, you can't find it anywhere."
Besides Fell and Hall, MotoArt employs seven full-time workers at its 12,000-square-foot warehouse near Torrance Municipal Airport. The company, which expects to reach $1 million in sales this year, has been profitable for two years, selling about 25 large pieces a month. MotoArt attracts many of its customers through word-of-mouth, its Web site or photo spreads in publications that include Maxim magazine.
"We've got exciting plans for 2006," said Hall, who said he wants to compete in retail stores and sell lower-priced items such as its recent $89.99 piston desk timepiece.
2003 Revenues: $365,000
2004 Revenues: $560,000
2003 Employees: 5
2004 Employees: 7
Goal: To expand into lower-cost items and sell products at furniture retailers
Increasing number of
airplane enthusiasts and corporations looking for different decor in their offices
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