Presented by Centric Parts and its StopTech performance and racing division

May 15, 2013

Customer Spotlight: Vermeer Auto Parts Flying High

Today we take a look at a long-time Centric customer – Vermeer Auto Parts of Ohio and Indiana. Named for company founder and former Air Force Airman, Duke Vermeer, the family-owned and run business now has four stores and a large warehouse “employing over 40 well trained, seasoned professionals that are knowledgeable in every aspect of the import automotive aftermarket.  [Their] inventory consists of over 100,000 part numbers, representing more than 100 direct warehouse lines,” according to their website. We reached out to eldest daughter, Jana, to find out more about the history of this business and the family behind it.


Although not officially incorporated until 1974, Vermeer Auto Parts' history began in the mid 1950's. At 16, Duke earned his pilot’s license and proceeded to terrorize the locals with his chicken coop fly-bys and late-night melon snatching mischief. At 20 he enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he started selling auto parts to friends on base that he bought at his Uncle Mac's store. Parts delivery followed him on a tour of duty in France, where he arranged for parts to be sent overseas to service the American cars the airmen's families had brought over with them.

Duke returned to the States in 1964, bringing with him a brand new 40 horsepower Volkswagen camper. When the camper promptly dropped a valve, and Duke found repair parts scarce, he seized on the opportunity. He began to source and stockpile VW parts in the basement of his family's home, and Vermeer Auto Parts was born. Six years later, after a 20-year career that saw him doing maintenance on B-47s and B-52s, as well as working as an engineer on the C-130 Hercules, Duke retired from the Air Force and started driving van routes around Ohio selling parts.

Always the pilot, Duke even made the occasional delivery by air using his stripped out Cessna 206 (left) and the grass airstrip (above) outside their parts warehouse. The normally six-passenger plane was able to haul over 1,000 pounds of parts with the other five seats removed. During a major UPS strike that could have crippled this parts delivery business, Duke was working the plane full-time, making quick pitstops between deliveries before taking off again for another trip.

And Duke certainly hasn't been flying solo running the business - his wife Nora and the rest of the Vermeer family are a huge part of this business and its success too. Besides Duke and Nora, there have been several other family members pitching in and running things, with daughters Jana (top-right) and Laurie (top-left) and their children - Jenny, Laurie (also pictured above) and Doug - making it three generations so far. Jana’s husband Brad and all of the family dogs are there too, helping things run smoothly. That's Skippy on the left and Bella on the right in the photo at the top. One family member sadly missing from the roster is Duke’s late son Doug, who had pretty much taken over running the day-to-day operations of the business until he was tragically killed in a racing accident at Indianapolis in 1987.

That’s when the daughters stepped up and not only took a more active role in the company, but also helped their mother establish the Doug Vermeer Memorial Fund, which raises scholarship money for college students through an annual charity golf tournament among other things. As Jana describes it, “In the beginning it was a pretty serious affair when mom was running things, but now it’s a really fun time for everyone involved. Dad will even fly his L2 in and land on the 18th fairway. It scares the heck out of everybody but it’s part of the fun.” Centric is proud to be a part of this tradition, which has raised over $200,000 in scholarship money for some 50 plus students “who might not be at the top of their class, but who could really use the help,” according to Jana.

The “L2” mentioned above, by the way, refers to a restored Army Taylorcraft L2 observation plane (below) that Duke restored. It miraculously survived a tornado a couple of years ago, that blew in the West doors of the hangar and out the front. A backhoe and dump truck parked inside somehow managed to block all of the debris from putting even one scratch on the fabric plane! Duke was away when it happened and couldn’t believe his luck when he saw that his prized possession had survived unscathed.

Pretty much retired from the parts business, Duke and his wife spend most of their time on their farm now - Duke still enjoying his motorized machines, tending to 20 acres of woods at the edge of the property - and Nora "keeping him in line." When they’re not there the couple is usually in Port Charlotte, Florida where they spend their winters. The family can’t wait for them to come back every Spring, although mom probably wishes they could stay down south more and dad just keeps getting more ornery according to Jana.

It might have started 60 years ago with Duke arranging to get parts for fellow military folks overseas, but three airplanes, four hangers and four stores later, Vermeer Auto Parts is the Midwest's largest independent import auto parts distributor. The Vermeer family is still there running the show, and although Duke has largely retired, he is always available for advice and even to make the occasional parts delivery.