|Barry and Heather Bowers of Bowco Laboratories.|
Family-run businesses remain the backbone of the pest management industry, and after 80 years of growth and success, Bowco Laboratories, Woodbridge, N.J., is an example of how one family has done things right.
Owned and operated by the third and fourth generations of the Bowers family, Bowco employs more than 45 people, serving clients throughout New Jersey and parts of New York and Pennsylvania. While Bowco has grown and evolved during the past eight decades, the company’s core values have remained the same: commitment to the industry, employees and the local community, and outstanding customer service provided by a highly responsive and technically capable staff.
Bowers Family Tradition. Fredrick Bowers established Bowco Laboratories in 1932 and gave his company a name that represented both his family and his background. With a degree in chemistry from Pratt University, Fredrick initially applied his education to the eradication of bed bugs and cockroaches. Later, he expanded his business to include subterranean termite control, a specialty for which he became well known.
“My grandfather was a pioneer in the business,” says Barry Bowers, a third-generation Bowers family member and current Bowco president. “With his background in chemistry, he would often mix his own chemicals.” And, like other pest control operators of his era, Fredrick also would modify his own equipment.
By the late 1930s, Fredrick was joined in the business by his son George, then in his teens. Fredrick and George worked together for more than 30 years, establishing the family name in the industry and laying the foundation for the company’s reputation for quality work and outstanding customer service.
In the 1940s, Fredrick and a handful of his peers in New Jersey recognized the need to raise the state’s profile within the National Pest Management Association, so they founded the New Jersey Pest Management Association (NJPMA). Fredrick later became president of NJPMA.
In its early days, the NJPMA not only represented the needs of local pest management business owners, but it was an important educational resource. Since other sources of training were limited, the NJPMA co-founders ensured that association meetings included some educational component. Fredrick was personally committed to advancing education and training in the field, and became a contributing author of the Approved Reference Procedures for Subterranean Termite Control, published by NPMA, which remains an important guide to standard practices today.
“Subterranean termite work was one of my grandfather’s loves,” says Barry. “That truly became his area of expertise.”
Mentoring his grandsons also became an area of Fredrick’s expertise. When George passed away in the mid-1960s, Fredrick took grandsons Barry and Robert under his wings. At the time, Barry was in high school and Robert was just finishing his degree in entomology from North Carolina State University. “My grandfather reared me and my brother in the business,” says Barry. “There was no better teacher.”
Barry earned his degree from Rutgers University with an advanced entomology degree from Purdue University. Barry and Robert carried on at Bowco where their father had left off, and like the generations before them, both served as officers on the NJPMA board of directors. “Industry involvement has always been important to our family,” says Barry. “After my father died, the industry essentially adopted me and my brother, and we formed a lot of close relationships over the years. New Jersey is a small state and businesses often compete head-to-head, but we also help each other out.”
The first and third generations of Bowers worked together until Fredrick’s death in the early 1980s. For the next two decades Barry and Robert focused on growth by building on the family name and reputation. As a team, Barry focused on sales and marketing, while Robert focused on business operations. Together they expanded the business from five employees to its current size.
In 1998, Barry’s daughter, Heather, joined the company, giving he and Robert an opportunity to mentor the fourth generation of Bowers in the business. “One of my greatest pleasures has been to watch Heather grow in the industry, and to watch her succeed as one of the few women in the field,” says Barry.
A self-motivated worker, Heather has pest management in her blood, but spent years working at other jobs before joining Bowco. “My father passed on his strong work ethic to me and I have worked since I was a teenager,” says Heather. “As an adult, it was important to me to make a name for myself elsewhere before joining the family business.”
After receiving her degree from Elon University in Elon, N.C., Heather joined Starbucks and honed her management skills, leading a team tasked with opening stores throughout New Jersey. Working for Starbucks was an invaluable experience, but Heather ultimately realized that her time and energy would be better applied to her family’s business. “Years later, I still draw on my experiences with Starbucks,” Heather says. “Whether it’s coffee beans or bugs, the management skills translate.”
After joining Bowco, Heather kept with family tradition and served on the NJPMA board of directors, as well as with the association’s leadership group. “It has been important for me to make myself present in the association and forge my own relationships within the industry. It’s been a great source of knowledge and support.”
Since Robert’s death in 2005, Heather has taken on an increased leadership role, and is currently vice president. Barry intends to transition the company completely to her one day — but not too soon. “My dad will never retire,” Heather says. “He loves his work too much.”
Relationships = Success. Hard work, industry involvement and family tradition have kept Bowco moving forward through four generations, but the Bowers’ commitment to employees and customers, and the family’s deep ties within the local community have been the basis for the company’s stability and success. “Our employees make all the difference with customer satisfaction and with our success as a company, and we have very little turnover,” says Heather. “If we add staff, it is almost always due to growth. Some of our employees have been here for 25 or 30 years.” In fact, one of Bowco’s employees — Dolores Guarino — has worked with all four generations of Bowers since joining the company. “I call her my grandma,” says Heather.
Customers too have been loyal to Bowco through multiple generations. “We’ve had some of the same clients for 50 years and have served multiple generations of several families,” says Heather. Barry credits the company’s emphasis on customer service for the longevity of these relationships. “We are dedicated to our customers and always strive for customer satisfaction,” he says.
Heather agrees, “It’s our standing rule that no one goes home at the end of the day until all the customers are taken care of, and everyone gets a call back.”
Throughout the years, Bowco has become known for responsive and personal service. “We treat our customers like personal friends,” Heather says. Bowco’s reputation for outstanding service continues to drive sales, too. “No matter how diverse our marketing and advertising program is, we still generate the most business through word-of-mouth,” says Heather.
The Future. With solid company values in place and 80 years of success behind it, Bowco is looking ahead to the future. Heather is particularly optimistic. “There will always be new opportunities in pest management, and there will always be a need for our services,” she says.
Heather believes Bowco employees need to maintain professionalism and possess a breadth of technical knowledge to capitalize on future opportunities. “Our clients have higher expectations than ever before,” she says. “Today when we meet with someone to discuss a bid and proposal, it’s in a jacket and tie.”
Ready access to information on the Internet has also added to expectations. “Customers today use the Internet to self-diagnose their pest problems and call us with the information in hand,” says Heather. “Given the amount and quality of information out there, it’s more important than ever that our staff stays one step ahead to help educate customers and steer them to the best solution for their needs.”
Moving forward, Bowco will continue to invest in monthly employee training and rely on a range of resources like Dr. Doug Mampe, staff entomologist at Bowco. “His support gives us another point of differentiation in today’s marketplace.”
As the future leader of Bowco, Heather herself is also a point of differentiation in the industry. “As a woman I may still find myself outnumbered in a room, but I am welcomed as an equal among my peers,” she says. Customers are typically welcoming too. “I’m proud that I can relate one-to-one with our female homeowners, and with other female business owners.” For those customers who may be more skeptical, Heather says she simply works a little harder to win them over with her knowledge and experience.
“I have big shoes to fill, but we’re going to keep on doing what we are doing,” Heather says. “We feel after surviving 80 years in the business, we must be doing something right.”
The author is a Milwaukee, Wis.-based freelance writer. She can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.