BY PAT SABISTON PHOTOS BY ERIC MARCUS
One of the things people love about Bob Sowell is his sense of humor, which was evident in one of his former slogans: “We’ll trade for anything that doesn’t eat.” That’s because, when Bob first started the business, he actually traded equipment for cows and billy goats. Although that’s no longer a business practice for the dealership, Bob’s reputation for treating customers right, being honest, and not over-promising, but keeping his word, has been an predominant business philosophy that has been passed down to eldest son, Robin, Vice President in charge of retail, and Mike Davis, General Manager.
A classic example of the integrity of the business was shared by one of the Sowell salesmen, Tommy Smith, who has known Bob Sowell for most of his life. When Tommy made a rather costly mistake on the sale of a piece of equipment, even though it meant the business would have to take a sizeable financial loss, the company stood behind his sale. “That’s just the kind of people they are. Then, the only reprimand I got was the request that I not make the same mistake twice,” said Smith with a laugh.
Stories like these have made customers rely on the “Sowell” name. “When you combine our family and staff, we have more than 200 years experience in selling quality outdoor equipment,” said Bob with pride. In addition, they have one of the largest inventories of parts in the region.
But it’s a supportive family that enabled Bob to build the company into the commercial power-house it is today. “I had two business partners in the beginning but they backed out and we risked everything to get where we are today,” Sowell remembers.“My wife, Tina, had a vital part in our success. With an ever-changing economy, there were a lot of ups and downs over the years. Tina had her own career as a successful Realtor and broker, and that business acumen became essential to our growth and survival.” Just one of many examples Bob Sowell gave was when his wife was able to secure a business loan in less than 24 hours to benefit her husband’s company over the years.Since Bob Sowell considers himself to be retired, he turned over the reins to his eldest son, Robin, who has worked in the business since he was eleven years old.
Tina and Bob Sowell have three children and all have been involved with the family business about being very conscientious about the quality of the products he sells and being intentional about the way he does business. “We respect every customer’s wish, but it is more important that we find out what the customer really needs.Once we know the customer’s actual requirements, we can recommend a product that will perform the work they want to do.”
Bob and Tina’s four grandchildren have played a role in advertising the family business. As little kids, they would be on camera filming commercials for the company.Very soon they became mini- celebrities. “The kids at school would call us the Kubota-kids, but not in a bad way, and just because they would see us on TV sitting in the Kubota trucks,” says oldest granddaughter Autumn.
As a third-generation business, the kids used to be in the store with their dad and granddad all the time. Now, they’re getting old enough to work in the business if they choose. But when everyone isn’t working, the entire family likes to spend their weekends on their farm where grandsons Tyler and Christopher spend a lot of time riding ATVs. When asked which ride was their favorite, Tyler responds, “What’s really great is a zero-turn lawnmower, because it’s fun for wheelies and donuts.”
Not to be outdone, grandson Christopher says that his grandfather “Has an awesome tractor with an air-conditioned cab and amazing sound system.”
Horses are the ride of choice for granddaughter Mackenzie who continually takes top honors at regional equestrian competitions. Elder granddaughter, Autumn, who recently finished high school, is going to pursue a business degree and sees herself getting more involved with the family business in the future.
Perhaps the one word that people use most when asked about the Sowell reputation is – “Trusted.” Bob explains the rationale behind this. “People will listen to you if they like you, but they will do business with you if they trust you. You have to be confident in a dealer to buy a piece of expensive equipment because tractors do much more than getting you from point A to B like a car. They can perform multiple tasks from maintaining your property to actually making you a living doing work for others, so finding the correct piece of equipment is essential,” he said.
Over the past 41 years, Bob Sowell has gained a wealth of knowledge about operating a successful business and he’s very proud of his life’s work.However, in the end it’s about being very conscientious about the quality of the products he sells and being intentional about the way he does business.“We respect every customer’s wish, but it is more important that we find out what the customer really needs.Once we know the customer’s actual requirements, we can recommend a product that will perform the work they want to do.”
People speak of the Sowell legacy—a business built on integrity; taking care of the customer; bending over backwards to please clients; and standing behind their promises and work. In yet another moment of levity, for which he’s so well known, Bob Sowell engaged in one of his favorite pastimes—storytelling. “Years ago, there were three dirt mounds behind our building.Every once in a while a customer would come in with a complaint and we’d do everything we could to resolve their problem. But, in rare cases, if nothing else helped, I would try to make them laugh by loading them onto one of our ATVs and driving them out to the three mounds of dirt. I would explain to them that I’d only had three customers I hadn’t been able to make happy, and then I’d point to the mounds with no further comment.It always worked its magic,” he said with a hearty laugh.
And that’s why Sowell Tractor Company has endured 41 years— keeping a good sense of humor, improved by making the customers happy, and leaving a family tradition of excellence for the future.
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