Ink Inc

Bowers Ink Company Changes Along with Its Customers

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 07.19.10

Bowers Ink Company
611 Ewing Ave.
Nashville, TN 37203
Tel: (615) 244-2342;
(800) 562-3081
Fax: (615) 254-6730
Specialties: Sheetfed, heatset, news, UV, water-based flexo and rubber-based inks

For more than 75 years, Bowers Ink Company, Inc., a family-owned Nashville, TN-based sheetfed ink specialist, has been a fixture in Tennessee and beyond. In many ways, the history of Bowers Ink encompasses the history of printing in Nashville, and Bowers Ink continues to add to its legacy today.

Bowers Ink was founded in 1933 by C.E. (Clyde) Bowers, who had worked for Flint Ink and decided to start his own letterpress ink company, even though it was the height of the Great Depression.

“Mr. Bowers took out a loan for $5,000 during the Depression, which was a lot of money,” said Bryan Gobbell, president of Bowers Ink.

Clyde Bowers did have one advantage working for him, as the Methodist Publishing House (which is now the United Methodist Publishing House),was working closely with him.

“R.G. Graham of the Methodist Publishing House guaranteed Mr. C.E. Bowers their business,” Mr. Gobbell said.

Under Clyde Bowers, the company grew, and in 1954, Bob Bowers, his son, joined the company, later becoming president 14 years later, in 1968. By then, the company’s focus was on heatset ink, and 60 percent of the business was with Baird-Ward Printing, which would become the second-largest printer in the state, and its share of Bowers Ink’s business continued to grow when the proverbial bottom fell out in 1977.

“By 1977, Baird-Ward was more like 85 percent of our business, and when Baird-Ward was acquired by Arcata National, we lost that business,” Mr. Gobbell said. “Mr. Bowers told me he thought the company would go under, and he had to make some severe cuts. C.E. Bowers stopped taking his own salary and rent payments on the building until they could get everything straightened out.”

The first move Bob Bowers implemented was diversifying his company’s product portfolio. Bowers Ink started to pursue a new customer base, with an emphasis on sheetfed inks for commercial and packaging. In 1982, Harry A. Satterwhite Jr. joined Bowers Ink from ATF Davidson, and was very familiar with the duplicator market, which led to the growth of rubber-based inks, and the addition of Bill (Julio) Herlihy from J.M. Fry was the key behind the company’s interest in water-based flexo.

“The duplicator market turned out be a nice niche to be in,” Mr. Gobbell said. “In 1985, we went into the water-based flexo ink market. We used to make a lot of inks for the envelope industry, but that has moved out of the U.S., but we are doing some narrow web.”

Mr. Gobbell has been with Bowers Ink since February 1988, when he left Shell Oil to join his father-in-law’s business. He started out making deliveries and sweeping the floor for Bowers Ink, and worked his way up through sales, the lab, manufacturing and service calls. In 1998, when Mr. Bowers officially retired, Mr. Gobbell became the company’s president.

The printing industry continues to change, and under Mr. Gobbell, Bowers Ink continues to diversify as well.

“The graphic arts industry is changing, and some traditional offset printing is being switched over to digital,” Mr. Gobbell said. “There are also the effects of a difficult economy and some business going overseas. Business has stabilized, but I don’t know if it will come back to levels of a few years ago. We’ll need to diversify more.”

One move that has worked out well was the decision to join the Print Suppliers Group (PSG), a group of regional ink manufacturers who share purchasing, products and ideas.

“The PSG is working well,” Mr. Gobbell said. “All of our members are entrepreneurs, and it is nice to be able to pick the phone up and bounce ideas off someone else. That is very beneficial for a small business owner. By being part of the PSG, we also have a wider product portfolio to offer to our customers.”

All in all, Mr. Gobbell believes that Bowers Ink will continue to be a key part of the Tennessee landscape, by bringing the service and quality that has become its trademark.

“Don’t ever tell a customer that you can do something that you can’t do. Our customers tell us all the time that they need ink in one hour and we deliver. We pull rabbits out of our magical hat each and every day.”