As seen in the Tried & True Summer 2020 issue
Just south of Sandusky Bay’s shores along Lake Erie lies the city of Clyde. A cozy area in Northern Ohio that served as the inspiration for a collection of short stories penned in 1919 by Sherwood Anderson and whose tree-lined streets were renowned by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Clyde is also the place where, in 1900, Bower Tiling Services Inc. was born. A four-generation-strong, family company currently owned by Fratco clients, Jim and Wendy Jett and Jack Bower.
At the turn of the century, Wendy’s great-grandfather, George W. Bower, founded the company with a dream and a steam-powered Buckeye Trencher. “My dad says his grandfather would be in awe of today’s progress in the farm drainage industry,” Wendy shared. George installed both clay and concrete tiles during his days in the field with his boys, Richard and William. Both men would later become business partners with their father. George retired before he witnessed the actual evolution of clay to resin pipe engineered by Fratco and installed on all Bower job sites today. Plastic pipe—an idea George considered pretty far-fetched. “He thought it would never work!” Wendy emphasized, also noting that her great-grandfather would be pretty amazed at the innovation and technology of today’s Fratco products.
Around 1955, Richard purchased his brother William’s shares of Bower Tiling Service, three years before George retired. Richards’ sons, Jack and Tom, joined the company in 1964. Jack Bower is Wendy’s father. Her memories run deep and wide of visiting her grandfather, dad, and uncle out in the fields as they worked. The business is intertwined with her life as she’s always known it. “I have grown up in this business. It’s a part of who I am,” Wendy reminisced, recalling her family history. “And then I dragged Jim into it, that lucky guy,” she chuckled.
Richard Bower, Wendy’s grandfather, retired in 1976. After seeing a need to provide quality, secondary market Inter-Drain plows, trenchers, and replacement parts, Wendy’s father and uncle formed Great Lakes Inter-Drain Inc. in 1985. Eventually, with two booming businesses, the brothers felt it best that each run one company rather than divvy up responsibilities for both companies betwixt them. Jack, who still holds the office of president at Bower Tiling to this day, devoted himself solely to the tiling business while Tom took the reins of Great Lakes in 1995. Wendy and Jim became the fourth family-owners of Bower Tiling. The couple began presiding over both companies in 2015 when Jack and Tom retired from day-to-day operations of Bower’s Tiling Service and the retitled Bower’s Great Lakes Inter-Drain. Wendy marveled at the thought of what she and Jim now manage today. “It makes us proud to be a part of something that’s been around for so long. It comes with great responsibility to maintain our reputation and quality of work that area farmers have come to know.”
This Ohio mainstay is nothing but a family affair. Amongst the employees, you’ll find Jack’s sister-in-law, Michelle Picciuto, in the office. Nephew Nick Bower works side-by-side on-site with Jim and are joined by Jack and Seth Jett, Jim and Wendy’s twin sons. Their daughter, Julia, helps in the office whenever possible. If you call to inquire about an order, you may find Wendy’s dad, Jack, on the line answering customers’ calls from around the country concerning equipment and parts. “My dad is ‘retired,’” Wendy mused, “yet he’s in the office, or the shop, every day.” Wendy manages the offices and bookkeeping. Not an easy task with two thriving companies between the couple. Wendy offers some sage advice for those running a family business. “When you work together, it can be almost impossible not to take what happens at work home with you. Try to be understanding and supportive of each other, and spend time away from work, together, whenever you can.”
Jim and Wendy know their success stems from teaming with family and by offering only one company’s complete line of products to their customers: Fratco’s. “I know when something works and when it doesn’t,” Jim affirmed. As vice president and co-owner of the company, he has tried out various product lines since his 1996 entry into the business; the year Wendy joined as well.
Daily, you’ll find Jim and his crew installing only Fratco systems and products for his farming customers. “Fratco is a contractor’s pipe company,” he explained. “They understand exactly what works and what doesn’t in agricultural drainage.” Growers need pipe that endures and works in tandem with the soil’s terrain no matter what crop is harvested from their fields. Something Jim testifies to after installing many systems over the past 24 years. When it boils down to why of all possible manufacturers he could align the Bower company name with, only Fratco will do. “Their quality and loyalty are what matters to me the most.” Jim goes on to share how their company values align with those long held by Fratco. “Products have to work the first time they’re installed. We stand behind the product from day one just as Fratco stands behind what they produce. That’s why we work exclusively with them. They value their customers in agriculture, and we value ours.”
If there was only one reason why this power duo would recommend Fratco products, Jim testifies that the company’s customer service is heads and tails above all the rest. “With the few issues I’ve ever had, they remedied early the next morning, if not that day.” The Jetts credit that speediness to their Fratco sales rep, Paul, who’s known to meet Jim—literally—at all hours of the day to make it right and deliver product. “The service they provide is the best. Paul, our Fratco sales rep, goes out of his way to get us what we need. He will come to the shop at four o’clock in the morning with pipe. It’s a two-hour drive to us from his home. He’s always there, for all of his customers, and you just can’t beat that.”
The Jett’s relationship with Fratco blossomed from acquaintances to dedicated installers, yet it did not occur overnight. Instead, it was cultivated over the years by running into the same sales rep, Gabe, at field days and conventions. By the time Jim took the leap and gave Fratco products a whirl, Paul had stepped into the role once held by Gabe. “Gabe was so kind, personable, and always trying to get Jim to buy Fratco pipe for a long time,” Wendy laughed. The irony wasn’t lost on Gabe who was thrilled Paul was gaining the Jetts as clients. “Gabe said while laughing, ‘I tried to get you to buy this pipe for years, and when I leave, now you start buying?’” Wendy recalled.
Paul is more than just a sales rep to the Jetts. He’s become a dear friend. Not only did Jim and Wendy attend his wedding, Paul’s son has visited Jim out in the field. A little one’s dream: to experience what must seem like giant-sized toy tractors and trucks. Rest assured, with thanks to Gabe’s persistence, Paul’s friendship and service, and Fratco’s commitment to standing behind their product it’s safe to say this family will be working with Fratco for generations to come.