Stowers Machinery Corporation has been tied to the progress, growth and prosperity of East Tennessee since 1960.
|A RELATIONSHIP WITH CATERPILLAR SINCE 1954|
The Stowers family began its relationship with Caterpillar in 1954 when Harry Stowers first went to work for Caterpillar. Fresh out of the Air Force with a wife and a new baby, Harry needed a job, and his degree in mechanical engineering made him a good fit for Caterpillar. After interviewing with several heavy equipment manufacturers, Harry chose to go to work for Caterpillar, beginning his lifelong relationship with this great company. President Eisenhower had just announced the creation of the Interstate Highway Program, which was to become the largest construction project ever undertaken. The future for earthmoving equipment manufacturers looked bright as they prepared for this great opportunity.
THE STOWERS BROTHERS OPENED THE DOORS IN 1960
Harry's two older brothers, Eugene (Bud) and Dick, were in the automobile business. Bud operated the family Chevrolet and Buick dealership in Bluefield, West Virginia, and Dick had established his own Ford dealership in Kingsport, Tennessee. In the next few years as Harry's career with Caterpillar progressed, Bud and Dick became interested in the Caterpillar equipment business. They agreed that if a Caterpillar Dealer territory became available, they would sell their car dealerships, and the three brothers would go into the Caterpillar business together. Their chance came when the R.L. Harris Company went out of business. R.L. Harris had been Caterpillar's dealer for East Tennessee since 1925. On October 3, 1960 the doors of Stowers Machinery Corporation first opened.
JUST GETTING STARTED
Operating out of the old R.L. Harris facilities with about 70 employees, the Stowers brothers set out to rebuild the dealership. Relationships had to be established. Every customer (and employee) started out as a stranger. Most of the East Tennessee banks also treated the new business as a stranger. Many fine employees including Dennis Craig in sales, Cliff Bryant and Ben Dotson in finance, Bill Dance (a mechanic who later became a company Vice President), and Carl Howard in used equipment devoted their entire careers to Stowers Machinery after helping get the fledgling company get off the ground.
The winter of 1960 was tough, with few sales. Harry later recalled, "One of our first sales was to Henry Harris of Payne and Harris Construction Co. who bought a 955 track loader that we had in stock. After paying for it he told us to just keep it for him through the winter. If we could sell it to someone else, then just get him another one. He just wanted us to have some machines in inventory and went out of his way to help us. Also, Herman West from North Carolina called to buy a set of D8 tracks - "just to help you get started". At first, we thought that he must have bad credit to call from over there. Later, we found out that he owned half of the western end of North Carolina".
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Business picked up in the mid- sixties when the Interstate Highway Program really got started in East Tennessee. Large multi-million dollar projects were common around Knoxville and Chattanooga. Unfortunately, very few of the contractors doing the work were from East Tennessee. The company's challenge was to win the confidence of these large contractors from outside of Stowers' territory. Companies like Oman, McDowell, Burns, and Tillett from middle Tennessee, Michael from Memphis, Greer Bros. from Kentucky, Clement Bros. and Nello Teer from North Carolina all compared Stowers Machinery against their home Cat dealer - tough competition which made Stowers Machinery grow stronger. The Stowers brothers knew their success depended on building a reputation based on excellent product support. To serve its growing business, the company needed newer and larger parts and service facilities. Knoxville's Rutledge Pike location was Stowers Machinery's first new facility, opening in 1963. The company then built a new Tri-Cities facility in 1968 and a new Chattanooga facility in 1970.
By the mid 1970s nearly 350 miles of interstate highways had been constructed in East Tennessee, much of it through rough, mountainous terrain requiring Caterpillar's largest machines. Rock quarries required large loaders and trucks to furnish materials for this construction. Stowers invested heavily to support these large crawler tractors, scrapers and trucks with highly skilled mechanics, large heavy-duty service trucks and specialized tools. In addition, a substantial commercial and industrial market had developed that provided sales opportunities for smaller sizes of machines.
By the mid-1970s, most of the large highway projects were completed. Then the Arab Oil Embargo resulted in a severe oil crisis that suddenly made all energy sources very valuable, including coal reserves in the northern portion of East Tennessee and on the Cumberland Plateau near Chattanooga. Coal miners like the Studers, Jack Walls, Brooks Spradlin, Harold Asbury, and countless others were joined by successful road builders such as A.B. Long, Renfro, and Malone to mine this "black gold". Caterpillar met the challenge with new models of machines made specifically for coal mining. Stowers sold 30 new 988B wheel loaders in 1976, its first year of introduction. Stowers also sold one of the first Cat D10s in 1978.
Stowers Machinery was well positioned to serve the exacting demands of the coal industry. The Knoxville facility doubled in size in 1974, providing around-the-clock service, numerous parts drops and major component exchanges. The company enjoyed significant growth during this period.
PERIOD OF TRANSITION
The early eighties brought our nation into a recession. High interest rates, sometimes as much as 20%, affected all companies. Caterpillar lost money for the first time in its history. The coal business virtually collapsed with major disruptions in the marketplace. Stowers Machinery suffered its first reduction in size, with employment dropping from a high of 275 in the late 1970s to 138 in 1982. It was certainly a period of transition. Bud Stowers sold his interest in the company to Dick and Harry in 1982.
Caterpillar was also in transition, developing new products for new markets important to future growth. During this period Cat introduced a complete line of hydraulic excavators, rubber-tired backhoes, small wheel loaders, asphalt and compaction equipment, forestry and agriculture equipment. Cat greatly expanded its engine products, introducing new models of packaged generator sets for commercial, marine and industrial applications and new truck engines for the trucking industry.
A NEW PERIOD OF GROWTH
The 1980s saw Stowers Machinery meet the challenge of these new markets and begin a new period of growth. Business segments such as the industrial firms of Alcoa, Bowater, and various Oak Ridge contractors, the trucking industry, custom contractors and the forestry industry took on greater importance. Large local contractors such as Wright Brothers, Charles Blalock & Sons, Summers & Taylor, and Phillips & Jordan were growing, building projects both inside East Tennessee and throughout the region. Increased housing starts and new commercial construction created opportunities for new contractors.
Significant changes occurred in the company management. Wes Stowers, Harry's son, joined the company in 1988 following a 12-year career in the Air Force. Then David Waddilove, a former Caterpillar executive, joined the company in 1989 as Executive Vice President. In 1990 Dick retired and sold his interest in the company to Harry.
A NEW ERA OF LEADERSHIP
In 1993, Wes Stowers became company President. Harry Stowers became Chairman, the position he held until his untimely death in August 2007. To keep pace with growth opportunities, the company's facilities required major improvements. The company built a vastly larger Tri-Cities facility at Exit 63 off I-81 to serve that booming market. This new facility included the company's first dedicated truck engine repair shop.
In 1995, the Knoxville facility saw major expansion with the addition of a new 10-bay engine shop, new office addition and truck dyno building. In 1999, the Chattanooga facility doubled in size with a new parts warehouse and expanded service shop. The company also made major investments in sophisticated data processing and information technology equipment at all locations.
EVOLVING PRODUCTS & SERVICES
It is interesting to observe Caterpillar's involvement in changing markets. In 1960, when the company started, the Caterpillar line consisted of approximately 20 machines: 5 dozers (D4, D6, D7, D8, and D9), 5 Scrapers, 3 motor graders, 3 wheel loaders, and 3 track loaders. Today the line includes over 300 models and covers nearly every size class. There are also more than 50 different product offerings for industrial engines.
OUR NEWEST FACILITY
In 2006, Stowers opened a 42,000 square foot multi-purpose facility in west Knoxville on Lexington Drive near the Lovell Road exit off I-40. This new store, operating under the new trade name of Stowers Rents, offers the construction industry the most complete range of tools and equipment for sale and rent. In addition, the facility serves the parts and service needs of owners of Cat equipment of all sizes with its convenient location and staff of quality technicians and parts people.
STOWERS EXPANDS TO SERVE BROADER INDUSTRIES
In the late 1990s, Caterpillar began building compact construction equipment, prompting the establishment of Cat Rental Stores nationwide. Stowers opened its first rental facility in 1999. The company built two all-new, full-service rental facilities in 1999, one in Knoxville and one in Chattanooga. A third rental facility opened in 1999 adjacent to Stowers' Tri-Cities Earthmoving Store. In 2003 Stowers built a new facility in Crossville on I-40 at Exit 317 to house Rental Services and provide Earthmoving and Truck Engine parts and service.
Stowers also strengthened its presence in both power generation and vehicle engines. Stowers Industrial Power routinely works on projects ranging from small standby generator sets installed in homes to multi-generator units in major power distribution centers. Stowers Engine Power works with truck, bus and RV suppliers and end users to provide efficient low cost operation for over-the-road vehicles. More than 25% of all trucks on the road today are equipped with Cat engines.
Stowers Machinery is fortunate to have served East Tennessee since 1960. East Tennessee is a great place to live, to work and to raise a family. Stowers is fortunate to represent Caterpillar, the world's leading manufacturer of equipment, a company always striving to meet the demands of changing markets. Stowers is fortunate to have loyal customers who have joined in a partnership that is mutually beneficial. And, Stowers is fortunate to have dedicated employees who love this business and are willing to work tirelessly to meet or exceed the customer's expectations.
Stowers Machinery's future will be just as good as our ability to meet the challenges of an ever-changing marketplace. Stowers will continue to provide quality equipment backed by highly trained people working with state-of-the-art tools, utilizing the latest technological advancements, all to assist in the profitability of each of its customers.
In our 52nd year as your Caterpillar dealer, we thank you for your business and look forward to continuing to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
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