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Bowie Expands into Diverse Markets
Lake City manufacturer stays true to mobile veterinary roots.
by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Lake City—Opportunities multiply as they are seized at Bowie International LLC, which has remained true to its mobile veterinary unit roots while expanding into new ventures, from sports car kits to animal control systems.

"The businesses we've acquired recently were strong companies before, and we're making them even better," said Steve Sinnard, executive vice president of Bowie International, which boasts more than 50 years of fiberglass manufacturing expertise.

The company's history dates back to 1960, when Bowie Manufacturing Inc. was founded in Lake City by a local veterinarian. Dr. M.C. Bowie was frustrated by working out of his car when making veterinary calls, and Bowie Manufacturing became the first company to manufacture a mobile veterinary clinic out of fiberglass. The company, which became known for its chassis-mounted units, broke new ground again in 1969 when it introduced vet units that slipped into pickup truck beds.

After Scranton Manufacturing Co. purchased Bowie in 2007, the company grew from 15 employees to 35 employees today. The team's expertise in fiberglass has allowed Bowie to move in many new directions in recent years, thanks to the acquisition of Hurricane Motorsports, which produces a replica 427 Cobra kit car, and Custom Fiberglass Coaches, which supplies animal control units. Diversifying the company's customer base has been vital to Bowie as veterinary medicine has changed, Sinnard said. "There are fewer large-animal practitioners today, so it has made sense for us to pursue other revenue streams while still manufacturing the mobile vet units."

Kit car is designed to thrill

Bowie, which has 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space on 25 acres, has accelerated into new territory with the rebirth of a sports car legend through Hurricane Motorsports (www.hurricane-motorsports.com), which Bowie acquired in October of 2009. The company manufactures components for the 427 Cobra kit car, including the frame, fiberglass body, roll bar and some of the parts for the suspension.

"After we acquired Hurricane Motorsports, we analyzed what was great and not to great about the car, and we did some retooling," said Sinnard, who noted that Bowie employees in Lake City began manufacturing Cobra 427 components in February of 2010. The company also orders OEM components for the car and supplies customers with an instruction manual that shows how to assemble the sports car.

A base kit for the Cobra 427 starts at $21,500, and the price can rise into the high $20,000 range to low $30,000 range, depending on how much assembly the customer asks Hurricane Motorsports to complete. "For many buyers, owning a car like this is a lifelong dream," said Sinnard, who noted that much of the kit car business is driven oven the Internet through sites like ClubCobra.com and a Hurricane Motorsports online forum.

Unique systems help transport animals safely

Custom Fiberglass Coaches (wwwcustomfiberglasscoaches.com) is another recent addition that fits well with Bowie's manufacturing capabilities. In 2008, Bowie acquired this Florida company, which sold animal control units primarily in the southeastern United States.

Today, Bowie employees in Lake City manufacture these durable, chassis-mounted fiberglass bodies for transport vehicles that are used by animal control agencies, police departments, animal shelters and wildlife conservationists. The units, which are available with air conditioning, heating, lighting packages and Backsaver hoists to load large, heavy animals, range from $10,000 to $20,000.

"We're expanding the market for Custom Fiberglass Coaches to Texas, the western United States, the Northeast and the Midwest," Sinnard said.

Bowie has also developed another animal transport system, thanks to Monty Rohrbeck, an avid hunter who manages the Bowie plant in Lake City. His compact, portable kennel called "The Companion" includes room for hunting dogs in the lower part, along with a gun storage area in the top of the fiberglass unit.

"Each unit fits in the back of a pickup truck and can be transferred from truck to truck, which is a big plus with buyers," Rohrbeck said.

Mobile vet units continue to evolve

Providing unique solutions for customers has long been a hallmark of Bowie, which continues to offer new innovations for its mobile veterinary units that are sold across the United States and Canada. While the company only produced a chassis-mounted fiberglass mobile veterinary clinic in the early years, today Bowie manufactures a variety of units that can slip into different types of trucks, from mid-sized pickups to extended-cab vehicles and other models. Bowie also manufactures the DIPLOMAT II, a slide-in unit that's compact enough to fit into the back of sport-utility vehicles and mini vans.

"These units are a veterinarian's office on wheels," said Sinnard, who noted Bowie's 2008 acquisition of Porta-Vet, a Hudson, Iowa-based competitor, brought together more than 90 years of veterinary mobile manufacturing experience. "The vet units have always been a successful part of our business."

In the last few years, Bowie has made a number of improvements on its mobile vet units, including redesigned electrical systems, complete with bright LED lights that make it easier to work at night. Depending on the model, units can range from $2,995 to $21,000 and can include refrigeration for medications, a water system, room for x-ray equipment and more.

While it's not uncommon for units to last up to 20 years, many clients trade every three to five years, said Sinnard, who noted the Bowie employees recondition used mobile veterinary units and resell them with a warranty.

Focusing on the future

Bowie's ability to provide quality products and service is enhanced by the company's sizeable number of long-time employees. "The diversification keeps the work interesting," said Gary "Rowdy" Reicks, a parts specialist and customer service manager who has worked at Bowie for nearly 45 years.

Lake City is good base of operations the company, because the employees have a strong Midwestern work ethic, said Sinnard, who is optimistic about the future. "Sales have been positive, and the prospects for growth are outstanding as we enhance our technologies and continue to find new product lines to develop."

For more information on Bowie International, log onto www.bowieintl.com.

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com