Remembering our roots, both personally and professionally, is increasingly more important as this year throws us new challenges and triumphs. For 34 years, we have been Great Lakes Case & Cabinet—the ultimate collaboration effort between husband-and-wife entrepreneur team, Rob and Carrie Lowther (ok, some would argue that their kids are, but we’ll debate that another time). 2020 serves as the company’s 35th year of operation and today also happens to be Carrie’s birthday; it’s a perfect day to take a look back on Great Lakes and Carrie! Together, Carrie and Rob share insight about their entrepreneurial journey and what set the groundwork for the roots of today’s company, Great Lakes Data Racks & Cabinets.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?
From my parents who were both hard workers but extremely cautious children of the depression. I probably learned the most from what they did not do. My dad would tell his kids “You don’t want to be 50 years old saying ‘I could of, would of, should of! Learn to pull the trigger.’ ” And I did.
Where did the idea of your business derive from?
I was in the telecom and datacom industry and witnessed first-hand poorly designed data cabinets combined with incredibly dismal service and support, and as for delivery…forget it! Delivery literally could take months! Our goal was to design a full featured product with great flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the customer. The icing on the cake would be the quickest delivery in the industry backed up by a world class service and support team.
What best motivates you?
How have your entrepreneurial motivations changed since you first started? Repeat customers who appreciate the quality of our products and the superior service our team provides.
What are your shortcuts to successfully handle frustration and stress?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. I learned this early on as a high school and college athlete as well as during my military career. Only worry about what you can effectively control.
“If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal.”
-Unknown, Carrie’s favorite quote for describing entrepreneurship
Considering the competition in today’s business world, how would you highlight Great Lakes competitive advantages? What makes it stand out of the crowd?
We are a Country of Origin (USA) manufacturer. From raw material to finished goods, our products are produced in the USA. This attribute combined with our reputation for quality and service separates Great Lakes from its competitors.
What are the main principles you follow to build successful customer relationships?
Honesty and Integrity! It may seem cliché but customers know our word means something. This has always applied in our personal lives and our business lives.
How would you describe the advantages and disadvantages of being an entrepreneur?
The primary disadvantage is that we think differently and sometimes we do not understand that others do not function the same way. Being an entrepreneur is 24/7, year after year. Most people leave work on a Friday afternoon and it does not enter their mind until Monday morning when they return. For most people, the demands of Owner/Entrepreneur would be physically, mentally and emotionally overwhelming. Those who have entrepreneurial spirit feed off a multitude of ideas and making things happen. The deeper the immersion into the business and what you are doing, the better.
What milestones have you/Great Lakes experienced that have helped create a stable company culture and friendly working atmosphere?
We began as a regional manufacturer and supplier of racks and cabinets. Great Lakes grew to become a national supplier and to facilitate our growth we opened a distribution facility in Reno, Nevada. Subsequently we added a distribution facility in Naples, Florida to support the southeast US, the Caribbean Islands and Central America. As our growth continued, we then expanded to Ireland and Hungary to support Europe and the Middle East, enabling Great Lakes to be a global supplier.
What makes you feel out of your comfort zone? What are your ways to handle these situations?
Technology. Technology was growing faster than we were growing. We wanted a company that would be data driven to help direct the growth of our people and our company. This was the catalyst for naming our new President, Jonathan Markley, to lead Great Lakes.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur? What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
In the aftermath of 9-11 the global economy experienced a huge downturn which severely impacted Great Lakes. We experienced our first layoff ever! Being a family owned business and knowing every coworker by name—this was a painful period. While we are experiencing extreme measures now related to COVID-19, we have not had to deal with mass layoffs. Many staff are working from home and we have increased our use of technology to communicate. We are all adapting to new customer requirements and business practices. We have always tried to do what was in the best interest of our business, coworkers and our customers.
Carrie and part of the world class customer
service team at Great Lakes, Circa 2000
Carrie’s entrepreneurship doesn’t stop at Great Lakes;
Carrie participating in events for Erie Brewing Company