"Computer Bob's" Presses Keep Rolling on
By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
In Sutton, Robert Stowe, owner of "Reproductions R.S." is generally called "Computer Bob". This is meant affectionately because Bob, in his 14 years at the same downton location, has long become one of the best liked people in town. At 65, he is not about to change that, he is full of enthusiasm about the future. "I am thinking about selling my two web offset machines, cameras and plate makers and go directly digital, eliminating cameras and plates and printing straight from my computer". This does not sound like a man about to retire.
Robert was raised in Cowansville, attended the DeVry Institute of Technology where he was graduated in electronic sciences. He worked in the electronics department of a geological exploration company in Ottawa and when asked if he got to do any mining, he chuckles,"No, but I got a lot of air time in the old Douglas DC-3 which was a lot of fun".
From 1970 to 1984 he was an industrial electrician for a Cowansville company and a fall from a ladder and two operations later, this job ended. "They offered me the courtesy job as a security guard", he muses. "That is when I decided to start my own business" It was in his house first where the first printing press was installed."This was a good machine, because outside of printing, my wife and I could do heat transfers on T-shirs and other items, even coffee mugs". This was when his breakthrough came; Cowansville High School ordered all their promotional materials from Bob and his wife. "They worked around the clock for 72 hours to get the job done". The school was happy and Bob went on to purchase his first "real" web offset machine, a buy-back from the Gray Nuns in the Laurentians that Gestetner in Montreal had acquired. "They made me a deal, I got everything to set me up for $ 5,000,-"
Bob went to school for a week, had the machine set up and started prining in earnest. This is four machines ago, each new one had more options and capacity than the last. Today's two machines are the newest generation.
A huge bulk of the business is the photocopy service it provides. There are currently 3 machines, the biggest one a $ 50,000.- Canon all digital "Image Runner". It was not always easy though. "When I started here I was $ 100,000.- in debt, but a local insurance company told me that if I set up my shop in town I would get all their business. This was our foundation"
When asked how many colors of papers there are in stock, Bob chuckles; "I am a bit of a packrat, I have obsolete papers in colors that have not been produced for decades but ever so often someone needs just that for a set of business cards or special invitations".
So why do the locals call Robert " computer Bob?" First, as a side line, for the past ten years as a hefty part of his business, Bob has repaired, sold, upgraded and maintained approximately half of the computers in the area. He also sells scanners, routers,keyboards and all the other paraphernalia required in this digital age. "I always had computers, I started with a first generation Texas Instruments unit in the 80s and kept myself abreast of all the development. If I did not know what to do I went and took a refresher course"
At any given time there is a heap of hard drives being tested, computers sit on the bench with their innards hanging out. Sometimes this looks like a science project gone awry but on the end of the day a satisfied client will be able to take the machine home, innards restored, brain working again and hopefully not in need of Bob's service until the next upgrade is due.
But if there is a problem, Bob also makes housecalls. "I will do this as long as my health allows" states Bob. His many clients in Sutton count on it.
An amusing aside is, that on many nights after Mr. Robert Stowe has departed for dinner, local teenagers can bee seen sitting on his nicely refurbished porch, laptops humming. Apparently they found out that there is a wireless internet connection operating nearby...