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In the old days, girls wore bows to attract beaus. Now, packages and windows wear bows to attract customers and it seems to work.
Just why ribbon curled and tied into more-or-less ornate balls of fluff has an effect on sales of everything from neckties to fishing tackle is probably a mystery to the most profound student of human behavior. But the fact seems to be that it does, and such package decoration has become a commercial necessity.
If one candy manufacturer decorates his packages with bows, other manufacturers must follow suit or lose sales. The buying preferences of the feminine customer, a supreme power in retail merchandising, are probably responsible for this fact. It is no secret that milady gets a thrill from a frill.
Whatever the reason, businessmen do not argue with established facts, and they buy bows by the billions, in all colors, shapes, and sizes. They put them on packages containing products generally purchased by or for women. Women also buy the ready-made bows for do-it-yourself wrapping of gifts for Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions.
As manager of the A. W. Cox department store at the Gateway Shopping Center in St. Albans, E.L. Rabel, Sr., is acutely aware of the omni-presence of decorative bows in the merchandising business. It would be nice, he thought, if he could make a machine which could turn out thousands of bows an hour.
He actually did design such a bow-making machine, which made a type of bow called the “pom-pom,” but which required human hands in the final phase of manufacture. In recent years, however, the “pom-poms” have been fading in popularity, and Rabel yearned for a machine which could turn out complete bows rapidly and without human help.
There were machines which did the job, but none quite satisfied Rabel. He had ideas as to how such machines could be improved, but he was neither a machinist nor an inventor. His bow-making machine might have remained in the dream stage had he not read my article in the State Magazine about Alderson inventor Charles David Nash (“Alderson’s Professional Inventor,” Jan. 19, 1964.)
After reading the article, Rabel telephoned Nash and discussed his bow-making idea. Later, Nash visited Rabel in St. Albans.
“Look,” said the latter, I’ve been in the department-store business for a lot of years. The market for these bows has a tremendous potential. Further-more, because of my long experience, I have some valuable business connections. Do you think you could make such a machine?”
Charles David Nash said he could try. Back in his Alderson machine shop, he went to work. In six weeks he had a machine that would make bows.
“It wasn’t a very good machine at first,” Nash told me in a recent interview, “but it would make bows, and we ran it for about six months, making improvements. We still have it, and that’s it outside in our booth.”
Nash and Rabel had a booth at the recent West Virginia State Fair at Lewisburg, with a machine busily making bows, looking, as Nash put it, “like a mechanical goose.”
Three other machines followed the pilot model, and all are now operating in Nash’s shop at Alderson. All but the pilot model are “staple” machines. That is, in addition to making bows of various sizes and types, they also automatically staple adhesive-backed platforms to the bases of the bows, so they may be stuck on any surface without muss or fuss.
The pilot model is a “pin” type, which simply pins the bow at the base so that it retains its shape, the customer supplying his own adhesive or other method of attachment. With an accessory mechanism, however, this early machine converts to the “staple” type.
The bow-making operation has now become the most important part of Charles David Nash’s Alderson business. Incorporated as Ready Made Bows, Inc., with E.L. Rabel, Sr. as president and Nash as vice-president, the firm will put out a minimum of two million bows this year, which, at an average price of $25 a thousand, represents a $50,000 gross.
And this is only the beginning. The A.W. Cox chain of department stores, not surprisingly, became Ready Made Bows’ first customer. The Diamond department store is also a bow purchaser, as is the Leggett-Belk chain in the South. The largest single client today is the Gibson Greeting Card Co. of Cincinnati, which has just placed a large Christmas order for packaged bows to be sold in association with their cards.
Nash’s machine is not the first of its kind by any means.
“But,” says the West Point engineering graduate, “our machine produces more than twice as fast as any other. It takes only one person to supervise two operating machines. The pin machine makes about 1,300 bows an hour, and the staple type, with the adhesive, about 800.”
Rabel, looking out for the sales end of the product of Nash’s inventive mind, is optimistic about the future.
“So far,” the department store manager said, “our sales outlets are local and regional. But we expect to get clients on a nation-wide basis, and this can mean big business.”
If it works out it will mean the first big financial break for Charles David Nash, the jolly Alderson inventor. But he is not putting all his eggs in one bow-covered basket. His latest invention is a contrivance which keeps fresh water in a basin at all times, and is at the same time removable and easy to keep clean.
“It will be used,” Nash said, “in dog runs or kennels. Save a lot of work.”
So Nash easily turns his attention from bows to Bowser. Even if his business goes to the dogs, he’ll still be making money.