Pizza made Lebanon their hometown. While there’s much more to John and Jennifer Bower’s story, that is certainly not a bunch of bologna.
The Bowers’ story is truly an amazing one. It is one of flexibility, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit.
The Bowers relocated to Lebanon 20 years ago. They are the owners of two Domino’s Pizza stores in Lebanon, and the future owners of two more.
But not only have the Bowers moved to Lebanon, they’ve embraced it as their hometown, they’ve become immersed in it, and have strived to make it better.
“I’m a newcomer, a transplant,” said John Bower, with a smile. “I consider Lebanon my hometown. It’s a beautiful area to live in. We raised our kids here. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m doing what I love. I love the interaction with people.
“I think Lebanon is a town that’s transforming,” continued Bower. “People moving here today are at the birth of what it is going to be in the future. There are so many things in the works that are going to change Lebanon. It’s a tight-knit community of people who care about their town. I think what’s coming is going to be amazing.”
John and Jen Bower own and operate the downtown Lebanon Domino’s Pizza at 503 Cumberland Street, and the Domino’s Pizza at 133 West Lincoln Avenue in Myerstown, which opened in May. The Bowers also plan to open a Domino’s Pizza in Annville by June of 2020 and a Domino’s in Jonestown in 2021.
Some of the Bowers’ success can be attributed to hard work, some of it can be attributed to being at the right place at the right time, but certainly the move downtown from their original location on West Cumberland Street in Lebanon can be seen as a turning point. It’s been a handful of years since the Bowers moved their Domino’s store to Lebanon’s central business district, after establishing its original location in February of 2000.
The Bowers currently employ 48 local residents.
“We wanted to be downtown,” said Bower. “We’ve seen overwhelming success downtown and we wanted to give back. It got us more involved, more connected. It doubled our sales by coming to the downtown location. Corporate told us not to come downtown. It’s going to destroy the business. But we owned the business and we didn’t listen to them. They said the street we are on should be two-ways, but the town is used to it. We saw the traffic on Cumberland Street, and the car count was very good.”
“Moving the business was the biggest risk we’ve taken, but the rewards have been phenomenal,” added Bower. “When you’re a business owner, you’ve got to consider the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario. Lebanon is a very value-driven town. We price our pizza so people can come down, and we’re not going to gouge them on it.”
When the Bowers set out on their journey, they could’ve never imagined it leading them to Lebanon.
John graduated from Williamsport High School and Penn State University in the late 1990s. He worked as a Domino’s delivery driver when he was a senior in high school, and upon his graduation from Penn State, and with limited job opportunities in his field, he managed a Domino’s Pizza shop in Williamsport.
It was around that time that he decided to take the leap into ownership. Domino’s offered Bower franchise opportunities in East Stroudsburg, North Carolina, and Lebanon.
“I found I was really good at it, so I decided to franchise.” said Bower of pizza entrepreneurialism. “When I came here to visit, I liked the area. Lebanon was an area I wanted to be in. I went to school for architecture. I had zero interest in being a business owner. That’s the path I was supposed to go on. But I thank God it didn’t happen that way.”
“I don’t know if everyone can do it,” Bower added. “It takes some staying power, through the good and the bad. Someone has to be extremely motivated to do what they do. You’ve got to have a business plan and be willing to stick with it, and be willing to change.”
Certainly the Bowers’ success wasn’t immediate, and there have been ups and downs since. But they never wavered from the course, through belief in the process and themselves.
“I think our hands-on approach has been one of our keys,” said Bower. “I live here. I am a small business owner. We just have a big name behind us and good people behind us. You’re in the people business. Employees are the most challenging part of our job. Finding good people who have the same vision is difficult.”
“I love the idea that people are making a living because of us,” continued Bower. “I love that we provide an opportunity, a job, the hours. Being able to give back to the community is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It makes you feel good. We love doing that stuff.”
The Bowers’ community involvement was simply the next logical step in the process. He is active in Lebanon’s attempt to bring more people and business downtown, and next year he’ll take the reins as the Community of Lebanon Association’s new president.
Bower believes that the same principles that have made Domino’s Pizza successful can also be applied to the business district as a whole.
“If we go back to the 1950s’ business model where the downtown was the hub of the city, I’d love to get to that,” said Bower. “I think people are going outside their town to spend their money. But I’d love to see them spend it here. I think with Mayor (Sherry) Capello’s vision of downtown, she’s on the right track. There are a lot of people behind the scenes working to make things happen.”
“It can be an entertainment place, but we have to provide places for people to come to,” Bower continued. “What we’re looking for is getting the community more involved. We want to bring people downtown. We do struggle with it, but we want them to see the great things downtown has to offer.”
Bower’s vision for the future is clear, for both his own businesses and the prospects for downtown. Part of that vision includes change, and simply rolling with the punches.
“When we built the Myerstown store, we built it with this (Lebanon’s) model in mind,” said Bower. “We knew what works. We’ve got to get through our next two builds and see where we are. We’re very hand-on people. We’re in our stores a lot.
“I guess what I want people to know about me is that I’m an extremely fair guy, who has the best of intentions,” concluded Bower. “It may not have always worked out that way, but that’s where it started. Domino’s has given us the diving board to jump into the pond.”
And the water’s just fine.
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