Cobbs Creek Body Works, located in Willow Oak Industrial Park, was established in 1978 by the late Raymond N. Lowe and his wife, Eileen, in partnership with their son, John Lowe, and his wife, Connie. Various family members have been involved in the business over time, but it is now in the hands of John, Connie and their three children---Jonathan, Nathan and Heather.
The business started out in a single building offering body repair and painting. But the car repair business was competitive, said John.
“We knew we had to find a niche---go after something somebody else wasn’t already doing,” he said.
That something, they decided, was heavy trucks.
So in 1981, John’s brother, Michael Lowe, joined the business, and it was decided that their father would get out of the shop and go on the road as a salesman for the company. Raymond Lowe, who had raised his family in Norfolk before moving to Mathews to start his business, went after the Southside Virginia beverage delivery market---both beer and soft drinks---and that decision proved to be fortuitous. The first two companies Lowe signed contracts with were RC Cola and Hoffman Beverage on the Southside, and when word spread that there was a company in Virginia painting and reconditioning large trucks and offering pick-up and delivery service, business began pouring in.
Soon, the Lowes had a lucrative contract with UPS in Washington, D.C., and before long, they were picking up and delivering trucks for companies all across Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and D.C. More recently, they have begun painting area school buses.
Although Jonathan did a short stint in the Marine Corps, where he trained in welding and fabrication, he has been involved in the business for 20 years. Nathan worked at the shop until he became certified as a firefighter/paramedic and began working for Newport News Fire Department. However, he continues to be involved with the family business, operating a tow truck as needed on his days off.
Heather left Mathews in 1994 when she married into the Air Force, but her husband retired 10 years ago and they moved back to the area. Two years ago, she came on board to fill in after Secretary Valerie Norum, who had been with the business for 32 years, retired.
Over the years, the Lowes have expanded to become involved in a number of other businesses, including brief stints in real estate and construction. Since the mid-1990s, they have operated a used truck dealership, NIMTRAN, buying and selling commercial trucks in association with representatives in Hilton Head, South Carolina and Scottsdale, Arizona. Last year, they got into the 24-hour towing and recovery business, and both Jonathan and Nathan became licensed tow truck operators.
Over the years, the company has been involved in a number of special projects, such as painting a prototype truck for Budweiser to display at a large event on the East Coast, painting a Miller Coors truck that race car driver Brad Keselowski used to pose in front of at a Richmond race, and painting the Zamboni for the Richmond Coliseum.
At one time, Cobbs Creek Body Works had as many as 15 employees, said John, but today the 10,000-square-foot facility makes do with 10 people, including family members.
John said that one of his employees, Mark Perigny, has been with the company for 25 years, while another, Charles Howard, has been there for 20 years. There are customers that have been with them even longer---Hoffman Beverage of Virginia Beach for 38 years and M. Price Distributing of Hampton for 35 years.
All three members of the third generation of Lowes spent their summers growing up with the business, and now their children are showing an interest in it, as well. Heather’s son, Conner, works there in the summer when he’s home from college, and Jonathan’s young daughter, Addison, helps install decals and insists she’s going to learn to drive a forklift.
While the family has had its ups and downs working together over the years, Nathan said, “Show me a family that works together all day that doesn’t. I wouldn’t change it for nothing. It’s been fun.”
Heather chimed in, “You can laugh at those things at the end of the day.”
“I had no idea when this started that I’d still be here 40 years later with all my family,” said John. “It’s been a family experience, without a doubt. That’s what it’s all about.”