Far More Than Boxes: Meet Ry Bowling

January 24, 2024

If you ask him about his work, Ry Bowling might jokingly tell you “Boxes! That’s all I know!” But those who work with him and for him have a different story to tell. To them, Ry is all about being there for people.

“He’s taught me a lot about what it means to truly make an impact in the lives of people around him,” says one SanMar employee at our Ohio distribution center. “He’s always out there amongst the people in the warehouse, and they appreciate that,” recalls another.

A Helpful Mindset

Ry has been with SanMar for over 12 years. While he graduated college with a degree in education, his first professional job was at FedEx Ground as a package handler “to pay the bills.” So when he says boxes is all he knows, he’s only sort-of kidding.

Ry's big smileRy left FedEx to take on his first job at SanMar in 2011, starting as a checking supervisor and soon moving on to shift manager, assistant manager, and eventually General Manager of our distribution center near Cincinnati, Ohio. In that role he managed nearly 1,000 employees in a building that recently grew to over 1 million square feet of inventory space. It’s a complex operation with a lot of moving parts.

“It starts with your mindset,” Ry says. “You know you’re not going to come in and do the same thing every day.” On one day he might be wearing his logistics hat, and it’s all about planning and organization. The next day he might be more like a counselor for employees who need someone to talk to. He’s best-known by others for always asking what he can do to help.

“You can go to him with anything and his door is always open,” says one employee in Ohio, adding “And he’s a great cupcake taste-tester!”

“There are days when I can’t really explain what I do,” Ry admits with a laugh. “But I try to always be prepared for whatever’s coming.”

Ry and his familyAs if he didn’t have plenty to do already, Ry and his wife have two teenage boys, both engaged in sports. “Traveling with them is a full-time thing,” he says. As anyone who’s raised teenagers can tell you, being ready for anything is part of that job description too.

The Human Touch

Ry’s supervisor, Blair Purrington, says that Ry “leads a team of almost 1,000 employees in a truly engaging and personal way. It’s amazing that he knows most of them by name (including their families) and takes the time to listen and learn their perspective.”

Adjusting to being responsible for such a large number of people wasn’t easy — it’s been one of the biggest challenges of Ry’s career. “When I started there were three or four hundred people here,” he says. “There’s a lot of new names to learn now!”

Ry Bowling in OhioWhen it comes to what Ry enjoys most about his job, that’s easy. “The human interaction,” he says. “I was born 20 minutes down the road, and there are people working in this building that I went to high school with.” But he also gets to meet people from many other places, like one of his shift managers from Nepal. “Meeting people from around the world is the best.”

While a lot has changed for Ry, he can rely on one thing that’s stayed the same over the years. “SanMar is getting bigger as a company, but the way we treat people hasn’t changed,” he says. “We treat them with respect and we treat them as peers.”

Ry was especially proud when Ohio was named SanMar Distribution Center of the Year in 2022. He knew his people had earned it. “Each employee got $100 in cash and we threw a big party,” he recalls. “It meant the world to share that with them.”

And the awards didn’t stop there. When it came time to recognize an outstanding SanMar employee, Vice President of Distribution Brian Thompson said there was no debate about who to nominate from his team. “It was an easy decision.”

And the Winner Is…

In 2022, SanMar named Anne Grogel the first winner of of the Yellow T-Shirt Award, recognizing a single SanMar employee for living our values of Being Nice and Telling the Truth.

Late last year, several employees were nominated from across the company for the 2023 award. Ry had no idea he was in the running, but he had applied for a new Director position at SanMar. His team told him he had to come to Seattle for an interview, which just happened to coincide with an all-hands company meeting. Ry’s team made sure he was sitting right up front when SanMar President Jeremy Lott announced this year’s winner.

Ry and Jeremy Lott“It’s an overwhelming thing,” Ry says about winning the Yellow T-Shirt Award. “You don’t do what you do for personal recognition, but it’s made me feel pretty doggone good that I’m doing the right things.”

And the Director job? He got it, of course. As of this year, Ry is now SanMar’s new Director of Distribution in the Central Region.

Congratulations to Ry on his Yellow T-Shirt Award and his well-deserved position at SanMar. We’re glad you’re here, because what you do for the people at SanMar means so much more than boxes.