Remembering Charlie Bowlus


SARASOTA, Fla. — If the legacy of a man is measured in the number of people he positively influenced, then surely Charlie Bowlus was a titan of our industry. Not only did he have a profound impact on the personal lives of the people among whom he worked — ECRM employees, retailers and suppliers — he made an indelible mark on the way this industry does business.


Charlie Bowlus, 64, passed away from complications following emergency surgery earlier this month. Friends and family paid tribute to him as part of a life celebration at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Aug. 22.


You can only begin to wrap your arms around just how profound an influence Charlie Bowlus wielded when you read the comments that frame this tribute. He was a true visionary. He was a leader. And, perhaps most apparent, he was a people person whose primary objective every day was to do good by others. Indeed, that is the maxim that drove, and still drives, the way ECRM conducts business. “He was truly a legend in this industry and left a permanent imprint on people’s lives,” said Mitch Bowlus, ECRM president. “From the beginning, my father has instilled in all of us that the most important thing is to help people.”


Charlie Bowlus helped revolutionize retail conferences by leveraging technology and a “speed-dating” approach in developing the Efficient Program Planning Session style meetings with which ECRM has become synonymous. ECRM started with only five executives and an idea for how to better do business in 1994, and that idea has since blossomed into 100 different annual ECRM events. Many of the employees and participants from the beginning still are with ECRM today, Mitch Bowlus said, and they are all considered more than just colleagues. “They’re family,” he said.


Charlie Bowlus began his retail career during college at Ohio State University, when he worked for a small drug chain owned by a friend’s father. From there, he went on to become a buyer and wholesaler for various chains, including Target, Cook-United and Boston Distributors Inc.


In addition to Mitch, Charlie is survived by his wife Liz, daughter Melissa Fontanella, stepchildren Katy and Jenna Biegelsen, and grandchildren Michael and Miranda Fontanella. Memorial donations may be made to one of the following: Women for Women International, ASPCA or Feeding America.

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