Growing East LA Fixture Manufacturing Company Locates In Ontario

(December 17)  A growing Southern California Company has expanded its manufacturing footprint, moving some two-thirds of its operations into San Bernardino County.
The expansion of CELCO Manufacturing, Inc. from what was formerly its main base of operation in East Los Angeles into the city of Ontario’s industrial district is the model that Inland Empire officials are hoping will be repeated over and over again as business owners are learning that lower property leasing and purchasing prices in and around San Bernardino County represent a decided advantage for entrepreneurs.
Celco is is the corporate personification of the Cortés  Family, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the mid-1970s. Seven of the eight Cortés brothers found employment with Hamilton Fixtures West,  a manufacturer of display furniture located in Brea, learning the various aspects of the fabrication of both wood and metal furnishings and display racks. In 1994, the eleven Cortés  brothers  and sisters – who then ranged in age from 18 to 37 – contributed to starting Celco. They drew their clients from both the retail industry and display furniture manufacturers.  They specialized in providing display racks and cases for companies such as Nabisco and Kraft Foods as well as component parts such as shelving and case legs.
The company struggled initially as it sought to break into a market dominated by well-established companies, but forged a toehold in the industry and grew steadily if slowly for a dozen years. By 1996, Celco boasted 35 employees and exceeded the $3 million revenue mark. The economic downturn that began the following year took its toll, however, and by 2009 the company brought in only $1.8 million and was forced to shed 17 of its employees.  Beginning that year, the company intensified its marketing efforts, targeting furniture design companies with needs for the type of components Celco could readily supply.
By late 2010, the company experienced a turnaround, with a 40 percent uptick in sales. And even as the recession’s grip on the local and national economy persisted, the company continued to prosper. In 2010, the company had $2.6 million in sales. This year, the company is on track to hit over $6 million, and it now employs 58, of whom, according to president and CEO Cesar Cortés, “27 are immediate family.”
The decision to set up shop in Ontario, Cortés said, was one that naturally evolved as a consequence of the company’s success, the lower cost of functioning outside of Los Angeles, the quality of the manufacturing and warehouse space available in Ontario, the nearby presence of a number of the company’s customers and suppliers, as well as the consideration that the new location is much closer to where the majority of Celco’s employees reside.
“We have a 17,000 square foot building in East Los Angeles,” Cesar Cortés told the Sentinel during an exclusive interview at his company’s new 30,000 square-foot plant, located at 1524 West Brooks Street in Ontario. “We are going to keep that facility open while we move 70 percent of our operation here. We chose to relocate here, first, because we need a bigger place and, second, some of our best customers are in this area.  One important difference is it is almost 30 percent less expensive here. Six out of eight of our supervisors live nearby in Chino. Most of our suppliers are closer – San Dimas and Ontario. There is also the advantage of 45,000 square feet of enclosed yard at this location, which is very valuable for the type of business we do.”
Cortés gave a description of the niche his company has found.
“Our basic product line is point of purchase displays – racks and fixtures for department stores such as Sears and Forever 21,”  Cortés said. “Our products include some office furniture. We incorporate wood, metal and plastic into our production process. We provide wood products for companies that fabricate or deal mostly in metal products.  We do thousands of wood components for the La-Z-Boy, United Furniture Industries and Jonathan Louise. We have a couple of customers who purchase close to a million dollars worth of merchandise from us.  We have had great sales for four consecutive years, with each year exceeding the last. In 2010, we predicted sales of $2.8 million and the company hit $3.2 million. We are now up to six million.”
In touting his company’s fabricating capabilities, Cortés said he would like his prospective customers “to know that we are one of just a few companies in Southern California that has the machinery and capacity to meet high capacity demand in a very short turnaround time.  We have a proven track record fabricating a quality product to our customers’ specifications. We work primarily as a subcontractor to businesses that want to increase their sales but find themselves too busy to complete new job proposals. We offer fabricating outsourcing that carries with it the advantage of reducing a company’s machinery requirements and capital investments, decreases its direct labor costs, and saving not only time on prefabrication cutting and preparation of materials but on material handling and on ordering raw materials. We have at our disposal ten CNC [computer numerical control] machines, two edgebanders, one panel saw, a CNC dowel inserter and ten conventional woodworking machines. We have a full-blown engineering department that can do volume engineering.”
The consideration that Celco is a family-owned and operated business provides the advantage of cohesion and dedication that is not always available elsewhere, Cortés said.
“My brothers, including myself, worked 103 combined years at Hamilton Fixtures West and we now have 83 more combined years working together with Celco,” Cortés said. “We are an unusual family in that we have been working together – the four of us who are the corporate officers with Celco – for 32 years. We occasionally have differences of opinion but we get along and we all take pride in meeting our customers’ needs and expectations.”

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