The businesses located in Long Beach’s Westside industrial area are some of the city’s oldest and most diverse. Firms passed from apprentice to apprentice over the span of 100 years, commercial production facilities with clients all over the world, small shops where speciality products are artfully crafted by hand, and metal working shops where sparks fly are just a handful of what you’ll find in an area that has often been overlooked as to its significant economic impact.
Approximately 700 businesses employing thousands of workers butt up to both sides of the Long Beach Freeway. One is the Westside Industrial Project Area, stretching from roughly Anaheim Street to the south, past Pacific Coast Highway to the north, and from the freeway to the City of Los Angeles border to the west.
The other is the Magnolia Industrial Group, running from the freeway east to Magnolia Avenue, from Anaheim Street to Pacific Coast Highway.
Businesses in both areas benefit from their proximity to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and their easy access to rail and freeway systems.
Many of these businesses have national and international ties, dealing with some of the top corporations in the world. Here are four examples.
Kevin McClister, vice president of Tell Steel, has worked for the firm for 26 years. The business, which now occupies more than 100,000 square feet, has been located in the Westside Long Beach industrial area since 1959. It is located at 2345 W. 17th St. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
In 1959, steelworker Tell Tuffli and his children, son Don and daughter Dale, opened Tell Steel in the Westside Long Beach industrial area. The steel supply business operated out of one 5,000-square-foot bay with one truck and a single power hacksaw. Tell Steel still sits on the same plot of land at 2345 W. 17th St., but it looks much different today, with multiple bays encompassing 100,000 square feet and stocking nearly 17 million pounds of steel and aluminum materials.
The company, which started out with just a handful of employees, now employs 50 workers from Long Beach and the surrounding areas, Kevin McClister, vice president of Tell Steel, told the Business Journal.
Tell Tuffli set up Tell Steel in the Westside area because he had been working for U.S. Steel and saw a need for a steel distributor in the harbor area, according to McClister. In this way, the company’s location was the reason it was founded, he explained. “The harbor area has always been very supportive of Tell Steel and [has been] our real strength as far as our customer base,” he said. Being located by the ports with access to freeways, rail and other transit has made it easy to obtain materials and transport them to customers, he added.
Don Tuffli is still a majority owner in the business, but about 10 years ago he decided to retire. Instead of selling off the company, he decided to keep it in the family, so to speak. “For loyalty – because we have had so many employees who have stuck around for such a long time – he gave the employees the chance to buy the company and to continue to run the company,” McClister explained. Employees now own about 46% of Tell Steel, he noted.
Tell Steel carries carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum and some alloy metals, with products ranging from sheet metal to tubing to piping and more. “We basically carry the full gamut of products in the carbon and stainless [steel] and aluminum product range,” McClister said.
The firm is able to cut its products to custom shapes and sizes based on the needs of its customers, thanks to its array of machinery on-site. “We have nine saw cutting machines, two sand cutting machines, one plasma machine, and two water jet cutting machines for cutting plate [metal],” in addition to other equipment, he said. Tell Steel is equipped with CAD/CAM – computer-aided design and manufacturing software that allows them to input a client’s specifications on how they would like something cut. Those designs are then relayed to the machinery, which is able to replicate them.
“We have a wide range of customers. We have everything from small machine shops up to the refineries, power companies, utilities, [and] some of the aerospace [firms],” McClister said. The company also contracts with government agencies like the L.A. Department of Water and Power, he noted.
Tell Steel services the Southern California area as far north as the Santa Clarita Valley and as far south as San Juan Capistrano, McClister said. The company services clients as far east as Temecula.
Dealing with the oil industry – which is reliant upon what is considered a volatile commodity – can present challenges. “When the price of oil drops, it makes things difficult because they get slow and they don’t have the business to order, so it makes us go out and look for other business,” McClister said.
This year, the company is doing well despite still-slow oil prices thanks to its diversified customer base, according to McClister.
Competition in the steel industry is tough, McClister said. “The service aspect of it is how we try to differentiate ourselves, because as far as the products themselves, there isn’t a whole lot of difference,” he said, noting that the company motto is “First In Service.” He explained, “We just try to differentiate ourselves by being able to offer the best service available and just really do whatever it takes for our customers.”
Harbor Custom Canvas
Daniel Loggans acquired Harbor Custom Canvas from the previous owner in 2005 after working there for nearly 25 years. He said he hopes to one day pass the business on to one of his own employees. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
Harbor Custom Canvas has been servicing boat owners in the San Pedro harbor area for 100 years. Founded in 1916 as a ship’s chandlery and sailmaking operation, the business has been passed on from master to apprentice four times over the decades. The business moved to the Westside Long Beach industrial area in 1983 and in 2005 relocated to the Magnolia Industrial Group area.
Current owner Daniel Loggans apprenticed under his former employer, who was once the apprentice of owners who got into the business in the 1930s. That’s about where the paper trail ends, as far as Loggans can tell, but word has been passed along through the years that makes him confident this year is the business’s 100th anniversary.
“I purchased the company in 2005 after working there for 24 or 25 years,” Loggans said. “And we have just been increasing our business ever since.”
Loggans got his start in the marine canvas industry when he worked for a small canvas shop in Newport Beach after high school. He then went to work for his father’s company but ended up at Harbor Custom Canvas when he realized the canvas business was what he truly enjoyed. “I am very happy that I did,” he said.
Loggans hopes to keep with tradition and pass the business on to one of his employees some day, he noted.
Harbor Custom Canvas’s clients are individual boat owners, corporations and government agencies, Loggans said. “That includes BP, MSRC, various other oil service companies, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Port of Long Beach, L.A. County Sheriffs and several City of Long Beach departments,” he said. The largest share of his business is from individual boat owners, he noted.
Harbor Custom Canvas employee Hipolito Alamilla sews canvas material for use on a boat. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
The company fabricates custom, handmade canvas items for boats and yachts, including covers, enclosures, dodgers and other materials. It employs 12 people.
“Every single item that we make is a one of a kind, handmade item,” Loggans said. “Every boat owner wants it done a little different way, so there are no patterns that you keep or anything. What it requires is the ability to talk to the customer and interpret what he is requesting, and integrate that with knowledge of the industry and of boating, then recommend to him what he should do and how it should be done,” he explained.
“What we do is we go to the boat and generally make patterns on the boat, bring it back to the shop and draw it out, sew it up and then do all the fabrication here in-house,” Loggans said. “And then once it’s all done, we’ll bring it back to the boat and install it.”
There are many other canvas product suppliers for the boating industry in Southern California, but only a handful have more than five employees, Loggans said. “There is competition out there, but it is not competition that is really anything we need to worry about,” he said. “There is plenty of work for everybody. And we stay busy all year long.”
As for many other businesses, the Great Recession was a difficult time for Harbor Custom Canvas, Loggans noted. “But we stuck it out and we survived when a lot of other small companies didn’t. I like to think it’s because of our reputation, and we’re happy we made it,” he said. Loggans is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program at Long Beach City College, which helped him develop a strategic outlook for his business, he noted.
The Magnolia Industrial Group business district, which abuts the Los Angeles River, is a good location for Harbor Custom Canvas because of its proximity to the San Pedro Bay ports and freeway access to marinas in beach cities to the north and south, Loggans said.
A resident of Naples, Loggans said he loves Long Beach. He reflected, “I’ve lived in Orange County and other places, but I think I’ll probably live here forever.”
Ken Mason Tile
Brothers Ken Mason, left, and Glenn Paul founded Ken Mason Tile in 1971. The handmade tile business has been in its current location at 809 W. 15th St. since 1991. Mason is responsible for the tile work adorning the facade of their building. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
While many of the business facades in Westside Long Beach are so unassuming that you would never be able to guess at the work taking place inside, the facade of Ken Mason Tile boasts of its inner workings, with intricately patterned tile and brickwork which Ken Mason himself installed after he and his brother, Glenn Paul, moved the business to West 15th Street in 1991.
The two brothers started out designing handmade tiles in a studio as a hobby when they were working as tile installers. “One of the owners of one of the tile places saw some of our work and asked if they could put it in the shop,” Paul recalled. “And they did. And voila! It just blew up,” he said. “Before we knew it, our little studio that was just for us became a business.”
Since Ken Mason Tile was founded in 1971 across the 710 Freeway in the Westside industrial area, the brothers have grown their business into what is now a 32,000-square-foot operation in the nearby Magnolia Industrial Group area. While their tile is primarily found in residences – including in the home of former President Richard Nixon – they also have commercial clients. One of their latest projects was creating and supplying tiles for the new Disneyland theme park in Shanghai, Paul noted.
Ken Mason Tile creates handmade tile products, many of which are painted. The only machinery used is equipment that removes air bubbles from mixed clay before it is fired in a kiln. If the air bubbles aren’t removed, the clay could explode in the firing process, Paul explained.
Every other part of the process – from trimming tile edges to painting and glazing – is done by hand. Mason, who has a chemistry degree, assesses the raw materials. Paul, who has a master of fine arts degree, creates most of the designs. If a member of the art staff comes up with a new design, they receive a commission on the product, Paul said. “The only problem we run into is designs have to be salable. We have to temper the artistic merit of the piece with the commercial viability,” he explained.
“We want unevenness, and we want variation,” Paul said of handmade tile. “When it’s handmade, it’s uneven but it’s beautiful.”
Above, the company is opening a retail showroom called Tile District in about a month. The showroom will be open to the public, according to Paul. (Photographs by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
The company has a network of 250 dealers with brick-and-mortar stores across the country. Most of their business is on the coasts and in the South, Paul said. Ken Mason Tile sells all kinds of handmade tile – glass, clay, porcelain and more – and has an immense selection of patterns to choose from. They also do custom work on request.
“For handmade material, we’re pretty much alone in this niche,” Paul said. There are only three other businesses on the West Coast that he knows of that specialize in handmade tile. “On the East Coast, some of the companies are starting to produce their own material,” he noted. “Most of the tile that is sold in this country is machine-made. Handmade tile makes up a very small section of that business.”
Ken Mason Tile is opening a retail showroom, called Tile District, at its Westside location in about a month. It will be the first time the business is selling retail directly, Paul said. They’re targeting designers and architects with the new side of the business, but the showroom will be open to anyone, he noted.
The company’s location in the MIG is beneficial not only because it’s close to home – Paul and Mason and many of their 35 or so employees live in Long Beach – but also because the MIG business district provides security, Paul said. “We’ve been here a long time, and we’re really happy to be in Long Beach,” he reflected.
Mambo Sound & Recording
Steve McNeil, founder of Mambo Sound & Recording,left, and Ruben Santa Cruz, an audio engineer, are pictured at the company’s 8,000 square-foot facility in the Westside Long Beach industrial area. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
In a nondescript building in Westside Long Beach’s industrial area, there’s a business that boasts former President Bill Clinton, Faith Hill, the U.S. Navy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and many other politicians, musicians and institutions as clients. But with no sign on the exterior, you wouldn’t even know Mambo Sound & Recording is there.
That’s fine with owner Steve McNeil, who first went into business in the early 1980s. “We don’t deal with the public directly, and for us it’s a great place where it’s noisy around us so we can make noise,” he said. And it does get noisy. McNeil is in the business of sound – Mambo specializes in recording, mixing, and live sound and event production, as well as stage elements, props, equipment rentals and maintenance, remote broadcasting, lighting and other services.
McNeil got his start in sound when he was studying business at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in the early 1980s. “I worked at Whittaker Music in Long Beach back when it was the big music store in town,” he recalled. “They wouldn’t do rentals, so I started doing rentals out of their store.”
To grow his expertise, McNeil mentored at studios in Los Angeles and took courses in acoustics and music production at CSULB. “I also worked as a manufacturers’ representative, and the manufacturers provide a lot of training,” he noted. While in school, he began servicing CSULB alumni association events, a gig he still maintains to this day.
Opening a recording studio “happened organically,” McNeil said. “One became available to purchase, and so I bought one in Stanton and then moved it to Belmont Shore,” he said. In the late ’80s, McNeil opened a recording studio in the back of a duplex off of The Toledo. Sublime and No Doubt – big-name acts with ties to Long Beach – both recorded there.
McNeil’s recording business took off. He moved it to Cambodia Town as it grew and eight years ago moved Mambo again to its current location, an 8,000-square-foot building in Long Beach’s Westside.
Nowadays, Mambo’s main focus is event production, which involves sound, lighting and video. McNeil has grown his list of music and corporate clients by referral. For example, “We did a lot of work for CBS working in conjunction with Red Bull for their Sound Space,” McNeil said, referring to an intimate venue for radio station KROQ where performances are livestreamed. “Those are web broadcast and live broadcast events where we provide sound and the broadcast material,” McNeil explained.
The recording studio at Mambo Sound & Recording, an event production and audio engineering company located at 2200 W. Esther St. in Long Beach. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
Working at the Sound Space and other music venues has enabled McNeil to connect with artists and their managers. “Each show, as it becomes a production, basically becomes your business card for the next show because they can see the level of your work,” he explained. “It’s really a referral style business.”
In addition to its work in the music world, Mambo also does a lot of work for nonprofits and government agencies, including the Clinton Global Initiative and the U.S. Navy. One of McNeil’s favorite gigs is providing sound services for events on Navy vessels. “I have done probably 30 events on working aircraft carriers,” he said. “Throwing a show for the troops that have been out at sea for eight months – that’s pretty cool.”
One of Mambo’s latest projects was consulting with director J.J. Abrams for a series on Showtime called “Roadies.” “We’re able to supply that because they work out of Manhattan Beach as their base but they do location shooting,” McNeil said.
Being located in Long Beach creates a “distinct advantage” for Mambo because of its central location to Los Angeles and Orange counties, McNeil said. “The industrial area suits us great for what we do. It allows us to do our maintenance and our testing,” McNeil said. “I love the attitude over here. It’s a workingman’s environment and [there’s] a lot of talent. Plus being right at the end of the 710 Freeway works out really well.”