Industry: Built Environment
Products: Restaurant seating and furnishings
Founder and President Joel Rivera employs a streamlined approach for manufacturing furnishings for the restaurant trade.
A major supplier to restaurants and commercial industries, Custom Seating Mfg. is also a manufacturer of tables, counters, and other furnishings for individuals and small businesses. Rivera says the company works with a variety of materials such as fiberglass, metal, upholstery, and plastic as it continues to diversify to meet the needs of its customers.
"It was never my intention to do what I do," says Rivera. "I was working for a company that made these types of products back when I was still in high school, and I worked with them for some time. My original intention with this business was just to do powder coating for outdoor furniture, and we did at the beginning."
Over the years, Rivera says his talents became well known and soon more customers from the restaurant industry came knocking. "Because of my background with the restaurant furniture, people would come to me and want me to do other things. So, little by little, things started shifting towards that," he explains. "It just happened, because I had the opportunity to learn a lot of different skills and it was easy for me to create the furniture people asked for."
All of the work is done in-house, requiring Rivera to train workers in a variety of manufacturing processes. "We do most of the metal work, upholstery, and other operations ourselves," says Rivera. "We basically have a key person in each area of the manufacturing process, and we provide help to those people when they need it, and that's how we get the job done."
Most of the company's sales are direct to the end user, and much of its customers come by reputation and referral. Rivera says Custom Seating continues to grow, even without extensive outside sales efforts. The customer base is a mix of all types of restaurants from fast food to five-star; the bulk of the business is fairly local, but the company ships products all around the country. "There's about a half-and-half mixture of new restaurants versus remodel jobs that we're supplying," says Rivera.
Rivera feels that keeping his overhead low with a small staff gives him an advantage over his competitors, despite larger competition having more buying power. "I can offer the same products at a more affordable price because my overall costs are lower," says Rivera. He sees that the industry is localized to the point that competitors are generally using the same suppliers -- as well as having to meet the same regulations, so there is a fairly even footing between rivals.
Regardless, Rivera says Custom Seating maintains a competitive edge, especially with fiberglass pieces. "We custom-make all the fiberglass, while our competitors import from China," says Rivera. "They can only get standard items in white, and we can make almost any shape and color. That gives us the upper hand because we offer more options for appearance, and allow our customers to better utilize space with a customized piece of furniture."
Challenges: Competing with inexpensive imports. "We have importers that are bringing in things, so we have to be aware of what our market is doing," says Rivera. "Their quality is not as good, so that's the thing that keeps us in business. The challenge is making the customer understand that difference."
Opportunities: According to Rivera, the company is expanding its ability to make custom products. "We are providing a service that competitors who are simply importing standard items cannot match," he explains. "We are also expanding into businesses beyond restaurants that have a need for durable commercial furnishings."
Needs: The company installs many of the items they sell in Southern California, so Rivera is always looking for talented people in the area. "It's a little challenging to find people with all the skills that we need," he says. "Basically, we try to find those with a little bit of background and the capacity to learn, then we train them ourselves."