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DOWNEY - A few things early on hardly seemed to work in Manny Castro's favor. His parents had divorced when he was two years old. Then his father passed away when Manny was only seven. He could only finish 9th grade in his hometown of Usulutan, El Salvador, due to the outbreak of civil war in his country.
His mom, who had remarried and eventually taken up residence in Maywood after residing in Mexico for a while, persuaded him to come live with her. Manny didn't hesitate for one moment: America was still the land of opportunity; besides he didn't fancy getting drafted into the Salvadorean Army. The next thing he knew, he was on U.S. soil. He was seventeen.
Because of the moral values and principles ("Respect people," "Don't steal or lie-follow the10 Commandments," etc.) instilled in him at church and by his paternal grandma, who he says had the greatest influence on him growing up, along with his auntie, Manny had developed inner fortitude. This enabled him to focus his energies on the things that mattered, and not squander his time on inconsequential activities like partying all night and so on.
There were of course other pitfalls and challenges that lay ahead, but Manny had meanwhile also acquired a positive attitude towards life and qualities like a good work ethic and determination that have served him in good stead through the years.
Laying out a course of action aimed at eventually bringing him a share of the good life he'd always fantasized about, he began by cashiering for a Chevron gas station in Westwood, while he took ESL classes at night at Bell High School.
"This was my foundation as far as my English was concerned," Manny said. "I learned further through friends. You might say also that I learned on-the-job, while pumping gas, and so on." After a while, he was promoted to store manager of the mini-mart. He was there for six years.
He spent the next six years again as cashier for a parking company, followed by still another 6-year stint as an independent contractor/driver, picking up and delivering items (mail, packages, etc.) in Los Angeles and Orange counties: a route, he says, that averaged 300 miles a day.
His next job broke the 6-year mode. This time Manny started as assistant manager, then moved up the ladder to become distribution zone manager for the Los Angeles Times. This lasted seven years.
In the meantime, Polan Ready, a former Downey Rotarian, had begun talking to Manny about taking over Ready's Minuteman printing business in Downey, since Ready was at best an absentee owner while attending to other ventures.
Agreeing to what seemed to him beneficial terms, Manny resigned from the Los Angeles Times, took out a loan on the equity of his house, trained for 3 weeks in New York at the Minuteman headquarters (getting the fundamentals of the printing business right, intro to inventory, etc.), and steeled himself to run his own printing press business.
As a franchisee, Manny received good advice from The Minuteman Printing Press corporation, which has been in existence for 35 years and is reputedly the largest such franchiser in the world.
"One of the best pieces of advice I got from the company," Manny says, "was investing in digital press equipment."
Many of the old time printers who ignored the technological trend, Manny says, could not keep up with the digital competition that featured less set-up time and therefore a faster turn-around time, a machine that was cleaner for the environment, and less expensive to operate.
Manny adds: "We re-structured the whole operation, we focused on improving customer service, on turning out a better quality product, and could offer lower prices."
These are what customers valued most, he said: "I was able to fulfill the terms of my deal with Ready, paying him off within a year. Including the franchise fee to cover the brand name, the whole deal cost me about $165,000."
"The new digital printing press can accomplish more things than the usual offset equipment," Manny continues. "The machine is capable of turning out 80 pages of full color (i.e., 4-color) saddle-stitched printing jobs.
He has a staff complement of four helping him run operations, which are now about 60 percent digital. There's a pressman, who runs the old offset press (some customers still prefer 2-color offset for its brighter colors); a graphic designer and bindery man; a part-time employee in charge of marketing (preparing and implementing marketing plan/ strategy; giving out samples, cultivating friendships and contacts, etc.; "We do a lot of follow-ups..."); and a typesetter, who does the artwork, runs the digital press, and handles the files.
Manny says the business, which he acquired in April 2007, has grown especially in the last two years. We have been in business almost six years, and I think this is quite an accomplishment considering the economic situation we're in. We've got customers in every major city in L.A. and Orange counties. Twenty five percent of our customers are found in downtown L.A, while the largest customers constitute 95 percent of the business. We hope to continue pushing ahead and grow the business."
It was Ready who introduced Manny to the Downey Rotary. Driven by his moral instincts, he has put his services at the disposal of the board. He has continued to actively participate/get involved with such Rotary activities as the Arc Walk, the blood drive, the 10K (Raffle) Night, the Pancake Breakfast, the annual Golf Tournament, the paint the house project, etc. Invited by then president Diane Davis to serve on the board, he has been put in charge of Vocational Services. He has served as greeter innumerable times.
His number one passion/goal when he was young, he says, was to be a black belter in karate. But the demands of work and family (he got married at age 26) got in the way. He had to be content with being a second degree green belter. This is enough, he says, for self-defense purposes. He and his wife have since divorced.
Manny says his membership with the Rotary Club has done wonders for his social skills and psyche, which in any case is firmly anchored to his faith. He says of the Rotary: "I like what it stands for. I can relate to what it's trying to do. The idea of giving of yourself without expecting anything in return is important to me. Your reward is [a certain fullness of] the heart."
Thus, besides honoring God, and love of country, respect for another, and developing friendships, "Nothing gives me more joy than seeing my daughters growing up and seeing how they're developing on good foundations. Jackie, the eldest, is 18 and a senior at Downey High. She is bound for Cal State Long Beach and plans to be a teacher. My 16-year old, Christina, is a junior, also at Downey High, and she is already involved with three different clubs and this is very gratifying. Sophia, the youngest, is 7 and is a 2nd grader at Lewis. They are all well-behaved kids, and are all involved as well with the church. In my belief system, this supersedes everything, including worldly wealth."
"Every summer, I make it a point to take the kids on 3-4 day mini-vacations, say, to Yosemite, Bass Lake, Angel's Camp, or Vegas."
Published: January 3, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 38