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Gainey Ceramics finds its niche

Factory outlet in La Verne sells discontinued urns and pots at deep discounts.

September 19, 2009|Debra Prinzing

In 1949, Steve Gainey's father and grandfather started manufacturing pottery with equipment they purchased from Pacific Clay Products' closed Inglewood factory. From the original product line of dog dishes and crockery, Gainey Ceramics evolved into an architectural pottery maker, specializing in decorative tile and commercial plant containers for the indoor-outdoor "plantscaping" industry.

A third-generation pottery-maker, Gainey figures his La Verne company is one of the last continuously operating ceramic manufacturers around.

"There used to be dozens and dozens of manufacturers here in Los Angeles, even up through the '90s," he says. "But almost everyone has fled."

Cheap imports are to blame, he says. The downturn in real estate hasn't helped, but Gainey is bullish about 2010.

"Human beings want to improve their surroundings," he says. "There's a pent-up demand."

In the meantime, the outdoor pot and urn manufacturer lures bargain hunters by selling seconds and discontinued designs at 50% to 60% off retail prices at the Gainey Ceramics Factory Outlet Store. The place isn't fancy. It's housed next to the railroad tracks. But prices range from $5 to $100, and the selection is enough to get customers thinking how cool an oversize planter (or two) might look on their patio.

Gainey Ceramics promotes its urns and planters as green because they are not transported from overseas (with the resulting pollution) and they have 25% recycled content. Water used in the manufacturing process is recycled back into the clay, and the company has adopted other eco-friendly practices.

Gainey acknowledges that the firm's lightweight fiberglass containers, which account for as much as half its business, are not green. Fiberglass pots are often specified by architects and builders because they cost less to transport, are less vulnerable to damage during shipping and often can be made in larger sizes than ceramic ones. Plus, they cost about 20% less.

"The people we sell to are very environmentally conscious, but most have not truly embraced the green movement when it comes to price," Gainey says. The U.S. Green Building Council's certification program for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is persuading some developers to choose ceramic over fiberglass -- a welcome trend, he says.

The La Verne outlet is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1200 Arrow Highway; (800) 451-8155; www.gaineyceramics.com.

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