More than 5 million Latin Americans live in Los Angeles, and the vast majority of these people were born in Central America. Vicente Fernandez, owner of Transportes Escuintla has created a successful import/export business for these people from Central America living in Los Angeles. What started out 10 years ago in a tiny garage, grew slowly and steadily over the past decade, and now Transportes Escuintla has become one of the most prominent transporting and shipping logistics companies in Southern California. Today, he moves more than 5,000 containers a year throughout Central America, and uses more than 10 trucks to provide port to door service to all of his customers in Southern California, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Located in downtown Los Angeles, Transportes Escuintla ships everything from clothes to cars for families living in Los Angeles but with ties to their native land. As the owner and operator of Transportes Escuintla, Vicente believes he is not only running a successful business, he is also providing a valuable and necessary service to the millions of Central Americans living in Los Angeles.
Tell us about your business?
We send packages for families to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Packages, boxes, cars, and furniture are always moving from the United States to Central America. The object is to connect people with their happiness.
How did you get started with your business?
I was working for a company who was doing the same business. Throughout my whole life, I was a business owner in Guatemala and I knew I could do it here too. It was hard for me to work for someone else. In the process of working for someone else, my focus was to learn every corner of this business so I could open my own successful shipping company in the United States. I learned everything I could for three years.
Who was your first customer?
I met my first customer when I used to work for the other company. She loved my work, and when I told her I was going to open my own business, she supported me by being my first client and helping me get started. After ten years, Martha Chan is still a good client.
The first client is always the most important client.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
When I started out, I had to borrow money from family members. It wasn’t very much, but I need them to help out with my first truck. I have paid them off since then, and now I go to banks if I need a loan.
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Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I learned the business because I was working for someone else for three years. I learned everything I could about the business, and then I tried to do it better than they did. The key to this business is customer service. So many people do not understand this.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
This business is pretty simple. But you have to be really focused about labeling everything correctly. I ship more than 150 boxes two times a week, and you cannot make the mistake of mislabeling the boxes or lose the tracking information. So my big mistake was that I labeled one of my first boxes wrong, and so it ended up in another part of Central America. Thank God I was able to track it down and reship to the correct location. Every item that people place in those boxes is so important to them. They are irreplaceable.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
The most intelligent thing I did was also my most curious thing. When I started, I started out of a very small garage space. The space was only 5×8 feet. Can you imagine that? It was small but I made it work. This was smart because I not only paid very little rent, I also became extremely well-organized with such a small space. This is why it was also curious because I was surprised how beautiful that place was for me. I remember it very well. I organized it perfectly, I decorated it, I made it very comfortable. Now I have a larger space on a major street in downtown Los Angeles and I own four trucks for shipping and delivery, and I have another office in Central America too. But I still remember that first location. That was very smart of me.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
I have made a successful business that allows me to own my own house both here and in Guatemala. I am also proud to be my own boss. What makes me happy is when my clients are happy.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
The most challenging is getting through international customs in the ports. Every package must be inspected and this is challenging. Sometimes I have to pay extra taxes for things that I know are unnecessary but I am trying to make my clients happy.
Also, I am always on the phone or computer tracking and monitoring shipping of boxes. It’s stressful but part of the show.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
In this business every day has a surprise. For example, a shipment I am working on now has been the hardest shipping assignment in ten years, and I didn’t expect it to be so difficult. Every day there is another surprise. But the good thing about me is that I am always a very positive person. I never look backwards.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
I really admire the NorthGate Market chain. They always have clients visiting them and they have lots and lots of people working for them.
What I’ve Learned
If you could go back to when you were starting your business, what advice would you give yourself?
I would not change anything. I would step on the exact same steps that I walked on to get here. I always pray to God that today will be better than yesterday. So far it has.
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
To be honest, I would not have changed a thing. I knew everything necessary to start this business because I worked for someone else for three years. Even a degree in business education wouldn’t have helped me. You have to know this business by doing it.
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