Today we’d like to introduce you to Mel Gragirena.
Mel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I had spent several years doing traditional construction jobs slowly trying to build a literal and figurative “tool kit”. I loved making things but hated construction. The other guys on the crew nicknamed me “Arts and Crafts” because I’d spend the day being miserable on the jobsite then go home and use the exact same tools doing my own projects in the garage. It was a tough spot because I wanted/needed to advance in a field that I didn’t even want to be an involved in. I was unaware of these adjacent building industries where there was a little more creativity and nuance and a little less being on a roof.
One night I randomly went to a party at a shop called Barnacle Bros. There were all these crazy remnants of projects hanging on the walls and it was the coolest thing ever. That night I left my phone number and told them if they ever needed any help to give me a call. Months later I got the call and all of the sudden I was completely immersed in this new world. Over the next 4 years I got to work on all kinds of amazing projects and learned many new processes.
At that point it was just time to try to do my own thing and be a real-life grownup. This was my “all in” moment. I proposed to my girlfriend (now wife) and signed a lease on a shop on the same day. I had no plan, no clients, and enough cash to get through 1 month. Time to get to work.
Has it been a smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road at all. First of all, I dived way into the deep end. You hear stories about people starting something in their garage and growing. That’s probably what I should have done. Instead, I signed a lease on a 6,500 sq./ft. warehouse and stared at a phone that refused to ring. For the first three years any month could have been our last. I didn’t have enough history or ties to the film industry to get many jobs building props or sets. The job I left mainly fabricated sculptures for artists and my relationship with the art world is like the relationship between oil and water. I just didn’t know how to find work. I was so thirsty that I’d take jobs where the math didn’t work and I’d know that going in. The only reason I kept going was because I couldn’t do anything else.
The real issue is I started a business but, I had no interest in being a businessman. I didn’t want to conduct business. I wanted to play with my tools and make something weird. This is still my biggest struggle.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
“We’re L.A. Fabricators and we can build anything”. We do woodwork, metalwork, foam sculpting, whatever you can imagine. It wasn’t by design but, almost everything we do now falls within experiential marketing and live event activations. I always say that without Instagram we wouldn’t exist. It’s not because of our social media presence. It’s because, stated or not, 90% of what we build exists solely for people to put up on Instagram.
The thing that I’m most proud of and sets us apart is our shop culture. There are two sides to this but, they’re very intermingled. The internal shop culture that has to do with how we treat each other and what we mean to each other. I’ve never met anyone that is so good at what they do that I’d keep them around even if they didn’t fit our culture. I’ve always been a fan of the adage “If you don’t belong, don’t be long”. Then there’s the external shop culture when we’re out in the world but, we’re representing our shop for our client who is representing their company to their client. What will these people remember about their interaction with you? How was your attitude? How about on hour 12, or 16, or 48?
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Well, whenever I get down about the cost of living or doing business here I have to remind myself that if I took my tools and went somewhere else I’d end up roofing or building decks to make a living. Instead I find myself making interesting things and installing them at music festivals or the Emmys or the Grammys or the Lakers’ practice facility. If I was looking at it from a practical point of view, I’d say that it might be smarter and a better opportunity to set up shop in Vegas but, that would entail living in Vegas.
People can say what they want about LA but, it is a good place for dreamers. Anything can happen here. You can try and pursue anything here. Statistically things might not be in your favor but, that’s because there are so many people here chasing that same exact dream.
- Address: 1630 Miller Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
- Website: lafabricators.com
- Phone: 3232648763
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @lafabricators
- Other: LA Fabricators