The Interesting Origins of Your Favorite California Companies


By Staff Writer Published on July 11, 2017

California (and San Diego, specifically) is home to hundreds of the biggest names in business… for good reason! Sharing a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit along with a small business-friendly attitude, this state encourages success for anyone with enough creativity and drive.

Here are some interesting (and inspirational) origins of some of your favorite locally grown enterprises.

1. Costco:

From Converted Airplane Hangar to Worldwide Warehouses

The company’s first location1 (under the Price Club name) opened in 1976 in a converted airplane hangar on Morena Boulevard in San Diego. The groundbreaking retail concept of serving only small businesses and a select group of non-business shoppers via memberships allowed the company to develop efficient buying and operating practices. In turn, Price Club gave unmatched savings on a specific set of products that would offer the best value to its customers.

Jim Sinegal, the original Executive Vice-President of Merchandising, Distribution, and Marketing, fine-tuned Price Club’s strategies before co-founding PriceCostco which was later rebranded to be Costco Wholesale with Jeff Brotman in 1983. Ten years later, the two retailers merged and soon became the world’s first and most successful warehouse club with 729 locations.

2. The Honest Kitchen:

The First Human-Grade Pet Food

The story goes that Lucy Postins was making her dog Mosi’s food with pureed fresh ingredients out of her Pacific Beach home. After a lot of experimenting, Lucy determined that dehydrating whole foods was the best option and went to work creating a prototype recipe for Verve Whole Grain Beef Dog Food. Due to its popularity among friends and local pet stores, Lucy found human food manufacturers who wanted to help her grow her business into The Honest Kitchen.

The demand for her high-quality products grew and in 2004 the FDA provided a formal statement permitting the company to use the term “human-grade” on their product labels.

To date, the Honest Kitchen has received multiple awards and recognitions2 from organizations such as The Humane Society, Entrepreneur, San Diego Magazine, Outside Magazine, Family Choice Awards, and others.

3. Mattel:

Barbie, Best-Selling Toy of All Time

Ruth Handler and Harold “Matt” Matson of Los Angeles started Mattel Creations in 19453 when they began making picture frames and dollhouse furniture using scrap plastic and wood. Soon, the combination of a healthy baby boom plus a nearly toyless market gave way to a string of toy successes. However, there were some hard early lessons learned regarding avoiding obsolete products, ruinous price competition, poor cost control, and product quality problems.

Then, in 1959 Ruth designed a teenage fashion model doll after observing her own daughter (Barbara) favoring adult-looking paper dolls over baby dolls. Barbie was a smash hit (she even has her own Twitter account!) and led the way for designing and manufacturing thousands of other toys with lasting appeal for children all over the world.

4. Coola:

Paving the Way for a New Suncare Industry

A full line of luxury sun and skincare products, Coola,4 another San Diego-based business, was inspired after both of Chris Birchby’s (founder) parents each experienced a melanoma scare. Chris researched and tested sunscreens extensively and found them lacking. Today, Coola is on a quest to spoil your skin with eco-conscious products while still giving much-needed protection from the sun.

Since Coola is a small company, they are able to reformulate and redevelop their products often, using the most advanced science available. This strategy has paid off! Between the years 2012 and 2017, they have been given 41 awards and recognitions.5 More significantly, however, Coola donates to Melanoma Research Alliance and Healthy Child Healthy World.

5. Classy:

A Most Successful Pub Crawl

In 2006, a group of friends (including CEO & Co-Founder Scot Chisholm) organized a pub crawl in Pacific Beach, San Diego to collect donations for the American Cancer Society. That one event led to them hosting dozens of fundraising events over the next four years.

Realizing that young people are deeply interested in philanthropy and want to change the injustices of the world, Scot saw a disconnect between the generous public and traditional nonprofits. That’s when he and his friends built Classy, the online fundraising platform6 that now serves 3,000 nonprofit organizations and social enterprises.

Now that you’re inspired from these five successful California startups, are you ready to start your own? For information on how to take the next step toward your new future, contact California College San Diego today!