Born and raised in San Francisco into a family of six brothers and three sisters, life has always been chaotic and a blast rolled into one. I moved to Chico in 1982 to continue my education as a computer science major. That didn’t work out so well. The program was impacted and they had weeder courses to “weed out” students that were not dedicated. I graduated with a BA in business with an emphasis in marketing and an art minor in sculpture. I met my wife, Layne, who was a local girl and the #1 bartender at the Madison Bear Gardens and we dated for a while. I was playing rugby and living the Chico State life when we got married in 1986.
DIESTCO MFG was started as an idea back in 1991 … I was the general manager of Oldies 101 (now the Thunder 100.7) and while heading home for lunch I noticed a fella in a power chair being beat down by the sun. It was mid-August and easily over 100 degrees outside. I got to thinking that I do not recall ever seeing a device to protect these individuals using power chairs and scooters from the harsh elements. My daughter, Marli, was two years old and I had never seen a stroller without a canopy for protection. So, I thought, why not a canopy for individuals using power chairs, wheelchairs, and scooters.
I started doing research and was not finding anything. I met with Rocky Burks, the director of Independent Living Center and the Far Northern Regional Center for information, but no one had ever heard of such a thing. Rocky, who was a trailblazer in his own right, suggested that I go for it and look into a patent. With my marketing background, I decided to apply for a patent. Not knowing much about patents, I turned to Inventors Technical Services out of Paradise. They were the company that got patents on the Tanning tube and La Wine box wines. Long story short, I was informed that I was granted my first patent for The WeatherBreaker canopy for wheelchairs, scooters, and power chairs. At the same time, my son, Tommy was born, I gave notice to the radio station and took the plunge into owning my own manufacturing company, DIESTCO MFG in 1992. I have always said that if DIESTCO MFG was a boy, it would be Tommy. Both are 30 years old now.
I needed a design for the Weatherbreaker canopy and turned to my friend, Bob Irvine, who at the time was VP of Operations at Caribou Mountaineering. I worked with their design team and we came up with the beginning model of our canopy.
Being from “the City”, I knew starting a business would have a much better chance for success then down in the bay area, so I started in my garage. I had no clue as to what I was doing, so I started asking people in business what to do. I met Sherry Nix at the Economic Developing Center, now the Tri-Counties Economic Center and she was instrumental in putting me on the right track. Rocky Burks told me about a trade show happening in southern California and I attended. It was here that I learned that Home Medical Equipment (HME) was the category and how medical supply dealers were the ones who sold to the public. I didn’t even know what a dealer was and how to contact them. Remember, this is 1992 and cell phones, the internet, and fax machines did not exist. Even home computers were barely available. So a friend of mine, who was a short-term partner, took his portable copy machine from his work, went to Chico State’s library, and copied every medical supplier in the US. This and transferring our notes onto 3′ x 5″ index cards, became my dealer network.
Not making any money for the first three years and amassing huge credit card debt, we worked 60-hour weeks. I moved out of the garage into our first building behind Wine Time, in an old pig barn. I hired a couple of employees, one cutter/sewer and one shop kid to help me. I found him through Chico High School’s welding program, figuring he had experience being around machinery and equipment. We moved to the south side of the Chico airport. I bought out my last partner in 2000 since he thought this was going to be a cash-making machine. That was the year I modified our standard saddle bag to attach to the armrest of the wheelchairs and scooters in a much cleaner method. I expanded the family of armrest bags to four, added some seatback bags, and started making transportable covers to protect the vehicles while traveling. I never looked back. We are not the largest accessory company in the industry, but we are when it comes to MADE IN THE USA. I am very proud to maintain this distinction and not sell out to China (a very hot topic in those days).
This is when I really started growing. I hired a few more seamstresses Yolanda Dias, and Erika Reyes, along with my cutter, Alejandro Partida. All who are still with DIESTCO MFG!
We started manufacturing for every scooter company in the business, expanded our dealer network by the hundreds and realized we needed more employees and space. In 2008, yes the financial crash year, I bought my current location, located as a condo in the old Fleetwood building, on the north side of the Chico airport. I designed and had my current two-story shop built by a local company and hired more employees. Many employees have come and gone, but my office manager, Lindsey Mello has been with me for thirteen years. My current staff includes Angelita Gutierrez, Maria Rojas, Keefer Sweet, Michael Irish, Enyer E. Buroz Castillo “Wareke”, Mike Day, and Jen Swensen. We have had babies born, marriages take place, loss of parents, and all of the events that a family goes through over 30 years. I love these people and could not do this without them. I would also like to thank every veteran in the north state for providing me this opportunity to create my business because of their willingness and sacrifice to grant me my freedom.
We set out with our mission to provide greater independence, greater ability to enjoy the outdoors, and the ability to carry the necessary items needed for everyday survival. Since 2000, we have sold more than $25,000,000.00 in products, supported many local businesses and provided a livelihood for all my employees, and allowed me to raise my family in Chico, CA – the greatest place to live to date.