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An American Tale

A part of America’s tumultuous economic history, two brothers emerged victorious to leave behind a legacy and business. Ceramic Decorating Company is a living monument to the American spirit and it embodies the tenacity, ingenuity, and integrity that gave rise to its birth and lent it its staying power.

The time: 1930. The place: Ohio. The characters: The Johnson Brothers, successful contractors and owners of Johnson Brother’s Contractors. The crisis: the stock market crash. The results: the Johnson Brother’s Contractors lost everything.

The promise of a new future beckoned from the sun basked San Fernando Valley nestled in Southern California but in spite of the brothers’ heroic efforts to save their new business venture, the Empire China Company sunk too deeply into debt to be recovered.

Wilbur and Lyman’s efforts were not entirely in vain, however. While working for the Empire China Company the Johnson brothers had learned the trade of applying and firing decals. Why not utilize these skills to develop their own business? The two brothers pooled their experience in building with their observances of the lehrs at the Empire China Company to build their own tunnel kiln.

In January of 1934 they opened the new partnership, Ceramic Decorating Company.

Originally Wilbur and Lyman had thought to decal china dinnerware, but it quickly became apparent that the demand for screen printed bottles was greater and, always flexible, they followed the market. However, as in all new industries the “how to” had to be created as there was no one to emulate. In fact the brothers only had one competitor!

One man who dabbled in silk screening from his home graciously allowed the brothers a sneak peak at his operations, but beyond that, Wilbur and Lyman were on their own. Falling back on their contracting skills, they designed and built their own wooden, manually-operated screen-decorating machines. Working twenty-four hours a day, the two brothers took turns filling shifts that lasted, at the minimum, twelve hours. Lyman took the days and younger Wilbur took the nights. It wasn’t long before they were printing labels on cosmetic containers, specialty food jars, and serving a myriad of industries with premium screen printed labels.

From the beginning, the brothers set an example to their employees that no job was too menial for the owners to do themselves. This practice of hands-on ownership continued as Lyman ran the office and Wilbur often ran the forklift well after they could have afforded to delegate more rudimentary jobs. This was not a dictatorship; this was a team, well before the concept of teams became popularized.

In 1937 Ceramic Decorating Company relocated from Huntington Park to its current residence on Sheila St. in City of Commerce, Los Angeles. The City of Commerce, now a thriving industrial community and an integral part of California’s economy, was virtually undeveloped when Ceramic set up shop in the middle of an alfalfa field. One of the first buildings on the street, Ceramic is a living tribute to California’s manufacturing inception.

Ceramic has always been most uniquely defined by its character. Both Wilbur and Lyman had a strong Christian faith and believed in doing business by “the book” yes, the Bible. Customers and vendors alike have never questioned the integrity of Ceramic Decorating Company or its proprietors. Ethics always took precedence over the bottom line. They kept their word. They did what they said they would do. As a result of their untarnished reputation, Ceramic was able to depend on word of mouth recommendations and return customers; without marketing, Ceramic grew and thrived as a company.

During its 80 years Ceramic has served a wide array of customer’s including such well known names as Hansen’s Juice, Max Factor, Revlon, Clinique, Este Lauder, Beringer, Korbel, Brown Forman, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, 7-Up, Avon, and Grey Poupon, POM wonderful, Coors, Miller Brewing, Budwiser, Stone Brewing, Bossa Nova, and Monavie.

Ceramic was and still is a family business. By the time Lyman’s son, Ralph, and Wilbur’s sons, Burnell and Allan, were 18 and graduated form high school, they were experts in screen printing glass containers and ready to begin full time positions in the family owned and operated business. In 1969 the second generation, Ralph, Burnell and W. Allan, purchased Ceramic Decorating Company from their fathers. With the passing of the torch, the next generation of Johnson’s boys proudly carried on the tradition of WOW’ing our customers through Quality and Service, team work, expertise in decorating, and the exemplarily integrity that had defined Ceramic for the first 35 years.

**Fun Fact: even after he was “bought out” Lyman continued to come to work every day until he was eighty-three years old.

In July of 2002 it again came time to pass the baton, this time, to the third generation. While maintaining ownership, the three partners, hired Burnell’s son, Chad Johnson, to take over as CEO of the company. For the next 12 ears, with the aid of longtime loyal Team Members, Chad poured his passion and energy into building a Tribe of committed difference makers—employees that truly care and give everthing they have to make Ceramic Decorating Company a growing and thriving company.

In October of 2010 Ralph Johnson passed away at the age of 89 years old and in August of 2011, Jean Johnson, Ralph’s beloved widow came to Chad Johnson and offered to sell Ralph’s shares of the business to Chad, fulfilling his life-long dream.

Today Ceramic Decorating Company is full of life, vision, growth and opportunity. Yes, we celebrated 80 years in 2014, but we are getting better, bigger, and faster all the time. In fact, never before has change been more evident in every aspect of the business: using the God given Unique Abilities of our incredible Tribe, staying current on technological advances in every area that affect life and business, finding new and creative ways to delight our customers, and living out our Core Values in everyday ways. . . yes, the future is bright!