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Thursday, Jun 1, 2023

Radio Jock Turned Entrepreneur

As a young broadcaster moving up the ranks in the late 1970s, Jorge Lopez honed his skills at an alphabet soup of Southern California FM radio stations: KGJF, KIIS, KNGO, KMDY and KFOX. “A lot of stuff with Ks in it,” he said. But off the air, Lopez was also well-known on the DJ circuit, playing weddings, parties and quincea & #324;eras in Santa Clarita to make a few extra bucks. Thirty-five years later, that little side business has eclipsed Lopez’ broadcasting career and grown into J & M Entertainment Inc., a Valencia event production company that specializes in high-end, heavily-stylized company events, corporate retreats and promotional videos. The company has carved a niche producing everything from simple company picnics for which J & M provides hula-hoops and games to complex, multi-camera awards presentations that require a crew of dozens. J & M has decorated properties in Beverly Hills for open houses, cut marketing materials for product launches and developed presentations for new residential developments, such as the one Lopez created for the opening of NoHo Lofts in North Hollywood. “We’re full service,” said Lopez, whose voice still carries a deep radio- announcer timbre. Today, the company has 42 full- and regular part-time staff, ranging from DJs, emcees, musicians, performers and dancers to technical and office staff. Last year, the business which charges as much as $150,000 for a large event brought in more than $1.6 million. J & M has also become an active part of the local business community, said Kathy Norris, president and CEO of the Valley Industrial Association of Santa Clarita, which represents about 300 local companies and where Lopez serves on the board. “They’ve been a wonderful support network for us,” she said. “They work with a lot of the local corporations in event planning and we have worked with them. They are absolutely top-notch.” Side business By Lopez’ own admission, J & M Entertainment was never intended as a full-time job. “It was a hobby business; a fun thing to do,” he said. A son of migrant farmers, Lopez grew up in Val Verde and received his first DJ equipment from his grandfather. Soon, Lopez was playing small events, which led to an interest in broadcasting. After a half-semester at College of the Canyons, he landed a job doing mornings on a Santa Clarita radio station. He also kept working the DJ circuit, found a partner Mark Brady (the “M” in J & M, with whom he parted ways years later) and slowly cobbled together a client list. It was painfully hit and miss, he said. “In the early years, there was no marketing plan,” Lopez recalled. But eventually, business picked up, enough so that by the mid-1980s Lopez was forced to hire assistants as he continued his own radio career. By 1994, he had enough clients to drop his on-air gig, taking over J & M full time. Five years later, the company was making a steady income with holiday parties, picnics and other small events. Then Sept. 11 happened and companies stopped booking events. “We lost about 80 percent of our corporate business,” Lopez recalled. “That hurt us badly, but it let us see that we had not done a very smart job of expanding.” That’s when Lopez decided to turn what was then a purely DJ business with heavy bookings on weekends to a multimedia company that would be busy year-round. He beefed up business strategies and created a plan to belt-tighten and also diversify his clients by picking up corporate events and awards ceremonies. “It was a perfect way to start filling up in those slow months,” he said. The tactic paid off and a few years later he set the goal of buying his own building. “That year, simply by setting a plan and saying we’re going to do this, we had a 41 percent increase,” he said. Last year, J & M moved into a new, $2 million office building and warehouse in Valencia. “I’m very proud of it,” he said. Varied client list Today, the two-story space houses an array of lighting, editing, video and audio equipment, not to mention boxes of bubbles, ropes, casino tables and smoke machines, including two, 700-pound canisters that can create a 2-foot-thick blanket of fog. The front portion of the building houses several sales rooms with different themes. A closed corner of the warehouse is also dressed as a mock ballroom, complete with high ceilings, colorful carpeting and a crystal chandelier. It’s here where Lopez stages lighting schemes and other features to demonstrate for clients what the company can pull off. “They see the experience,” he said. “We walk them through everything.” The vast majority of the company’s business comes from the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles basin, although it has done work in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. Some business comes through trade shows and industry groups, but many of the larger events are booked through party planners who coordinate between clients and J & M. One of the biggest recent events J & M produced was Treasures of Los Angeles, an awards ceremony by the downtown business group, Central City Association, honoring locals who have made notable contributions to the community. The April 5 luncheon brought out 1,400 attendees and Lopez was charged with lighting, dressing and filming the entire ceremony. “The logistics of the event were very intense,” he said. “It was like running the Oscars.” That type of work has made J & M known in the competitive industry of event planners, said Jeff Anderson, president of the International Special Events Society Los Angeles chapter. “I have heard good things about them,” Anderson said. “I know they have good, quality equipment.” While only about 20 percent of his business comes from the Santa Clarita Valley, Lopez said he has no plans to leave the area, where he and the bulk of his employees live. “It’s a better drive for me,” Lopez said. “We’re not retail, where it’s location, location, location. It was matter of, you’re going to drive there everyday, where your client is only going there once or twice.” He also has extensive family in the area, many of whom work at J & M. His wife works in sales, along with a niece, and nephews work in the warehouse and serve as DJs. “If I ever run out of nephews and nieces, I don’t have a company,” Lopez quipped. As for the next phase, Lopez is setting his goals high: he wants to bring in $12 million within six years. “We have some very lofty plans,” he said. “But I know it can happen. It’s like everything else; once you’re successful in an arena, word gets around and you’re being referred and you’re getting that business.” SPOTLIGHT – J & M Entertainment Inc. Year Founded: 1979 Revenues in 2002: $1.01 million Revenue in 2007 (projected): $1.9 million Employees in 2002: 22 Employees in 2007 (projected): 75 Goal: To continue building business and open another warehouse in the Santa Clarita area.

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