Some people are born into the irrigation industry. For others, the industry finds them. In the case of Travis and Shelly Komara, it all started - strangely enough—with a ’50sthemed Internet cafe.
“During school, I was working at a ’50s diner, waiting tables,”
explains Travis, who grew up in San Diego, California. “We got a booth
at the Los Angeles County Fair, selling milkshakes. The goal was to
make enough money so we could venture out on our own.” “We couldn’t
afford a booth on our own, so we partnered with a local Internet
service provider to have computers set up so customers could set their
milk shakes down and surf the web. I thought it would be a cool
juxtaposition— it was a way of tying the old and new together,” he
says. “This was around ’96, back when the Internet was still starting
to come into its own.” The young married couple was attending Cal Poly
Pomona while trying to make ends meet. Travis was studying marketing
and sales, and thinking outside the box was something that came
naturally to him. The event was a success.
With the money they
had earned, Komara and his wife, Shelly, both 19 at the time, started
Superior Sandblasting, specializing in sandblasting industrial parts.
Together with the DuPont Company, they developed a unique way to
utilize synthetic sand so they could strip products down to their bare
metal without distorting them. This was in 1997. The following year,
they sold the company and purchased the Fontana, California-based Salco
Products, a leading manufacturer of drip irrigation systems. It was
here where they were first exposed to irrigation.
us knew anything about irrigation,” says Komara. “We basically acted as
sponges and absorbed everything we could from [Salco President] Sam
Tobey. He had some really sound strategies as far as the industry was
The lesson the Komaras learned from Tobey was
invaluable. Rather than simply trying to sell a product for the sake of
selling it and turning a profit, Tobey’s strategy was to educate his
clients on which products would best be utilized in any given scenario,
even if that product wasn’t made by Salco.
“If you tell a
customer, ‘Hey, use drip in every single application,’ and drip doesn’t
work well in one application, then that customer will assume that drip
systems don’t work in general,” says Komara. “So if we had cases where
drip wasn’t the practical way to go, we’d recommend a different
product. We’d lose the sale, but gain the client’s trust while also
educating him.” The Komaras continued working at Salco for several
years, overseeing new product development, scheduling and learning as
much as they could about drip, hydraulics and other facets of
irrigation. In June of 2007, they sold Salco but continued to work
there. However, after a year, the couple decided it was in their best
interest to part ways and go in their own direction.
relocated to Rancho Cucamonga, California, and started their own
irrigation business, which they named GPH. Their concept was to
establish a company that would specialize in large-area drip irrigation
installations. Most drip irrigation systems are marketed towards small
residential properties, but the Komaras saw a growing demand for drip
irrigation in the commercial market. Their systems would be installed
on larger sites such as parks, slopes along freeways and so on.
Explains Komara, “Our strategy with GPH was to engineer and develop a
higher-performing product than what existed in the industry. With our
product, we’ve actually engineered it to the point where it could fit
just about any application.” As president of the company, Travis’ role
On a typical day, he will design
products, work with the production managers to schedule the
manufacturing of those products, answer phones and help customers with
technical questions. “There’s a lot of strategic planning and customer
relations involved in what I do,” he explains.
Shelly works as
vice president of sales and marketing. She handles the sales of all GPH
products, working closely with distributors, irrigation designers and
landscape architects, in addition to managing the company’s sales force.
with them the knowledge they gained during their time at Salco, the
Komaras make education a key ingredient in their company’s operations.
They will spend a great deal of time talking with their customers
face-to-face, walking with them through jobsites and explaining the
various factors that determine what kind of irrigation system they
should install. This way, not only do they get to know their customers,
but their customers truly get to know them and what it is they do. The
Komaras also pride themselves on paying attention to small details.
“Shipping top-quality products in a short turnaround time frame is a
top priority for us,” he says. “We want to match the quality of our
products with the service we give our customers.”
the office, the Ko maras live a healthy family life. Their hands are
often full looking after their four-year-old daughter, Elle May, and
anticipating their second child, who was only weeks away from birth at
the time this article went to press. When not playing the role of
dutiful parents, Travis and Shelly spend much of their off-time
rebuilding old trucks and taking them on off-road adventures.
also enjoy camping and cruising for local spots where they can relax
and enjoy the great outdoors. Thirteen years after they started, Travis
and Shelly Komara have traveled far. Although they’ve ended up in an
industry they never could have imagined back in the days when they were
serving milkshakes to World-Wide-Web-hungry customers, they’re exactly
where they want to be.