PICTURED: Adam Casillas at the Latino Business Expo. Photo submitted

by Alex Wilson

Adam Casillas learned the value of hard work and networking by the time he was old enough to ride a bike.

Growing up in Oxnard as the youngest of 12 children, including one who passed away at birth, his parents instilled the values that led to his success as an entrepreneur, he said. Casillas organizes the Latino Business Expo at the Ventura County Fairgrounds with his partner Richard Ramos twice a year, while also working as a real estate agent.

“My personality is, I like talking to people. I like sales, I like engaging. I’m good at what I do,” Casillas said.

Adam Casillas. Photo submitted

His parents were from Guadalajara, Mexico and both passed away about a decade ago. His dad, Roberto, worked hard in agriculture and landscaping, sometimes leaving the house at 5 a.m. and returning at 7 p.m. 

 “He taught us how to earn right off the bat,” he recalled. “At the age of 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, me and my brothers were hustling. We were mowing yards, we were selling produce, we were always looking for a way to work and make money.”

Mom Enedina was also a huge influence through the way she cared for their family and the community. 

“She managed an army of 11 children and nobody ended up in bad shape. We all survived the ’ 70s and the ’80s,” Casillas said. “I feel like she could have been the CEO of any company around here if she had the time to do it instead of raising a family. So between my mom’s mindset and my dad’s work ethic, I believe that was the foundation for the plans for my life.”

Now, he tries to pass on those lessons he learned growing up to his own children and other parents as well. 

“Work ethic is everything. It starts at a toddler’s age. Make them work for what they want, even if it’s just picking up their toys. Put a value on their labor, because learning is earning and earning is learning,” he said.

Bridging the gap

Networking is a big part of the Latino Business Expo. Photo submitted

Before getting into real estate and business marketing, Casillas was a bartender for over two decades, which helped him develop his interpersonal skills.

“I’ve been through every possible scenario you can think of in a bar,” he said. “If you don’t learn anything about psychology being behind the bar as long as I’ve been then you’re not paying attention . . . Everybody tells you everything. Everybody spills their guts. I’m like a priest to people with no religion.”   

The first Latino Business Expo took place in 2007; the 2022 event is slated for Oct. 27. Two were canceled due to the pandemic, but according to Casillas, the momentum is back.

“The Latino Business Expo is a networking event on steroids, basically, for businesses that are trying to promote new products, who are looking to hire, who want to sample their new products or just get clients,” he said. 

Food and beverage companies are well represented at the Latino Business Expo. Photo submitted

A wide variety of businesses are represented at the Latino Business Expo, including insurance firms, dentists and home-based companies like jewelry makers who are just getting a start. Food and beverage businesses are also drawn to the event.

“A lot of the restaurants are sampling new products on their menu. If you have something that you want to sample out, why not put it in front of 2,000 people,” he said.

Casillas said the name Latino Business Expo was chosen because businesses owned by Latinos were underrepresented at other business networking events in the past. He added that 99% of the vendors at his events speak English, and that reaching out to the Latino community is important to all businesses in Ventura County.

“Say your name is Bob Smith and you don’t speak a word of Spanish, and you have a product to sell. Then my expo is the place to be,” he explained. “You’re going to reach the Latino community and people who are bilingual. You’re going to reach everybody. Because the success of your business depends on making new connections and meeting people. What I’ve done with it is, I’ve been able to bridge the gap between the Anglo and the Latino community.”

The event is limited to 110 vendors who are all charged the same fee of $600. Tickets to attend cost $10 at the door, but Casillas said he gives away thousands of free tickets before the event to anyone who asks. Most vendors return year after year.

“They’re getting business out of it and they’re having a good time doing it. Because I have a 70% retention from one event to the next,” he noted. “I have vendors who have been at every single expo. If it wasn’t working, they wouldn’t be doing that.”

 “As long as I live, I’ll do God’s work”

Adam Casillas is a champion of businesses both large and small. Photo submitted

Casillas also donates his time to a variety of charities including the Salvation Army and Lion’s Club. “I just secured $2,500 for a bicycle program for the kids of Nyeland Acres . . . so I’m going to be delivering about 25 bikes.”

Casillas said his desire to help others stems from a promise he made to his mom when he was about 19 years old.

“She tried to drag me to church and was upset that I wasn’t church-going. So I told her, ‘As long as I live I’ll do God’s work.’ And that means helping other people,” he said. “I think that this is paying homage to my mom.”

As for the legacy Casillas wants to leave behind?

“I just want people to know that I was always there to help. Always trying to make a difference to bring people together and I was color-blind in the process. I don’t discriminate against anybody. Anybody who wants to build their business is welcome to be part of my team and get involved with us,” he said.

Latino Business Expo