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From houseplants to the auto shop: Latinx entrepreneurs share tips from their trades

Photo from Plantitas

After months of selling plants out of their garage, Anthony Diaz and Kevin Alcaraz opened the brick-and-mortar plant shop Plantiitas in October 2020—joining an expansive community of Latinx business owners, the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs in the United States. According to a Stanford University study, the number of Latinx-owned businesses has grown 34% over the past 10 years, compared to 1% for all US businesses.

However, even with a recent surge in revenue and support for Latinx-owned businesses, a history of systemic racism fuels other obstacles. In a year when entrepreneurs desperately searched for relief, Latinx entrepreneurs remained significantly less likely to be approved for loans by national banks than their white counterparts. Below, hear directly from four Latinx business owners who navigated and overcame challenges like this by harnessing tools such as community support and the power of positive feedback. 

Anthony Diaz and Kevin Alcaraz, co-owners of Plantiitas

Kevin says all the time: “Come as you are.” Basically, you’re always welcome here, no matter who you are. And that’s what we want to do at our shop—really embody that. Part of that is not making people feel like they’re asking dumb questions. 

Positive feedback is its own reward

When folks come into our shop, it’s like you’re coming into an extension of our home. We love it like it is our home. We treat it like it is our home. Sometimes it feels more like we’re there more than we are at home. So when folks come into the shop, they feel a sense of joy and calm. It’s cool that the shop is a source of joy for so many people. And the fact that when the days get tough or we feel like we can’t do it anymore, people will share their experiences or how connecting with us at the store or online has positively affected them—and that’s such a boost. That’s a reward, that we get to have a space that does that for so many people. 

One person on Instagram told us he came out of the closet to his parents and they were not taking it okay. But he said seeing us—a queer couple, Hispanic or Latino couple, paving our own path and starting our own business and being married—made him feel more like normalized. He felt really hopeful for his own future. Kevin and I have both talked to each other about how I can’t picture us older. It’s more of a view that I don’t see people like us represented out in media in real life. Our existence has been hidden for a long time as Brown, queer people. So getting messages like that, it’s powerful. It’s a great feeling. 

There’s a customer for every product   

Go with your vision and see if it works for you. Just because you don’t see it done a certain way or you only see it done one way doesn’t mean yours isn’t going to work. There are so many fish in the sea. There are so many folks who are willing to purchase with you because of your story or they’re going to want to hire your services because of a certain niche or perspective that you have. So just go for it. 

Photos from Plantitas

Emily Chavez, owner of Emily’s Garage

We want to change customers’ experiences in an auto shop. Especially as a woman and especially as LGBTQ folks go, you get treated a certain way. That’s the male-dominated auto industry. But I didn’t want that experience. I wanted it to be female-centric, but then it evolved to just being good to people and being honest with them about their cars and not trying to upsell them on all the stuff they don’t need.

Word of mouth is a power tool 

What works particularly well is the quality work and also being real with them—just being human. People need their cars for school and work and church and this and that. It’s a lot of people’s livelihoods. It makes them so happy that we turn around the work quickly. And word of mouth is huge. I didn’t realize how powerful that was. I have customers that come in and go, “I told my sister. I told my aunt. All of us come here now.” Every day I get feedback from people.

Be bold and own your mistakes 

[As a woman in the auto industry,] it’s exciting because I feel like I can make a change, make a niche, do it differently. There are still standards in the industry. That is what it is. But from an experience perspective, I want to be bold and different. And it’s paid off.

And if there’s a heat case—if something goes a little sideways—I’m involved in talking to the customer and giving them a call, explaining to them what the situation is. Not everything is going to go smoothly. There are going to be situations where some cars are just old. If they weren’t maintained, we may have misdiagnosed it, but I’m gonna own that misdiagnosis and get it fixed right. 

Photos from Emily’s Garage

Karen Ugarte, bookstore manager at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore

We’re the only bookstore in the northeast San Fernando Valley, and at some point, we were the only art gallery and cultural space. We also curate books, and part of it is making sure we have books available in the language that meet our community’s needs. 

It’s never too late to adapt 

Although we’ve been around for 20 years, we’re still learning a lot and adapting to the changes that this last year has brought. Our bookstore had never before been online at the capacity it is now. So it’s a lot of learning our new normal and navigating the online world. We’ve been able to reach a lot more people—not just folks that are physically in our community, but throughout the United States. 

Our previous point of sale system didn’t have the capacity to go online, so it was tedious work to get the online bookstore going. We’re still trying to learn more, not only about how to run a website, but also what kinds of things our community wants to see in regards to book descriptions. 

Find a strong support system

My advice is to make connections with people who are already doing it or people who can support you. Find a support system and believe that things can change or that you can make things happen. [Tia Chucha’s co-founders] Luis J. Rodriguez and Trini Rodriguez, they saw a need for a cultural center and a bookstore in our community, and they made it happen. It all started with imagining that it was possible. 

Photos from Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore

Jackelyn and Monica Madrigal, co-owners of Color Me Chula

When we created Color Me Chula, we both really wanted to create this space where everybody deserves to be pampered—no matter if you’re feminine or more masculine, or if you’re brown, if you’re gay, if you’re straight. We just wanted an all-inclusive salon where everybody can feel comfortable.

Build the community your customers need

Fresno is very conservative. Even the hair salons are conservative. It’s no secret that we’re people of color, we come from immigrants, Spanish is Jackie’s first language. We do our best to be open and welcoming, especially to the Latin community who maybe don’t speak English, but want to pamper themselves and want to feel comfortable. And then also the queer community, to have something for themselves and to know that when they’re talking about their spouses or their significant others, that they don’t have to feel uncomfortable.

We’re Mexican, we’re artists, we’re queer, and we really wanted people to know that and see that because we know that people of color and artists need somewhere to go without feeling like we need to blend in again. 

Business can be personal

Our goal isn’t to make lots of money. We just want to be able to keep our puppies fat—that’s it—and pay the bills. We just want a good quality of life. Rather than always thinking, “This is how you run a business,” it’s more like, “This is the type of human that I want to be.”
It’s the whole like mi casa es su casa thing. Don’t put up a front. Just be who you are, and you’re gonna find people who want to see you succeed and want to help support you.

Photos from Color Me Chula

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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