Key business takeaways
- Choosing the right location for your target clientele can help your business gain traction
- Small business grants and other creative financing solutions can help with startup costs
- Follow the Color Me Chula golden rules of customer service: Avoid second-guessing or double-booking clients
An esthetician and stylist, Jackelyn Madrigal creates moments of serenity for clients who have little time for self-care. Forging that bond with customers is what first drew her to the beauty industry: “It’s very intimate,” she said. “I really fell in love with the connection of it.”
But while practicing skincare in an upscale neighborhood of Fresno, California, Jackelyn began to feel a disconnect. As a queer, first-generation Mexican American, she said she struggled to be her full self with the salon’s wealthy clientele. It was time to reignite the spark.
In 2017, Jackelyn moved to a salon in the Tower District, the city’s arts center and a haven for LGBTQ people and people of color in Fresno. Feeling embraced by her community, Jackelyn’s business flourished and her services expanded. With the help of her wife and business partner Monica Madrigal, she opened her own brick-and-mortar salon, Color Me Chula, in June 2021. “You can’t please everybody, but you can find your crowd,” Jackelyn said.
For Jackelyn and Monica, finding their crowd has been a lifelong pursuit. Long before they founded Color Me Chula, both sought solace in Fresno’s Latinx art scene. When they went into business together—with Jackelyn serving clients and Monica balancing the books—they leaped at the chance to celebrate their culture through their craft.
It was difficult to find a place where you walk in and you don’t feel like you have to put up a front. We wanted to create an environment where people could just walk in and feel at home.Jackelyn Madrigal
While some salons can feel alienating, especially for LGBTQ clients, Color Me Chula has created a community around both its experimental cuts and diverse clientele. “I realized it was difficult to find a place where we can really feel comfortable, where you walk in and you don’t feel like you kind of have to put up a front,” Jackelyn said. “So we wanted to create an environment where that wouldn’t be an issue—where people could just walk in and feel at home.” Monica, reflecting on the shop’s origins, echoed her wife: “We wanted to create a space where everybody deserves to be pampered.”
Keeping Tower colorful
Within the largely conservative city of Fresno, the Tower District’s motto is “Keep Tower Weird.” Many LGBTQ people and others who feel unsafe or isolated in smaller, Central Valley towns have found their way to this artsy enclave, where shags and mullets thrive. The Madrigals wanted to be a part of this experience. At Color Me Chula, they provide their neighborhood with services typically found in bigger cities such as San Francisco or Los Angeles—but without the travel time or high price tag.
“We really wanted to bring that [experience] to Fresno,” Monica said. “To go in, get your hair cut, and have a good time talking to your stylists, and then afterwards maybe going down the street and supporting the local brewery or tea shop or gay club on the corner.”
Jackelyn never planned on becoming a salon owner—she was content renting a chair as an independent stylist at La Vogue, a local salon. “I wanted to clock in, clock out, and leave my baggage there,” she said. However, once she started working at a nearby spa with a toxic workplace culture, the baggage grew too heavy. She often felt isolated and targeted at work—and she was paying more for the treatment room at the spa than her own home. “To leave work crying, I was like, this is it. I refuse to be a number on someone’s payroll,” she said.
To finance a brick and mortar, Jackelyn applied for small business grants, sold at-home kits using products going unused in the COVID-19 shutdown, and even took on pet portrait commissions. She and Monica also searched for a year for a perfect location, where Color Me Chula’s clientele would feel safe.
Even in the Tower District, gentrification has divided the neighborhood. Monica, who’s lived in the city for decades, has noticed newer residents spurn the neighborhood’s message of equality. Color Me Chula hopes to revive it. “Tower District has a history of being the little gay mecca, but we’re starting to see businesses kind of promoting otherwise,” Jackelyn said. “We wanted to bring that back—like, let’s bring back the color.”
The salon is drenched in bright hues. Photos of gay icons on the wall remind them what Tower once was, and what Color Me Chula believes it can still be. Jackelyn’s portfolio, too, spans colorful mohawks and mullets—allowing her clients a full range of self-expression. “The biggest compliment we’ve received when we have people come and get for the first time is that it feels very homey,” Jackelyn said. “We want it to look like that Mexican tía’s house who doesn’t know when to stop decorating. We’re proud of it looking a little tacky.”
Having a space that reflects their culture was also very important to Monica and Jackelyn, who both grew up in Mexican American farm-laboring communities. “Growing up, we didn’t even have a stoplight, but we did have one hair salon,” Monica said. It was the kind of place where you’d see low-rider cars, she said—where ladies would come for a cut or color and stay for a chat. Now, they hope to help their clients do the same.
‘Everyone deserves to be pampered’
An artist as well as a stylist, Jackelyn first used the name “Color Me Chula” to advertise her face-painting services at Fresno’s Dia de los Muertos celebration. She’s built a robust following on social media, thanks to her strategy of being relatable and transparent.
I don’t want to ever be out of reach for anybody if they feel like I’m the right fit for them.Jackelyn madrigal
Many of Jackelyn’s clients know each other or know of each other, in a way that feels like family, she said. She offers free haircuts to trans and queer youth, for whom a haircut can be affirming. “I don’t want to ever be out of reach for anybody if they feel like I’m the right fit for them,” she said.
Meanwhile, Monica, who oversees business operations, has made inclusivity a priority through customer service. This is unfortunately not the norm for the beauty industry: With rents rising in Fresno, salon owners have a financial incentive to book as many clients as possible—and often rush through services to get to the next cut.
This is especially true for clients with curly or textured hair, which is often overlooked in cosmetology school—meaning many stylists aren’t comfortable cutting it. “The client is guilted with, ‘Oh, you have so much hair,’” Jackelyn said. “They’re made to feel like they’re an inconvenience. Instead of being asked, ‘How are you planning to wear your hair so I can cut it in a way that works for you?’”
This is why the duo at Color Me Chula vows to never second-guess or double-book a client. “We believe that if you’re going to pay for a service and you’re gonna pay for Jackie’s time, you’re going to have the service and you’re going to have her time,” Monica said. “You’re going to leave with what you want and what you paid for.”
Photos from Color Me Chula
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