To end the year, we had the pleasure of connecting with Sandra Martinez. First generation Mexican-American originally from Tacoma, Washington, this self-proclaimed creative shared a bit about the journey that led her to becoming a small-business owner.
Growing up, when Sandra realized that her mother’s styling skills “maxed out at a ponytail and half-ponytail”, she decided to, “take matters into her own hands”, and taught herself to braid at the age of seven. With such spirit and initiative at a young age, it is no surprise that Sandra is now the co-owner of Widows Peak Salon on the Eastside of Los Angeles in the heart of Chinatown.
With fifteen years as a professional hair stylist under her belt, Sandra and her business partner April Ferri having been running the salon for just over a year.
Did you always know you wanted to be a stylist or own a salon?
No, I didn’t. I just liked the control of doing my own hair and attempting to execute whatever vision I had for it in the moment.
This eventually evolved into cutting my high school peers’ hair and running a ‘salon’ out of my teacher’s classroom after class on Fridays. The demand was there-- I liked getting paid for doing something fun, and they didn't mind me using my tool of choice- a disposable razor.
So when I didn’t know what to do after high school-- and knew it wouldn’t be a 4 year college-- I decided to go to Beauty School from the advice of my school counselor and parents alike.
What did the process of opening your salon look like? What were some of the major challenges and wins?
Opening Widows Peak happened very organically.
When the salon where April and I both worked together closed after 20 years, I knew one thing: I had to feel free and creative in whatever space I worked next. And I wanted it to be small scale.
I found myself in Chinatown, surrounded by artist’s studios, with a young woman who had just opened a private hair studio with her husband. Literally opening day I called her and landed a chair to rent.
After family took her back to the east coast just 6 months later, they offered to sell the salon to me.
At first I was timid as it seemed like so much more of a responsibility, but when I stopped to think of other strong women who I looked up to and what they would do in this situation, I knew it was an amazing opportunity. I was capable and the space was everything I wanted: creatively inspiring, great lighting, and it was small.
Then I had to decide, will I do this alone or will I need a partner? Even with a partner, a new business can take over your life, and I wanted to have time to nurture my own creative outlets, so I wanted a partner to balance the scales. Along came April Ferri.
April and I have always gotten along, but learning how to work with each other on a daily basis in this capacity was a challenge. The business was our baby and we were in a brand new working relationship. It took some time to understand how the other worked, but with open and clear communication on a daily basis, we reached a healthy flow and I couldn't imagine owning the salon with any one else. Plus it was April’s idea for the name!
What advice would you give someone looking to open a salon or a brick and mortar business?
First, ask yourself: does this community, this ‘block’ if you will, need my services? Why?
Then, if you are going to partner up with someone, take your time and choose wisely. Figure out what you need in a partner, and what you have to offer as well.
Secondly, be realistic about the build-out of your salon or business: what changes will need to be made to the space and what permits if any will you need to wait for? Because it will always take longer and be more expensive than you think.
And finally, just go for it. Things will NOT be perfect opening day - it took us a year to make the space our own and find our footing.
Grooming and hair styling is a necessity and something that everyone essentially needs. How have you found ways to innovate such a timeless service? How do you personally, as an artist and business owner, stay fresh and creative?
First, you must accept that the majority of people want the same thing for years, and that it is up to you to keep yourself creative - not the client. Personally, I take models every once in awhile just to do something fun with hair. A creative outlet where I say what goes and it's not about retaining a client, but completely about the vision. This energizes me for weeks, if not months.
I take time out every week to do or see something inspiring, without documenting it--just taking it in and sitting with it. Then in the next day or two, I write about what stayed with me most and I try to incorporate that artist’s way into my own work.
I look to high fashion and international and vintage fashion to get a feel of what trends are coming next.
I also make sure to give myself extra time when doing something new on a client, I want to make sure i love everything about it, and sometimes that means tweaking it a million times in one sitting before they leave - an artist is never finished.
Can you identify 2-3 ways to establish, maintain, or grow your relationship with your customer base? How do you bring in new clients and business?
Most of our customers come from word of mouth and social media. In both cases, consistency is key to keeping a customer happy and coming back. I like to think of the client experience from the moment they arrive at our building until they go home and look in their own mirror.
Everyone wants to be heard, so I make sure to check in at the beginning of every appointment how they want their hair to look and feel like when they leave the salon. I like to discuss how to keep their hair looking good at home, since I can only control what it looks like the day they visit.
Educating your client is key in building their trust and establishing a long lasting relationship.
What is in the future of Widows Peak Salon? What are some long term goals or dreams?
April and I would definitely like to expand our space. Currently there are only 3 chairs and we feel 6-8 chairs would be a nice expansion one day. Either in the same building or somewhere close by.
What are some helpful hacks tips or tricks, resources or tools you’ve found helpful in your experience?
We’ve taken advantage of free business mentorships offered here in LA. We also listen to a lot of podcasts and even YouTube videos about owning a small business. There is so much free education out there, might as well take full advantage of it all.
What is one golden nugget of advice you could share with a maker, artist, or entrepreneur looking to start a small business?
Begin to really VISUALIZE what you want it to look like.
PREPARE by making sure you know everything you will run into when the process of opening begins.
Then PRIORITIZE what is most important for your vision so you can TRUST your gut when making decisions.
What’s been your spotlight moment? One moment where you felt the most proud-- of yourself, your craft, your business?
We had a grand opening at the beginning of the year and we were blown away by the support from all our customers, friends and family. We were so busy getting the business up and running and doing hair, that it was nice to look up and see everyone so proud and happy for us.
It's nice to know that they believe our vision is beautiful too.
Sometimes our dream is to start our own business, and sometimes our passion simply leads us there. Sandra stumbled upon an opportunity and made a decision to act on courage. In the process, she’s learned more about her own capabilities, how to work closely with a business partner, and build a business that reflects those values that matter most.
Starting a business is never an easy task, but Sandra teaches us that it’s worthwhile. Especially when we take the time to thoughtfully plan for what we want our business to be, and be open to it becoming something beautiful-- something we may have never imagined it could be.