This story was originally published on westcenter.org.
Mark Saavedra came to the small business world via happenstance. He was working at a market and learning to cut hair when his teacher suggested he take over the Truckstop Barbershop. He was unsure, but when friends and family who knew his talent and skills urged him on, his vision for himself changed. Instead of renting a hair station, he went straight to renting an established barber business.
Truckstop had existed for 50 years and had a built-in clientele, but Mark brought his own as well. When he was still in school, he gave free haircuts to his coworkers at the market. He went to the senior center and gave free cuts to firefighters and kids. He has given many kids their first haircut and after, he takes a picture of them with a fake mustache. It’s for fun and the moms love it. “You have to have people skills to do this. And you have to be involved in the community because that’s who’s coming in here. I’ve always got my work face on.”
Solidifying the dream
When Mark needed a loan, he was referred to West Business Development Center and that’s when things started crystallizing for him and his business. West helped him crunch the numbers and put together a business plan presentation for a loan. “I had a very short window and West helped me get through it fast.”
West had the expertise and Mark had the hustle. And Mark’s confidence was growing. When Starbucks bought out the Truckstop’s building, Mark had to apply for another loan for a new shop, now called Airport Barbershop. Once again, West helped with a new business plan. “I didn’t think I had business sense, but a lot of that came with West’s workshops. I didn’t realize it, but I’d already been doing guerrilla marketing. West was my School of Business, basically. They taught me how to use the tools and I already have and translate them into a thriving business.”
Now in his fourth year of business, Mark has been able to expand his shop and give himself a raise every year. He sells retail products and has brought in another barber and a cosmetologist as independent contractors. “This is the best money I’ve ever made, working for myself, but more importantly the feeling is great. It’s like a weight off my shoulders, not having to clock in.”
A pillar of the community
Beyond creating a living for himself, Mark is contributing to the community. The barbershop is a social scene, where men from all walks of life can let their guard down and shoot the breeze. “We get the firefighters, police, and criminals just out of jail. youngsters and seniors . . . and they’re all under the same umbrella here.” In the barbershop, everyone gets along and Mark tries to serve as a role model for children in the community as well. He shows them through action what a lot of hard work and a little education can do. “It’s been nothing but positive. It feels bigger than me. People look to me.”
Mark has found his niche. Having grown up in a household where his mother cut hair, it’s not surprising that he owns a barbershop now. His social savvy and style are innate, but his aptitude for business was discovered and learned.
When asked if he is a barber for life, Mark answers with a proud lift of his chin. “Yes. I do believe so.”