Belia Davis came to the United States from Guatemala more than 30 years ago. From the second she arrived to this country she had the dream of owning her own hair salon. Going to school at night, after her four children came home from school, Belia received her license from the California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. With a license in hand, and a lifelong dream in her mind, she found an old, dilapidated store front that she rehabilitated into a thriving salon. Today, Belia’s Hair Club has five employees, more than 1,000 customers and a flawless 19 year reputation for providing her clients professional hair cuts, coloring, extensions, permanents and even facials. When she stops and thinks about the time that has passed, tears form in her eyes. Why? Because she feels blessed to be a small business owner for nearly 20 years doing something she loves.
How did you get started with your business?
I came from Guatemala and wanted to start a business where I could watch my kids. So I went to school to study cosmetology. When I graduated, I went to get my license to teach cosmetology at the same school I graduated. My whole life, even in Guatemala, I wanted to be a business owner. After five years teaching, I decided to open my own business. I learned that teaching is not for me because they just don’t want to learn or to change. But after teaching for a few years, I decided that I had learned enough to open my own salon.
I found this location because it was close to where my kids went to school. When I found this spot, it was horrible. There was no ceiling and completely destroyed. My brother helped me renovate the salon and now I am so happy here.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
I was very lucky to have a husband who understood my dreams. He has been so good to me. He borrowed money from the bank and then helped me invest in the equipment and licenses and even my school. I could not have done it without him. The other person who helped me, not with money really, but with work, was my brother. He completely renovated the entire salon for me. So I will say my family helped me fund my business.
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Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
Like I said, I had been studying and teaching cosmetology in Los Angeles for years, but I always knew that I wanted to open my own business. Now it seems like such a long time ago when I started, but it was the best move of my life.
Who was your first customer?
Of course I remember my first customer. I still have a photo of him. His name was Gabriel Fisher. He is still a good customer. Why do I remember this? I remember this because this first customer was very important to my future. I think everybody’s first customer is the most important.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
My biggest mistake was to hire other hair cutters with no experience. This was a mistake because I did not know a lot of people back then, so I would just hire anyone. This caused me a lot of problems because the customer’s were not very happy. The truth is I would hire students and that was my fault. They just didn’t have enough experience. I never looked outside the school to try to find professional cosmetologists. Now I don’t use students anymore.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
I was always really friendly to my customers. This was so important to help keep us alive the first year. When people get their hair cut or get a permanent or come to get their hair tinted, they want to talk. You have to be friendly to people and they like that. It really helps build my business.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
I love when I open my door in the morning to look at my environment. I am always cleaning and painting the walls. I really love it here. It is my other home. This is very rewarding to me. The other thing is that I really enjoy my loyal customers. It makes me so happy to realize how many customers keep coming back to me. It is very rewarding.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
Finding good people to work here. This is the most difficult thing. It doesn’t matter whether I pay by hour or by commission, it is so hard to find reliable and professional people. I teach people and I help build their clients. Usually they move on to somewhere else and they take what I teach them and take it somewhere else.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
I am so surprised how fast time goes. When I look at my kids now, how I watched them grow while I was here, it really surprises me. Time really flies. I can’t believe that almost 20 years has passed since I opened my doors.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
My brother is the person I admire the most. I recently had him do some work for my home, and he now has 12 people working for him and he works so hard. He is really professional and very successful. He came to this country with nothing. I admire him very, very much. To see all the people he has is just beautiful for me. It’s a miracle.
What I’ve Learned
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I think I wish I had known how to look for better workers. The key for any business is to hire good people. I think there are classes for this, yes? But I never studied this. I think that is something I wish I knew.
If you could go back to when you were starting your business, what advice would you give yourself?
I would keep trying to expand and try to have a big salon with a spa. I never thought about growing because I was so happy here. But when I look back I think I would have tried to grow my location or have multiple locations. But that is not possible now.
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About the Author — Vincent Aviani has been a professional observer of life for nearly 30 years. Starting out his career as a reporter, and then as a community banking communications officer and public relations executive, Vincent has spent his career listening to personal stories and conveying the histories and wisdom within each story to his receptive audience. For the past four years, he has been running his own small business as a professional communications consultant and storyteller.