People really want to talk to their stylist. That’s almost more important than the haircut. The color. Because I have more confidence speaking Spanish, it’s easier to joke and build a rapport with Spanish speakers. I can understand what you want if you come in and tell me in English. But there’s a more important part: Maybe you had a bad day, a stressful day, and you want to tell me about it. All I can say is, “I’m sorry.” Maybe you will think I don’t care. I care! I know what you’re saying. But my confidence, my English, they’re not so good. Communication is very important.
I have been in Phoenix for 28 years, from Guanajuato, Mexico. I studied cosmetology in Santa Ana, California. There is no difference between doing hair here and in California. Beauty is beauty. But I started out just wanting to cut hair, and I couldn’t find a cosmetology school where they would just teach that. When I got started there was no barber school. So I had to learn all the other things — coloring, cosmetics. My teacher told me, “You learn everything, and then you can just go out there and cut hair.” I had no choice. It worked out well for me, because if you come in and ask for something, I can do that, too.
I don’t work anymore. Once I had a family, I thought, “part time is enough.” I keep my longtime customers, but my main purpose, what I really do here, is give other people work. I have 12 stylists here. I’ve been cutting hair in Phoenix so long, so long in this community, that people leave and come back. They come in and say, “You were my stylist 25 years ago. Do you remember me?” I always say yes, even if I really don’t recognize them. I don’t want to hurt your feelings.
I once had three salons, but it was just too much work. (Another in Mesa, and one at 35th Avenue and Van Buren.) But I was never able to really focus; it was too much all over the place.
The business part of the salon, it’s always changing. Barber shops have expanded tremendously in the last three years. Boom! Because young people like those haircuts with the designs cut into them. The barbers do it with a sharp blade. We can do that here, sure, but 50 percent of our clientele is women, so we have a hard time maintaining a barber here. There just isn’t enough barbering to keep him busy.
Ninety percent of our clients are Hispanic. I think it’s because the name of the shop is Miguel’s, and not Mike’s. And we’re at 16th Street and Roosevelt. We naturally attract a Hispanic audience. It’s funny. The most success I have had is because I speak Spanish. I think I would have even greater success if I was fully bilingual.
I hope my daughter will take over this business. She is studying business in college. And she is going this year for her cosmetology license. She says, “Don’t get rid of the salon, Dad,” but she doesn’t want to take it over, either. I think she thinks of it as her backup plan. She speaks really good English, too. — As told to Robrt Pela, translation by Patricia Escarcega