Lorena Martinez ’07 (Accountancy) was a junior in high school and taking a tour of Sacramento State organized by the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) when something unexpected happened that would change her life: Her tour guide, a Sac State freshman named Alfonso ’08 (Computer Engineering), asked for her phone number.
“You meet a cute kid and you think, ‘He’s never going to call,’” Martinez says. “I really didn’t think much of it.”
A week later, however, Alfonso phoned her house. Soon they were talking daily, Alfonso making regular trips to Watsonville, where Lorena lived, for supervised dates. Eventually she joined him at Sacramento State. In 2008, they were married.
Fast-forward to today and just down the street from the campus where their story began, Lorena and Alfonso Martinez own the Colour Bar hair salon on J Street near Sac State. The venture combines Lorena’s lifelong love of hairstyling with Alfonso’s passion for entrepreneurship, but the road to being small business owners has been circuitous and often difficult.
The Martinezes have more in common than just Sacramento State. Both were born in Mexico and, as children, immigrated to the United States with their families. Both grew up in small California towns – Alfonso in Newman, outside of Merced, Lorena in Watsonville near Santa Cruz. Both spent part of their childhood working in the fields. And both say Sacramento State’s diversity, and the support offered through the CAMP program, were a large part of why they enjoyed their time on campus.
“I came from a small town, and Sacramento was a huge city,” Alfonso says. “But even though it was a change for me, I still felt very comfortable going to Sac State. The CAMP program helped us so much with feeling at home and being around people who we have similarities to, who have similar backgrounds – immigrant parents, working in the fields.”
Sacramento State also provided a “realistic” education, Lorena says, offering flexibility for students who needed to work while attending college and providing the practical skills, through internships and other opportunities, that would become essential upon entering the workforce.
After graduation, Lorena and Alfonso began working in their degree fields. Alfonso had a series of computer engineering jobs, and Lorena began working in the auditing department of a Bay Area accounting firm. But the deadline-driven, heavy workload environment quickly began to wear on her. On Thanksgiving 2009, as she looked at her BlackBerry baffled that she was receiving so many work-related emails on a holiday, she finally reached a breaking point.
“I was so stressed, and I remember having a meltdown and crying,” she says. “I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ because I just felt overwhelmed. (Alfonso) said, ‘You’ve got to do something.’ ”
That something ended up being taking a big risk: Quitting her job in the middle of a recession, moving back to Sacramento and, in a nod to her lifelong love of hairstyling, attending beauty school and, in October 2010, opening her own salon. That’s when her connections to her alma mater began paying off.
“All of my sorority sisters and my network from Sac State made my business work because they all knew me,” she says. “Once they started seeing my work, I had tons of clients from Sac State. Without Sac State and our experience and everybody there, The Colour Bar wouldn’t be where it is right now.”
Alfonso continued to work in computer engineering and on other projects, but gradually has become more and more involved in the business, including building its web and social media presence, as it has continued to grow and serves as its CEO. They expanded to a second location in Midtown Sacramento last year and also are changing how salon owners work with hairstylists. Rather than rent salon space and work as independent contractors, The Colour Bar’s stylists are employees and receive in-house training.
“We got professional development early on from mentorship groups, from CAMP, so we know how crucial it is to someone’s success,” Lorena says. “So we’re trying to change things a bit by creating a training program to grow our talent at the hair salon.”
The couple has kept its close connection to Sacramento State. Alfonso is president of the Sac State Latino Alumni Chapter. Lorena occasionally is invited by CAMP and other organizations to speak to students on topics related to careers and doing what you love.
As for advice the successful business owners have for current students? It sounds a lot like the advice they themselves have taken since graduating from Sac State.
“Figure out what makes you happy,” Alfonso says. “People should do what makes them happy and not what other people think you should do. Nothing matters if you’re not happy. Once you’ve decided on a career path, you have to work hard and always go the extra mile. Be patient with your success, it will come.”