Salon owners’ love story began at Sac State

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.

Lorena and Alfonso Martinez 2001
Lorena and Alfonso Martinez in 2001.

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.”

Advertisements

Ana Klein featured in State Capitol as part of ‘Made in the CSU’ campaign

If you take a tour of the State Capitol these days, you’ll find a Sacramento State graduate in the hallway outside the governor’s office.

Nelsen with Klein Poster
President Robert S. Nelsen gives a “Stingers Up!” near Ana Klein’s poster on display in the State Capitol.

Ana Klein ’95 (Accounting), MBA ’10, is one of seven California State University alumni featured in a set of posters on display in the State Capitol this week. The posters are part of the “Made in the CSU” campaign, which highlights outstanding alumni from the CSU’s 23 campuses.

Klein is the vice president and chief financial officer for Sunsweet Growers Inc., the world’s largest handler of dried tree fruits. She was recognized as CFO of the year by the Sacramento Business Journal in 2014 and as the Sacramento State College of Business Administration Alumna of the Year in 2015.

You can read more about Klein on the California State University website.

Alums’ new company blends art and tech under one roof

Step into Obra, a new company located in a warehouse just north of midtown Sacramento, and it’s quickly apparent you’re seeing something different. Workbenches and giant wood cutting tables sit next to a room full of computers and soldering irons. Beyond that, there’s a dance floor – built in-house – complete with mirrors and a barre.

Obra, founded by Sacramento State alumni Isela Perez ’12 (Journalism) and Brandon Ortiz ’15 (Computer Engineering), opened its doors in January and probably is best described through its name: The word means “work of art” in Spanish, and the warehouse is part maker’s space, part dance studio. The company is founded on the belief that through combining their talents – Perez is a dancer who studied journalism, Ortiz studied computer engineering and has a background in product design and development – they can create, and help others create, something stronger and more meaningful.

“We realized how much art has an impact on creativity,” Ortiz says. “Even if it’s programming, where you can get into this mindset of just grinding and doing strictly technical work, if you step back and think about the artistic or creative aspect of what you’re doing, you tend to find better solutions to the problem.”

Perez and Ortiz met three years ago at a sports bar in Sacramento, and even from their initial conversations knew they had a lot in common, including a desire to create something new and unique. They just didn’t know specifically what that was yet.

Both transferred to Sacramento State from community college – Perez transferred from Sacramento City College, Ortiz attended Sierra College in Rocklin before working to design control systems for an elevator company – and says both the perspective of being older than the traditional student as well as the accessibility of their professors helped them get the most out of their time on campus.

“We valued education a lot and I think that’s what motivated us to get close with our professors, to be able to talk with them,” Perez says. “You realize, ‘I could have been doing this with high school, I could have been really connecting with professors, with my peers, and taking advantage of more. Sac State was definitely welcoming for someone who wanted to go as far as they could.”

In 2015, a six-month trip to Nicaragua where, Ortiz says, “we just had each other,” taught them both how to respond to new challenges and live a minimalist life. “We found happiness from creating. We wanted to build a place where we can create and use our skills and the experience we picked up to help other people create.”

Obra’s revenue comes through dance classes Perez offers at the studio – she also works part time as a dancer for the Sacramento Kings – as well as various other projects and partnerships, such as creating stencils for a group that wanted to use street art to promote this year’s Sacramento Concerts in the Park lineup. The company also is set up to sell the products that are made in its work space. Its current partners include the maker of a large LED chandelier that can be used as an art display or centerpiece at special events, as well as Sacramento State’s own Hornet Hyperloop team, for which they are helping to develop control systems.

The art and the tech go hand-in-hand: Ortiz began dancing about a year ago, giving him a creative outlet when he needs a break from product development. Perez says the same about learning to program. They encourage their partners to utilize the dance space – even a couple of the Hyperloop team members have started to wander over to the studio side of the warehouse.

“It’s a group of engineering students, probably not the most likely to jump out on the dance floor, but we’ve got some of them moving,” Ortiz says.

The couple spend 12-14 hours a day in the studio, seven days a week. But they say the ability to spend each day creating something new continues to motivate them, as well as the belief that they have built something that isn’t just unique, but necessary.

“I think (something like Obra) was missing,” Perez says. “A place that you can create without a boundary. I don’t think there’s ever an idea that we’ll say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’ or, ‘No, we don’t know about that.’ Bring us your idea, and we’ll try our best to make it happen.”