Monday, November 30, 2009

Hispanic entrepreneurs target English-speaking consumers

RUSSELLVILLE - Pedro Cotoc opened his barbershop two years ago in a micro-strip mall, his shop sandwiched between an alcoholic recovery center and an on-again, off-again store.

Cotoc, who speaks halting English, said 99 percent of his clientele is Hispanic and his business card is in Spanish.

Unlike restaurants and grocers, hair is universal, Cotoc said, even if the language spoken by the shop's owner is Spanish.

When asked whether he wanted to tap into the larger non-Hispanic market, after a few false starts in understanding, Cotoc's face lit up, he smiled and said, "Ya, I like!"

As Hispanic residents switch from employees to entrepreneurs, the new business owners not only want to tap into their Hispanic customer base, but cross over into the larger population.

The move is one rife with challenges, including language barriers and products unfamiliar to non-Hispanic consumers. Of the 200 members of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, only two are Hispanic-owned businesses, according to chamber records.

Large multinational companies and marketing firms have focused their efforts on getting a slice of the growing Hispanic consumer segment, but at the local level, the push is for minority Hispanic businesses to get a slice of the larger pie.

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