News Column

Hispanic Entrepreneurs Get Business Advice

March 21, 2013

J.N. Sbranti

Hispanic Entrepreneurs

CERES -- Encouragement and advice for small business owners was shared Wednesday during a daylong conference designed to to help Latino entrepreneurs.

Some of the region's largest home-grown companies -- including supermarket chain La Perla Tapatia and Mexican ice cream maker Paleteria La Michoacana -- offered wisdom.

"We're teaching our kids that anything can be done ... but you have to work really hard. Success does not just happen," stressed Patricia Gutierrez, who runs the Modesto-based ice cream company with her husband, Ignacio.

"We both have given everything to the business," said the mother of three. Juggling family needs with those of their 150-employee company is a challenge, she said. Gutierrez urged the audience to tap into business resources to learn ways to operate more efficiently.

Modesto's Alliance Small Business Development Center is among the local organizations that offers help.

Ignacio Gutierrez recalled some sage advice the Alliance gave him about fostering brand identification for his ice cream.

"I like the pink color. So we decided let's put it on everything and let pink be our color," he said about his La Michoacana ice cream brand, which he started in Turlock in 1991.

La Perla Tapatia got its start in Patterson in 1980. Gabriel Villa recounted how his parents borrowed $30,000 from relatives to launch their first store, which was designed to meet the needs of Latino residents.

"They opened up that little store, and it thrived. Employees from Patterson Frozen Foods lined up out the door to shop there," Villa said. His family expanded over the decades, opening nine markets and hiring 230 employees.

"Now we've developed several other companies that integrate into what we do," said Villa, explaining how he runs the La Perla Mexicana tortilla company, which has 100 employees of it own.

Succeeding in business is not easy, Villa warned.

"There's a lot of government bureaucracy to deal with," he said. "One inspector says one thing, the another inspector says another thing. Who ends up paying for that (bureaucratic confusion) is the small business owner. We're willing to pay, but we need to know what to expect."

Besides satisfying government agencies and creating desirable products, business owners must learn effective marketing techniques to attract customers. One of E.&J. Gallo Winery's top marketing experts shared advice on doing that.

Elizabeth Windram, marketing manager for Gallo's Barefoot Wine & Bubbly brand, emphasized how important it is to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"It's a huge opportunity of businesses to get their targeted messages out to customers," Windram explained.

Thousands of fans

Barefoot has more than 370,000 likes on Facebook and 10,000 followers on Twitter.

Windram said her eight-member team routinely targets relevant information to Barefoot's social media fans to build brand loyalty and to keep their wine "top of mind."

"We sell almost 15 million cases a year. That's 12 bottles per case, so you can do the math," Windram said. She said Barefoot is America's best-selling wine.

Windram urged the business owners to utilize websites and email marketing options to promote their brands. Barefoot's database contains about 500,000 customer email addresses, which Gallo uses to send targeted messages designed to match each customer's interests.

"Every one of our consumers gets something relevant to them," Windram said. She explained how mass marketing has shifted to individualized marketing -- thanks to sophisticated computer software that uses technology that is "a little bit Big Brother."

More marketing tips and business advice will be offered in upcoming seminars by the Alliance. For more, go online to or call (209) 567-4910.

Source: (c) 2013 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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