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Rebecca Acosta-Ojeda opened a one-chair salon in downtown Buda 16 years ago and has seen that grow to eight chairs and 14 employees. Her Salon One 12 recently won a GRIT Award from Texas State University for resilience and adaptability during the pandemic.
Photo by Terry Bertling/Texas Community Health News

Local business wins GRIT award for persevering through pandemic

Friday, July 14, 2023

Like many small business owners, the founder of Salon One 12 in this little town south of Austin had to adapt and persevere during the pandemic, but her version of a survival plan was a personal challenge and a lesson in adaptability.

Rebecca Acosta-Ojeda, owner and founder of the salon, used the power of social media and online tutorials and home care kits that she dropped off on customers’ porches to keep her business alive when the COVID-19 pandemic brought many businesses to a standstill, starting in March 2020.

Her resilient spirit and adaptability in the face of adversity earned her one of seven GRIT (Great Resilience in Texas) Awards from Texas State University this spring. The awards, which went to small businesses, were handed out by the university’s Translational Health Research Center and SCALEUP, a program of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“I was doing everything in my power to keep us moving,” said Acosta-Ojeda in a recent interview.

During the height of the pandemic, she delivered home care kits – shampoo, conditioner and spray for root touchups for people working through Zoom or other online options. Her husband Ronnie, a third-generation barber who also works at Salon One 12, drove her around town so Acosta-Ojeda could deliver the care kits on porches while social distancing.

“Those were little packages of hope,” Acosta-Ojeda said. “People were so supportive,” she added, describing care kits ordered online for birthdays and other special occasions. Even with much of the country shut down due to the spread of COVID-19, people wanted to look good for Zoom and other online meetings. Some of that hope came in the form of spray that covers the grown-out roots of people with colored hair until they could get back to a salon.

But Acosta-Ojeda also took the care for her clients to a new level. She and her employees created online tutorials about doing makeup, hair braiding and curling and root touchups. They also made some videos just for kicks, not so much for the revenue opportunity but for the connection that people craved during lockdown.

Josh Daspit, associate professor of management and director of SCALEUP, a program of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the GRIT Awards show other small businesses how to enhance their own resilience. The online GRIT Award Showcase at Texas State this spring mentioned examples of collaboration, adaptability, preparedness and resilience.

Daspit said Salon One 12 was recognized for its outstanding ability to navigate the challenges of the pandemic while continuing to provide “exceptional services to its clients.”

“The salon leveraged the power of digital platforms to engage their customers, providing updates, offering virtual consultations and sharing tips and tutorials,” Daspit said. “By maintaining an active online presence, the salon fostered a sense of community and ensured that their clients still felt cared for even in a time of physical separation.” He said Acosta-Ojeda was also lauded by judges for her dedication to uplifting other salon owners by sharing her experience and insights during challenging times.

Acosta-Ojeda, who has been in the salon business for 27 years, started her Buda business 16 years ago with a one-chair shop that was originally at 112 Main (hence the salon’s name that she held onto when she moved down the street). She now has eight chairs and 14 employees in the shop at 302 S. Main in the Mill & Grain Co. Her employees can earn a denim “Glam Squad” jacket when they finish additional training beyond that required for a state license.

She called the application and interview process for the GRIT Award “like a whole therapy session” because she didn’t realize how much the business had grown and moved past that.” Acosta-Ojeda is grateful for the award.

“I have a lot of gratitude for them (Texas State) even recognizing the small businesses,” she said. “A lot of times we get overlooked. To be seen – that’s something that’s so important. It stirred up a lot of emotion in me. That’s what we want to do for everyone. We often want to be seen and heard.”

As the pandemic waned, Acosta-Ojeda equipped her salon with acrylic barriers for social distancing, staffers wore masks and customers waited in their cars in the park- ing lot for a stylist to become available, then had their temperature taken as they came in the door as part of the COVID-19 protocol. When the shop reopened, there were no magazines, no books, no beverages, no snacks.

“It was very sterile,” she said, so she brought in plants to warm up the place. Her oldest daughter, Bella Ojeda, 21, graduated high school during the pandemic and became both a stylist and digital marketing manager for the salon.

Acosta-Ojeda, who grew up on the southside of Austin, is looking at ways to continue to expand her business in the next year in its location at the Mill & Grain Co. on the outskirts of downtown Buda. Instagram and Facebook accounts show a lot of reasons to celebrate, including the “Boss Babe” of the month that showcases top employees. Disco balls decorate the workspace with upbeat motivational messages like “Kind people are my kinda people.” The business participates in Wigs for Kids, community celebrations and recycles as much beauty waste as it can, including hair clippings and foil used in hair coloring, as a Green Circle salon. Vision boards are on the mirrors in spots where training sessions are held.

Customers come from South Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels and Driftwood. They like the prices, service and easy parking in Buda, Acosta-Ojeda said. Gift cards are sold online, but this is a face-to-face business again. “It’s a huge responsibility because people sit in our chairs and they trust us,” Acosta-Ojeda said.

Daspit, whose work supports small businesses of all kinds, said Acosta-Ojeda’s salon serves as an inspiration for other small business owners facing adversity.

“The salon’s success demonstrates the power of adaptability, resilience and a customer-centric approach,” he said. “In the face of uncertainty, Salon One 12 weathered the storm and emerged stronger, solidifying its place as a cornerstone of downtown Buda that continues to prioritize its clients, employees and community.”

The Translational Health Research Center and SCALEUP at Texas State are working on new initiatives to serve as a hub for small businesses, including new innovative mentoring and other services. To stay informed about those opportunities and to watch for a call for GRIT Award nominations this fall, go to scaleup.txstate. edu.

Terry Bertling teaches journalism at Texas State University and is the lead reporter for Texas Community Health News, a collaboration between the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the university’s Translational Health Research Center. TCHN stories, reports and data visualizations are provided free to Texas newsrooms.

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