Bilingual employees becoming a necessity

Blanca Rios, owner of Blanca’s, rearranges the quinceañera display Monday at the store. Rios, who is bilingual, said being able to speak Spanish has helped her business grow. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.

By Helena Rodriguez: CNJ staff writer

From bilingual haircut signs at Wal-Mart to Spanish radio ads by local auto dealers, local business owners are trying to get their messages out to a growing population of Hispanic consumers.

U.S. Census figures from July 2001 show Hispanics are the largest U.S. minority, comprising nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population. That’s up from 12.5 percent of the population in April 2000.

Statistics show 30 percent of Curry County’s population is Hispanic/Latino.

“Our Hispanic clients appreciate coming into a place where there are people they can communicate with and who can help them, and not just with insurance needs,” said Ronnie Tafoya, who sells Allstate insurance on Prince Street.

Tafoya said his company provides some informational materials in both English and Spanish.

Larry Rothwell, manager of Auto World, said he is one of the business’ six employees who speaks Spanish. He’s kept buys translating for non-English speaking customers.

“In car sales, it is becoming a necessity to have employees that speak Spanish,” Rothwell said. “It is a very good asset. We advertise on the only area Spanish radio stations, KMUL in Muleshoe and Amigo Broadcasting in Amarillo, and I know that brings people in.”

Dillard’s department store inside North Plains Mall has 30 to 40 employees, and about one-third are bilingual, Assistant Sales Manager Shannon Sneed said.

“It’s always an asset to have bilingual workers. We don’t consciously look for people who are bilingual, but in this area, we are definitely lucky if we find them,” Sneed said.

Since Blanca Rios opened a small store 10 years ago at 211 N. Prince in Clovis, her business has grown from a boutique to a quinceañera shop, and now to more of a special occasions store at a bigger location at 1221 N. Prince.

Blanca’s is one of two stores in Clovis — the other is Rachel’s Fashions on Main Street — that specifically caters to the Hispanic quinceañera affair, a coming-out celebration that can be as extravagant as a wedding.

Rios feels there is enough business for Clovis to support one or two more shops of the sort.

Her shop is not limited to quinceañeras. Over the years, she has expanded to include weddings, First Communions, baptisms, formal affairs and special occasions. She also does tuxedo and decoration rentals, has an in-store flower shop and recently added a baby shower section.

“Since I started the business 10 years ago, the products are getting easier to find now and there are more choices for people coming in looking for things,” Rios said.

“It used to be that people would go to Mexico to find everything they needed for quinceañeras and some people still do, but it’s getting more and more to where you can find what you need here.”

Rios estimates about 40 percent of her customers speak only Spanish and about 30 percent speak English and Spanish.

She said being bilingual has helped her expand her business, but she said it is through mostly knowing her customers that she has grown.

“It’s by treating your customers the way you want to be treated; that’s one reason business has expanded,” she said.