Featuring Sergio Fuentes, owner of Royal Cutz in downtown Willmar, MN.
Barbers and hairstylists are a necessity. People need haircuts, regularly, and it’s no secret that stylists act as unofficial life coaches, counselors and sounding boards. It takes more than skill with scissors to run a barber shop, and Sergio Fuentes is just fine with that.
Sergio is originally from Tezoyuca Morelos, Mexico, and always loved being around barber shops and salons. His mother ran a salon, and he loved spending time there. However, his dad told him he needed to go to college. “He wanted me to become a lawyer, something that would be helpful to our family,” Sergio recalled. But after a year, Sergio wasn’t happy. He knew what he wanted to do, and that was hair. Sergio enrolled in cosmetology school, and got his license, which was good in Mexico as well as the United States. With violence around him, Sergio decided it was time to come to the US. He went first to Chicago, because he knew someone there. He’d work odd jobs, cut hair in his apartment, anything to make it work. After some time, he returned to Mexico, but at the suggestion of a friend decided to try Minnesota. “I chose Willmar because it’s a quiet town. It made me feel at home.” Sergio put down roots, which went even deeper when he got married, had his sons, and became a legal U.S. Citizen.
Sergio’s path to opening a downtown business wasn’t a straight line. After arriving in Willmar, he continued to do hair out of his home, and soon became involved in teaching at a barber school in St. Cloud. “I liked teaching, I liked working with students, sharing my knowledge and giving them encouragement.” His skills were so valued that soon Sergio had taken over the barber school. While he loved students and teaching, he learned after a few years that he didn’t love the added duties that came with running a school, and he wanted to do what he loved the most—cut hair. He knew he wanted to open up his own shop, a place where people could feel comfortable, especially because finding a hair salon that could cater to the different needs of people moving to Willmar from other countries was difficult.
“My favorite part of owning a business is that I’m my own boss, but I also like that I get to work with people.” It’s clear that Sergio’s love for hair is more about people than what’s on their head. “If people can’t pay the full price, it’s ok. If someone I know needs some help this month, I try to help them. I want to give advice and support to people who are just starting out, too.” When referencing a former student at the barber school, Sergio noted that he wanted to help him open his own barber shop close by. “I don’t think of it as competition,” he commented. “There’s enough business to go around, and I want to help people as much as I can.” Sergio’s expertise is clear on the heads of his customers. In fact, he has people drive from the Twin Cities and further just for him to cut their hair. “It’s hard for people to find barbers and stylist to cut your hair when you’re not white. I want to help people feel at home here, and having a place to get your hair cut is important. I’m honored that people come to me.” A man of devout faith, Sergio credits his success and accomplishments on his devout faith in God. It’s clear when he shares his story that is faith is central to his journey, and he would not be where he is today without it.
“IF PEOPLE CAN’T PAY THE FULL PRICE, IT’S OK. IF SOMEONE I KNOW NEEDS SOME HELP THIS MONTH, I TRY TO HELP THEM. I WANT TO GIVE ADVICE AND SUPPORT TO PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST STARTING OUT, TOO.”
Sergio opened Royal Cutz Barbershop on Litchfield Avenue in Willmar on March 1, 2019. When asked, “Why downtown?”, Sergio says, “It’s a good place to start a business, because there is diversity in the people. I wanted to be part of the diversity of the different downtown businesses, and help grow the economy of downtown.” While he’s a new business owner in Willmar, growing up with a mom who ran a salon helped to make his work easier. “I grew up watching her take care of people, and that’s what I wanted to do. I knew I could open a business if I ran it like she did. She’s so proud and excited that I chose to do this work. She’s always sharing my photos and commenting on my social media posts.”
Although it’s a brand new business, Royal Cutz is already making a name for itself, not just for the fantastic hair, but for the work and partnership in creating in a historic building. Sergio connected quickly with Sarah Swedburg, Willmar Main Street Director and Assistant City Planner. “Royal Cutz Barbershop has not only filled a need for a professional barbershop serving a diverse clientele in downtown Willmar, but they have created a wonderful third space located on one of our busiest downtown streets. Sergio is using his space to not only give great haircuts, but also share his story, space, & relationships with local community members to encourage their dreams of starting or growing their businesses and making our community a better place to be,” says Swedburg. On the topic of Main Street, Sergio adds, “Main Street has been so helpful to me. It’s brought resources and a flow of people to my business.”
Main Street districts in Minnesota are changing, and with new business owners like Sergio in the mix, we can be sure the growth is positive, exciting, and, most of all, focused on the people.