Magic seems to follow Harlen wherever he goes. He earned his nickname, “La Magia” (The Magic), because of his skills as a barber, but the enchantment hasn’t stopped there. Today Harlen and his wife, Argentina, own two businesses that have thrived and grown during the pandemic.

Before they emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 2012, Harlen worked in a barbershop and Argentina managed an automotive store. Finding work in a Boston barbershop, Harlen eventually teamed up with a colleague to open Los Magicos Barbershop & Beauty Supply on Blue Hill Avenue. Demand was high, and with Argentina in the role of manager, they added multiservices (money transfers, translations, etc.) and opened a second location as well.

The business owners’ partnership with JPNDC began in 2019, when Argentina attended a marketing workshop. Over the next year they worked closely with Carlos, JPNDC’s Director of Small Business Services. They established formal bookkeeping practices and worked with an accountant to keep their taxes up-to-date. They improved their marketing in order to attract more customers.

But the margins for the barbershops were low, so Harlen and Argentina decided to start a new venture, LV Home Improvement & Cleaning. They worked with Carlos to learn about estimating and bidding, essential skills for small contracting firms. Then 2020 brought a whole new set of unexpected challenges, and it felt like their magic wouldn’t help.

“Just about everything was difficult,” Harlen reflects. “We were worried about getting sick, about our customers getting sick, about our staffing (four full-time and three part-time workers), how to pay our rent and bills. We have kids at home, and we didn’t want this to affect them. We felt like the world was spinning out of control,” he remembers.

At the start of the crisis, they had to stop operations for three months. JPNDC assisted them with accessing more than $20,000 in grants to stabilize and stay afloat. Today, they have no debts.

As the pandemic dragged on, Argentina and Harlen focused on establishing their businesses’ online presence. Using social media and new online booking platforms, they increased their customer base and established a consistent brand.

“Thankfully, our businesses are still here. We have seen many that did not survive,” Harlen says. “JPNDC helped us walk through it, and is now helping us continue to grow and push the boundaries.”

One of the main boundaries being pushed is faced by many small businesses owned by immigrants and people of color: the barrier to getting contracts with large, mainstream purchasers. JPNDC is a strong advocate for these entrepreneurs with general contractors and with the City of Boston, which is working to rectify the lack of procurement diversity that was revealed in a 2019 report.

Through JPNDC’s coaching and guidance, LV has begun bidding on larger contracts–and has won multiple bids with the City of Boston. “Before, we didn’t have access to any of these opportunities,” Argentina reflects. “Now, I know how to submit and qualify for larger bids, it’s exciting!”

Harlen and Argentina continue to dream big. They want to grow and open additional barber shops throughout Boston. They want to improve their online presence and brand recognition. And they want to pursue further education and achieve English proficiency, so they can better communicate with other contractors and clients in the construction industry.

“We have seen that if you work hard, find people to help you, and have faith in yourself, it will all work out,” Harlen reflects.

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