Hilda Perez and Sarah Perez Jarrett are the COO and CEO, respectively, of SALUD. Founded in 1991 by their father, Dr. José Rigoberto Pérez Díaz, SALUD has made all-natural, high quality health and wellness products for over 25 years. Today, the two Dominican sisters are continuing to grow and expand the company, challenging the status quo, and crafting their own American Dream through entrepreneurship.
Latina sisters challenge the status quo
SALUD grew from humble roots, beginning as a small, Latino-focused mail-order company catering to the greater New York City area via a health food store and nutritional consulting practice.
Hilda and Sarah’s father started the business with a passion to help his community with traditional knowledge to treat many common ailments. Today, his mission continues: to make natural health accessible to everyone.
“When we first joined the team, we had the opportunity to expand our father’s dream by launching community health events with local partners and fine tuning our product line,” said Hilda and Sarah. “We also expanded our reach by bringing the small brick and mortar store to the digital and ecommerce age.”
As Latinas, joining the world of entrepreneurship and business was “no easy task” they said. The sisters struggled at first to find their footing. It took a lot of “grit, empathy, hustle and heart,” but soon they found their way and began carving their own path. Like many women in business, they also faced sexism from colleagues and vendors who doubted their skill and expertise.
“As a legacy business, we had to learn to grow outside our father’s shadow. Therefore, one of the biggest struggles has been commanding respect from our father’s colleagues or business vendors,” the sisters shared.
“Dr. José Rigoberto Pérez Díaz is well-loved and respected in our community. He was extremely supportive when we became co-owners of the business. However, we undoubtedly faced sexism and disrespect from his colleagues or vendors who were used to working with a man instead of two young women.”
To overcome this challenge, the sisters had to be savvy in navigating relationships and strong willed when commanding respect as they pushed the company’s vision forward. Together, they jumped over every hurdle, receiving support from their father and supporting each other along the way.
Another struggle they faced was creating change within the company. As young women, they knew that to compete with their peers and create a larger impact, the company would need to bring their operations and services to the digital world. Many members at the time were hesitant of this change, scared to shake the status quo and set out on an unfamiliar path. The change would not be easy, either.
“To make it even more challenging, we had to do this with very little knowledge and resources at the time. It required an immense amount of patience, communication, and professional development,” said the sisters.
However, Hilda and Sarah were determined to push the business forward and expand its reach beyond the status quo. They joined business roundtables, went back to business school, and participated in certificate programs at Stanford University and Columbia University. They did everything they could to better themselves and deliver the best for their business because they were filled with a passion to grow and make a greater impact.
“We are happy to say that our company has grown significantly by committing to grow ourselves as owners. We did that by being curious and not being afraid to ask for help. When a challenge came up, we made sure to learn about it, or find the help we needed to tackle it. We believe that curiosity and commitment are a big part of being business owners”
You might be interested: Hilda Mera: “I could break with stereotypes and be a role model for my community”
Finding strength in teamwork and community
Working together, not just between themselves, but with their team, has been one of their greatest strengths as minority business owners. Many entrepreneurs try to go it alone or take on too much, leading to burnout. But Hilda and Sarah know there is strength in teamwork. They believe in creating a team that believes in the greater vision of the company. Their team has become a family.
“We have team members that have been with us for over 15 years. From celebrating weddings and quinceaneras to welcoming new additions to families. We persevered through recessions, pandemics and mourned deaths together. Despite these adversaries, our core team has remained intact and has remained flexible. We all have enjoyed the entrepreneurial roller coaster.”
As every Latino knows, community is everything. Community is family. And SALUD’s family extends beyond its team to their loyal community of customers. In 2017, during one of their most difficult times as entrepreneurs, Hilda and Sarah saw just how much their customers valued SALUD.
“We had a major opportunity to pilot our products with a national retailer. However, our supplier at the time was being difficult and did not want to offer the necessary insurances we needed to proceed with the contract. We then had to move to another lab. When the former supplier was informed, he got so angry at losing out on the contract, he refused to make any of our products! We were in complete shock. Within weeks we no longer had inventory. We were a retail business, with no products to retail. It was a threat to the survival of our business, and above all, for our team and clients that depended on our health products,” the sisters shared.
This dark time seemed hopeless at first. They worried that they would lose their entire client-base and feared what would happen to their business. However, they soon learned one of their biggest lessons. They chose to be transparent with their customers, informing them that the company was moving labs and that it would take months for products to arrive.
“To our incredible surprise they understood and kept on buying products on pre-order! This was a lifeline and a testament to the loyalty we had with our customers. We learned that transparency is critical and when you have a quality product and strong team, your customers will support you in your hardest moments. That was one key moment that made us know what we have is special; it was poised to grow.”
Their journey as Latina entrepreneurs has been full of highs and lows, but seeing the impact of their work, challenging the status quo, and watching their company grow has been worth it.
“Being an entrepreneur is difficult, we won’t sugarcoat it. There are weeks when you don’t know if bills will get paid, if suppliers will pull out of deals. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you also find yourself celebrating an employee who was able to buy their first home thanks to your support. If you have a real passion for what product or service you want to bring to the world, or use your talents to make something better for someone, then go for it!” Hilda and Sarah advise. “Start now, and educate yourself with the plethora of free resources out there to make you a stronger entrepreneur.”