Founder of San Antonio salon chain remembered as generous, persevering
Benito E. Rios started out with one chair, one mirror and a sandwich board advertising $1.50 haircuts out of the back of his South Side home. More than 50 years later, Rios Golden Cut Salons has grown into a local-favorite salon chain with more than 30 locations.
The businessman died Wednesday of natural causes. He was 85.
“He was a good father, a good provider, he was always working,” son Eric Rios said. “As a parent, you make choices and sacrifice time. But, in the end, this is what he leaves us.”
After serving in the Korean War, Floresville native Benito Rios came to San Antonio and worked for two beauty supply companies as a salesman, delivering products to about 50 “mom-and-pop” salons across the city.
Glimpsing how salon owners operated gave him the idea to start his own, said Eric Rios, one of nine children and Rios Golden Cut Salons’ CEO.
“He has never cut hair,” said Eric Rios, 47. “He was never a barber. It was just something he decided to take a chance on.”
In 1964, Benito Rios converted the rear portion of the family home off South Flores into a salon — to great success, his son said.
“People were just coming in like crazy,” he said.
Soon, Rios was busy enough to add two chairs and another mirror. He opened a second location.
One day in the mid-1960s, a stylist who recently obtained her cosmetology license from Burbank High School walked in seeking a job. She and Benito Rios later married, and Consuelo Rios played a key role in growing the business, working long hours and opening new salons, Eric Rios said.
The business went through two failed expansions that left the family “broke” at times before hitting its stride on the third try, Eric Rios said.
His father ultimately succeeded despite not having much education: He had dropped out of school in eighth grade and sometimes had difficulty reading, his son said.
“He just managed to just have the drive … to keep going until he finally figured it out and made it work,” Eric Rios said.
Eric Rios said he grew up watching his father run the business. He and his siblings used to pack the car as their father made deliveries of hair spray and hair dye to each location, he said.
“We didn’t even have a door that separated the salon room from our house,” Eric Rios said. “My dad had a little curtain to keep us kids out of there, but we would run in there all the time.”
Benito Rios showed generosity toward his employees, his son said.
Often, he would buy lunch for employees when he took his children to visit the salons, and he would assist his employees if they didn’t have enough money to pay bills, Eric Rios said.
“Anytime they needed financial help, if they were a little short on rent or electricity, he was always there to help them,” Eric Rios said.
Eric Rios took over as CEO when his father decided to retire in 2006. Benito Rios and Consuelo Rios had divorced in 1994.
“His exact words when he approached me were, ‘I’m tired. I cannot do this anymore. I just want to now enjoy my life,’” Eric Rios said.
Soon after, the Great Recession of 2008 hit, taking a toll on the family business. Eric Rios said he was starting to panic and went to his dad for advice, but all the longtime businessman could do was laugh.
“I’ve already gone through four (downturns), and if I can make it through it, you can make it,” Eric Rios said his father told him.
The patriarch gave Eric Rios one piece of advice from his long life of entrepreneurship: “Tighten up the purse strings.”
Eric Rios followed his father’s direction and survived, he said.
But in 2010, Eric Rios said he noticed that his father was showing signs of dementia. Soon, his family admitted Benito Rios to an assisted living center.
“He was always a generous person that was always giving and helping people, from his employees to his family,” Eric Rios said.
Madalyn Mendoza is a breaking news and general assignment writer. Read her on our breaking news site, mySA.com and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com | email@example.com |@MaddySkye
Joshua Fechter is a San Antonio-based staff writer covering real estate, economic development & philanthropy. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @JFreports