Liberty hall of famer excelling in San Diego
For The Madera Tribune
Liberty High School graduate Chris Gonzales stands in front of one of the 15 Sola Salons he manages in the San Diego area.
When Chris Gonzales graduated from Liberty High School in 2007, he had earned the most athletic letters awarded to a single athlete with 10.
He took those letters and turned it into a productive three-year baseball career (with one redshirt year) at Fresno City College and then to Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, where he now resides.
Gonzales, a three-year football letterwinner, a three-year basketball letterwinner and a four-year baseball letterwinner, graduated from Point Loma in 2012and is now a manager in the beauty industry. He was also inducted into the Liberty High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.
“I’m grinding down here,” he said. “It’s pretty chaotic in the beauty industry.”
Gonzales is the general manager of 15 Sola Salons in the San Diego area, which takes care of more than 575 beauty professionals.
“Sola Salon is pretty unique,” he said. “It’s a 5,000-10,000 square foot building and divided into individual suites. It’s everything from hair, nails, tanning. It’s a woman’s heaven. We have some barbers in there, as well.”
Gonzales got his foot in the business while he was working for a valet parking company while going to Point Loma.
“My boss hired our company for a Sola Salon location because it was really bad for parking,” he said. “I was the one that was sent over there. I made a relationship with the professionals over there and I helped out quite a bit. The Sola Salon boss loved me and gave me an internship when he was building his sixth location. I rocked it from there. I went from three days a week while doing valet to working full-time while doing valet on the weekends. I was doing seven days a week. I was grinding during that time. I stopped valet-ing because I didn’t need to.”
Gonzales’ boss’ uncle is the founder of Sola Salons, which was started in Denver. There are now two locations in Canada and another in Brazil, as well as four in the Central Valley.
“It’s still a Forbes investment under the 500K category,” he said. “We have been expanding rapidly.”
While promoting to general manager, Gonzales turned to some familiar faces to help out with other opportunities. He hired classmate Eric Spurgeon to help him out in San Diego and led another classmate, Mike Diaz, to help manage the Central Valley locations.
“We needed help and it’s tough to find a person that has the personality and the customer service,” Gonzales said. “Eric was a huge shot in the arm for us. Now that he’s been working, it’s a big relief. We have been going and going. Business has been great. During this COVID thing, we shut off rent for all 15 locations. We’re serving as landlords. We have to provide a customer service, which is unheard of in the beauty industry. It’s a lot of diversity. We get to learn a lot about cultures. I’m loving this more and more. I’m seeing these independent professionals live the life they love. We have a little part of this in making their business successful. That’s the whole business model.”
Sola’s model is to put a 10-15 year lease on a building, convert it into 100-square foot studios and hiring beauty professionals to work out of them. Gonzales even has former Liberty alumni working for Sola in Kelsi Rhoads and Kristin Knobloch.
“We’re expanding so fast, we’re getting local friends in the valley getting involved with Sola,” he said “
With Sola expanding quickly and into the Central Valley, Gonzales was looking for someone he could trust to run the salons and turned to Diaz.
“When I started, not too many people knew about Sola or its concept,” he said. “We’re growing and growing. I talked to Mike about expanding to the Valley. Those franchisees are my boss’ college roommate and neighbors. I got to know them playing basketball and going to barbecues. They approached me about a manager that can do my job in Fresno. I told them I got the guy for them. I gave them Mike’s number and he was the only one they interviewed. He’s running four Sola Salons and is doing great. I love it that a bunch of Ranchos boys are running these new visions of the salon industry. It’ crazy. It’s pretty awesome.”
Gonzales feels that his path to success is to be good to the people around you and then they feel good about doing the jobs they do.
“People are trusting you and your opinion of who is the right person for these jobs,” he said. “Mike and Eric are hard workers. They get it and are people friendly. We don’t call them tenants, we call them professionals. We’re more like family. I knew Mike and Eric are great guys and they are doing well. Eric is my right-hand man. It’s awesome you can depend on that you can depend on. I love it.”
Although being a general manager has its perks, Gonzales knows he has to put in the hours.
“I probably average 150-200 text messages a day,” he said. “That’s because of the high volume of people we have. When you’re constantly trying to make sure people are taken care of, it’s a lot of work.”
Although he graduated from Liberty 13 years ago, he still misses being on the football field, the baseball field and the basketball courts.
“I miss the teachers, Coach (Trent) Wilson and Coach (Chris) Imperatrice,” Gonzales said. “Learning how they are growing up has molded me. I learned from my parents and they deserve the most credit out of everybody. It’s been a cool ride for everybody. I think about those days all the time.”
Gonzales was the first Liberty quarterback to throw for more than 1,000 yards and is ranked fifth for most passing yards in a season and third for most passing yards in a career. He also threw for 16 touchdown in his career, fourth all-time.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sola Salons had to close its doors. However, they have slowly started to reopen.
“We are slowly reopening,” Gonzales said. “We shut down everything during COVID. A lot of people in the industry was charging rent. My boss is all about doing the right thing. We shut down all of our locations. During that process, we were educating people about the new norms, especially in the salons. When we weren’t open to the public, we were taking precautions and making sure everyone is taken care of. What’s unique about Sola is that every professional is isolated. There’s a sliding glass door and you’re one-on-on with a professional. When we got the green light to open, we had to get the okay from the county. Once we were able to open, it took us two days to get everything prepped.”
Although Gonzales reminisces about the good ole days in high school, he still enjoys his time in San Diego.
“I started living on the coast, went east and made my way back to the water,” he said. “I’m pretty close to the bay. I live a 30 second walk to the bay and a two minute walk to the ocean.”
He still gets in a basketball game or two and even plays in the Point Loma alumni baseball game once a year.
“It’s more old man stuff, now,” he said. “I’ll play softball about once a week. I have missed just one Point Loma alumni baseball game.”