Realizing The American Dream

Mary Jean Galvez
June 20, 2017

The Story of Pon

Humble and unassuming, Pon Saradeth is one of those rare talents who simply does not boast about his success. It’s something he’s clearly earned by working hard, being incredibly disciplined and staying focused. His level of skill, however, is very obvious in every head of hair that he does. And anyone in the business can spot his work from a mile away, as a haircut by this trendsetting hair artist absolutely shouts Pon’s signature style.

In the Beginning

His family came to the states from Laos in the late ‘70s and settled in Southern California where Pon was sent to high school despite not speaking a word of English. Knowing that diving in head first is the best way to learn to swim, this shy teenager who cowered in the back of the classroom eventually came to the surface and emerged stronger from the experience.

It was in his teens that Pon started to snip away at hair, offering free haircuts in his garage for most anyone who would sit for him. He witnessed his uncle cutting hair for as long as he could remember and the concept just seemed to be a natural fit for him. He never once expected it to turn into a career.

After high school, Pon tried his hand at several trade schools and odd jobs, but nothing was the right fit. With English being a second language, school was tough for him, so he decided to try something that seemed to come naturally to him, hair. He enrolled in barber school and it became very obvious, very quickly that this was his calling. From that point on, Pon applied himself 100 percent by living, breathing, and dreaming everything hair.

A Pro Emerges

In a short amount of time, Pon built a loyal clientele, which gave him confidence as he ventured into the world of hair competitions. He found himself walking away with the trophy almost every time. Eventually, with over a hundred wins under his belt, he soon found a loyal following of other hair professionals. That’s when Pon realized that the shy kid in the back of the room was really a highly capable people-person with much to offer others. He started educating, first for a small product line and then eventually out on his own with Pon Academy. Pon proved to be a patient and effective educator, applying many of the same visual teaching methods that worked so well for him over the years. Pon had found his niche.

When it comes to his teaching style, Pon explains, “People in this industry are highly creative, therefore they tend to learn like I did. It’s more about experiencing everything visually and learning by sight, touch and eventually by intuition. Learning to do hair happens best by doing and creating, even making mistakes, not by reading about it.”

In the ‘80s, as all of the competitions and education was blossoming, Pon and a business partner opened a salon in Cypress, California. There was no shortage of happy clients but the business side became overwhelming, so after a decade the salon disbanded and the partners went their separate ways.

For the next several years, Pon balanced several stations in a chair rental salon, which allowed him to concentrate on his craft. During this time, he continued to compete and was venturing into the realm of editorial work by doing hair for photo shoots. He soon saw his work in print in publications around the world, which was not only a fun outlet but also created yet more demand for him as an educator. Pon was also savvy enough to create work for consumer publications and found that it would bring in several new clients each week – another adaptation that proved to be quite fruitful.

Realizing Success

In 1998, Pon and partner Mary Jean (MJ) Galvez opened Pon International Signature Salon in upscale Anaheim Hills, California. He handled the hair side and recruited from his fan base while MJ brought a well-rounded and much needed background in business management. This partnering would turn out to be the perfect fit.

Soon Pon and MJ outgrew the first location and moved to a larger facility twice the size in the same complex, which they still own and operate to this very day. In this facility, they expanded their services to include a spa and launched their own private label of hair care and styling products, which as expected, has seen much success.

“Starting our own line of products proved to be a good move for us,” said Pon. “Some of that was in the timing, but most of its success had to do with our loyal clientele. If they were happy with their hair, they would seek out and purchase the same products and tools that we used in the salon in order to re-create their look at home. The success of one side of our business drove the other. There’s also something to be said for offering products that clients simply can’t find elsewhere. It makes them feel special to be able to take advantage of unique offerings.”

Other Avenues

Since the early days during the time he was building his salon business, Pon always had a few other ventures up his sleeve. It was in these other endeavors that he found balance. At first he was a body building competitor, next he owned a dog training business, and later he and MJ started a spin gym. These days they are both avid cyclists and fitness enthusiasts and in his off time, Pon trains a select group as a fitness coach. Who knew the shy kid, all these years later, would become the ultimate over-achiever!

Although Pon has had much success in several arenas, he offers the following advice to others in the salon industry, “Use every avenue that you have at your disposal, take every opportunity and venture out to try new things, even the ones that terrify you. It’s outside of your comfort zone that you’ll find success.”

He continues, “When it comes to hair, I always suggest to do what you do best, and let somebody else do the rest. Find a couple of things that you’re really good at and specialize in just that. You just can’t cut corners along the way. Pour everything you’ve got into your art, be dedicated and disciplined, and you too will realize success. And when you find it, work hard to achieve and appreciate balance in your life…After all, finding the right balance is the true measure of happiness.”