English only? Not in business
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Elvia Díaz and Daniel González

Companies catering to Spanish speakers to win customers

If the Legislature has its way, English will become the official language of Arizona.

But away from the government offices and school classrooms where this would apply, the business of doing business in the state is quickly transforming Arizona into a bilingual state where English and Spanish coexist everywhere, from ATMs to car sales lots to billboards to pizza places, and even a Swedish furniture company.

The transformation comes as state legislators consider plans to make English the official language of Arizona. As the debate proceeds, businesses are capitalizing on the surge in the Latino population and going all out to win over Spanish-speaking residents.

"The business world has discovered the Hispanic market is a viable market and is aggressively going after it," said Sergio Carlos, president of Grupo Ñ Advertising in Tempe, and former president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Business is going in the opposite direction of what some legislators are trying to do."

While businesses are doing ever more business in Spanish, some legislators want the government to do away with Spanish completely.

The state House of Representatives is poised to give final approval to a 2006 ballot measure that could ban Spanish and any language other than English from state and local government business. If the English-only proposal also passes the Senate as expected, voters would have the final say in the Nov. 7, 2006, election.

But such a law would not affect private businesses, which could continue to reach out to customers in their language.

Consider, for example, Courtesy Chevrolet in Phoenix.

Ten years ago, the auto dealership, one of the oldest in the Valley, did practically no advertising in Spanish, said Scott Gruwell, who along with brother Mark, runs the family business started by their grandfather in 1955.

Today, 30 percent of Courtesy Chevrolet's advertising budget is spent on trying to woo Spanish-speaking Latinos, who account for 60 percent of the dealership's used-car sales and 40 percent of its new-car customers. Half of the dealership's 50-person sales staff is bilingual in English and Spanish. (Others also speak Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi, the language of India.)

To draw in Latino customers, the dealership runs weekly television commercials featuring a Superman-like character dubbed "Super Feo" on Univision, a national Spanish-language network that is broadcast locally on Channel 33.

Courtesy advertises regularly on four or five Spanish-language radio stations, and once a month hosts a "Hispanic Appreciation Days" event at its dealership on Camelback Road, decorating the showroom in the colors of the Mexican flag and giving away tacos while a mariachi band serenades customers.

The dealership also offers Spanish-speaking customers the option of reading over contracts in Spanish, though the official paperwork is signed and processed is in English. Soon, the dealership plans to advertise in Spanish on the Internet.

"Regardless of what the state does, we are going to continue to do business in Spanish," Gruwell said. "These are our customers, and we are going to take care of them."

They aren't alone: A growing number of Arizona businesses are reaching out to Spanish-speaking customers.

• At Chipotle Mexican Grill, with 16 Arizona restaurants, the restaurant staff is offered Spanish or English classes on company time at the restaurant to better help customers.

• Chandler-based Food City pioneered the idea of bilingual signs throughout its stores. In any of its 58 Arizona supermarkets you see signs designating the bakery as panadería, and the meat department is also know as the carnicería.

• And the new Ikea store in Tempe, the trendy cheap-chic Swedish furniture maker announced plans to aggressively target Latinos in a series of television, radio and print ads.

English-only supporters


It's exactly that sentiment that rankles state Rep. Russell Pearce and supporters of a growing movement to declare English the official language of Arizona. To Pearce, the proliferation of Spanish at the hands of business is tantamount to "corporate corruption."

"They are after money," Pearce said.

Pearce, a Mesa Republican, is leading the charge in the state Legislature to pass House Concurrent Resolution 2030 forcing state and local government to carry out their functions in English.

Declaring English the official language would save hundreds of thousands of dollars the government spends printing documents in Spanish, Pearce argues. But he admits his main objective is to protect the English language.

"We're an English-speaking nation, and we ought to preserve it that way," Pearce said during a debate on the English-only proposal on the House floor.

In 1988, Arizona voters approved a similar English-only law. The law was never implemented, however. The state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, arguing it violated free-speech and equal-protection rights.

Pearce believes his measure will survive legal challenges because it is less restrictive. Government documents necessary for international trade, for tourism and to protect the public's health and safety would be exempt. Private businesses also would be exempt from Pearce's English-only proposal.


Latino population grows

The state's historical ties with Mexico, close proximity to the Mexican border, and exploding Latino population all but guarantee Spanish will remain a growing part of the state's landscape for a long time to come, experts say.

"The Hispanic population will continue to outpace the non-Hispanic population. Eventually the majority will be the minority. We will have gone full-circle," said Loui Olivas, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Arizona State University, who tracks Hispanic demographic and market trends.

Olivas points out that Arizona was part of Mexico until the mid-19th century, and Spanish was spoken in Arizona long before English, dating back to when Spanish explorers arrived nearly five centuries ago in 1540.

But there is no question that the use of Spanish has dramatically increased here in recent years. It's easy to understand why when one considers these numbers: During the 1990s, the Hispanic consumer market in the Phoenix metropolitan area grew 109 percent, the second-fastest in the country behind Dallas. More than two-thirds of the nearly 1.1 million Latinos in the Phoenix metropolitan market speak Spanish, according to estimates by Nielsen Media Research, Inc. In 2003, Hispanic buying power in Phoenix exceeded $14.7 billion, according to the market research firm Global Insight.

Businesses have taken notice. In 2004, they spent $3.9 billion on Hispanic media nationally, according to New York-based TNS Media Intelligence. As a result, Spanish is now seen and heard just about everywhere, from the grocery store to cellphone operators.

"The Spanish-speaking market is huge in Arizona and it makes absolute business sense to pursue it," said Tony Maldonado, vice president of marketing for Cox Communications in Arizona. "Companies nationally and locally are viewing the Latino market as crucial to their success."

Companies reach out

Like other mainstream companies, Cox Communications is aggressively trying to win Spanish-speaking customers, launching an all-out effort tailored to the Spanish-speaking population.

The company now offers more than 20 channels in Spanish, has created a Spanish-language call-in center, vigorously recruits bilingual workers and bills Spanish-speaking customers in their language.

Currently, 22 percent of Cox's 2,575 employees are Hispanic, company officials said.

"Our goal is to create a Spanish-language experience from start to completion," Maldonado said. "For Spanish- language customers we want them to communicate in the language they feel comfortable, from the advertising they see to the calls they make to the bills they receive and the technician that goes to their home."

Alfred C. Montoya, an executive with Wells Fargo in Arizona, said consumers dictate how they do business. That means communicating with them in their own language.

The bank was among the first to begin featuring bilingual ATMs in English and Spanish. It has since added languages such as Korean, Chinese and Hmong.

"It's a great business practice," Montoya said.

Ray Arvizu,president and CEO of Arvizu Advertising and Promotions in Phoenix, said it's a myth that Latino immigrants don't want to learn English.

"People who come to this country understand that English is the language of this country, but that doesn't mean they have to give up their own language," Arvizu said.

Carlos, the executive at Grupo Ñ, said businesses understand that many Latino immigrants are learning English but still are more comfortable speaking Spanish. That may change in the future as the latest wave of Latino immigrants acculturates and their children grow up more comfortable speaking English than Span- ish.

But in the meantime, expect to see more Spanish, not less.

"Businesses recognize that the market exists now," Carlos said.

Reach the reporters at elvia.diaz@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8948 or daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com  or (602) 444-8312.