Puerto Vallarta has long been fertile ground for expat entrepreneurs, and 54-year-old Marty Rogo from Chicago is no exception. A few years ago, this expat entrepreneur opened a hair salon in Vallarta’s Romantic Zone, adding to the growing list of businesses he manages from his home, just a few steps from Playa de los Muertos.
Marty was born and raised in the northern part of Virginia but moved to Chicago after high school to attend the University of Illinois, Chicago. He had visited the city as a youngster and liked it very much, so when it came time to think about where to attend college, Chicago was number one on his list.
“I studied political science as an undergraduate,” Marty said, “and then went back in my forties to study accounting because, by that time, I needed to know more about how to do my own corporate taxes.”
During his junior year Marty decided to spend a semester at the University of Guadalajara’s foreign language learning center. This is where the arc of his entrepreneurial life in Mexico began.
“I was learning Spanish at that time and I wanted to stay, but I ran out of money,” he said. “I really liked Mexico, though, and wanted to remain in the country. Fortunately, I saw a job advertised in Puerto Vallarta that led me to my life as an entrepreneur.”
Vallarta Shores was looking for someone who spoke perfect English, but also had some Spanish language ability. Marty filled the bill. The company sent him a ticket to come and that same day he began his life in Puerto Vallarta.
“Vallarta was a much different place then,” Marty said. “The road from the airport to downtown was just two lanes at that time. You landed at the airport and boarded a blue school bus that took you to the single terminal building for arrivals. It was just beginning to really grow, but like today’s Vallarta, the city had trouble matching the infrastructure with the population growth. We had a lot of electricity “brownouts” back then and many more food-borne illnesses than we have now.”
His first job in Puerto Vallarta changed his life and set him on an entrepreneurial path that led to ownership of multiple businesses over the years. “I met a man named Peter Olson, who was older than me and someone who seemed to have had unlimited success in his life,” he said.
“I was his administrative assistant and admired his success. I asked him one day how he made his money and he went into his storeroom and brought out a box of video tapes and other material on how to buy real estate with no money down by a guy named Chuck Carlson. We talked about how it translated into success for him and it really stuck with me.”
And how. Marty acquired six rental properties, a hair salon and a bar in Chicago, and also owned his own home. He was a happy guy. But after vacationing many times in Vallarta since he left in the late 1980s, he decided to relocate to the city he fell in love with decades before.
“With the improvement of online communications,” he said, “it was clear that my businesses could be run from anywhere in the world, so I decided to move here full-time in 2015. My family had also been vacationing in PV and my mom decided to move here five years ago and live as a ‘snowbird.’ She has a place right around the corner from me in Zona Romantica.”
After moving back to Vallarta, Marty still made frequent trips to Chicago to manage his businesses, but he now runs all of his business operations and employees online and travels to Chicago only as needed. He also decided to invest in a Vallarta business.
“My friend Maria O’Connor told me about a hair stylist she knew who was Canadian and bringing in a lot of revenue to a salon here in the Romantic Zone,” he said. “I met with him and told him the story of Styles in Chicago and made the case that he could be a partner in the business with no money down. He agreed, so we built out a salon on Venustiano Carranza in the heart of Zona Romantica and named it Thomas Simon Salon, after him. We just started our sixth year and it’s my most favorite job of all time! I work at the front desk and get to meet everyone, primarily expats.”
Rather than rent when he returned to Vallarta, Marty bought a two-story house not far from the salon, just a block away from Los Muertos Beach. He paid US$200,000 for his home and lives on the top floor.
“I didn’t look at a lot of places,” he said. “I was torn between the old Mexico style and the modern style. My place looked lovely from the outside and it was old Mexico. But after you move down here you realize that many places in our area are not set-up for year-round living. Many are vacation rentals. I travel a lot within Mexico and to the U.S. and other countries, so I need space for a wardrobe that accommodates clothes for all situations. I also love cooking and realized the kitchen was in desperate need of an update, including new cabinets that don’t require a stool to reach. That’s when I knew I had to do a remodel.”
He spent around US$50,000 to recast his living space into the place he wanted, including sealing the house completely and adding an array of solar panels. “My electric bill from CFE was running up to $9,000 pesos a month, which is about US$450,” he said. “A big part of the problem was the house was not energy efficient. There were gaps in the doors and cracks throughout the house that needed to be sealed. By the time they finished, I could no longer hear any noise from the neighborhood and could run the air-conditioning 24-hours-a-day at no cost. It was especially important for my yellow Labrador, Mango, who wears a heavy coat and was very grateful.”
Marty has had several serious health problems, so when he moved to Vallarta he made sure he was well-covered by a premium health insurance policy. He used a broker in Mexico City to find the best plan for him, which was provided by the Allianz International Health Insurance company. He pays almost US$1,000 a month for his coverage with a US$3,500 deductible.
Marty has prospered and enjoyed the last seven years of his life in Puerto Vallarta, but one thing continues to bother him: Vallarta’s lack of access to culture.
“I miss living in a big city like Chicago, which is well known for its architecture, art museums, symphony, ballet and many other cultural attractions,” he said. “Vallarta is really a tourist town and although it has a great restaurant and night life scene and lots of day-time activities, it really doesn’t have much in the way of culture.”
He has visited Mexico City often to sample its cultural treats and is seriously considering finding a pied-á-terre there. “I miss the intellectual and cultural stimulation,” he said. “It’s in short supply in Vallarta. We’re still pretty much a booze, food and play town. Mexico City is just an hour by air, so that works for now.”
Although Marty has his cultural eyes on Mexico City for at least part-time living, his heart is anchored in Puerto Vallarta.
“Of course, Vallarta is beautiful and has great weather,” he said, “that’s why so many expats live here. I’m from Chicago and was used to bundling up at least half of the year. It’s just fantastic in Vallarta and it’s really good for your mental health to see the sun almost every day. And I also love Vallarta’s international airport, which they are now expanding again. It is such an easy airport to use and has flights to almost everywhere. When I travel internationally, it’s an easy hop to Mexico City where I can get direct flights to just about anywhere.”
But his favorite thing about Vallarta may be its international community of expats from all over of the world.
“The ability to meet really interesting people who have come here for most of the same reasons you did makes life here really special. When you have a great circle of friends, you have a good life in Puerto Vallarta.”
Marty is featured in my book: Expats in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta.