When Gina Rivera, owner of Phenix Salon Suites, got word that her business would be featured on "Undercover Boss," the hit CBS reality series, she was elated - for her husband.

"When Jason called me at work to tell me they picked us, I was so excited for him. I said, 'This is awesome. I can't wait to see how they dress you up.' Then he said, 'No, they want you,' and suddenly it wasn't fun anymore," said Rivera, 44.

The Riveras started the company in Colorado Springs in 2007 with a single location; it now has more than 100 locations nationwide, from West Hollywood to just off Chicago's Magnificent Mile. The company provides upscale private suites functioning as fully equipped minisalons.

During that phone call, Rivera told her husband, "'There's no way, shape or form that I'm going to do this.' But the Lord had other plans." The episode airs Friday.

Now in its sixth season and with two Emmy Awards under its belt, "Undercover Boss" follows top-level executives as they don disguises and mingle anonymously with their workers, gaining insights about the company and listening to individuals' stories as they learn (and relearn, and occasionally fail at) core duties upon which their business is built. Shows wrap with a tear-jerking big reveal in which featured employees are rewarded for their hard work and dedication.

The Friday episode will be the first in the series to profile a salon company, said Jason Rivera, CEO of Phenix Salon Inc., the salon chain's parent company.

"This is a pretty big deal for us and a pretty big deal for the industry because the salon industry has never been profiled in prime time," said Jason, who moved to the Springs in 1994 to join the U.S. National Judo Team and married Gina in 1999. "The industry is pretty fired up about it because of the exposure."

How producers at CBS learned of the Springs salon story is pleasantly murky and came as a "total surprise," Gina said.

"Someone knew someone, who talked to someone, who found our story interesting, I guess," said Gina, who still figured it was a long shot even after making it to the second round of interviews. "I figured what are the chances of Phenix Salon getting 'Undercover Boss?' My mind wasn't even going there yet."

For the show, producers whisked Gina to Phenix salon locations across the nation during a whirlwind 12-day filming spree in late April and early May.

"I traveled 8,000 miles in six days, to five different Phenix Salon Suite locations, all undercover and in disguise, doing all kinds of different tasks," she said. "I didn't know where I was going, I didn't know what job I would be doing. Everything in front of me was unknown. By the end of the week I was rocking and rolling. They definitely pull something out of you that I didn't know that I had."

Considering the nature of her disguise, Gina was initially nervous she'd get busted.

"They had me in this wig ... and what do salon professionals do first? They set your hair," she said. "So yes, I panicked about my wig a little. I didn't want to get caught."

As for the insider insights about her company? Nothing bad.

"I actually came home and was really impressed that the issues that I found weren't really that big. Some of the small issues, those were things we already knew about and that were already being fixed," she said.

Both Riveras were fans of the show long before scouts first got in touch in early 2014 for a preliminary interview.

"Our boys play a lot of sports, so there were times we would miss it, but I always liked it," said Gina, mom to Phenix, 11, and Priest, 8. The couple also is raising Gina's 15-year-old nephew, Alec. "Of all the reality shows, that one is just super moving. You meet so many cool people with so many heart-wrenching stories. You always end up crying."

A Springs resident since age 3, Gina Rivera grew up in a family of hairdressers who've been in the business for 85 years. She still cuts and styles hair alongside her dad at the salon a few days each week. She hopes her appearance on the show will help bring back some of the erstwhile glamour, clout and celebrity of the industry.

"Back in the 60s when they were doing hair, it was big stuff going to the hairdresser to get your hair done. There were hair competitions and hairdressers on the front page of newspapers.

"It was a big deal to be in the beauty industry as a whole. The industry doesn't get a whole lot of limelight anymore," she said. "I think this is just huge, huge for the industry. I'm super excited for all our professionals."


Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364


Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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