Beauty is not just skin deep, according to Andrea Benitez, owner of Lakeside Massage & Spa.
Next month, Benitez is launching Hope in Beauty, a free service for women undergoing chemotherapy. It provides workshops that teach make-up techniques, skin care and tips for putting on and styling wigs and head wraps.
“A lot of people think that women undergoing chemotherapy just stay home. But most of them can’t. They still have to work and shop and be out in the world,” said Benitez, a licensed cosmetologist and massage therapist.
“Helping women learn how to draw on their eyebrows -- because most lose them during chemotherapy – can be life-changing,” she said. “They come in so crushed but leave feeling good. When they feel better about how they look, it boosts their spirits and gives them strength.”
The cosmetologist, massage therapist and small business owner has dedicated a room at her small but well-appointed Waterfront Square spa for Hope in Beauty.
It’s a boardroom-like space looking overlooking Kissimmee Lakefront Park. There’s room for about eight, and each gets their own mirror and a bag of beauty products to take home.
Benitez spent the past two years volunteering with Look Good, Feel Better, which is a national program, that’s affiliated with hospitals around the country. She said she decided to establish Hope in Beauty at her spa so she could help more people, more often.
A service-oriented approach to business is what’s made Lakeside Massage & Spa so successful since it opened four years ago, she said.
“When people know you’re genuine and not just out for their money, you’ll succeed.”
Lakeside Spa & Massage is the No. 1 rated spa and wellness in the Kissimmee area, beating out the much larger spa at Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center for the past two years – a point of pride for Benitez, who employs three other therapists and offers a variety of services, from lymphatic massages for post-surgical patients to facials to lipo cavitation, a nonsurgical alternative to liposuction.
“Word of mouth is the best advertising I get,” she said. “I love people and I want people to feel better, and I think people feel that when they come in.”
The mother of two moved to Kissimmee from Boston five years ago to escape the cold and hasn’t looked back yet.
“I love Kissimmee. It’s a beautiful place; I’ll never leave,” she said.
She opened her business four years ago after spotting the waterfront location while walking in the park with her son and her mother.
“I told my mom that that was the spot I was going to open my spa,” she said. “People said I was crazy, but I took a leap of faith. I thought I’d be crazy not to do it.”
However, Lakeside Massage & Spa wasn’t opened on a lark and a prayer. She said she took full advantage of the free services and classes at the Small Business Development Center at the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce.
“You have to do your homework and you have to constantly educate yourself,” she said. “You have to really love what you’re doing because there’s a lot of competition out there. But that can be good, too, because it’s like gas to a fire. It fuels you to succeed.”
Her best piece of advice for someone looking to start their own business?
“Don’t take out loans to start your business,” said Benitez, who moved into a bigger space in the same building only three months after opening.”
“Work really hard and save your money so you don’t have to start out in debt,” she said. “If you have to borrow money, you’re probably not ready.”