Starting a Massage Business as COVID-19 Struck: How This KC Entrepreneur Endured
Starting a company right before a pandemic wasn’t part of Celeste Aguirre’s business plan. But thanks to careful budgeting and the support of friends and family, her Kansas City, Missouri-based small business, Relief Muscle Manipulation, found a way to weather the storm.
The right time to start a business
Massage therapist Celeste Aguirre knew just what she wanted for her 33rd birthday: a business.
“I started my business after hearing my grandpa,” she says. “He never really opened up to me about his experiences as to how he traveled to the United States. When he finally did tell me his story, it touched my heart – it was so beautiful. He decided after a fall out of a coconut tree that he would provide a better life for his family by immigrating to the United States from Mexico in the `60s. Then, he just kept pushing forward from there.”
This information was humbling and inspiring.
“I thought, ‘My grandpa has done this for his grandchildren and children to make a better life; the least I can do is start my own business,’” Celeste says.
She and her grandpa have birthdays just a few days apart. Celeste and her grandparents Ramon and Altagracia Guevara usually get together for lunch to celebrate. This year was a little different.
Celeste Aguirre's grandparents
“Instead of lunch, I invited them to a ‘new restaurant,’” Celeste says. “It was actually the office building where my new massage practice was getting ready to open. My grandpa looked at the office and said, ‘This restaurant is dead! No one comes here!’ But then I showed him my suite. I will never forget the look on his face.”
Opening Relief Muscle Manipulation was a thank you to her grandfather. But it was also the culmination of years of work.
Finding support to become an entrepreneur
Celeste’s journey to owning a business started around the kitchen table when she was a kid.
“I grew up with my grandparents in their household, and I would watch them help people in their community with their aches and pains through what we call sobar – which is a form of massage,” Celeste says. “People would seek my grandparents out for help, and it was embedded in the back of my mind.”
Celeste figured she’d pursue a college degree in business management. Becoming a certified massage therapist seemed like a good way to pay tuition. But things didn’t quite turn out the way she intended.
“It just so happened that I fell in love with massage,” Celeste says. “I realized you can make a career out of helping people with their aches and pains.”
She grew as a therapist and a budding entrepreneur while working at Kansas City Chiropractic. Watching female leaders in action left an impression.
“Working alongside and watching Dr. Lynn McIntosh and Dr. Courtney Baalman run Kansas City Chiropractic with such grace, patience and determination was amazing,” Celeste says. “That definitely assisted in me feeling comfortable stepping forward to run my own space.”
When it came time to figure out the nuts and bolts, Celeste turned to her family and friends for guidance. She worked closely with cousins who are business owners and could guide her with things like business licenses and loan applications.
“It’s really important to me that my friends and family understand how important their support is,” Celeste says.
She opened the doors of Relief Muscle Manipulation north of the river in Kansas City on Feb. 28, 2020. And Celeste isn’t alone. Every day, 400 Latinx and Hispanic women-owned businesses are launched.
The American Express 2019 State of Women-owned Businesses Report sheds some light on these trends. Latinx/Hispanic women-owned businesses make up 18% of all women-owned businesses in the U.S. These businesses are growing twice as fast as the national average – but their revenues are only 35% of the average of all women-owned businesses.
How one business withstood a pandemic
Let’s be honest: When she had to close her doors about two weeks after opening her business, Celeste freaked out.
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“But I had to remember to trust myself,” she says. “I am financially savvy, my business loan was big enough that I could be comfortable with bills that had to be paid, and I just had to be patient. It was scary, but I had to have faith – I wasn’t the only one going through these things.”
It’s hard to pivot in a business like massage that depends on human contact. Plus, Celeste specializes in deep tissue trigger point release, so her work goes beyond relaxation. And clients depend on her for pain relief and improved functionality.
“I tried doing a couple of videos, but it’s not the same,” Celeste says. “I rescheduled my clients for when I could reopen, and if clients had questions, I would guide them. I would email or text back and forth with clients on at-home care. And I did a couple of videos on stretches.”
Being patient and waiting for the quarantine to end was challenging. Because she had been open for such a short time, Celeste wasn’t able to get a Paycheck Protection Program loan. But she kept her perspective.
“It was as stressful on me as it was for anyone else, just being home with your kids,” she says. “It was stressful, but I had to remember I’d been through worse. For example, during my divorce, I was left with $500 in my bank account, a $400 car payment, no work, no job, two kids. I survived that, so I think I can push forward through this. Thoughts like that helped me get through.”
Relief Muscle Manipulation reopened as soon as the ban lifted. But Celeste proceeded with caution, treating existing clients and not marketing her services until recently. Now, she’s welcoming new clients and excited to tell everyone about her services.
Part of spreading the word is getting involved with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City. Celeste was pleased that Relief Muscle Manipulation was one of the sponsors of the Hispanic Chamber’s recent Golf Classic. Many athletes don’t realize the impact targeted massage can have on their performance.
“I’m always excited to talk to golfers,” Celeste says. “Getting muscles worked on and knots broken down can improve range of motion and support their swing. It’s exciting what massage can do.”
Guidance for new entrepreneurs
Celeste stresses that new business owners need a solid team behind them.
“You can figure stuff out on your own,” she says. “But what really helps me is that support system, being able to call up those friends and tell them, ‘I don’t think I can do this,’ and they push you. A great support system is absolutely vital. I have great mentors and friends and family supporting me.”
She also encourages prospective entrepreneurs not to be intimidated or underestimate their abilities.
“Being financially savvy helped me,” Celeste says. “As a single parent, if you can budget for yourself and your kids, you can budget for a business. You learn budgeting skills.”
Celeste also sees the value in continuing to grow and innovate. That’s why she’s studying to become a certified yoga instructor.
“I’m hoping to utilize yoga in giving people more options for at-home care,” she says. “I’m creating a specific routine for a person’s specific problems. Even if it’s a quick 15-minute routine because your hip is bothering you, we’re going to focus on those stretches.”
This new service will be another way Celeste provides value to her clients. Not only is it good business, but it reflects the unique connection she feels with the people she serves.
“I cannot boast enough about how fantastic each and every one of my clients are,” Celeste says. “I’m blessed with clients who have the same heartfelt energy that I feel for my line of work. When they’re on my table, they’re my only client. And I’m going to treat them as such.”
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