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Amid a bustling maze of eclectic shops, hip fashion boutiques, and trendy cafes in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, it can be difficult for a retailer to gain traction. Turnover comes with the territory, in part because the competition for customers can be fierce. This is an enclave where many of Chicago’s most unique businesses call home, including Mojo Spa, a mainstay of this neighborhood for more than 20 years.

Mojo Spa is a handmade beauty product company where we make over 200 products from scratch using fruits, veggies, aromatherapy, and holistic ideas, and we put it all in one,” explained Amanda Kezios, the founder and owner of Mojo Spa, a concept that took shape because of her personal experiences.

I suffered from cystic acne, and I wanted to create makeup that would heal instead of just covering it up, which was making it worse,” said Kezios. So I developed makeup that was a skin care product first with the added benefit of makeup. I used my personal experience because I am the perfect guinea pig for this. If I can make something that can work for me, I know this can help a lot of other people.”

Kezios said she never intended to do this kind of work, but it seems to fit her perfectly.

I wanted to be a lawyer to help people,” Kezios said. This is just a different way of helping people and it is my gift. So, I get to use it every single day and make people feel good about themselves because when you look good, you feel good.”

Kezios spent much of her childhood watching her grandmother use herbs, flowers, and other natural ingredients to make skin and body products that were all natural.

One of my favorite stories is that I would spend all my summers in Greece with my grandma,” Kezios explained. You have all of these jasmine trees just growing everywhere. In the apartment complex, we would go out at midnight and pick the jasmine flowers when they were in full bloom. We would make jasmine floral water that I would use as perfume, or as a body spray on my face. It smelled amazing. Even to this day, when I smell real jasmine, it brings me back to that memory. I got to learn my base from her and then I just expanded. I am still teaching myself to this day.”

Mojo Spa did not begin with four walls and a front door.

In the beginning, I didn’t have a lot of resources,” Kezios recalled. I was doing monthly spa parties and then a local news channel did a feature on what I was doing and it blew up. I realized this is the time to get a retail store and expand.”

Mojo Spa has been successful, I think, for three reasons. Number one, we have a really good quality product that is unique as well. Second, I feel like what we are offering is at a good price, so it is very affordable for what you get. When people see the value, you get a loyal customer. Finally, we offer a unique experience.”

Kezios said she works hard to ensure that when a customer takes time to come to Mojo Spa, that it is a memorable experience.

Beauty can be really hard because when people go in, there are so many different choices, and they do not know which ones to pick, and there is such a variety that they cannot hone in. But when they come here, I take the time to talk to them, to ask the right questions, to guide them through the process.”

I think the biggest problem retailers face right now is that people want more. They want motivation to come to the physical store instead of just shopping online,” Kezios explained.We saw customers are shopping differently, especially after COVID.  Everybody is shopping online. So, you need to create something that will motivate people to come to the physical store and have a unique experience that when they leave, they think it was so much fun and want to bring a friend or family here.”

Mojo Spa credits its success to its alignment with a host of familiar brand names. The retailer offers unique theme parties to businesses interested in a memorable event.

We’ve done things for Netflix to launch the show Sabrina the Teenage Witch. We have worked with Apple to help launch Apple Pay when it first came out. We have done stuff with real estate companies and AT&T. So there are different types of brands that have come to Mojo Spa to create a unique experience for their customers,” explained Kezios.

Kezios cherishes the fact she runs a female-owned business and is committed to helping other women achieve the same success.

When I first started 23 years ago, there were not a lot of opportunities for women,” Kezios explained.  “I think it is such a great time we are living in for retailers where women are getting more support. As a woman-owned business, being in business for as long as I have been, it is important to get the message out there to the younger generation and to understand that they can do this, too.”

In order to empower women, Kezios has made it a priority to mentor the next generation of female business owners.

I want them to grow. I am excited for them. They come back to me after they have graduated and say, ‘Amanda, I did this and this, and your advice helped me to do this,’” Amanda said with pride. You are almost like a mom in a way because they are younger and they look up to you. I take that seriously because I want them to succeed.  I want them, especially as women, to succeed because when I first started, there were no opportunities for women in small business. I want to empower them to be the best versions of themselves.”

Kezios credits her longevity at Mojo Spa to evolution. Evolution of productions. Evolution of technology. Evolution of ideas.

COVID was a game changer for us in that we had to have the store closed,” Kezios explained. So we could not rely on our brick and mortar anymore. We had to expand more into online avenues and marketplaces. We experienced growth because and focused all our energies on that. I also innovated at that time with new products as well.”

Kezios embraces technology and views it as a tool to help her business grow.

Technology has impacted my business in that it allows us to expand and grow online especially,” said Kezios. It has allowed us to keep better track of our inventory and make sure we are not wasting money on what we need and allow us to gather and use data to innovate and create new things that people will want to buy and to use.”

One ingredient of my secret sauce is to make sure you focus on customer service,” Kezios explained. “Your customers are what keeps you in business. So, our priority is making sure they are heard, taken care of, listening to what they are looking for, and giving them a great experience. They will walk out, even if they do not buy anything, and they will remember you. Nine times out of ten they will come back.”

“I love being a retailer because I love to interact with my customers,” Kezios relayed with a palpable sense of happiness. They have become part of my extended family. They give me such great advice about what to create, and what they like. That kind of interaction has been amazing. It makes me happy. I leave every day feeling good because of those conversations.”

If I could give one piece of advice to a new retailer, it would be to work on your business instead of in your business. When I first started, I did not understand how to delegate and I was trying to do everything by myself,” Kezios explained. By doing it by myself and not delegating I was not working on my business, which does not allow your business to expand, grow, or succeed. So make sure you have certain processes in place so when you do delegate, you set people up for success and not for failure. That is something I say to my staff all the time. I want to set them up for success.”

Amanda Kezios says her success is tied to the success of other businesses in Wicker Park. She says retailers in her community take pride in paying it forward and cheering on other retailers.

I think it’s important we rely on each other because we can help each other succeed,” Kezios stated. When retailers are bonded, connected, and create a sense of community, they create a certain environment and atmosphere that attracts customers. So, we develop relationships with other small businesses. We all know each other; we all talk to each other and try to help each other. Because if one business succeeds, another succeeds. If more people are coming, they are shopping with us as well.”

At the end of a long day, Kezios seemed no less energetic and optimistic than when her day started. She did her best to greet every customer walking in the door. In her few minutes of spare time, she restocked product on the shelves with a palpable aura of joy.

Mojo Spa matters because we have become part of the community and customers rely on us to give them a unique experience as well as unique handmade beauty products, not only for them to look good but to feel good as well,” Kezios said with a tone that radiated with earnestness. It makes me feel great because when I leave, I know I am empowering people to feel good about themselves, and Mojo Spa is a brand of empowerment.”

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