Teresa Zardus stands in front of a colorful mural Tuesday at Zardus Art of Massage & Wellness Spa in Gardiner, which has been named the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Small Business of the Year. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

GARDINER — When Teresa Zardus learned her business had been named the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Small Business of the Year, she threw her hands into the air.

“I was like the high school cheerleader — a 50-year-old cheerleader,” Zardus said this week, throwing her arms upward.

For Zardus, who is actually 49, the award came as a surprise when announced last year.

She will be honored Friday at the Kenney Awards, joining the other award winners at the annual Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center.

For Zardus, being a chamber member is a natural extension of her business, Zardus Art of Massage & Wellness Spa.

“As a member, I’ve always looked to the chamber for different methods of getting out into the community, getting information into the community and finding out what it is that we could do to support people in the community as a business,” she said. “You know, as a business, could we be doing something differently? Is there more we could offer? Could we volunteer?”

That approach is what led her from her being a sole proprietor with a rented room in Augusta in 2011 to standing in one of the instruction rooms in her Gardiner building, the former St. Joseph’s rectory — a three-story building large enough to provide space for seven licensed massage therapists and nine independent practitioners.

Zardus, who has a master’s degree in psychology, had a corporate job and and worked in organizational leadership before making the move into her own business.

Between then and now, Zardus bought her building in 2013 and her business began offering health and wellness community classes and  joined in partner sponsorship with the MaineGeneral Healthy Living Resource Center in 2014. Zardus also added community yoga and meditation classes in 2016, and opened a school of massage in 2018 — the only one in Maine with a state-approved reflexology program.

“I knew that in order to service the community better, it needed to be more than just me,” she said. “What is it in integrative wellness that would benefit the community we live in?”

Integrative wellness, she said, brings together different practitioners who look at the mind-body-spirit balance of the client. They include massage, skin care, energy work, hypnosis, life coaching, holistic health practitioners and aromatherapy.

Zardus said her spa enlists the services of other businesses in the area that can also meet her clients’ needs.

“There’s a great deal of networking that goes on, as well,” she said.

That philosophy extends to the chamber of commerce. The more businesses the chamber has in its membership, the more valuable a resource it is to the community, she said.

And, it is a foundation of the massage school, she said. From the start of their training, students work on their business plans and on what they want to do in the field.

“They can actually incorporate that into what they’re doing,” Zardus said. “Even if they are employees, when we’re talking about massage or body work, we’re taking about somebody coming back to you.”

That in reinforced by the requirement of making connections in the community. If that is something that makes them uncomfortable, she said, they work to make it more comfortable.

In that same vein, she encourages people to go to chamber-sponsored networking events. While she is not able to do that to the extent she used to, the practitioners who work with her are likely to be at those events, representing the business.

“What people may not realize is that the highest way to get your business increased is through referrals,” Zardus said. “You’re going out and meeting strangers. You have to represent who you are.”

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