When Kika Stretch Studios opened its doors in 2011, the 100 square foot studio in Montclair, New Jersey was the first of its kind. As a former professional dancer with an entrepreneurial spirit, founder and CEO Kika Wise saw an opportunity to share her unique approach to stretching with the world. In a matter of 10 years, one small studio turned into a thriving 14-location franchise.
“When I first shared my idea to start a business, a lot of people said ‘don’t do it … most businesses fail.’ But I’ve always been challenged by people’s doubts—so I started one anyway,” says Wise.
Now, as a Black female business owner and one of America’s youngest and most promising franchisors, Wise is on a mission to empower millennials and other generations to pursue franchising while preserving a sense of self.
Stretching into a new space
Wise is no stranger to effective stretching methods—but business marketing? That was all-new territory when she opened the first Kika Stretch Studios location with $500.
“I read a fabulous book about guerilla marketing. It was all about how to get clients without spending a lot of money,” she explains. “I didn’t have a large marketing budget. But as the first assisted stretching studio, I needed to educate people in a fun, appealing way.”
So, for her first campaign, Wise ordered a Gumby costume from Amazon and paid a college student to pass out flyers while stretching in the ensemble. From there, Wise’s grassroots effort took off running. Literally.
“Later on, we did a campaign with runners. We stretched them once per week and jotted down their progress. And, sure enough, they increased their marathon speed after stretching with us.”
If you ask Wise, starting a business without seed money is hard—but it’s far from impossible. “If I can do it with $500, you can do it too,” she says. “There’s nothing that can stop you from being the person you want to be—except yourself. Don’t listen to people who say you can’t do it.”
Meeting challenges with flexibility
As people tuned into the benefits of assisted stretching, Kika Stretch Studios expanded from New Jersey to six additional states. Then the pandemic hit and closed every franchise location for three months.
Wise’s word of advice to franchisors in tough situations: lead from a place of honesty and always maintain open communication. “It was really scary at first,” she says. “A lot of our franchisees are also new business owners. But we talked every week, and it brought us closer together. It was tough, but we got through it as a team.”
One-by-one, studios began to reopen. Instead of focusing on the challenges of reopening, Wise and her team focused on the experience. The key is to make the experience better—even during a pandemic.
“We want people to feel safe and comfortable. We recently launched a line of essential oils. Since we reopened, everyone wears masks—so we offer our clients pieces of cotton with their favorite essential oil to place in their masks while stretching,” explains Wise.
Focusing on the experience worked wonders. Kika Stretch Studios reached the same numbers they hit in 2019—before the pandemic made its unwelcome debut. Several franchisees even saw their best numbers yet during that time. A new location in California even opened for private outdoor sessions amid the pandemic (and will open more permanently in the spring).
“Now we can honestly say we’re pandemic-proof. Our one-on-one package model held strong and prevented us from canceling a ton of memberships,” says Wise.
The value of partnership
Looking ahead, Wise and her team plan to add 30 new franchise locations in 2021. With data from Mindbody, the team has identified powerful opportunities for strategic growth.
“Being that I didn’t have a business background, I wasn’t keen on generating my own reports,” explains Wise. “I’ve been using Mindbody since 2012 and learned a lot from the reporting. It helped me scale my business based on data.”
As an early adopter of Mindbody, new features played a pivotal role in growing the Kika Stretch Studios franchise.
“I’ve always seen Mindbody as a partner. It’s like an invisible group of people I can always call for help along my journey,” says Wise. “It’s also a partner we introduce to all our franchisees because there’s so much value in Mindbody.”
Through her partnership with Mindbody, Wise not only launched and grew a successful franchise. She also fostered trust and community with her clients through flawless security and the Kika Stretch Studios branded app.
Business is personal
Wise is a living example that a little grit and a strong drive go a long way. She works hard to create a better world for her two children and other black women and girls who dream of starting a business.
“Your business has to be a part of you. We’re all born unique. We all have something no one else does,” says Wise. “The goal is to tap into that and infuse it into your brand. If you do that, you’ll never really have competition because your business is an extension of you.”
In closing, Wise suggests that it’s the obstacles that shape people. And it’s those personal stories that make a brand relatable, personal, and magnetic.
“Telling my story—the victories and the traumas—lets other people know they can do it too,” she concludes.