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The Business Of Stretching: How Hakika Wise Is Building A Wellness Franchise Empire

Hakika Wise Wants You To Stretch More. Here's Why.

BOSS UP

You can be a boss, or you can make future bosses. Hakika DuBose Wise, the founder and CEO of the Kika Stretch Studio franchise, is doing both. In 2011, Hakika used her $500 tax return to start a wellness-based business that spread the gospel of fitness through a very specific niche: stretching.


What makes Kika Stretch Studios so unique is the use of trademarked KIKA Method -- a form of passive stretching -- where trained stretch coaches follow standardized stretch routines while exerting force on clients to move their limbs into a new position. According to Hakika, a former professional dancer, the benefits to this approach include mental clarity, improved posture, decreased stress and tension, enhanced performance, improved flexibility, and more. The KIKA method is inspired from Hakika's technical training in dance and personal training, the Alexander technique, Laban movement analysis, and advanced anatomy.

While Hakika's entry into entrepreneurship was first fueled by a desire for autonomy and flexibility, her foray into the business of stretching has made her the youngest female franchisor in the US. She is showing female entrepreneurs nationwide that dreaming big doesn't have to just stop at the typical business model. A 2018 Global Wellness report stated that wellness is now a $4.2 trillion industry. According to a 2018 IHRSA report, health club industry revenue totaled $87.2 billion in 2017. Wellness entrepreneurs who are able to tap into the franchise market and grow an enthused, loyal, and paying community have extreme opportunities for growth. Currently, Hakika has six Kika Stretch Studio locations located across New Jersey, and two more in New York City and Dallas, Texas. Nationwide expansion is at the top of her goals list.

Hakika spoke with xoNecole about the early days of the business, why she pursued franchising, her experiences navigating the wellness industry as a Black female entrepreneur, and the power of fueling and support future owners.

Courtesy of Hakika Wise

What inspired you to launch Kika Stretch Studios?

I trained as a dancer and acted and danced professionally for years. As an undergrad at Montclair State University, I was obsessed with the spine and how it works. I used to always stretch. I was looking for a side hustle and started to stretch bodybuilders. I based it off my own routine as a dancer to keep flexibility. There was a gym right by my house and I knew they needed the service. The owner let me set up shop. I knew I was either going to go back to school or start a business. My son was young at the time and I wanted to do something where I could be part of his life. I told myself that [I would] do this stretching thing. In 2011, I started with one client and I took it from there.

Why is a stretching studio such a unique business idea?

The reason why you should always stretch is that even if you are flexible - stress, bills, husbands, wives, kids - stress you out. It builds tension in the body that cause negative effects. If you never remove that, your quality of life goes down. You should be able to walk through life without feeling anything in your body. Stretch to destress and get rid of those lumps so you can enjoy your life.

How did you market the business early on?

I used guerrilla marketing. I handed out posters. I had someone dress up as a Gumbi. For the first year, I read books on business. Specifically, Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson. I used a lot of those guerilla marketing tactics and they worked. I started with only $500. My rent was $350 and I printed out brochures from Staples. I bought a $25 ball and mat. That's all I needed. People started calling from other areas. My first location was in Montclair, NJ. I started opening up other locations but I quickly realized I didn't want to be responsible for [everything] by myself. That's when I started thinking about franchising. It's not a model that many entrepreneurs consider.

Courtesy of Hakika Wise

"I used a lot of those guerilla marketing tactics and they worked. I started with only $500."

How did you put the franchising dream into motion?

I realized that what I'm building was legitimate. I had overcome a lot of past mistakes by then. For example, my Montclair, NJ location caught on fire two years ago. We were closed for nine months. I had to move to the church on the corner. Our clients went from storefront to the basement of a church. We lost some people. We also gained new clientele that stayed and still come. I knew the method was strong. You can do it anywhere. It's not about the space. I knew I had something I could build off of. It gave me more confidence to franchise.

One day in 2018, I was in Barnes & Noble and said I was going to Google the top franchise consulting firms. I reached out to five. The first person who responded happened to be the person I went through the whole process with. He was on a flight the next week just to meet me. He explained the [entire] process. He has a big company and that's what they do. He had a legal team and contacts I could use under his umbrella. He got in and directed me on exactly what I needed to do. I studied that for six months.

[Franchising] is typically an expensive process but his company positions themselves competitively so they get more people. Finding the right people to use and shopping around is very important.

How did you get your first franchisees?

I originally had two locations. The first franchise location was bought by a manager who was running my first location. She was so phenomenal. I didn't want to cap her potential. She needed to grow. The people I was working with told me that I could have my manager franchise the first location because she already knows the system. I met with her and her husband and offered it to them. They decided to go for it.

I started realizing if I went after people who were 9-5 workers, millennials - typically the people who would never be considered to franchise by other companies...if I went after those hungry people, they would do it. This is why all of our franchises (except for one) are minority-owned and run by millenials. This doesn't exist.

I try to change the lifestyle of the franchisees. We have corporate people who are high on the ladder but realize there is a glass ceiling. For example, their retirement plan may not be what they think it is. No one has assets anymore. As soon as you sign on the dotted line of a [Kika Stretch Studio], you own an asset which is huge. It will benefit you and your family.

If you're used to the corporate world, you've [probably] gained skills that will help you run your own business. It's just that no one else has given you the opportunity because you're not an ideal [franchisee] candidate. We look past that.

At this point, I stay up at night thinking about how I can make sure the franchisees are doing the right thing so that they can make money. Their success is my success. That's when I feel like I've done my job.

Courtesy of Hakika Wise

"I started realizing if I went after people who were 9-5 workers, millennials...if I went after those hungry people, they would do it. This is why all of our franchises (except for one) are minority-owned and run by millenials. This doesn't exist."

What is like being a Black woman in the wellness franchising space?

It's very lonely and frustrating at times. You realize how much this industry lacks diversity. Franchising, health and wellness are not diverse. Everyone knows it's harder to access capital as a Black woman, but I've never sought it or wanted it. Now, at this point, people come to me and say they want to partner. They want to buy the business or buy into it but not offer much. I say no because it's not just about the money [to me]. What are you adding? I can't be bought. People look at me and see the brand as an opportunity.

When I ask for a mentor it's hard because [people are] like, "Mentor?" Most of the people I've come across being in this position see me as young and don't think I know what I'm doing. When they realize I do, it's too late because they've already shown themselves.

Courtesy of Hakika Wise

"Franchising, health and wellness are not diverse. Everyone knows it's harder to access capital as a Black woman."

Why is developing and systemizing so important to your process as an entrepreneur?

I was doing everything by myself. I read a book called The E-myth Revisited and it said you have to fire yourself from things [to] run a business. I had to delegate. When I hired my first person, I had to start creating a manual so I could teach them. As I fired myself from different things, I had to write down what they had to do. That became the essence of my franchise. I already had all the paperwork [and processes].

Why is learning sales so important?

As a dancer and actor, I was always selling myself. In order to be good at selling, you have to know what you're doing it for. What's your reason for doing it? Do you have to feed your family? Do you have a project that you want to pursue? For me, it's about helping people and not just convincing people to do something that doesn't work. As long as you help people do something, you'll always be good.

I originally started this business for my son so I could be in his life. Now he's nine and I want to show other people that they can do it too. That's how I've gotten franchisees. There's nothing special. I just didn't stop.

How important is self-care as an entrepreneur?

You [need it]. You'll run yourself down. At one point, I was putting all these things in front of me. Who's taking care of me? Now, I make it an effort. I'll disappear and go to a spa for a self-care day. Sometimes I'll even just go and buy socks.

What marketing strategy has been extremely helpful to your growth?

It starts with the people that you hire, especially in the service business. Hire happy people, people who are good with people, and people who love life. That's what people are attracted to. A lot of people open up businesses and sit behind their desks. Put yourself out there. Show the public that you can help them.

What’s the larger vision for Kika Stretch Studios?

I want to pass this off to my children. I argue about this with my husband all the time. Sometimes I'm like, "Maybe I'll sell it." He'll say no! That's another thing we have to do more of - holding onto things and keeping them for future generations. Even if my kids don't want to do the stretching business, the platform is here. I can pull from it and help them do what they want. They can be internally funded by me instead of someone else.

I am also looking for new franchisees. We're done with New Jersey and are opening two locations in Brooklyn in the summer. We're also opening Dallas, Atlanta, and Florida before the year is out. We're expanding naturally and looking for people who want an opportunity so we can guide them into ownership. We turn employees into employers.

For more of Hakika, click here to check out a Kika Stretch Studios near you.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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