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.
Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive - a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
This was first evident more than a decade ago when she quit her job as the corporate executive of a Fortune 500 company during a Periscope livestream. “I’m not sure if there’s an alignment of [our] future trajectory. I’m going to work for myself. I'm promoting myself to work for myself,” she said at the time before flashing a smile at the viewing audience. As she resigned on camera, a constant stream of encouraging messages floated upwards on the screen.
By 2021, she’d fashioned her work as a corporate consultant and her personal life with her husband and three adopted daughters into a reality show, She’s The Boss, for USA Network. This year, she released the New York Times bestselling memoir Nothing Is Missing, written as she was in the process of getting a divorce and dealing with her eldest daughter’s struggles with substance use.
Convinced that there’s no way the 39-year-old has achieved all of this without intentional strategic planning, I asked her about it when we spoke less than a week before Christmas. I’d seen videos on social media of her working on 2024 planning for other brands, and I wanted to know what that looked like following her own year of success.
She listed a number of goals, including ensuring that the projects she takes on in the new year align with her identity “as a Black woman, as an African woman, as a mother, as someone who has lived a [rebuilding] season and is now trying to live boldly and entirely as themselves.” But, I was shocked by how much of her business planning also prioritized rest.
Despite the bestselling book, a self-titled podcast, and working with numerous corporations, Walters said she’s been taking Fridays off. This year, she doesn’t want to work on Mondays, either.
“A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement,” she said, noting that she’ll check in with herself around March to see how successful this plan has been. The goal, Walters said, is to only be working on Tuesdays and Thursdays by sometime in 2025. “It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to have happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change.”
"A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement... It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change."
Walters said the decision to progressively work less was partially in response to her previously held notions about her career, especially as an entrepreneur. “When I first started, I thought burnout was a part of it,” she said. “What I didn’t realize is that even if you’re able to bounce out of burnout or get back to it, there’s a cumulative impact on your body. If you think of your body as a tree and every time you go through burnout, you are taking a hack out of your trunk, yes, that trunk will heal over, and the tree will continue to grow, but it doesn't mean that you don’t have a weakened stem.”
But, the desire for increased rest was also in response to the major shifts that occurred three years ago when she was experiencing major changes in her family and realized her metaphorical tree was “bending all the way over.”
“One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity,” she added. “That is some language that I think is just now starting to really get unpacked.” In recent years, there’s been an increased awareness of achieving balance in life, with Tricia Hersey’s “The Nap Ministry” gaining attention based on the idea that rest, especially for Black women, is a form of resistance. Even online phrases such as “soft life” and “quiet quitting” have hinted at a cultural shift in prioritizing leisure over professional ambition.
"One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity."
If companies are lining up to consult with Walters about their brands and products, then women have been looking to her for guidance on starting over since she invited them to livestream her resignation 12 years ago. As viewers continue to demand more from content creators in the form of intimate, personal details, Walters has navigated her personal brand with a sense of transparency without oversharing the vulnerable details about her life, especially when it comes to her family.
The entrepreneur said she’d been approached to write a book for several years and was initially convinced she was finally ready to write one about business. “I started to do that, and then I went through my divorce. When that happened, I said, why would I write a book telling people to get the life that I have when I’m not sure about the life that I have,” she said.
Instead, she decided to write Nothing Is Missing and provide a closer look at her life, starting with being born to immigrant Ghanaian parents (“You need to know my childhood to know why I’m passionate about entrepreneurship.”) through the adoption of her three daughters and eventual divorce. Despite her desire to share, however, she said she felt protective of the privacy of her family, including her ex-husband.
When discussing this with me, Walters said she was reminded of a lesson she learned from actress Kerry Washington, who released her own memoir, Thicker Than Water, just a week before Walters’ book release. Washington’s memoir grapples with family secrets, too, specifically the fact that she was conceived using a sperm donor and didn’t learn about it until she was already a successful TV star. While Washington reflects on how the decision and subsequent deception impacted her, she’s also careful to hold space for her parents’ experiences, too. “A lot of things she said was that she had to recognize where she was the supporting character and where she was the main character,” Walter said.
This is something Walter worked to do in Nothing Is Missing when discussing her daughter’s struggles with addiction. “I was very intentional about making sure that I did not reveal more than what was required,” she said. “If I say something about someone’s addiction, I don’t need to go into the list of the substances they used, how they used them, what I found. [I don’t need to] walk into a room and paint a picture of what it looked like for people to understand.”
Walters said some of the most vulnerable moments in the book barely made a ripple once it was released. She was extremely nervous to write about getting an abortion, she said. But no one has asked her about this in the months since the book was released. Instead, people have been more interested in quirkier revelations, such as the fact that she once appeared on Wheel of Fortune.
“I have bared my soul about this thing I went through in my youth that has changed me for people, and people are like, ‘So how heavy was the wheel when you spun it?’” she said, chuckling. “It just goes to show that people never worry about the thing that you worry about.”
With the success of Nothing Is Missing, Walters said she still isn’t planning to release a business book at the moment. But, as she navigates parenting a teenager and two adult children while also navigating a relationship with her new fiancé, Walters said she believes she has at least one or two more books to write about her personal journey. “There is sort of an arc of where my life has gone that I know I’ve got something more to say about this that I think is important, relevant and necessary,” she said.
In just three years, Walters’ life has undergone a major transformation. There’s no telling what the next three years will have in store for her, but it seems likely she’ll retain an inspired audience wherever life takes her.
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History was made in more ways than one at the 66th Grammy Awards. One of the biggest highlights was Tyla accepting the first-ever award for African Music Performance for her hit song "Water." The melodic masterpiece, which took over our TikTok feeds back in August of 2023, has proved to be much more than a trend—last night earning a solidified spot in history.
The #TylaWaterChallenge was undoubtedly one the most popular dance trends sweeping social media in 2023, with dance icons like Ciara even joining in on the fun. The viral craze would later earn Tyla a performance spot at the coveted "New Years Rockin' Eve" in Times Square, with the new artist only releasing the song less than five months prior.
Tyla Makes History at the 66th Grammy AwardsPhoto by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
The South African songstress was up against stiff competition, including Afrobeats superstars Burna Boy and Davido, for the history-making African Music Performance award. The honor marked the Grammy's first acknowledgment of African music and Afrobeats after 66 years of existence. To say the least, it was a moment the superstars and their predecessors had worked extremely hard for.
xoNecole spoke to Tyla after the historic win in the Grammys media room. "Afrobeats has already started booming all over the world, which I'm so happy about," she said. "It's about time." She continued, "I just feel like this is going to open so many more doors for us back home and introduce our music and our culture to so many more people, which we've been wanting." She concluded by thanking The Recording Academy for giving African music the platform.
Tyla's self-titled debut album is slated for release in March of 2024, and she's already earned her first Grammy to set the tone. To say Tyla's "future is so bright that we need sunglasses" would be an understatement.
Congratulations, Tyla! This is truly a moment Africa will never forget.
Tyla On Her History-Making Grammy Winyoutu.be
Feature image by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for The Recording Academy