When she started offering assisted stretching sessions in 2011, former pro dancer Kika Wise could not have imagined she’d go on to franchise her business. There are now 14 Kika Stretch Studios throughout the country, including NJ locations in Montclair, Westfield, Summit and Millburn-Short Hills. The mom of three became the youngest female franchiser in the nation when she opened her first studio in Montclair, and she was even featured in The New York Times.
Now, Wise is inspiring women in the wellness realm to follow their dreams and pursue franchising. She spoke with New Jersey Family about starting her business, juggling mom duties and her favorite places to frequent in the Garden State.
New Jersey Family: How did the idea for Kika Stretch Studios come about?
Kika Wise: I started in 2011 when I was pregnant with my son, who’s now about to be 13. He was 6 months old and I was a single mother at the time, so I wanted to establish something where I could be a part of his life. I took a poll among my friends and family asking: ‘Should I start a business or go back to school?’ I stretched people on the side in a small gym and they said I should do that stretching thing I was doing.
NJF: Did you know anything about business when you started?
KW: For the first year, all I did was study. I read every single business book (Guerilla Marketing, How to Start a Business)…and then I actually launched it. When I would stretch my clients, they would ask me, ‘Did you go to Yale? Did you go to Harvard?’ I was like, ‘No, I went to Montclair State.’ So yes, you can actually read your way there. I knew Montclair was a town that would be open to something new. I had $500, so I rented a studio space. I started by handing out brochures on the corner and leaving them at the YMCA and people started to call. The first time someone bought a package, I couldn’t believe it.
NJF: How did your stretching technique come about?
KW: I started dancing at 13 and eventually got into Montclair State. I was able to get myself to be as flexible as possible. Dancers use gravity to push themselves further, but the average person has no idea how to do that. I replaced gravity with what you would do as a dancer, but with someone’s hands.
NJF: How do people react after trying it for the first time?
KW: We always offer a free session at first—the small, shortened version. When they come in and try it, they’re shocked. They’re like, ‘This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life.’
NJF: Who is assisted stretching for?
KW: Our youngest client is a 7-year-old and our oldest client is 98. We have child athletes who want to avoid injury. Then we have busy young professionals who are stuck behind a desk and feel their bodies breaking down.
NJF: What is the Kika Stretch Age?
KW: We have a system where we measure your flexibility before you start and then we compare it to after. It tells you how much tension you’ve lost within a session. We needed something to show real results, so that’s why we developed that modality.
NJF: How do you juggle your business with having three kids?
KW: On the weekends, I’ll ignore text messages. It’s changed my life, because now I’m present for my children. I just try to be as present as possible when I’m not working.
NJF: What is your connection to New Jersey?
KW: I’m from Newark. I started my first studio in New Jersey. Then once I mastered the model, I expanded to different states. Montclair was the first; I’m closest to it and I own it. The other New Jersey locations I franchised, so they’re owned by franchisees.
NJF: Is it mostly women opening these studios?
KW: Yes! I’m seeing a lot of women who were a part of major corporations and they’re just like, ‘I just want to be closer to home. I want to have a part-time schedule so I can be around for my kids.’
NJF: What are some of your favorite places in New Jersey?
KW: There’s a place in Jersey City called Hudson & Co. that’s on the water, and you can see New York on the other side, but you’re still in New Jersey and the food is great. We joined Glen Ridge Country Club. Then there’s a place in Montclair called Pharmacie—it’s really good, too.
NJF: Is there an easy stretch we can all try at home?
KW: Sit up nice and tall, drop your head to the side, put your hand by your ear and just drop your shoulder. Keep dropping your shoulder down and drop your head to the side. You feel it in here [points to side of neck]. The important part is keeping your shoulder down, then do the other side and you’ll notice one side is always a little different than the other. The neck is the highway to your brain. If this is very tight, the connection gets lost and you get tired; you can’t think straight. So, it’s very important to stretch your neck.
NJF: Any final words of advice to aspiring mompreneurs?
KW: Don’t hold back and don’t be afraid to start a business or something new. You can get it done. You only live once, so take a chance and do what really makes you happy.
Tips for Starting Your Own Business
Kika Wise didn’t have money for a yoga or Pilates certification when she was looking to start a business, so she used what she already knew about stretching as a dancer to pull it off. Now, she tells us how to go after our dreams.
Read Up Wise says she read books on how to start a business. Why not make the local library or bookstore the first stop on your business journey? Ask friends for reading referrals, too.
Use Word of Mouth Without a big advertising budget, Wise printed brochures and handed them out, then relied on customers to spread the news about their experiences at her studio.
Get Them in the Door Wise offers a free, 30-minute stretch session to newbies. The thought is, they’ll try it, like it and buy a package. It works!
Embrace the Challenges Being a working mom is difficult, and Wise says it’s best to know what you’re taking on. Remember to give yourself grace when some things fall to the wayside.
Set Boundaries “Sometimes my son will be like, ‘Are you still working?’” says Wise. “I’m like, ‘Yes, but now I’m going to stop.’ I just hope that they see that I’m showing a balance and it’s not just work.”
Franchise Away Once you master your business model, learn to understand local and state laws so you can then work towards opening new locations in your home state and beyond, says Wise.
Find Team Players Developing a team of trusted people has been crucial, Wise says. “Two of my New Jersey staff members have worked their way up into the franchise company,” she says. “Now they help keep an eye on everything.”
Weather the Storms “We were closed for three months because of the [pandemic] shutdown,” says Wise. “During that time, we strategized on what we were going to do when we opened again. Then when we reopened, we had our best months ever because people realized the importance of self-care.”