I first met Dina Kimmel at a yard sale she was having. She had recently bought a nearby kids’ gym and was selling their old equipment to make way for the new. It would be a brand-new business venture for her and her enthusiasm was contagious. It was to be a different kind of kids’ gym – a sensory gym with high-end therapy equipment that would especially meet the needs of children with autism. That’s when I discovered that we both had young sons on the autism spectrum. I was excited by her idea, which was unlike anything I’d heard of before.
When the newly named We Rock the Spectrum Kids Gym opened a short time later, I took both my kids to the grand opening. Now, nearly four years later, Dina’s vision has spread into a successful franchise with more than a dozen locations.
How one woman turned her passion into profit.
I interviewed Dina to learn how she became a savvy businesswoman.
When I first met you, you had just bought a kids’ gym when the owner retired. At that time, you owned and ran a couple of resale shops and had studied business marketing, but did not have any experience owning or running a gym. Is that true?
Yes, that is absolutely true. I had my clothing stores for almost 17 years. But as any autism parent will tell you, when you have a child with special needs, your whole world changes. I sold my businesses and due to Gabriel’s huge sensory needs, we opened our flagship gym in Tarzana (California) now almost four years ago. Having studied marketing of course helped when running a successful business but opening We Rock the Spectrum Kids Gym was a huge leap of faith. It was a gut instinct and that is what being an entrepreneur is all about! I knew about autism, I knew about occupational therapy equipment due to me creating a mini-gym in my own home, but that was it!
You were disappointed that the kids’ gym you liked was closing because you enjoyed taking your children there. What prompted you to take the plunge and buy it?
We had been renting out the gym to have Gabriel’s private therapy there and our daughter, who is neurotypical, loved the equipment as well. When the owner said she was retiring/moving on after 25 years and/or selling the space, I said to my husband, “Think of the monies we will save on therapy if we bring down all the equipment from our home and let him get as much sensory play as he needs anytime he needs it here!” Three weeks after I opened WRTS Tarzana, I trademarked We Rock, because in a short time we became very busy and being the entrepreneur I am, I wanted to protect what we found to be a huge unmet need. Our trademark attorney said there was nothing like it. I had no idea of course as I was doing this for survival and desperation for a life with some form of normalcy in it. I had been kicked out of many facilities due to Gabriel’s behaviors.
How is your gym different from other kids’ gyms? We are a kids gym for “all kids.” We don’t discriminate against any child for their ability or disability. We are what is called a sensory gym. Each piece of our equipment serves the sensory system and all children benefit from this, but children with autism need it to calm their bodies down. It also helps children to facilitate playdates, because in a typical environment many children with autism withdraw and are less communicative.
Did it take a big capital investment to buy the gym?
Initially, yes! There was first and last month’s rent and insurance. I put about $45,000 in total to open my doors. But now four years later and franchising our gyms, we have it down to a science. The equipment I spent $20,000 four years ago is now only $5,000! We offer a huge support system to our gym owners to get them up and running in the most cost efficient way possible.
Can you tell us about Corpnet?
Corpnet is a very hands-on company that assisted me with becoming an LLC (Limited Liability Company). They make opening a business extremely easy. It’s a package with them. They file your LLC, EIN (Employer Identification Number), seller’s permit and business license for an amazing cost. Now we have filed over 15 LLCs with Corpnet!
Did you have someone design your website, or did you do it yourself?
We use an amazing company called Atak Interactive. They offer such great one-on-one customer service. Their ideas about design are amazing and have brought all of our sites alive. They not only do our website, but they take care of our social media and SEO (search engine optimization) department. Truthfully I have now realized owning your own business and being successful is based greatly on an amazing website.
How do you use social media to get the word out about your gyms?
We use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp and Pinterest. Now being as busy as I am, they help me manage all of them for a very reasonable fee and they send out weekly newsletters to my customers as well. This is the key to standing out from the rest of the business world, marketing, marketing and more marketing!
What made you decide to branch out? Did you find that there was a need for this kind of gym? Please describe how you got this to grow into a franchise.
When I saw what We Rock was doing for my family, and our surrounding community, I knew I couldn’t stop there. I wanted to pay it forward to the world. There were so many families that reached out to me via Facebook and email begging me to open one in cities all around the world. Luckily, my husband Tim believed in my vision and supported me the whole way when I decided to go for it. The need is what is the key to WRTS. One out of every five children have some form of sensory processing disorder.
Recently, you were given a small business award. Can you tell me about that?
This was a tremendous honor, receiving the United Chamber Small Business Award. I became very emotional when I found out I won out of over 700 businesses in my nearby area. Every day I feel rewarded by the beautiful children and parents we give homes to, but this felt different. I was being recognized and honored by my peers. The idea of We Rock the Spectrum Kids Gym is what received the award. It truly hit me for the first time how big this was becoming and how many lives we were changing. I feel humble every day to be in the position I am in. What better thing could one do but to create communities for families to feel comfortable in – to just let it all out and be themselves. To give a special needs parent an hour or two to get grocery shopping done. To have a break time with out a child that is continuously having tantrums is a tremendous gift.
What plans do you have for future gyms across the country?
This has actually already begun as we are now a nationwide franchise. We opened in Boca Raton Florida just seven weeks ago and they are doing amazing! Since they opened we have had over five inquires a week from our franchise site www.wrtsfranchise.com for people wanting to open new locations all over the world – Florida, New York, Ohio, Australia, Arizona, and more!
You have also started a non-profit organization tied into the gym. My Brother Rocks the Spectrum Foundation is our non-profit that was established January of this year. This is in honor of our daughter, Sophia. MBRTS helps raise funds for children who cannot afford our social skills classes, camps, break time and all WRTS programs. The proceeds raised are divided worldwide between all of our gyms. This is my new baby and I am so proud to know that there will never be a child that cannot participate in a WRTS. For some families even $10 is too much and now we can offer support.
Many women consider changing careers later in life. Some want to stop working for others and go out on their own, others want to work for themselves so that they can juggle the demands of kids and career. So tell us – is this a profitable enterprise?
Yes, owning a We Rock is an amazing job – to be a working mother and have your children right by your side. Owning a business without a profit cannot be a career. Owing a WRTS is a lifelong change. A majority of our owners are mothers exactly like myself who either 1. Have a special needs child and need to be more accessible for their child, 2. Are in the field of helping children and or 3. Are ready to be their own boss and make their own money!
What advice do you have for someone who is passionate about starting her own business?
Be brave, believe in yourself even when others doubt you, leave fear at the door and never look back. Be smart with your monies and start with the basics and work your way up. Don’t spend all your capital in the beginning. If your idea is going to work, it will no matter what. Take your time while building your business and if you decide to franchise your idea, make sure your business plan is air tight. If you have a family, make sure you always remember they come first. Lastly, always remember you are only as good as the people who help you on a daily basis. What do I mean by this? Your employees need to be appreciated and know they are your face to the community and world every day. So be smart when hiring people to help you reach you highest potential and don’t be afraid of change.