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VOL. 42 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 29, 2018

Johnson hoping to meld therapy, quest for fitness

By Joe Morris

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Kenneth Robinson, LMT, and founder of MBK Wellness at his Kingston Pike location.

-- Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

Athletes and couch potatoes alike enjoy a great massage, so Kenneth Robinson knew he could build a solid business offering those services. He wanted more.

“I played sports and dealt with injuries, like a lot of people do,” says Robinson, a Knoxville native whose MBK Wellness recently won the Knoxville Chamber’s 2018 Pinnacle Award in the Minority-Owned Business Excellence category.

“I had a fascination with massage therapy and took a chance on that even when everyone was telling me there was no money in it, that I was wasting my time. But that was the space I wanted to work in, so I set about seeing how I could stand out.”

He began massage therapy work after training in 2003, eventually opening what would become MBK Wellness of Knoxville in 2011. At that time, he began to change his focus to body work, adding an additional health and wellness element to what he was now referring to as body work.

“There are places all over town where you can get a good, reputable massage,” Robinson explains. “If you also want to get fit, you can come and see us. I found that the more modalities and therapies I offered, the more I wanted to add so that we could do even more for a wider range of clients.

“Now I’m certified in 30 different modalities, so between myself and my staff we can take care of most any need a client may have.”

The studio’s product line includes such spa staples as body scrubs, candles and air sprays, while services on tap have grown to add reflexology, lymphatic drainage, Chinese acupressure and pain management massage. As he implements new products and services, Robinson notes he also works to further his reach into the medical community in Knoxville and East Tennessee, particularly sports-medicine practitioners.

“I have worked with doctors at the University of Tennessee, which allowed me to get involved with local athletic treatment centers,” he adds. “The more work I did with performance training, the more I developed a reputation for helping their clients get better. When we can help people improve without continued medical treatment, or surgery, that’s an amazing thing.”

Robinson’s increased visibility and growing corporate presence led to the Pinnacle nomination and subsequent award and shows that minority business owners can make inroads into all kinds of different industries, says Mark Field, senior vice president of development at the Chamber.

“We strive to grow participation from minority businesses in our community, and so this category was created as a way not to just be more inclusive, but to also highlight the variety of work they are engaging in,” Field points out.

MBK Wellness on Kingston Pike is the brainchild of Kenneth Robinson, a licensed massage therapist. MBK’s waiting list currently stands at four to five months.

-- Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

“We have several programs at the Chamber around mentoring that work to help minority businesses overcome some of the obstacles they face, whether that’s with educational opportunities or pairing them with larger companies that can guide them through their early stages and initial growth phases. We want to see them start and stay here, just like any other business, so are committed to helping them any way we can.”

For Robinson, that’s meant not just taking a clear-eyed look at how to run a different kind of body-therapy enterprise, it’s also meant keeping up with technology and other tools to remain at the forefront of his industry.

“What we were taught in 2003 has dramatically changed, even just as far as understanding the body itself,” he acknowledges. “We were taught that doing deep work would help muscle pain and strain, for example, and now understand that’s not the case. The body’s different tissues respond to different pressures, and that enables faster repair and healing from injuries.”

On the technical side, there are new tools and devices, even equipment, he can utilize for different treatments. Robinson recently installed a sauna for clients’ use before treatments, and he is also looking at ways to integrate yoga, nonsurgical body sculpting and other holistic practices into his offerings.

Adding services is one way to keep revenues rising, and Robinson works to engage with different events, such as the Ironman Chattanooga competition, to build and sustain his client base as well. He also is taking his hard-won experience to the next generation.

“Providing massage, kinesiology and support for athletes helps bring in business, and I also teach business operations classes to other therapists,” he says. “In massage school you learn technique, but you’re not sure what to do when you come out.

“If you go to work for a salon or franchise, then you’re going to be limited by how many appointments you have, and your income is going to be capped at some point because of the charges you’ll pay for supplies. That’s why a lot of people leave the industry. I’m telling them how to go out on your own, and how to make that work.”

Over the next few years, Robinson says he hopes to continue his education so that he can become even more familiar with ways to help people improve their physical selves. That’ll include using new software that’s coming down the pike which helps map out the body and target overlooked sources of aches and pains.

“There are body scan devices coming out now that show where the issue is,” he explains. “You come to me thinking it’s your back, but in fact it’s your hamstring. Having the tools to rapidly figure out a pain source without having to go through two or three appointments working to target that [source] is going to be amazing for therapists.”

In the meantime, he’ll work on whittling down his waiting list, which currently stands at four to five months for even the most regular clients. Then again, he might want that to get even longer.

“I don’t do the same visit twice for anyone, and that’s one reason why I got into business for myself in the first place,” he notes. “I read their body language, see how they are doing.

“Everyone is different, and I want to develop relationships vs. just moving people in and out. The more I get to know them, the more I can anticipate what their specific needs are or might be. That’s a lot more fulfilling for me than just running a special to get 10 or 20 people more in here every week.

“I’d rather have a long list of clients who rarely reschedule.”

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