Business & Real Estate

Los Altos massage therapist opens incubator

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Eric Davidove/Special to the Town Crier
Kua Body Studios founder Upuia Ahkiong, front, celebrates the company’s fifth anniversary with a luau party Aug. 25. Behind her are massage therapists who have undergone her training program, from left, Crystal Perretta, Jennifer Ruiz, Annette Oevermann, Carolina Huerta and Estel Pereira.

Twenty years ago, Los Altos businesswoman Upuia Ahkiong couldn’t have imagined becoming a massage therapist, let alone owning her own massage studio.

“It wasn’t part of my plan,” said Ahkiong, owner of Kua Body Studios at 106 First St., which celebrated its fifth anniversary last weekend. “I wanted to be a principal for a school. … My desire was to make an impact on the school level and at the state level because I just saw how the government and the school systems were really challenging.”

She decided to take a massage class partly because her grandmother was known as a village healer in the Samoan islands.

“(My brother and I) watched my grandmother use different oils, medicinal remedies, plants to heal babies and adults,” Ahkiong said. “I complained a lot about stomachaches, and she would do this little stomach massage that would make me feel better. That was one of my first encounters with touch and healing touch.”

After taking the class, she was sold. Ahkiong left her job as a school counselor and eventually became the lead massage therapist at Google Inc.

In 2014, Ahkiong opened Kua Body in Los Altos and Pleasanton, labeling each as a “massage incubator,” a platform for massage therapists to work toward establishing their own private practice.

“I had a vision,” she said. “I feel like the amount of effort and work we put into being a body worker, the compensation is off. ... I wanted to give us – massage therapists – the opportunity to succeed financially, and I knew that if we did it together, we could succeed together.”

Training the team

When Ahkiong hires massage therapists to join the team, she expects them to have at least 500 hours of training and education with work experience. She said this allows her to focus more on teaching the business side, including how to run merchant services such as booking clients and understanding how to use the technology.

Kua Body has a team of six massage therapists, including Ahkiong, who work out of her Los Altos studio. Each woman runs her own practice, but they still work as a team to help each other’s business grow and improve.

Jennifer Ruiz was the first to join the team four years ago. At the time, she was employed at another studio as a contracted therapist but was looking for more freedom within her work.

She and Ahkiong went to school together, and Ruiz reached out when Kua Body opened to congratulate Ahkiong. But Ruiz said she had no intention of joining.

“(A few months later Ahkiong) called and asked, ‘Do you know anyone who would like to start their own business?’ And I was, like, ‘Actually, me,’” said Ruiz, owner of Osmena Pearl Therapy. “It was scary. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do that, but I think with her guidance and support, it made it a lot easier than a lot of people starting out have it.”

Ruiz added that even though the team members all work with their clients in different ways, the support they provide each other is invaluable. At staff meetings, she added, the first thing they do is go around and ask how each other’s day was, how their month was and what they can do to help each other.

“We’ve been able to create something so unique that it’s not just, ‘OK, I have my own business by myself.’ It’s a team,” Ruiz said. “We’re all individuals and we get to do what we want with our businesses, but at the end of the day we can come together and support each other.”

For Yocelyne Mendoza, the opportunity to work at Kua Body has furthered her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. The studios’ operations coordinator hopes to one day be the CEO of her own social media and graphic design business.

“I think this is really giving me an insight to how that works,” Mendoza said. “I see how you have to plan for a lot of things – the marketing, designing, all of that – seeing all the bits of how a business is run. It helps me to see, ‘Oh, this is how you do this.’”

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