Interview with Kenko

“I want to see

more people

being well

and healthy” –Dr Jimi Tan,

Kenko Foot Reflexology Centres and Wellness Spas

Not many will press and kneed your shoulders or squeeze your hands when illustrating a point or two when being interviewed. But Dr. Jimi Tan, Chairman of Kenko chain of Foot Reflexology Centres and Wellness Spas comes alive when discussing reflexology, an ancient therapy that he’s been practicing and teaching over the last 20 years. He has also skillfully developed his very own style of therapeutic massage highly sought after by both local and international celebrities and the well-heeled. Franchise Asia met up with the man who has been invited by the Royal Families of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as the former Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto, to provide massage treatments. He was also the driving force behind Kenko winning the FLA ‘Promising Franchisor of the Year 2010’ award.

Can you please tell us the background of Kenko Reflexology and Spa?

My wife and I started Kenko almost 20 years ago. It was named ‘Healthy Family’ then. After eight years of operation, we named it Kenko, which means ‘health’ in Japanese. We started branding Kenko in a big way three years ago. Not many know this, but I was the first person to teach reflexology in Phuket, Thailand almost ten years ago. There was no reflexology in Thailand, as well as in Indonesia then. I was the pioneer to teach in both these countries. I was trained in the art of reflexology by the founder of International Institute of Reflexology in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA., Dwight Byers himself. I learned acupuncture from Chinese masters who excelled in this ancient art form, and combined them into our very own reflexology offered at Kenko. We started Kenko franchise ten years ago in Indonesia, India, and then in Malaysia; both in Penang as well as KL. All Kenko outlets in Singapore are company – owned.

What drove you to open a health and wellness centre?

When I was seven years old my father had a stroke, and passed away two years later. My mother had to work to support the family. That was when I got interested in health. 20 years later I started my own health and wellness practice to start helping others. I want to see more people being well and healthy. And due to this reason, I opened these centres all over and I teach others what I know so that more people can help others. I have almost 500 students who are taking health courses from me now.

Kenko is reputed to be the first in the world to introduce Fish Spa Internet Café. How has the success been so far?

Four years ago we started the Fish Spa, and at that time, we were the first to operate a fish spa within a shopping complex; Pavilion and Midvalley Megamall, both in KL, Tanglin Shopping Centre, Orchard Central in Singapore. As technology advanced, we introduced Fish Spa Internet Cafe at our outlet at 313 Somerset and Marina Bay Sands. The response has been great, especially from tourists, who like to spend their time browsing the internet while having their legs nibbled.

Kenko is also operating an academy to conduct training for Certificate in Foot Reflexology. How is the academy doing so far?

I’ve been teaching students reflexology and other health courses all my life. It was only a few years back that we started proper academy with the support of the government. So far we’ve taught almost 500 students. I believe one is never too old to learn reflexology. In fact, one can earn a living and be self-reliant. More than earning a living, it’s a means to help others to enjoy better health. It’s enormously gratifying to see others being happy after a reflexology session. That’s why I have staff who have been with me for more than ten years. They enjoy serving others.

Some say that the Asian fish species (Chin Chin fish) introduced in the fish spa are not as effective as the Garra Rufa variety from Eastern Europe. Kenko Reflexology & Fish Spa has introduced the Asian bred Dr. Fish species. What’s your view on this?

Garra Rufa and Dr. Fish are the same species. Some medical sectors use Garra Rufa from Eastern Europe to cure skin diseases like minor eczema and psoriasis. Garra Rufa fishes are excellent in nibbling away dead skin from the feet. We even have a full body fish spa in Tanglin Shopping Centre. When the fish take away the dead skin, they exfoliate your skin naturally, and promote blood circulation. Your body can oxygenate better and your complexion looks fresher. We have many regular customers because they feel rejuvenated after their sessions with us.

Mind you, Garra Rufa fish species are very expensive. Those days it used to cost me SD10.00 per fish. I’ve bought 10,000 or more of them. It’s a big investment. Many countries have banned the other colourful looking fishes (not Garra Rufa) as they tend to attack the feet, causing bleeding. Unlike these fishes, Garra Rufa fishes don’t bite but nibble away the dead skin. We have water specialists taking care the fish spas, ensuring the water is filtered and maintained at the right temperature and water condition is optimised for our customers. Many others just place a fish tank and don’t even mind to change the water. They charge a small fee from the customers, which shouldn’t be the way.

What are the challenges faced by Kenko Reflexology and Spa in becoming a franchisor?

To keep on improving our skills. I still keep improving myself to serve others better. For example, we still keep changing our chair at our fish spa so that our customers can sit comfortably and enjoy their sessions. Little details make a big difference to our success.

Kenko won the ‘Promising Franchisor of the Year 2010’ award. What does this mean to you as a franchisor?

I would like to thank all my customers who supported us all these years. More importantly, I am delighted that more than 150 of our staff who have worked so hard have something to rejoice about. They have put their hearts into Kenko, and this proves that their tireless efforts did not go unnoticed.

What is the expansion plan for Kenko in the coming years?

We’ve opened our latest outlet in Marina Bay Sands (In Dec 2010). We are in the midst of talking with a number of partners in the Middle East like Dubai, as well as France, Italy, Korea, and Japan. However, I want to look for sincere partners. I will personally teach the managers reflexology so that they can serve the customers better. If they don’t do reflexology for customers, they won’t put their heart into the business.

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