When Hao Lam started Best in Class Education Centers, he never dreamed that he’d see the company get to where it is today. When he was 20, he successfully escaped Vietnam in 1988 after 13 failed attempts, and survived a weeklong trip on a boat to a refugee camp in the Philippines by drinking three capfuls of water a day. Fast forward nearly 30 years, and Lam is CEO and Chairman of a fast-growing education franchise that opened its 50th location in 2017.
When asked what makes Best in Class successful, Lam credits the culture and core values.
“When we are talking to potential franchisees, we don’t talk about how much money they can make. Although our franchisees make money, this isn’t a get-rich-quick business,” said Lam. “This is something our franchisees are passionate about, and we share their passion of helping our students and making a positive impact on the community and on the next generation. I didn’t get the education I deserved when I was little so I’m passionate about it now. We are responsible for our next generation and teaching them to be a better person.”
That passion has led the brand to its most successful growth year yet, with deals signed for 12 new locations, with seven new franchisees coming on board and five existing franchisees growing their portfolios with an additional territory.
“Our franchisees continue to grow with Best in Class because they enjoy what they do, their business is growing, and they believe in the future of the brand,” he said.
The flexibility of the model also stands out in the category, like the satellite office program, which provides franchisees with the ability to expand without signing another lease.
“There’s so much flexibility with our model, and we make it easy for a franchisee to add another location,” said Sharon Peterson, VP of Franchise Recruitment & Development at Best in Class Education Centers. “Some locations are open only two days during the week and one day during the weekend, so a franchisee may only work 20 hours to manage one, and they can easily open another location with different hours. Plus, with the satellite offices, franchisees can use a community center or church for a minimal fee or just a donation to the facility.”
In 2017, two franchisees, Haishan Peiris and Dr. Nirjhar Shah moved forward with the satellite program. The brand tested out the satellite model for four years before rolling it out to franchisees. In fact, Peiris, the owner of the Mayfield Heights and Solon centers, opened a satellite office and is considering converting to a brick and mortar location after seeing success.
“For some franchisees, it’s easier for them to open a location and then extend it through a satellite, but for others, it makes more sense to test it out in the market,” said Peterson. “We want to provide franchisees with that flexibility to tailor their business as they see fit.”
In addition to the flexibility of the model itself, franchisees are drawn to Best in Class due to its offerings for students, and the ability to customize their offerings based on the market.
“Other brands focus on older students, but Best in Class focuses on the long-term path of the child, starting from Pre-K through high school,” said Peterson. “Our brand is attractive to potential franchisees because of our a la carte math and English programs, along with add-on programs like SAT and ACT prep. We provide the tools they need to best serve their specific market.”
A trend of new franchisees in 2017 was educators taking advantage of the teacher discount, which offers $3,000 off the franchise fee for each of the first three centers that open, as well as three months of no royalties. In 2017, five teachers who joined the brand, with 7 new locations set to open in 1st quarter of 2018.
“A lot of educators have a passion for education, but don’t like the education system in our country. Teachers deserve a lot more than they’re getting and Best in Class is an opportunity to make their own path,” said Lam. “They can teach, be their own boss, make money and do what they want to do. I love to teach, and could have gone to college to teach, but I love being an entrepreneur more than I love doing a full-time teaching job.”
One of the brand’s newest franchisees, Yilan Liu, signed on in 2017 to open a location in San Francisco in early 2018. Liu joined the brand due to the support from corporate and focus on the student.
"After we moved to California, we both found a need for extra educational support for our children and the children in the community. After speaking with Best in Class we felt that they would provide the necessary tools for us to be successful,” said Yilan Liu, Best in Class franchise owner in San Francisco, California. “Best in Class is also the perfect size - it is large enough to have brand recognition but small enough to provide individualized support."
Despite its impressive growth, that focus on individualized support will never change. In fact, in 2018, Lam will be taking a tour across the United States to visit each of the Best in Class Education Centers in support the launch of his book, which is soon to be titled. The brand also plans to open seven new Best in Class centers in Texas, California, New Jersey and Florida in Q1 of 2018, and projects a total of 15 new locations in 2018. With accolades like Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 “2017 Top Franchises” and “America’s Fastest Growing Companies” from Inc. 5000, Best in Class is a brand that’s showing no signs of stopping.