Sylvan Learning, the industry leader in supplementary and enrichment education, is turning 40 this year, and will be ringing in this milestone across its more than 750 points of presence. While the Sylvan of today looks a bit different than the Sylvan of four decades ago, the franchise’s heartfelt mission remains the same as always: to set students up for a lifetime of success by addressing their educational needs in a personalized and low student to teacher setting of 3:1.
Every day, Sylvan Learning franchise owners play a key role in changing lives in their communities. Here are just a few of the reasons why they became franchisees.
Strong Brand and Proven Model
When parents are looking for a way to help their children improve their test scores, get into college or simply learn more than they are learning in school, they look for a respected brand they can trust. Sylvan’s proven track record, respected reputation and 40 years of experience are invaluable.
“It’s fun to see parents who attended Sylvan as students bring in their own children. They remember their experiences, and we’re the first brand they think of,” said Scott Lindsey, a former corporate employee who helped Sylvan open centers in the Middle East and now owns several franchise territories in northern Virginia. “And our brand awareness is still growing. We’re getting more and more calls from parents wanting to enroll a second generation of students.”
Sylvan is highly regarded among franchisees, too. Over the years, Sylvan has fine-tuned its business model and continued to evolve with the changing educational landscape, incorporating current technology such as iPads as well as student and parent web portals to track progress. Starting a new business can come with plenty of risk—but with Sylvan’s scalable franchise model and proven system, that risk is exceptionally mitigated.
Ongoing Training and Support
Another way that risk is mitigated is through Sylvan Learning’s comprehensive training and ongoing support resources for franchisees and staff. Much of the training is done digitally, which allows owners to learn at their own pace and revisit materials anytime.In addition to the formal training, the Sylvan corporate team holds monthly regional calls and assigns a corporate representative to each territory for day-to-day contact. The CEO and the executive team also hold town hall calls every quarter so owners can hear updates on what’s happening system-wide, celebrate company wins and hear about exciting new initiatives and events.
“As a whole, even if you don’t have that prior Sylvan knowledge, you can still be successful, because there is so much support from all divisions,” said Lindsey.
To further strengthen the corporate support system available to individual owners, the Sylvan Franchise Owners Association elects representatives to serve as the voice of franchisees. After all, Sylvan owners are considered deeply valued partners in moving the company forward.
“We have a very collaborative relationship with franchisees that helps shape and drive the direction of our company,” said Susan Valverde, Chief Franchise Operations Officer. “They’re our thought partners, and they give a ton of input on how ongoing support and training should look—it’s not dictated from the top down. We are always enhancing our support resources, so we want to harness all the brainpower of stakeholders we can.”
“The feedback I’ve received from franchises for the last decade and a half has been consistent,” continued Valverde. “Where we stand out most is that training and support.”
Adaptability and Creativity
With the overall support of the national brand, Sylvan franchisees have the autonomy to customize their businesses to meet local needs and interests. Before joining the Sylvan corporate team, Valverde was a franchise owner in McAllen, Texas, on the border of Mexico. “In my community, getting into college was critical, and it’s what parents really cared about,” she said. “I got to decide to play up that college preparation product ten times more than, for example, a more affluent community that doesn’t need to focus on increasing its college attendance rate as much.”
One of the communities in Lindsey’s territory, on the other hand, is home to a Naval weapons laboratory and therefore at the forefront of military technology. That center focuses heavily on STEM programming referred to as Sylvan EDGE to meet the local interests and the burgeoning job market. And in another community he serves, many students are homeschooled, so that Sylvan location is open during the day instead of just traditional after-school hours.
“Each center has a local feel based on the owner and what they’re bringing to their community,” Lindsey said. “We are given guidelines and best practices, but you’re really allowed to run your business the way you think is best. Within the frame of the franchise agreement, franchisees are able to localize their brands by ingraining themselves within the community. Because of this, I consider myself artistic at times. That’s one thing that makes Sylvan fun to be a part of.”
Positive Community Impact
Through adapting to local needs, Sylvan owners drive economic growth and strengthen their communities while creating new jobs and getting actively involved in local affairs. “As a Sylvan owner, it’s about being a part of your community,” said Lindsey. “It’s volunteering in the school, partnering with local businesses, participating in spirit nights, attending school board meetings and PTA meetings.”
Sylvan locations are deeply integrated into the fabric of the communities they serve. That’s why parents look to Sylvan at different touchpoints in their child’s educational path, from learning to read to middle school algebra to studying for the SAT. “I don’t know a lot of businesses that allow you to interact with customers not just once, but a series of times throughout their careers in school,” said Lindsey.
Sylvan also celebrates its teachers, holding them up as the societal change makers that they truly are.
“Teachers aren’t in it for the money. It’s one of the most honorable professions in the world,” said Lindsey. “But too often, teachers have classes that are too large, and are forced to put too much emphasis on test scores and funding. Teachers love working with Sylvan because they are able to sit across from a student and dive deeper into what they’re not understanding and explain it in a way that makes more sense. Having that impact on a student’s future goes back to the core reasons why they became a teacher in the first place.”
Personal Fulfillment and Reward
In addition to all these wonderful benefits, Sylvan Learning franchisees do meaningful work. It’s financially rewarding, as all businesses aim to be, but its clear impact makes the franchise unlike any other business.
“Sometimes we get parents getting toward the end of their rope, and it can be an emotional time. Maybe they had a bad parent-teacher conference, a bad report card, or the child came home crying because they couldn’t do something at school,” said Lindsey. “At Sylvan, we get to see a child’s face light up after finally doing something they couldn’t do before.”
Valverde remembers one of the first students she enrolled as a Sylvan franchisee in 2002—a high schooler who was struggling in school. “He was on the verge of dropping out, the counselor was concerned about him. But Sylvan got him back on track,” she said. “I sat in the front row at his graduation. He even went on to college, something his parents never thought possible. Now, he's a small business owner and is an adjunct professor at a local university. And recently, he brought his young daughter to Sylvan to make sure she starts off on the right track, too. That speaks volumes about how much his experience changed his life. I couldn't be prouder of that.”
More than anything else, that story illustrates why Sylvan franchisees sign on. “It’s a mission-driven brand,” said Valverde. “You can’t help but be passionate about it—knowing you had a hand in helping a child realize their dreams.”
Startup costs for a Sylvan Learning franchise range from $68,680 to $159,085, including a franchise fee is $24,000. For more information about franchising with Sylvan Learning, please click here.