Sylvan Learning CEO John McAuliffe and franchisee Kent Kolbow struck up a friendly bet in November of 2017.
The bet was whether Kolbow’s 11 Sylvan Learning centers would outperform the company’s 11 national learning centers in Black Friday sales. The Black Friday sale involves providing customers with the opportunity to purchase discounted tutoring hours.
Black Friday sales were nothing new for Kolbow, but they would be for the national centers.
Kolbow, whose Sylvan centers are all located in Indiana, started doing an annual Black Friday sale at his franchises in November of 2015 at the suggestion of one of his center directors. At the time, Kolbow only had four Sylvan Learning centers, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Black Friday that year, Kolbow’s centers offered a discounted hourly rate.
Things went much better than he expected.
Kolbow had just worked out at a gym and passed by one of his centers to see how things were going. Sales were phenomenal, and the center was so busy that Kolbow, still wearing sweatpants, ended up spending the whole day there.
The Black Friday discount continued the next year in 2016 during the same 9 a.m. to noon timeframe. Kolbow had more Sylvan Learning centers by that point, and the Black Friday interest and sales almost doubled.
“After the first year of Black Friday, we had some people call us that didn’t even have children in Sylvan yet,” Kolbow said. “They just knew about Sylvan from our current clients and knew their kids would need tutoring in the future, so they bought tutoring hours before their kids were even enrolled at Sylvan.”
Customers can sign up for the discounted hours in person or call and pay over the phone. The hours they purchase never expire and can be transferred to anyone, such as siblings.
“It’s a significant discount,” Kolbow said. “In the past it’s been $10 to $20 off per hour.
Kolbow and his team spread the word about the Black Friday sales mainly through Facebook and email campaigns. His customers receive multiple emails before Black Friday to give them a heads-up about the upcoming sale, and they learn the actual rates via an email that goes out to them the Monday before Black Friday.
“My staff doesn’t even know what the discounted rates are until that Monday,” Kolbow said.
Kolbow’s franchises did so well in Black Friday sales that in 2017, Sylvan Learning CEO John McAuliffe spoke to Kolbow and suggested a little friendly competition.
“I spent some time talking to him trying to understand how he made these sales so successful,” McAuliffe said. “I also got people from our national learning centers involved to also understand. We encompassed a lot of the things Kent and his centers had done and I let Kent know that, and out of that came a little bit of a fun bet on who could do better on the Black Friday sales.”
Kolbow was up for the Black Friday challenge.
“I’m very competitive,” he said.
There was one major difference: Kolbow stuck with keeping his sale between the hours of 9 a.m. to noon on Black Friday. He has never offered Black Friday discounts outside of those hours.
The national centers, on the other hand, offered the Black Friday discounts the entire week of Thanksgiving.
“What was so interesting is that we had people lining up, standing outside of our center to buy hours,” Kolbow said. “It was first-come, first-serve. We actually had clients standing in line to make sure they were able to buy. It was wonderful. It was awesome.”
To be clear, no one actually had to stay outside.
“We opened the doors before 9 a.m. on Black Friday,” Kolbow said. “I did not want to make those people wait outside in the cold.”
The result: Kolbow’s 11 Sylvan Learning centers made about $900,000 in sales in the month of November while the 11 national learning centers came in a little less, but we were thrilled with the results since it was the first year following Kent’s process. Another challenge is being planned for this year.
The winner dinner took place at an Italian restaurant called Papa Vino’s in Indiana, but there was more to it than just that.
“The bet really was whoever won got a dinner, but we were also going to bring out national center directors to do a brainstorming session on what worked, so that’s what we ended up doing,” McAuliffe said. “It was super valuable.”
Kolbow described the outcome as a win-win.
“Even though John might have lost the bet, his team gained knowledge from our team and vice versa,” Kolbow said.
This Black Friday, a significant number of Sylvan Learning franchises will host their own sale.
“Us working with Kent and understanding what he’s done better has allowed us not only to reinvigorate Black Friday sales in corporate sales, but this year we have an initiative system-wide where we’ve given franchisees a number of tools to run their own Black Friday sales,” McAuliffe said.
As for Kolbow, his centers will offer Black Friday sales again this year, same day, same timeframe.
Kolbow spoke to the positive relationship between the Sylvan Learning corporate team and its franchisees. He credits McAuliffe with closing the gap between the two entities and praised the corporate team.
“The help they’ve given over the past couple of years has been tremendous, and I truly believe it’s because of the relationship with the franchisees,” Kolbow said. “They listen to us and they’re here to help us.”
McAuliffe echoed the sentiment.
“The friendly bet speaks to two things which are important,” he said. “One is that corporate does have the type of relationship with franchisees in which franchisees are willing to share things they do that really work, and that in turn allows us at the corproate level to share best practices with the system.”
While Kolbow loved having a friendly bet with the company CEO, he was mainly thrilled about the learning opportunities it helped create.
“It was a friendly little wager, but it helped us go to next level,” he said.
The startup costs for a Sylvan Learning franchise range from $70,980 to $159,885. The franchise fee is $24,000. To learn more about franchising with Sylvan, visit https://sylvanfranchise.com/.