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Franchisee Gail Tuominen Wraps Up a 20+ Year Career With Sylvan Learning

The former manufacturing engineer retired late 2019 after two decades with the supplemental and enrichment education franchise.

By Ben Warren1851 Franchise Managing Editor
SPONSORED 5:17PM 05/18/20

In 1998, Gail Tuominen purchased her first Sylvan Learning center. Over the next 22 years, Tuominen took on additional centers, weathered an economic downturn, made lasting connections in the franchise and education industries and nurtured her passion for teaching and learning. This past winter, after a full and rewarding career as a franchisee, she sold her business and retired. 

Tuominen did not begin her career with Sylvan. In fact, she didn’t even begin her career in education. For 30 years before joining the supplemental and enrichment education franchise, Tuominen worked as a manufacturing engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts, the city where she grew up and still lives today. In 1998, Tuominen had been working for Ocean Spray for nearly 15 years when the agriculture co-op initiated some significant operational changes.

“I wasn’t going to be let go, but I wasn’t going to be doing what I wanted to be doing,” Tuominen explained.

Tuominen said she’d always dreamt of owning her own business, and the timing felt right to finally pursue that goal. “I knew right away I wanted to be in education,” she said, so she started looking into business opportunities in the field.

It didn’t take long for Tuominen to identify Sylvan Learning as the perfect fit.

“Back then, there was a growing demand for supplemental education, but not a lot of people were doing it,” she said.

So Tuominen signed on to open her first Sylvan Learning center, and, within a few years, her operation grew to five centers throughout Lowell and in nearby markets. 

Tuominen said her background in engineering brought a unique perspective to the brand, one that Sylvan’s corporate team was happy to leverage.

“As an engineer, I sometimes see things a little differently than people who came up in the education world,” she said. “There are a lot of details that can take up a lot of time and attention, and I was always able to take a step back and see how those things fit into the big picture and where we could make the best use of our time and energies.”

Throughout the early and mid-2000s, Tuominen’s Sylvan business was increasingly successful, taking on new clients and territory. Then, at the end of the decade, the Great Recession took a toll on virtually every industry, but Tuominen decided to stick it out with Sylvan.

“When the economy took a turn, everyone had choices to make. Some people got scared and sold their businesses, but I took a step back, looked at what was going on with the economy at large and decided it was wise to stay with Sylvan,” she explained.

Looking back, Tuominen considers her decision to stick with Sylvan throughout the recession one of the best she made in her career.

“I committed to Sylvan, and they committed to supporting us and seeing us through the downturn,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but if I had been with another company, I’m not sure our centers could have survived.”

As the economy slowly recovered in the following years, Tuominen said her business came out even stronger, with a fortified operation and a strong relationship with Sylvan’s corporate team.

In the 2010s, Sylvan began rolling out a number of technological applications to support franchisees and customers. Tuominen said these updates offered a major boost to her business.

“We were actually the beta site for some of the new technology, and our clients just loved it,” she said.

Continued operational improvements and support allowed Tuominen’s business to flourish throughout the decade. This year, she got the final return on her investment in Sylvan, when she sold her centers to one of her former employees, Rebecca Johnson, who had been with Tuominen for 20 years and decided she was ready to become an owner herself.

“It was time,” Tuominen explained. “People never think they will retire, and I never thought I would, but I’ll tell you, I love it.”

Tuominen is not a rare case among Sylvan franchisees, many of whom find long careers with the brand, lasting all the way until retirement.

“So many of our franchisees have been with us for years,” said Sylvan’s vice president of franchise development, Georgia Chasen. “Gail is one of many owners who built great businesses for themselves and, when the time came, were able to transition into a comfortable retirement and pass their legacy on to a new owner."

Tuominen said Sylvan continued to support her through the sale process and is now helping Johnson find her footing as a first-time owner.

“They were such a big help,” Tuominen said about Sylvan’s corporate team. “And now they are giving Rebecca so much guidance. It makes me confident that the business is going to continue doing well without me.”

Of course, Tuominen has been available to offer her own support to Johnson. Her best advice? Make it personal.

“When you’re working in education, and you’re helping students, you’ve got to have a personal investment in that,” she said. “You need to really believe in what you do. I spent more than 20 years with Sylvan, and because my heart was in it, they were great years.”

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