When John McAuliffe was named CEO of Sylvan Learning in January 2016, he set out to reshape the Sylvan franchise licensing agreement to improve unit-level economics and increase profitability for franchisees. Like many other companies, Sylvan had been affected by the recession in 2008, and McAuliffe had taken on the position of CFO in 2010, during the aftermath. Even then, he was confident that steps could be made for the system to flourish and grow, and in 2016, he was promoted to CEO. To move forward in the most effective way, he and the corporate team took a close look at data, determining where franchisees should spend their time to be most successful. The findings helped to reshape how the franchise system would evolve and move forward as a leader in the space.
Shortly after McAuliffe took over leadership of the company, he brought on the brand’s now chief franchise operations officer, Susan Valverde. Previously a top performing multi-unit franchisee out of Texas, Valverde joined the corporate team in April 2016, immediately taking her 14-plus years of experience and success and applying it to help other franchisees follow her lead.
“We help teams focus on the right things. A current priority is cultivating our leads and making sure that every single family that calls one of our locations knows they called the right place,” said Valverde. “We aim to provide access to our programs in a very feasible and affordable way, offering all kinds of payment plans and working with vendor partners to make Sylvan accessible to every single family that wants it. We are also launching new ways of communicating with families and reaching families that might not have considered Sylvan in the past, focusing on all children, including a child that needs light academic coaching and a child that needs intensive support.”
To achieve these goals, Valverde and her team spend a lot of time in the field focusing on operations. She notes that they are always working on perfecting systems and it is an ever-evolving process to provide franchisees with the right support. This includes everything from having a strong call center in place to providing solid field support staff to holding in-person training sessions to having someone from the corporate office accessible when needed for the franchisee. By combining all of those resources, she hopes to amplify the impact.
Randy Way, a multi-unit franchisee in Washington state, mentions that there are increasingly more opportunities available online for extra help, and different websites and programs are being used in the classroom and at home to assist children with their learning. But, what keeps families coming back to Sylvan, and a main differentiator that makes the brand stand out, is the personal attention that the brand provides.
“The more that educators throughout the country try to utilize technology to do the teaching for them without having the human touch and coaching, the more it fails. I think for Sylvan, and especially with our mobile platform SylvanSync, we leverage the curriculum in a way that is making it easier for the teacher to have more one-on-one impactful and teachable moments, while incorporating technology that is keeping students engaged and excited about learning. So we still need that certified teacher and one-on-one connection with each student to make the most impact that we can,” said Way. “John and Susan have worked really hard to provide us with the tools to maximize that relationship as opposed to running away from it.”
And Sylvan’s corporate team is working hard to give even more students across the U.S. access to its programs. Sylvan’s Ace It! Program allows franchisees to partner with underprivileged schools and nonprofits that let them make a difference for children that need Sylvan the most, but wouldn’t necessarily have access to it.
“The fact that we have such a strong leader in our educational programs in Emily Levitt (VP of Education) has given us the ability to focus and resource our core programming in a way that is going to help us continue to be relevant and successful for our families and our students,” said Valverde. “Focusing on our core programs and keeping them at the highest quality is our number one goal. We are very focused on student outcomes, and every center focuses on everything they need to see the best results for kids. If we focus on why we exist – allowing kids to be successful – we are focused on the right things.”
And as franchisees look to help students in their local communities across the world, the corporate team aims to help the franchisees with the same, strong support that will provide for the best outcome for each business owner.
“Under the direction of the new leadership team, Sylvan has increased one-on-one trainings with franchisees and their staff, and we have more interpersonal relationships with them, and it’s been quite impactful,” said Way. “We have more opportunities to work with franchise business consultants, and I’ve seen them reaching out more often to my directors and myself, offering up trainings, and they’re letting the direction be different with each interaction. I have a director who has been with me for two and a half years, and she needs something completely different than my director that has only been with me for four months. It definitely feels like a partnership between franchisees and corporate, and that’s what we need to continue to grow the brand.”