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Sylvan Learning Franchisees Discuss Their Paths to Business Ownership

Three passionate teachers-turned-franchisees discuss their journeys to opening Sylvan Learning centers.

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 10:10AM 05/27/22

Though the draw to franchising varies for each franchisee, there is often a common thread — passion. Entrepreneurs tend to carry their personal passions into the business landscape, and this holds true for Katelyn O’Brien, Brandi Rhodes and Jenny Nelson. While the three women each have unique experiences that led up to their current careers with Sylvan Learning, the commitment to quality education and community support is clear through and through.

Katelyn O’Brien’s Story

Katelyn O’Brien, who has 13 years of classroom experience, and her mother, who has 40-plus years of experience, teamed up a little over a year ago to combat the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both women noticed that students in their classrooms were struggling, but “it can be difficult to give each student the individualized attention they need in a traditional classroom environment,” she said. 

While the duo had discussed opening their own learning center, they came across Sylvan, fell in love with the brand and ultimately decided to open a franchise.

“The amount of resources and support that Sylvan gave us was far greater than what we could’ve done on our own being former elementary and middle school teachers,” O’Brien said. Though the development of the franchise has been a learning experience, there has been plenty of room for passion to shine through as O’Brien and the staff work diligently to provide their students with the best support possible.

“We have positive outlooks here,” O’Brien said. As the team looks to the future, their goals are to continue growing and possibly set up some satellite locations.

Jenny Nelson’s Story

There is a similar thread in the story of Jenny Nelson, a former public educator of 28 years. As both a teacher and administrator, Nelson noticed that students were falling further and further behind. Because the community is more rural, a total of five school districts were left to rely on either private tutors or drive over an hour to the nearest Sylvan. 

After an evaluation of pandemic-related learning struggles and conversations with Sylvan’s corporate team, Nelson was approved to open her own center in her community. 

“I was somewhat happy in my job, but I love coming to work every day now,” she said. The community is very excited to finally have more accessible learning support. Moving forward, Nelson plans to expand within her community, developing additional satellite locations.

Brandi Rhodes’ Story

Though Brandi Rhodes does not have a public-school background, her passion for Sylvan is longstanding. 

She said, “I knew my dream at 22 was to own a Sylvan. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but my parents decided to partner with me, and here we are!”

Rhodes originally obtained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology and went on to work in a lab. After leaving that position, she “made a wrong turn and ended up in front of a Sylvan,” she said. After first getting involved as an upper-level math tutor, she progressed, learning about various programs within the center and eventually coming to serve as both director of education and center director, her passion for Sylvan’s mission only grew stronger.

Though the leap to becoming a franchise owner was a bit intimidating, she had the experience as center director under her belt and was ready to provide a learning resource to her community. 

“Now I’m able to serve the people directly in my community. My kids go to school with these kids, and we go to the same dance studios as some of these parents,” she said.

Now, with an enrollment of nearly 80 students, Rhodes is looking to expand service within the community, developing satellite locations nearby to be even closer to some families.

How Do You Know Whether Sylvan Is Right for You?

Making the shift from an established, more traditional career to entrepreneurship is a big choice, and franchisees want to be sure they have selected the right brand to franchise with. For these three women, the choice came down to Sylvan’s support systems for both students and franchisees. 

“The reputation of Sylvan is top notch, and the amount of opportunities that they have for students just kind of blew the other [brands] out of the water,” O’Brien said. Nelson agreed, explaining that the idea of a “whole package” was most appealing for her. While Rhodes did do a bit of secret shopping, she said, her choice ultimately came back to Sylvan as well. “Knowing that you really do have the solution for any student” was a strong selling point.

Beyond Sylvan’s outward reputation, all three potential franchisees were able to connect with multiple established owners to discuss pros and cons and any questions they had. 

“The support started way before we even signed a contract,” O’Brien stated. All three owners agree that their final push, per se, came from the knowledge that there would always be someone in their corner. “We could name people all day long that you could call at any given time, and they’ll help you.”

Purchasing a Franchise With No Previous Business Experience

All three owners agree that starting out with little to no business experience can be overwhelming. However, when asked what they would say if they could go back and talk to their younger, pre-franchisee selves, the three agreed that the ultimate advice is to slow down, calm down and reach out for help.

Sylvan’s extensive network of resources ensures that franchisees have somewhere to turn with questions, including the broader franchisee community, a community board and franchise consultants. 

“Don't be afraid,” Rhodes said, “There’s always somebody to contact.”

Now, the women reflect on their journeys to Sylvan and what they have gained through this experience. Not only are they proud entrepreneurs, but each owner noted a unique connection to their community. 

After 18 years as a teacher and 10 as an administrator, Nelson said, “To me, Sylvan is just way more rewarding. You get to see the kids’ growth more, and you have a relationship with the parents that you didn’t get to have being on the public education side.” 

Rhodes has further connected with her community and was even able to make donations to local schools’ Parent Teacher Associations to help the schools in obtaining additional resources for students. 

O’Brien said, “You’re so much more involved in the growth of the students,” and the relationships that are built through this closeness are invaluable. “We have one student who chose to come here over going snow skiing because he loved Sylvan so much. That kind of stuff, to us, is just everything.”

Watch the entire video here.

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