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Sylvan Learning Franchisees Discuss Why Now Is the Time to Buy the Leading Education Franchise

Three sets of franchisees from completely different backgrounds share why they decided to sign with the brand and how they see themselves growing in the future.

By 1851 Staff1851 Staff Contributions
SPONSOREDUpdated 8:08AM 04/12/22

Every franchisee’s story is different. From their initial interest in the idea of franchising to the reasoning behind why they chose to sign with a specific brand. For Susan and Russell Crowe, Leah LaClaire and William Harrison signing on as franchisees with Sylvan Learning, their choices varied but they’ve all experienced the same support from corporate leadership throughout their entrepreneurial journey.

Russell and Susan Crowe in British Columbia, Canada, said they chose to sign with Sylvan Learning because the opportunity presented to them came at the right time. “My background is in retail management, and like many businesses affected by COVID-19, I was at home pondering what I was going to do next,” he explained. “My wife, Susan, has an education degree and was considering the idea of becoming an employee of Sylvan, and that’s when we realized we weren’t thinking big enough.”

The two thought that the best move they could make was to become franchisees and work for themselves. “We realized we liked being around each other during the pandemic,” said Susan. “And on the other side of things, it was great seeing that the lesson planning was already handled and it allowed us more time to focus on the children in the center.” 

The couple said that becoming franchisees was something that changed their vision on life, and while they didn’t have enough money to retire during the pandemic, they did have enough to not work for someone else. Signing the franchise agreement was a move the two made and haven’t looked back since. 

“We have been open for three months and we’re up to 17 students,” said Russell. “We’re bringing in a couple new students every week and other than a few minor setbacks with supply chain issues, everything has gone right along the lines of what we were looking for.”

Meanwhile, Leah LaClaire in Essex Junction, Vermont has worked with Sylvan for more than 15 years, as a tutor and on the corporate side of the brand. When she found out the franchisee in her local community was moving on, it was time for her to step up.

Although there weren’t any jitters for LaClaire when it came to the brand, she was a little nervous stepping into the shoes of a business owner but knew she had the support of Sylvan behind her. “I felt comfortable knowing that I can go into this and know what I’m doing,” she said. “I knew that if I have any questions at any time, I can call corporate leadership or even other franchisees and they will help me walk through the steps of what to do next. I feel supported everyday.”

LaClaire’s career in education set her up to be successful from an educational standpoint with the brand, and her experience in working with Sylvan’s corporate team gave her the business acumen to become successful. With the relationship she’s been able to build with Sylvan, she is dedicated to share the brand with others.

“I want people to know what Sylvan is, and that’s something that I’m working on and making sure people understand that I’m a partner with them and Sylvan is behind everybody,” she said. “They support me, I support them and we are all part of the Sylvan family and we’re here to help.”

William Harrison in Jackson, Mississippi came to the brand in a similar way that LaClaire did – a franchisee was going to close the unit in Jackson so he came onboard. “I come from a family of educators so I support the mission of Sylvan,” he said. “I also own an IT firm, so I was able to bring my business acumen from that to bring the center out of the downward spiral that it found itself in following the pandemic.”

Harrison knew how to take the numbers and figure out a way to make it work. “I’ve always wanted to give back, and this move made the most sense for me,” he added. “I made the decision to go forward and I really enjoy focusing on the kids who need the help Sylvan provides.” 

Harrison had an appreciation not just for the brand itself, but for the STEM programming called EDGE that it offers students as part of its curriculum. As an engineer and IT professional, he is able to tie that connection back to his career and it all resonated with him as he looks to playing a role in educating future generations.

“It was all about bringing business acumen to the center in order to increase revenue and growth,” he said. “We are also able to take the internal processes that we’ve improved and send them out into the districts around us. We are aiming to reach as many students as possible with mobile and remote learning options.”

How These Franchisees Plan to Grow with the Brand

Together, all three sets of franchisees said that they see their continued growth alongside the Sylvan brand. 

“My dream has always been to expand in territory,” said LaClaire. “I have a design for satellite locations and I’m looking forward to taking this family that I have with Sylvan and sharing it with the communities around me.”

The Crowes echoed that sentiment and said they are aiming to open two satellite locations and perhaps additional territories once their first set of units are running like well-oiled machines. 

“It’s important to value scale as you grow, even if that’s not the idea from day one,” said Harrison. “You’re building a business, and down the road the goal is to have multiple units.”

Having multiple units, however, comes with a need for staffing. The Great Resignation has caused many to leave their careers, especially in demanding sectors such as education. 

The Crowes connect with teachers working in nearby public school districts. “We have specialized equipment they get access to, and a nice staff room so they’re able to come in here and relax with us before working with more students,” said Susan. “At Sylvan, it’s all about collaboration and we’re fostering those relationships to keep things upbeat and positive.”

Harrison stepped into an existing center, so for him, he said it was about retention. “We raised the salaries that teachers were receiving, and we’ve continued to move that higher,” he said. “There’s a 3:1 student teacher ratio, so there are less students to manage, and that allows us to build relationships with teachers who may want to continue their career in education but don’t want to be involved with school systems.” 

One way in which franchisees are able to grow their locations is not only through the support provided by corporate leadership, but also through their marketing efforts. Sylvan provides autonomy to franchisees in marketing their Sylvan Learning locations, and the Crowes and Harrison have taken similar and different approaches. 

The Crowes said that they have an advertisement on an arena board at the local hockey arena, so every hockey and ice skating kid who visits, and their families, will see it. They’ve also seen a good response from Facebook marketing, as it allows them to target demographics and put their services out there for those groups to see. The couple also utilizes a targeted magazine that is geo-centered on families, and as an educational expert for the publication they receive free advertorials to reach potential families.

“We really enjoy having the opportunity to maintain autonomy in our marketing efforts,” said Russell. “You can’t use the same marketing tactics in every market, so it’s really important to be able to localize what your community needs.” 

Harrison said that he uses a three-pronged approach to marketing, including Facebook, partnerships with nonprofits and Sylvan’s national campaigns.

The franchisees know that their work is cut out for them as many parents turn to supplemental education in order to catch up with children who were at home or have been trying to learn during COVID-19. “The effects of education setbacks from COVID will last for decades,” said Susan. “Even when schools were open, stress levels were so high that there wasn’t a lot of learning happening. Kids with anxiety issues were having an extra hard time and a lot of them are falling behind.”

There’s also the issue of children who haven’t been able to attend preschool because of the pandemic, and are already starting out behind. “We play a really important role for families in catching up students and getting them to where they need to be to succeed educationally.”

Both Harrison and the Crowes said they are looking forward to growing with the brand, as both sets of franchisees continue to get new enrollments weekly. They’re also looking forward to meeting new kids, getting to know them and making an impact on their lives.

“It’s really all about seeing these kids, getting involved and seeing the smiles on their faces when they see their own improvement and know they’re better at something than they were before,” said Harrison. “And thinking even further into the future, I want to be walking down the street one day and be approached by someone who says they attended my Sylvan Learning center and they got to where they are today because of us.”

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