With 750 locations across the world, Sylvan Learning has been a leading provider of personal learning for students in grades K-12 for more than 35 years. In recent years, the brand has made strides to grow its footprint internationally, and, with the help of a major player, can now check Vietnam off its list.
David Do is the founder of VI Group, a private equity firm managing more than $500 million in high growth mid-market companies. Do and his group own the master franchise license in Vietnam for Dairy Queen, with 27 locations, and Buffalo Wild Wings, with two locations, and also own locations within other brands like The Pizza Company, Swensen’s, Jump Arena, Cali Broken Rice and ToCoToCo, along with companies that specialize in K-12 education, travel and hospitality, logistics, systems integration and more.
Before getting into franchising and private equity, Do used to run mergers and acquisitions at Microsoft in Seattle. When he was managing the part of the business that handled distributing education software, he came across Sylvan Learning. He kept an eye on the brand for more than ten years, and, in 2016, became the franchisee who will develop all of Vietnam for Sylvan.
“As the demand for STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] was beginning to grow in Asia, I reached out to Sylvan,” said Do. “Other education brands have been in Vietnam for a long time, but Sylvan is the clear leader of STEM, and we know it will do well here, especially the test prep services. After going through their process, Sylvan chose us as the franchise owner to build out the entire country of Vietnam. We own and operate our own centers.”
With such a robust portfolio, Do and his team expect a certain level of support from brands that they work with – and the team at Sylvan has over delivered for them.
“We are very happy with the support that we’ve received from Sylvan, particularly because they were very open to feedback about what needed to be adapted for Vietnam,” said Do. “One of the franchise team members had lived and worked overseas so he brought that experience to our relationship. Plus, we went to Discovery Day and met some of the international franchisees and the franchisees of Sylvan are really helpful people. We operate many other franchises and the Sylvan team stands out in terms of support.”
In addition to its five Sylvan centers in Vietnam, Sylvan Learning also has international locations in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Hong Kong and Canada, with centers in 49 of the United States, and U.S. territories in Guam and Puerto Rico.
“We are laser-focused on growth right now at Sylvan Learning,” said Georgia Chasen, Senior Director of Franchise Development at Sylvan Learning. “We’re growing both domestically and internationally. Our international growth has really come from the organic brand power of Sylvan Learning. Our focus on STEM and the EDGE program are driving inquiries from international candidates, as well as the prep program, hoping to support international students that go overseas for university.”
Sylvan’s strategy for international growth is opportunistic, with a focus on first finding the right partner with a background for education and business that values the emotional rewards that come with owning a Sylvan franchise. Then, the team at Sylvan works with the international prospects to finalize the license agreement terms for that market and develop a launch path.
“Our philosophy has been to identify the right partner and then build a development plan around them and their local connections,” said Chasen. “What attracts partners from an international standpoint is that Sylvan nurtures some of the soft skills that inspire creativity and strategic thinking and being more collaborative, in addition to academic mastery skills. There are a lot of countries that want the benefit of these soft skills.”
In addition to the growth in Vietnam, Sylvan is in conversations with franchisees to develop the brand’s presence in China, India, the UK and Cambodia, as well as additional development in the Middle East.
“We felt like David had a personal connection with the Sylvan offerings, not just from a business perspective. He saw the value and wanted to be involved directly as we negotiated and began to launch,” said Chasen. “Another aspect of our business model that sets us apart from other brands is our modular programs that allow for localization based on the needs of that country. Franchisees can launch their center with STEM first, then add the CORE product and PREP.”
Do and his team opened the first location in Ho Chi Minh City in November of 2016, and has opened an additional four locations since then, with additional development on the horizon.
“Sylvan is positioned to take children’s academic success to the next level with the combination of our cutting-edge technology and the critical thinking skills that they develop through our comprehensive programs,” said Chasen. “Sylvan is going to help the students of today become leaders of tomorrow because we think comprehensively about each student. We reach more and more students every day, and as we continue to expand internationally, we are on our way to becoming the global leader in personalized education.”