The path to franchise ownership is rarely one that was planned. Most franchisees come into it in an unexpected way, like Scott Lindsey, who made the leap from working in health and wellness to becoming a Sylvan Learning franchisee. The crucial step in between, which was key to his eventual path to business ownership, was serving as a center director for Sylvan Learning.
"We've seen a handful of examples where great center directors who truly fit into the Sylvan system become franchise owners," said Georgia Chasen, senior director of franchise development at Sylvan Learning. "Because we have noticed this trend and want to continue seeing more center directors become franchisees, we've launched a $5,000 franchise fee incentive to make this opportunity a reality."
In 2005, Lindsey was working in the day spa division at Estee Lauder, and his boss at the time left to become a director for a corporate-owned Sylvan Learning location. He joined her shortly thereafter, and was promoted to district manager about a year later, overseeing centers in Northern Virginia and Maryland. He was then given a second district to run, for a total of 16 centers. At this point, he was looking for a change so he moved to the Gulf region of the Middle East to help a franchisee open centers in Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. When he returned to the United States, the franchisee in Northern Virginia hired him as a consultant and after a few months, he caught the entrepreneurship bug.
“I was so close to Sylvan after working in various capacities over the years and it finally hit me that my passion for the business could translate into me actually owning one instead of helping to make money for other people,” said Lindsey. “I ended up buying the franchisee out and moving my location to Falls Church, Virginia in 2014.”
By moving his location just five miles, he saved 50 percent in monthly rent each month. This was just one of the early indicators that Lindsey’s experience as a center director would pay off. Just one year later, he opened his second location in Stafford, and has opened two satellite centers since. Lindsey notes that the satellite model offers huge value to franchisees and consumers that didn’t exist before he became a franchisee.
“Sylvan offers so much flexibility as a franchisee, and as long as you know your market and know your needs, you can have multiple centers within that territory,” he added. “Several of our competitors have closed in our market and it’s because we offer competitive pricing and can do so much more and the other brands can’t keep up with us.”
Rosina LeBlanc, another center director-turned-franchisee, also credits the flexible business model as a driver of her success.
“You can tailor your business to your community. Some franchisees thrive on SAT prep, others have more success with Sylvan EDGE. You’re able to pick and choose which products will be most successful for you but have a suite of products that are unmatched by competitors,” she added. “All of these product offerings gave me peace of mind, knowing I joined a franchise that was ahead of the pack.”
LeBlanc’s path to becoming a Sylvan franchisee is similar to Lindsey’s. After college, she worked as the manager of an optometrist’s office and later opened a tanning salon that she ran for five years. She was also looking for a change and was approached by Sylvan to be the director of the Chelmsford, Massachusetts center. She worked there for four years before moving to a larger center in Woburn.
“At that point, I had been a center director for several years and found out the Peabody location was going to be sold, so I inquired about purchasing the center,” said LeBlanc. “To me, owning a franchise was very similar to what I was doing as a director - handling the marketing, the sales, the accounting. The Peabody location was a top-performing center but wasn’t managed well. I knew that I could take my skills and bring the center up to where it needed to be.”
She bought the Peabody location in 2014, and soon purchased the Woburn location as well. She now has the two main centers and two satellite centers.
“Having the experience as a center director for seven years definitely gave me an advantage when I became a franchisee,” said LeBlanc. “I felt prepared and had the backing of Sylvan corporate to support me. It came easily to me.”
Due to their background and experience with the brand, Sylvan is encouraging center directors to consider becoming franchisees. The brand recently announced a $5,000 franchisee fee incentive for any center directors looking to open a center in a new territory.
“Scott and Rosina’s stories perfectly illustrate why center directors make great franchisees,” said Georgia Chasen, senior director of franchise development for Sylvan Learning. “The Sylvan family is close-knit, and we foster a sense of community within our centers and within our system. We look forward to finding more people like Scott and Rosina to leverage their experience with the brand to make the leap into business ownership.”
In addition to the flexibility of the business model and the freedom of owning a company that comes with financial rewards, Lindsey highlights the emotional rewards of working for Sylvan, first as a center director and then as a franchisee.
“The feeling you get from helping children change their future and how they feel about themselves to better perform in school is an intangible benefit of being a Sylvan franchisee,” he said. “There just aren’t companies that offer that type of product. It makes you feel like you really have accomplished something and makes you feel good about what you do.”