When signing on as a franchise owner with a brand—even a brand as established as 40-year-old Sylvan Learning—it’s important to do due diligence and ask questions. Luckily for prospective Sylvan Learning franchisees, CEO John McAuliffe, VP of Franchise Development Georgia Chasen and Chief Franchise Operations Officer Susan Valverde are all well-versed in the valuable information franchise candidates seek—and more than ready to share their insights. Two respective owners of two of Sylvan’s top-performing centers—Anthony DiGiacomo of Sylvan Learning Center in Fair Lawn, New Jersey and Kim Teixeira of Sylvan Learning in Chesapeake, Virginia—also spoke to their success as Sylvan franchisees.
Below are 10 of the most frequently asked questions by prospective Sylvan Learning franchisees.
1. What is the investment level associated with opening a Sylvan Learning Center?
Startup costs for a Sylvan Learning franchise range from $68,680 to $159,085, including a franchise fee of $24,000. For more information about franchising with Sylvan Learning, please click here.
2. How was the brand built and what is Sylvan’s track record of success?
Sylvan Learning began in Portland, Oregon as Sylvan Learning Corporation in 1979. The brand’s original offering focused on reading, writing and math, but has since expanded to include SAT/ACT test prep and high-value STEM courses—which, taken together, drive real results.
“Over the past five or six years, we’ve worked incredibly hard to expand our product base and increase the use of technology in our learning programs. Take our variety of classes—we cover the basics like math, reading, study skills and test prep in addition to diving into the STEM arena,” said McAuliffe. “Sylvan is also the only brand that uses technology to deliver the vast majority of our core programs. We’re continuing to expand more and more into online content, ultimately making our program more convenient for students, teachers and families.”
3. How does Sylvan deliver on its promise to make an impact on students?
Just ask the owners of two of Sylvan’s top-performing centers.
“After their kids come through our STEM camps, we’ll have parents come back and say, ‘They got into LEGO club at school!’” Teixeira said. “We had a little girl who did four or five camps with us before she went into middle school. She got into LEGO club and her team won a championship and her mom called to let us know. That was amazing.”
“For the February ACT, we helped a student get a perfect 36 and we also helped prepare a student who got a perfect 800 in the math section of the SAT,” said DiGiacomo. “And it’s really because of our focus in this area; our goal is to continue to get better, to really listen to students and to personalize our lessons to the student so we hold them accountable.”
4. How do I stay competitive? What are some of Sylvan’s points of differentiation?
Sylvan Learning is the leading supplemental and enrichment education franchise for a reason.
“No one can compete with our product offerings,” said Valverde. “Our investments in technology and infrastructure position our franchisees, as well as our students, for success.”
“From a business perspective, Sylvan has also recently introduced a new business model that allows our franchisees to become more profitable,” McAuliffe said. “Our new licensing agreement gives our local owners a smaller footprint. That means that our franchisees can also extend our programs into schools, libraries and community centers, making the Sylvan brand easily accessible for families across the country. We’ve found that makes all the difference.”
Additional points of differentiation include SylvanSync, an adaptive platform used by a Sylvan instructor to develop and deliver personalized lesson plans that adjust to a student’s needs in real time, plus STEM learning, ACT/SAT test prep and certified tutors, among others.
5. What type of training and support from my franchisor can I expect as a Sylvan franchisee?
“I personally tell franchisees that I was a Sylvan franchisee and asked the same question,” said Valverde. “What tipped the scales for me was Sylvan’s training system and support. You don’t have that if you go into business by yourself and you don’t have that level of support from our competitors. We talk a lot about training tools while onboarding—I’m really proud of the fact that we just overhauled Sylvan 101, our basic onboarding boot camp which involves four days at our corporate office and helps our franchisees become proficient in our system very quickly.”
Sylvan franchisees also enjoy access to Sylvan University, an interactive training program, coupled with an essentially 24-hour help desk for technical and operational questions, plus a local store marketing specialist to promote brand buzz leading up to a center opening, and ongoing cross-departmental support as needed.
“Sylvan leverages a really great support ecosystem,” said Chasen. “During Discovery Day, we have a panel of support professionals— from our head of operations to our head of support desk and Sylvan University—so that candidates can get a broad understanding of the extensive support we offer.”
6. What kind of support can I expect from my system of franchisees?
“Prospective franchisees understandably want to talk to other operators,” explained Valverde. “When they do, they learn that Sylvan has a great system for knowledge-sharing and best practices, which relates to why you choose a franchise system in the first place—so as not to reinvent the wheel.”
In addition to a franchisee network that fosters learning and best practices, Sylvan franchisees can also leverage the system’s Franchise Owners Association (FOA).
“We’re very lucky that we have such a great relationship with the Franchise Owners Association—they work with us on that initial onboarding call, and I think working so closely with them sends a strong message that we’re committed to making sure our franchisees are successful,” Valverde said. “I used to be not only a franchisee, but a member of Sylvan’s FOA. Having been on the other side, where I’m advocating for and have been elected by my peers to be the voice of the franchisees, really gives me an interesting perspective on how to listen and how to value that relationship.”
Valverde, who speaks with prospective and existing franchisees every day, summed it up clearly: “We have a very strong and open line of communication with our franchisees.”
7. How do I allocate my time as an owner?
“When you run a small business, everything is a priority,” Valverde said. “To help navigate that, Sylvan offers all kinds of checklists and operational guidelines that help brand new franchisees understand not only how to train and hold teams accountable, but also how to make sure they're spending time on growing their business and prioritizing what will produce the best outcome for their goals.”
8. What are the keys to success for a Sylvan franchisee?
“We attract a really high caliber of franchisee, and they naturally want to know, ‘How do I become really good at being a Sylvan owner?’” said Valverde. “We’ve been spending a lot of time in recent years on soft skills—how franchisees can grow their footprint and management skills through well-respected management resources and great platforms for conversing with peers.”
Valverde explained that these sharing and learning practices are incredibly value-rich because they answer a slew of related questions, such as ‘How are my peers here at Sylvan bonusing, incentivizing and really energizing their teams?’ ‘How are they focused on student success and the results Sylvan seeks to drive?’ ‘How do my peers recruit the best talent to put the best teachers in the industry in our classrooms?’
According to Valverde, all of these are soft skills that Sylvan nurtures. In addition to the aforementioned development resources that the executive team makes available, “Sylvan also convenes peer-to-peer conferences to facilitate conversations,” said Valverde.
“Our training team put together a Master Series comprised of a podcast, leadership books and leadership studies. At the beginning of the year we discuss the major leadership challenges facing our franchisees, how to build a strong company culture and so on,” Valverde said. “Our corporate team gets just as much out of it as our franchisees!”
9. What makes working with Sylvan a special experience?
Valverde emphasized that Sylvan’s mission to be the best provider of supplemental education means that the rewards that come with ownership transcend the monetary.
“We offer something that is very unique—we change lives in a very real way. We don’t sell something: we develop students, we change lives,” Valverde said. “We call them ‘Sylvan Moments,’ and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. Working with Sylvan means you get to watch students grow and succeed and hear from grateful families every single day.”
10. Is now a good time to buy?
In a word: Yes.
“We have invested very heavily in technology and we’re now seeing the benefits of that investment. In my mind, we’ve leap-frogged our competition in terms of ability,” said McAuliffe.”We’ve really broadened the breadth of our content, also. We recently added beginning reading, writing and STEM content to our platform, and we broadened the different math programs, so our offering benefits an even pool of students. That makes now a great time to buy.”
Sylvan Learning offers a variety of classes including math, reading, study skills in addition to ACT/SAT Test Prep and STEM, all with proven results.
Sylvan leverages innovative technology to best serve its students, including SylvanSync, an adaptive platform used by a Sylvan instructor to develop and deliver personalized lesson plans that adjust to a student’s needs in real time, a key differentiator that positions Sylvan as a leader in the supplemental education space.
Sylvan offers exceptional franchisee support through a competitive training program, revamped Sylvan 101 onboarding system, a near-24-hour online help desk called Sylvan University, plus a support team including a local marketing specialist and franchise consultant, as well as ongoing cross-departmental support as needed.