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What Does Sylvan Look for in Prospective Franchisees?

Sylvan’s CEO John McAuliffe and multi-unit franchisee Marissa Roh share their insights.

By Katie LaTourStaff Writer
SPONSOREDUpdated 4:16PM 08/24/20

For the last 40 years, premier supplemental and enrichment education franchise  Sylvan Learning has been paving the way for student success thanks to technology-driven classroom innovation, proven ACT/SAT test prep curricula, in-demand STEM courses and more. The brand has come by its industry-leader status honestly—just look at Sylvan’s proven results and student success stories. That said, it’s not only a brand’s offering or model that drive success; it’s the people. When it comes to Sylvan Learning, the brand’s caliber of franchisee is second to none.

So just what does it take to own a Sylvan Learning center? Read on to find out.

1. Community Involvement

“Sylvan owners need to demonstrate sufficient experience in building community,” said John McAuliffe, CEO. “Ideally, our owners identify as community leaders and are connected to different organizations and groups in the community. They need to be someone who knows what’s important to the families in their community.”

Multi-unit franchisee Marissa Roh, who owns three Sylvan Learning centers in Nebraska, agreed.

“Sylvan is a mission-focused business; you have to embody the commitment to community at the heart of Sylvan Learning to be a successful owner,” said Roh.

Next in the recipe for ownership success? Business acumen.

2. Business Acumen

According to McAuliffe, possessing a degree of business knowledge and theory absolutely empowers Sylvan owners. However, just because a prospective owner doesn’t have the most developed acumen doesn’t preclude them from ownership.

“We often have franchise partner groups who buy a franchise together,” emphasized McAuliffe. “It’s rare to find someone who possesses every single skill [on our list of what we desire], but you might have a business partner who has an education background and another who is the financial backer, for example. As long as one partner has that business acumen, that’s what we look for.”

But knowledge is only part of the professional puzzle; as the old truism goes, experience is the best teacher.

3. Business Experience

“I think having a business background is very important,” said Roh. “I was a former CPA and worked for a Big Four accounting firm, then moved to a smaller firm before starting my own accounting business. Sylvan was actually a client of mine before I took over ownership for my mother-in-law about six years ago.”

Roh said that her prior experience serves her well as a Sylvan owner.

“I am really glad to have the business background,” Roh said. Echoing McAuliffe's point about the power of communal knowledge, she continued: “For the education piece, I am able to rely heavily on the education team at corporate, which is exceptional, and to learn from the amazing educators on my team.”

That commitment to leadership has taken Roh far, and, unsurprisingly, has translated to continued involvement in her locations.

4. Sylvan-Focused Business Involvement

Referring to business groups who function as a single franchisee, McAuliffe said, “We require that at least one of the partners be involved in the Sylvan business at least 70% of the time, meaning they don’t hold another role elsewhere, and are working either in, or on, the Sylvan business full-time.”

As the sole owner of her three locations, Roh leverages the power of individual skill sets to create a cohesive system that keeps her locations strong and ready to offer second-to-none supplemental education services.

“I own three centers that are similar in size. Each has a full-time center director and a full-time director of education,” explained Roh. “Additionally, each center has 10 to 15 instructors at a given time. Most of our instructors are certified teachers working full-time in the school system, so they’re limited on how many hours they teach at Sylvan. For that reason, to make sure we’re well-staffed, we aim for 15 part-time instructors on staff. I also try to have one lead instructor, who is a subject matter expert, on site in the event that a director can’t be there.”

Roh also taps into her previous accounting experience to lead and grow her business with laser focus.

“I’ve looked at a lot of businesses and seen where they struggle. Every year, I create a budget and set revenue goals with my staff based on the budget and performance from the previous year,” said Roh. “I have monthly revenue goals for my directors, and they track their metrics and revenue every day. We meet once a week to celebrate their successes and talk about opportunities going forward.”

In addition to one-on-one calls, Roh also conducts a weekly all-hands-on-deck conference call.

“We start our calls off celebrating wins in the centers. Everyone is always reading a leadership book, so we share something we took away from the book,” Roh said. “Every week, I have a different director leading that call, which gives them a chance to step up as leaders. One of our directors of education then shares education tips and tools with the team.”

Asked if she looks forward to those calls, Roh was emphatic.

“It’s one of my favorite times of the week and it’s really important in this business,” she said. “We’re a relationship-driven business. We promote leadership, so we try to celebrate the wins and the people. Everything is a learning experience.”

Nourishing relationships and celebrating learning are foundational parts of Roh’s approach. Turns out, living Sylvan’s mission is also foundational to franchisee success with Sylvan Learning.

5. Commitment to Sylvan Values

“We want someone who is going to be passionate about the business and who embraces the same values that Sylvan brings to the table,” said McAuliffe. “Our owners understand the importance of bringing a quality educational program to local students in their community.”

Roh echoed this point, saying, “As an owner, if you’re not invested in the mission of this business, your staff won’t be. And families won’t stay for long if their local franchisee is not passionate.”

For professionals looking to expand their portfolios and for whom Sylvan’s successful model indicates a profitable venture, McAuliffe emphasized that value sharing is a critical characteristic of successful Sylvan franchisees.

“The impact that the Sylvan program has on a student should be one of the main drivers for a franchisee to want to get up, go to work and create a culture of quality customer service and strong academic results for their students,” said McAuliffe. “The passion for academic success through a Sylvan program is what truly brings the entire franchise community together to work toward a common goal.”

McAuliffe continued: “It is paramount that franchisees embody the values that the brand brings to the local community,” said McAuliffe. “We dedicate ourselves—whether as a corporate team member or a franchisee—to quality supplemental education because we know that it makes a difference in the life of each and every child who attends a Sylvan Learning.”

Finally, franchise candidates should demonstrate strong enough financials to get their Sylvan Learning business off the ground.

6. Financial Strength

“We want someone who can come to the table and be in a position to purchase a business or open a business,” explained McAuliffe. “To facilitate that, we look for a minimum of $150,000 net worth with $75,000 in liquidity.”

Prospective owners that demonstrate the financial strength to open a Sylvan Learning next complete a background check and application process, which includes insight into what they bring to the table personally and professionally, followed by an interview with the approval committee.

“This comes after the Discovery Day and after they’ve submitted their initial application. Our vetting process gives the operations team a really strong foundation from which to start their long-term relationship with the new franchisee, because we really want to be able to help that franchisee deliver on their own business goals,” explained McAuliffe.

Roh said that, in addition to the necessary equity to get a Sylvan Learning off the ground, owners should also have a tolerance for the time it takes to grow a new business.

“You have to be able and willing to work through those low-return times, because ours is a somewhat seasonal business,” said Roh. “But if you persist and build, it pays off.”

Asked if Roh felt that she received corporate support while navigating off-seasons early in her franchisee career, Roh said that she not only felt supported by her franchisor but by the community of Sylvan franchisees at large.

“If you ask for help from our corporate team, you will receive it,” said Roh. “In addition, we have a very strong Franchise Owners Association of which I’m a board member. Our board members are always willing to help out any franchisee with questions. So as a Sylvan franchisee, you have support at the executive level but also community support from the overall community of franchisees. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Startup costs for a Sylvan Learning franchise range from $69,760-$161,445, including a franchise fee of $25,740. For more information about franchising with Sylvan Learning, please click here.

Key Takeaways

Successful Sylvan owners are mission-driven professionals committed to education and involved in their local community.

A laser-focused approach to building the business through direct involvement is critical for Sylvan franchisees.

Franchise candidates need not possess every quality listed above but they should leverage the power of collective aptitude by seeking qualified business partners with complementary strengths and utilizing the exceptional support resources offered by Sylvan Learning’s executive team.

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.