Carol Galbraith knows a thing or two about building long-lasting relationships.
Today, the longtime Sylvan Learning franchisee and former high school teacher, who purchased her Lafayette, Indiana center back in 1996 with a business partner, has two former Sylvan Learning students who are now working for her as teachers. She also has two former Sylvan Learning students and five former high school students who now bring their own children to her center for tutoring.
She attributes this kind of longevity to building trust and maintaining a warm, personable environment in her center. Galbraith’s experiences tie in with the education brand’s 40th anniversary this year. The brand prides itself on building long-lasting relationships among families and franchisees.
“I think the biggest thing about being part of the Sylvan Learning brand is to build trust,” she said. “There’s not a week that goes by that we don’t get a call from a parent who basically says ‘I hope you can help. We can’t go anywhere else. There’s no hope.’ That’s sad. We like to give a personal touch. It’s nice when customers come in and see that we’re real people, that we’re a small business serving their local community and that we care about them.”
From teacher to franchisee
Galbraith began her teaching career in 1975 at Frankton High School in Frankton, Indiana. It was a small school with a total of 32 faculty members at the time. In 1987, she started teaching at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana, where she would be for the next nine years. Throughout her teaching career, she taught English, composition, speech, theater and creative writing.
Things were going well, but in 1996 she had a major change of heart. She learned that the franchisee who owned the Lafayette Sylvan Learning center wanted to sell his franchise and retire. A friend called Galbraith to see if she was interested. Galbraith decided to take a leave of absence to pursue this new venture, and her principal told her that if she didn’t like this new path she could come back after a year.
Ultimately, Galbraith resigned from teaching.
Galbraith purchased her current Sylvan Learning with a business partner. Together, they eventually owned and operated three Sylvan Learning locations, plus a testing center. When her business partner decided to leave the brand in 2006, Galbraith chose to close the two extra centers and focus on her Lafayette center and the testing center.
“It’s about an hour and a half to the next Sylvan Learning center, and we have people who drive an hour and 15 minutes to get to our center, so we have a very wide and very large area we serve,” she said.
When students become parents - and teachers!
Two former Sylvan students who were at Galbraith’s center in 2005 and 2006 now have their children there, which truly thrills her.
“I have one parent whose little girl has been with us for about a year, and another parent just called recently because he wants to bring in his stepdaughter,” Galbraith said. “He was a former student and now he’s 25. Both of them said they remember how much Sylvan Learning helped them, so they wanted to bring their kids and get them the same help.”
Five of Galbraith’s former Jefferson High School students also currently have their children at her Sylvan Learning. They were delighted when they learned that Galbraith was in charge of the center.
“The parents will submit an inquiry and I’ll reply via email and say my name and they’ll reply with ‘Are you Mrs. Galbraith who taught at Jefferson High School?’” she said.
On top of that, two of Galbraith’s current teachers were previously students at her center. They also work in education in addition to their Sylvan jobs. They each revealed their Sylvan Learning history to Galbraith when they came in for their job interviews.
“They said they enjoyed their experience,” she said. “They know how much it helped and they wanted to help other kids. They felt like it did so much for them and they wanted to do the same for other kids.”
Nurture - and stay business savvy
Galbraith’s advice to prospective Sylvan Learning franchisees is to be passionate about their business venture but also financially savvy.
“It is a business, and I have to wear two hats, my nurturing hat and my business hat,” Galbraith said. “There’s a time the nurturing hat wants to take over but my business hat says it has to be a business.”
It’s also important to be visible in one’s community. Galbraith noted that she is heavily involved in her area.
“I’m on a lot of boards and networking and service groups,” she said. “You have to be out there, so people know who you are and what you do so you can build that trust in the community.”
Galbraith has zero plans to retire.
“People say ‘Why don’t you retire?’ and I tell them I’ve been at Sylvan for 23 years and I love what I’m doing,” she said. “It’s not just about numbers and profits. It’s about changing lives. There’s a lot of responsibility, and everything about it is wonderful.”
The startup costs for a Sylvan Learning center range from $70,980 to $159,885. The franchise fee is $24,000. To learn more about franchising with Sylvan, visit https://sylvanfranchise.com/.