How Sylvan Learning Franchisees Find Opportunity Amid Crisis
The supplemental and enrichment education franchise was built to survive a challenge like this thanks to its nimble leadership team, robust focus on technology and mission-driven focus.
In recent months, the coronavirus crisis has taken a heavy toll on business across virtually every industry, but a few brands have been able to initiate strategic pivots to keep revenue flowing in an increasingly down-trending economy. One of those brands is Sylvan Learning, whose franchisees have not only remained open throughout the crisis, but have also found promising growth opportunities.
“Consumer demand is high,” said Chief Franchise Operations Officer Susan Valverde. “Schools across the country have experienced unprecedented disruption, and parents are largely on their own in ensuring that their children don’t fall behind.”
Sylvan Learning is well-equipped to meet that demand, with almost all of its centers still virtually open throughout the crisis. In light of the social-distancing protocols that have kept consumers away from public spaces in markets across North America, Sylvan quickly made some adjustments. Fortunately, the brand had already built a robust suite of virtual services even before the pandemic arrived.
“We’ve created a foundation strong enough to weather just about any crisis, but there are three things we did that made us particularly well-prepared for this challenge,” Valverde said.
The first of those things, Valverde said, started more than a decade ago when Sylvan Learning began converting its entire curriculum to a digital platform called SylvanSync, which allowed centers to reach students off-site at convenient locations like schools or community centers, and develop curriculums around each student’s unique needs and circumstances. Last year, Sylvan built a new cloud-based CRM system that allows operators to manage customer interactions remotely. And this year, just before the full impact of the coronavirus crisis revealed itself, Sylvan rolled out a new cloud-based administration system, the final element that would allow Sylvan franchisees to operate their businesses entirely online.
“All of this was designed to make running the business more efficient and more profitable for franchisees,” Valverde said. “These initiatives have also allowed us to move to virtual instruction literally overnight when other businesses started closing.”
Now that Sylvan Learning has gone virtual, the brand is unlikely to return to a predominantly on-site operation, even when social-distancing rules relax and students return to schools. “Now that it’s out of the bag, it’s never going back,” said CEO John McAuliffe. “Our customers love it, so they wouldn’t let us even if we wanted to, and for franchisees, virtual operations increase their capacity and allow them to grow quickly.”