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    Why Own a Sylvan

    As demand in the supplemental education segment of the franchising industry continues to grow, brands are competing for new and innovative ways to stand out from the competition. For Sylvan Learning, that competitive edge begins with its top tier programs—the brand’s 40+ years of experience, combined with a focus on staying ahead of the latest trends both in and outside of the classroom, continue to resonate with families across the country. But it isn’t just the brand’s relationship with consumers that enables it to outpace other concepts. Sylvan Learning also boasts a unique business model that’s attractive to both existing and aspiring franchisees.

    Part of what makes Sylvan’s business model so unique is that it’s all-encompassing. The brand’s corporate team and franchisees have worked together to identify what local owners need in order to be successful, and set up the systems and processes that ensure those tools and resources are made available. That then means that on top of an affordable initial investment rate, Sylvan Learning franchisees are better prepared to see a profit than others who are working with the competition.

    Unlike competitors who charge a royalty rate and a fee for national marketing along with numerous other fees, Sylvan Learning offers an all-in flat royalty rate of 16 percent. The royalty structure is designed to save local owners money while positioning them to bring in higher revenues than the competition. That rate includes payments to the brand’s national ad fund, mandatory student assessments and all online training resources, including e-learning courses and web conferences, as well as access to a full-time corporate team that helps source and secure contracts on behalf of franchisees. It also covers fees that were previously associated with Sylvan’s digital platform SylvanSync—instead of being charged up to $2.50 per session, the fees are now part of the all-in royalty fee. Sylvan University Now, an interactive online platform that includes programs created by training specialists for franchisees, center directors, directors of education and teacher certifications, is also included with the brand’s royalty fee, along with the brand’s initial training program Sylvan 101, meaning that franchisees don’t have to pay additional fees for their in-person training.

    When looking at ways to enhance our business model, we discovered that brands in the education segment of the franchising industry—ourselves included—were nickel-and-diming franchisees. That really adds up for local entrepreneurs, so we found a way to simplify the structure and ultimately lower the cost for the franchisees in our system,” said Jacob Jones, SVP of Finance for Sylvan Learning.  “Now, we offer franchisees an all-in royalty rate that covers all payments to the corporate team. This system allows us to help our franchisees and candidates understand our financial model in advance so they can anticipate the funds that will be due on a monthly basis, better positioning them for long-term success.”

    The Sylvan Story

    When thinking back to what the education system offered forty years ago, it’s safe to say that almost every aspect of the educational experience has changed for all players involved, and drastically. From the ever-developing role of technology in the classroom to the rising cost of obtaining a college education here in the U.S., the leading
    supplementary and enrichment education franchise has been doing its homework to prepare for what’s next. But in actuality, Sylvan has been practicing personalized learning and a three to one teacher to student ratio for decades, setting its students up for optimal success and proven results.

    “Like any organization in the education sector, the future of education is an extremely important topic here at Sylvan,” said Sylvan Learning Chief Franchisee Operations Officer Susan Valverde, who started with the brand as a franchisee nearly 15 years ago before coming on board as the head of operations in 2016. “Sylvan has always been focused on providing affordable, convenient solutions for families and kids of all ages, so that is, and always will be, at the forefront of our minds when considering any new program or initiative put in place to keep up with our students’ needs.”

    With the National Center for Educational Statistics foreseeing a jump in college enrollment over the next 10 years, rising from the 19.9 million enrolled in fall of 2018 to 20.5 million students by the fall of 2027, the demand for higher education shows no signs of slowing, and as a result, neither do the associated costs for students and their parents.

    “The access to higher education is becoming more and more of a barrier in this country,” said Valverde. “So we’ve done a lot to develop tools that help families increase awareness and resources for accessing that level of education for their child. Specifically, we’ve been very focused on growing the number of students who we serve through our college prep program – ultimately increasing the chance at scholarships to help them achieve that four-year or associate degree.”

    The Education Business

    Since its founding in 1979, Sylvan Learning has been leading the way in value-rich supplemental education, providing students with personalized instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, study skills and homework support. As students’ needs developed in line with a developing educational landscape, Sylvan innovated to include ACT and SAT Test Prep, plus Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curricula. Today, Sylvan is the premier supplemental education franchise, with over 750 points of presence in North America and beyond.

    So what makes Sylvan such an effective learning solution? Amidst myriad differentiators, four interrelated elements that position Sylvan—and Sylvan’s students—for ongoing success include: the brand’s Test Prep solutions; a SylvanSync-driven individualized learning model; Sylvan’s STEM courses; and deeply passionate franchisees.

    Anthony DiGiacomo is the owner and Executive Director of three centers in New Jersey. His Sylvan Learning Center consistently sees its students earn high scores on the SAT and ACT after taking Sylvan’s Test Prep course.

    “We have an amazing SAT and ACT prep program and offering for families,” DiGiacomo explained. “Ours is an individualized program that helps students get the scores they want in order to get into the colleges they want.”

    DiGiacomo explained that, right off the bat, students new to Sylvan’s Test Prep program take a full-length practice ACT or SAT. At the same time, students and parents provide information about past scores, current school grades, the score the student hopes to achieve and the colleges they are most interested in attending.

    “From all of that information, we build an individualized program that will help them achieve those goals, and then deliver the lessons in a one-to-one model,” DiGiacomo said.

    This means that, contrary to competitors’ templated prep courses, Sylvan’s approach takes a complete and individualized picture of a given student to prepare them not only for test success, but for college success, as well.

    “It’s more than just the ACT or SAT for which a student is preparing; it’s also about their success in school and beyond,” said DiGiacomo. “While a student is preparing for the ACT, say they also have a math or social studies test coming up that’s worrying them. They’re often surprised to discover that, in the course of SAT or ACT test prep, they can turn to us and can say, ‘You can help me with this in-class test?’ And we say, ‘Of course!’ That helps relieve stress, and positions them for success in school now, in school later and on the standardized test.”

    In addition to being personalized to a given student’s needs, Sylvan’s proprietary Test Prep curriculum leverages “a blend of proprietary technology and paper-based instruction with a Sylvan tutor,” DiGiacomo said.

    And that blend of one-to-one relationship and innovative technology is important.

    “So much of what students see on a daily-basis in the classroom is tech-based, but the importance of interacting with the teacher is as important as it’s ever been,” DiGiacomo said.

    One of the tech offerings to which DiGiacomo refers is Sylvan’s proprietary SylvanSync, an adaptive platform, which a Sylvan instructor leverages to develop and deliver personalized lesson plans, and which then adjusts to a student’s needs in real-time.

    Emily Levitt, Sylvan’s VP of Education, said that SylvanSync is a major factor driving the brand’s success.

    “SylvanSync definitely sets us apart,” Levitt said. “Our program is designed to be competitive and relevant to what students are seeing and using in the classroom. SylvanSync really allows us to be adaptable in the moment of the tutoring session.”

    System & Support

    Two Sylvan Learning Franchisees from Georiga showing their local support.

    The long-term success of many franchise owners is predicated by the tools with which they are supplied. Buying into a franchise means signing up for a specific system; with dedication and hard work, financial and professional rewards follow. Getting new franchisees from their grand opening to celebrating their 10th anniversary takes corporate investment into a business model that supports those operating within it at the unit level, and no one knows this better than Sylvan Learning.

    Even now with a franchise system of more than 750 points of presence—many of which are owned by franchisees who have spent decades with the brand in various capacities—Sylvan Learning continues to redefine what it means to truly support franchisees.

    Franchisee-turned-corporate team member Susan Valverde is Sylvan’s Chief Franchise Operations Officer. Having spent 15 years as a member of the brand’s franchise system, Valverde has unique insight into center-level operations that she’s been able to draw upon in her current role guiding the brand’s strategic approach to franchisee support. Valverde’s belief that a system is only as strong as the franchisees within it is apparent in the way she’s assembled her team—every member has worked in a Sylvan center at some level.

    “I feel fortunate to have had that experience as a Sylvan franchisee—it serves my role very well,” she said. “I can relate because I’ve been in their shoes, and every single person on my team has worked in a center. That’s something not every company can say; having run the business from the front line shapes our perspective. I wouldn’t change it for anything because it’s what keeps us focused on reality: what the customer wants, what really works operationally and ways we can improve.”

    That relatability serves as a strong connection point between the corporate team and those that make up its franchise system, creating an environment where concerns are voiced, opinions are heard and support evolves, as a result.

    Terry Wettig, a franchisee who opened his Sylvan Learning in Prattville, Alabama in March 2019, said the support he and his wife and business partner, Carol, received from the moment they began interacting with the brand has been authentic and comprehensive.

    “We were welcomed with open arms and with genuine interest—as new franchisees and as people, too,” Wettig said. “Through the recruitment process, Discovery Day, our opening and beyond, we have been able to interact with other franchisees and with corporate team members who not only address our interests and concerns, but offer practical advice as well.”

    Marketing Support

    Over the last 40 years, Sylvan Learning has continued to broaden its services, innovate engaging technology and perfect personalized learning to deliver real results for students. Sylvan’s long track record of success is a result of the hundreds of franchisees who market their centers locally. After all, the first step to watching a child’s confidence grow is getting them into a Sylvan Learning Center.

    Sylvan Learning offers franchisees a flat all-in royalty rate of 16% of monthly gross revenue that covers all fees and costs associated with running their business, including national marketing expenses. While Sylvan routinely runs national marketing campaigns, a key piece of the company’s strategy is to allocate plenty of support and helpful resources for local grassroots marketing.

    “Sylvan supports franchisees in so many ways, especially when it comes to local marketing,” said Sylvan Learning franchisee Sarah Miller, who co-owns 11 centers in Indiana with Kent Kolbow. “Having a local marketing representative that we can contact at any time has been one of the biggest benefits for us.”

    Sylvan’s marketing representatives give individual franchisees individual attention—Sylvan is in the personalized tutoring business, after all. These representatives give owners all the tools they need to run their own local campaigns.

    “She listens to ideas we have for local campaigns, and she helps us work out the details,” said Miller, explaining that her representative lets her know what resources are available from the corporate team, as well as what other franchisees in the system are doing locally. “We are grateful to have such a supportive corporate team behind us, and they feel like true partners.

    For its 40th anniversary this year, Sylvan has encouraged franchisees to celebrate in a way that works for them, from hanging up posters to running promotions to hosting events. “We are getting ready to have a big 40th-anniversary birthday bash, and our local marketing person is helping me coordinate that,” said Carolyn Staats, Center Director in Brantford, Ontario. “She will send out emails on my behalf to promote it, and she also offers great insights when it comes to the timeline of organizing an event. I really appreciate that help.”

    Sylvan Learning franchisees are empowered to create local marketing campaigns best suited for their own communities. This builds a sense of trust and lends credibility to centers while raising awareness about what services they offer students and their families.

    “We do a lot. A lot a lot,” said Jody Simpson, Executive Director of four Sylvan Learning centers in Iowa, of her grassroots marketing efforts. Simpson’s centers regularly set up a presence at small-town festivals, such as a local Sweet Corn Festival, and forge small business partnerships, such as with a pumpkin patch owned by a parent of a Sylvan student. Simpson’s team offers small goodies to draw people over to their booths, gift certificates for STEM classes, fun games and robotics sets to spark imaginations and conversations.

    Marketing Toolbox

    For many franchisees, starting a business can be daunting. From finding real estate to hiring staff to building a customer base, there’s a lot to do to get a business off the ground. In the more than 40 years since its inception, Sylvan Learning has been cultivating resources for franchisees to tap into throughout every step of their journey as business owners.

    According to Sylvan Learning Chief Marketing Officer Amy Przywara, who has been with Sylvan Learning for 17 of its 40 years, the goal of the corporate marketing team is to do everything they can on behalf of the franchisee to allow them the time to do the things that corporate can’t do for them.

    ‘We can’t sit in front of a customer and have a conversation, but we can send emails, create local marketing materials and place paid search ads for our franchisees. If we can be more efficient at an enterprise level, that provides the franchisee with the tools and the time to execute the things that we can’t do on their behalf,” said Przywara. “Plus, our franchisees share what marketing programs worked in their local markets with the rest of the system, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Our philosophy is to create once, and use often.”

    For franchisees Sarah Miller and Kent Kolbow, who own 11 Sylvan Learning locations in Indiana, that communication within the franchise network as well as access to a local store marketing representative have been key factors in their success and growth with the brand.

    “Our local marketing representative listens to any ideas we have, and she helps flesh them out,” said Miller, explaining that her representative lets her know what resources are available from the corporate team, as well as what other franchisees in the system are doing in their markets.

    Because of this access to other franchisees’ successful programs, Miller and Kolbow have been able to develop an incredibly successful Black Friday promotion.

    “We were able to review what other franchisees had done for Black Friday in the past, and tweak it to work for our markets,” said Miller. “From there, we developed a one-day sale, and with the help of the corporate team, honed it over three years. Each year, we’ve seen an increase in revenue of up to 75% each year, and shared how we executed the program with the rest of the system. We are lucky to have a corporate team that is always willing to listen and partner with the franchisees to find the best solution for all of us to be successful.”

    The Process

    Sylvan Learning tutor standing in front of her students in class.

    No other supplemental and enrichment education brand can boast the kind of proven model, 40-year-rich brand awareness, nor 750-plus international points of presence as Sylvan Learning. Furthermore, competitors in the space don’t come close to approaching Sylvan’s level of ongoing investment in industry-leading technology like the personalized learning platform SylvanSync. These differentiators, among others, make many franchise candidates interested in the education space find themselves looking to Sylvan Learning as their next business opportunity.

    So just what does the path to Sylvan Learning ownership look like?

    The starting point for almost all our franchisees is our franchise development website,” said John McAuliffe, CEO. “Our site showcases a lot of great information including testimonials from real-life franchisees. Sometimes candidates are looking at a big career change in order to pursue their dream of becoming their own boss as a franchisee. It’s important to have enough information online that a candidate can start getting excited about their next big life journey: the exciting process of becoming a Sylvan franchisee.

    Next, candidates engage in a one-on-one call with a member of the franchise development sales team, who outlines next steps and answers any questions the candidate may have. At this stage, McAuliffe explained, a prospective owner will submit a request for consideration form to provide executive leadership with a sense of their personal and professional background. In exchange, Sylvan’s corporate team furnishes the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) to the candidate.

    We are all about transparency at Sylvan. We want our Item 19 into candidates’ hands early,” said McAuliffe. “Our goal as a sales team is to help a given candidate make an informed decision and to be empowered with all the information they need to know to change their life by becoming a Sylvan franchisee.

    This commitment to brand transparency not only equips candidates to make informed decisions, but also helps ensure that Sylvan partners with professionals who are as mission-driven and committed to students’ success as the company itself.

    The third step to ownership…