When Mark Lucas became a father, he decided to drop out of the financial services business to start a children's magazine. But the first few issues of Club Z! taught him a hard lesson--he was at the mercy of fluctuating prices for paper and ink. So the next year, in 1996, Lucas launched Club Z! Tutoring. But instead of a "learning center" where children came to a central location for classes--the model then used by chains like Sylvan and Huntington--Lucas provided one-on-one tutoring in the child's home, based on class curriculums and tailored to the family's schedule.
It wasn't a revolutionary idea--college kids and moonlighting teachers have done it since the time of Socrates--but by vetting tutors, most of whom are state-certified teachers or professionals like CPAs or engineers, Lucas took a lot of the guesswork out of private tutoring. And in just 18 months, his Tampa, Fla., test market took off. In 1998, Lucas sold his first Club Z! franchise and began a national rollout. Today, Club Z! has 430 franchises in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, and consistently ranks as one of the top tutoring franchises in the country. Lucas put down the textbooks recently and schooled us on the tutoring business.
What makes Club Z! different?
We've built a solid reputation with schools and parents. We've seen a lot of models popping up over the last seven or eight years with a lot of bells and whistles, but at the end of day you're judged by results. We brought one-on-one tutoring to the mass market and brought it at the right price point--about $40 an hour.
What results can parents expect?
The average student completing Jump Start, our traditional intensive tutoring program, improves an entire letter grade in 60 days.
Why did you franchise so soon?
I wanted to roll out Club Z! quickly, and I'm a firm believer in having partners with a vested interest. Plus, the franchise owners add new energy to the model. Once a month we have a conference call with a key group of franchisees to discuss things we're doing right and areas that need improvement. I take what they say to heart.
What have they helped you improve?
One big thing was adding a sales support center for franchise owners. When our owners work from home or work part time, it's hard for them to answer the phone in a professional way. We spend too much money marketing the business to let a call go to voicemail. So the national center takes customers through our whole sales process, a 30- to 35-minute call, and allows our owners to go out in the field.
Why not just hire college students?
We're mostly working with classwork from the school, and the tutors have to pick up where the child left off that day. A teacher who has worked in the system and with the material and who can address the curriculum is a big, big help. I think many of our tutors would do this for free. They have a passion and take a lot of pride getting a student to the next stage.
Is tutoring different now?
When I told people I was starting a tutoring company, they said, "You're crazy." Now they say, "What a great business." We're still working with kids to improve their grades, but now there are also students trying to get an edge through test prep. Public colleges are more difficult to get into, and SAT and ACT scores are critical. People are watching the headlines and the employment situation, and they want to give their children every edge possible. Tutoring is part of that.