Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email email@example.com.
Tony Brogan’s daughter was the first person to spark his interest in Sylvan Learning Center. As a teacher, she had told her father she was impressed by the franchise after her experience working at a location. When Brogan began seriously looking into franchising himself, his interest in Sylvan only grew. Here’s what he has learned in the last seven years since he opened up a location of his own.
Name: Tony Brogan
Franchise owned: Sylvan in North Dallas and Cedar Hills, Texas
How long have you owned a franchise?
I believe franchising allows business people who have managing, marketing and relationship skills to leverage their talents and energy into their own business, but also be set up for success by having a known brand and a proven product or service.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
As vice president of U.S. sales for several overseas manufacturers, I was tasked with representing and growing U.S. sales for overseas manufacturing firms. The positions were similar to being a franchise owner in that it requires the same core competencies of management and relationship skills and the ability to work independently with minimal structure. I also worked for 18 years in a traditional organization structure in the retail industry.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I wanted first and foremost to operate a franchise that offered services I believed in and ignited my passion. Second, I wanted to be associated with a known and trusted brand. Sylvan Learning filled both of these requirements for me.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
When I first opened for business, I was approved for a small business SBC loan. My personal investment was approximately $48,000, which covered franchisee purchase fees and some working capital.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
My “due diligence” started rather casually. My daughter was a teacher and at the time she worked part time at a Sylvan Center. She was favorably impressed with the Sylvan model for personal learning. This made an impression on me because of how much I respected my daughter’s professional training and dedication to teaching. I actually researched several franchisees in addition to Sylvan Learning. Sylvan best met my criteria of brand recognition and reputation, and they provided a service that I could be passionate about. I spoke to several franchise owners at Sylvan and other franchise organizations. Finally, I met Sylvan corporate leaders in their home office.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
With any franchise, there will be a learning curve. It is important to recognize this applies not only to yourself but also to the staff that works with you. It helps to have a corporate partnership that provides training support, but ultimately the franchisee is responsible for providing staff members a vision, a consistent process and accountability. Working hard but inefficiently was part of that learning curve.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I think I have grown to appreciate the importance of process even in the most relationship centric of businesses. Most franchisees will have a staff. If so, your success will depend not only on your efforts but also on the efforts of a whole team. Whether for yourself or your team, it is important everyone buy into the best practice for every customer interface.
Whether coaching yourself or a team, I think it is important to constantly challenge how you are doing something: is it the best way, what are the obstacles, how do I overcome them, and most importantly, what is my goal for doing a specific action. The last point seems self-evident, but I have come to realize it is not. For example, a team might decide to market their services at a fair day. The team diligently plans and executes the event and feels the goal of a successful fair was reached. But the real goal was not to run a good fair day event. The goal was to capture new customers. If we do not follow up on new leads generated at the event, the “successful” fair day event might make us feel good, but it did not accomplish the intended goal. It sounds basic, but understanding why you do something versus how you do it, is a very important concept to coach to yourself and your team.
What’s next for you and your business?
I am very excited about the future. Sylvan is introducing new programs in robotics, coding and math that transition us from not only being an extraordinary tutoring firm for struggling students, but also a trusted education company offering 21st century skills to students of all ages. The robotics, coding and math EDGE programs directly targets younger students to get them excited about S.T.E.M. skills. S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills will be a necessity for high-paying jobs of the future. Introducing students between ages seven to 12 to early programming and coding skills in a fun, exciting way can be a game changer.
I believe Sylvan, with its tradition of researched evidence based lessons blended into robotics, coding and “fun” math, is positioned to drive this segment of the education business. The early reception from families and schools has been amazing. I envision taking my franchise out of the confines of a Sylvan center and into community organizations and schools through satellite locations that will make Sylvan even more accessible to local students.