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How Kumon Rode the Choppy Waves of Childhood Learning to a Top Franchise Ranking

The nationwide academic-enrichment center weathered shifts to remote education and surpassed 2,000 American locations, landing at #6 on our Franchise 500 ranking.

This story appears in the January 2022 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Started franchising: 1958 Total units: 26,365 Cost to open: $64.5K-$139.9K

Courtesy of Kumon North America

Until the pandemic, Kumon had never offered virtual classes. Then, of course, it had to scramble to make changes — training instructors on how to use Zoom and trying to retain students who were overwhelmed by screen time. As a result, some locations lost 20%-30% of their enrollment.

These days, Kumon has gone back to basics, building off an academic enrichment program that's remained largely the same for 60 years. Its focus over the past year has been on returning to in-person learning, a focus shared by parents nationwide. That's been a logistical battle for a national company saddled with local area mandates in every state, but now that 99% of its ­centers are physically open again, the students are ­pouring in.

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"You would think that because of what happened, it would have hit us a little harder, but people are seeing the importance of learning," says Thomas Kuczek, franchise recruitment manager at Kumon.

As a result, Kumon is growing as steadily as its students' brains. In 2021, it exceeded 2,000 locations in North America and has more than 26,000 worldwide, which helped it hold the same No. 6 spot it had on the 2021 Franchise 500, when it first broke into the Top 10.

Although many people initially think of Kumon as a tutoring center, students often stay long after they finish whatever they initially came in to work on, honing their focus, organization, and study skills. That continuity has always made for a stable base of students and an enthusiastic community of parents who recommend Kumon to others, or even become franchisees themselves: "About 85% of people that come to us know about us somehow," says Kuczek.

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Parents, aunts, and uncles of students often go on to open locations after seeing the benefit of the program in their children.

Kumon has now passed its 2,000-unit North American milestone, and there's miles of blue sky ahead. Company analysis has ­identified over 2,000 expansion locations available in North America. Kuczek says it will reach that goal the same way it reached this one: by staying true to its core.

"Kumon is what it is: It's a worksheet-based educational system. There's no way of reinventing that," says Kuczek. And maybe there's no need.

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