Long-time Sylvan Learning franchisees Steve Huff and Kathy Smith share their experience with the brand and why it left a lasting impression.
In the summer of 2006, Steve Huff and Kathy Smith purchased their first Sylvan Learning center.
After decades of working for corporate companies like PepsiCo and Citibank, Huff was ready for a change. Not only did he want to run his own business, but he was on the hunt for an opportunity to give back and help others, too. That’s when Huff and his wife, Smith, discovered Sylvan.
“Sylvan presented us with a terrific opportunity to become entrepreneurs and run a successful business while still giving back to the community. We researched a lot of the brand’s competitors, and it was clear that Sylvan had the best quality of academic programs, and they were delivering some exceptional learning tools to kids," said Huff. "Being a partner with the leading provider of educational services brings us brand recognition and quality support – both of which paved the way for a rewarding experience, financially and personally.”
Huff and Smith eventually invested in two Sylvan Learning centers in New York. And over the next 10 years, the husband and wife business partners would take a very hands-on approach to running their two locations—a testament to the old adage, “if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”
As franchisees, Huff and Smith made it their priority to build relationships with the parents and their community—especially as they watched technology become more and more of a focal point both in society and in education.
“We were very involved owners. We essentially served as the center director—we were there in the morning to open up, follow up on inquiries, visit local schools, prepare reports for parents, do assessments and more. That was very important element to our success,” Smith said. “We also made it a priority to establish trust amongst parents. We knew all of our kids by their first names. In an era where technology is poised to replace face-to-face interaction, that personal touch is a huge differentiator for Sylvan.”
Thanks to Sylvan’s strong franchise system, Huff and Smith also had the flexibility to be outside of their centers as well—giving them the freedom to be with their family. At the time, their youngest son was on the high school tennis team and played trombone for the school’s band. Being franchisees with Sylvan, Huff and Smith never had to miss a match or a performance.
“Yes, you’re putting in a lot of hours while running two centers, but you also have the freedom in how you want to use those hours. It was a drastically different experience than what I was used to in corporate America. Having that time to spend with my family again was one of the biggest perks of all,” Huff said.
After a successful and fulfilling decade with the brand, Huff and Smith reached a point where they were ready to slow down and retire. So when it came time to renew their franchise agreement, they decided to pass along the reins to their two centers to a new owner. To make the transition as seamless as possible, they turned to Georgia Chasen, the senior director of franchise development, and her team. With her help, they found the perfect buyer.
“Georgia and her team were very knowledgeable, and they were so helpful in facilitating this transition. That was such an important part of this entire experience with Sylvan: knowing that there’s an exit plan when it’s time to sell,” Huff said. “Making the decision to sell our business wasn’t easy, but having Georgia and her team’s support made the changeover as smooth as possible.”
Today, both Huff and Smith look back on their decade with Sylvan with a sense of gratitude and appreciation. Not only did the franchise give them the opportunity to have a career that awarded the kind of flexibility they needed, but it gave them the chance to make a difference in their community, too. And that, Smith says, makes Sylvan a priceless investment.
“With Sylvan, you can truly feel good about the work you’re doing. It’s a noble thing to do, and nobody offers a better experience and better programs than Sylvan. Parents appreciate the work you’re doing, and seeing the smiles on their faces—and their children’s—made this an unforgettable experience,” Smith said.