The American maths-tutoring franchise Mathnasium is counting on Steve Felmingham to make a success of its UK expansion
From young British workers’ numeracy skills being ranked at the bottom of the OECD to the growing proportion of students failing their maths GCSEs, it’s not difficult to find evidence that Britain is struggling to teach kids maths. Fortunately, Mathnasium, the American maths-tutoring franchise, hopes to help solve the problem by rolling out its operations across Blighty.
However, this is not the first country that the franchise has expanded to since opening its first centre in California in 2002. “While it hasn’t been in the UK, the franchisor has over 15 years of franchising experience,” says Steve Felmingham, director of UK operations at Mathnasium. Indeed, before it began to look into expanding the model into Britain back in 2015, the company had already opened centres in places like Vietnam, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. Nevertheless, entering Britain would prove particularly difficult. “They needed to do a lot more work to adapt to the UK,” he says. “While the other countries had quite similar curriculums to America, Britain was a harder country to enter because it has a much older educational system.” For instance, this meant that the franchise had to make sure to do things like using the correct terms according to the British curriculum and pay special attention to the skills required to ace a GCSE exam. Adjusting the model took some effort but by November 2016 Mathnasium was ready to take the next step.
All the franchisor needed was someone to spearhead the UK operations. Luckily, Felmingham would prove to be the perfect candidate for the job. “I’ve worked as a bfa-accredited consultant for a long time and my role has been to help launch new businesses in the UK,” he says. For instance, he’s assisted companies like Mac Tools build up their UK operations. Additionally, he’s clocked time over the past 20 years as a franchisee, franchisor and master franchisee. “So my experience would fit very well,” Felmingham says.
Even though his curiosity was certainly piqued, Felmingham made sure to do his due diligence before accepting the role. “While they had over 870 franchisees worldwide, I needed to understand how supported and successful they were,” he says. So before signing on the dotted line, Felmingham read the company’s franchise disclosure document to find out how financially strong the business was and how the model worked. But the thing that finally convinced him was reading parents’ feedback about Mathnasium. “That was one of the key factors for me,” he says. “Parents around the world all said that while Mathnasium first appears to be more expensive than similar franchises, its results create a better value for the money. The system works.” Having convinced himself of the company’s strengths, Felmingham happily agreed to help Mathnasium successfully make the jump across the pond.
Officially joining in the beginning of 2017, Felmingham quickly became busy preparing for the launch of the company’s first UK learning centre in Radlett, which opened in March. “It was company-owned and was intended predominantly to provide proof of concept and act as a training centre,” he says. Additionally, opening the centre in March helped the franchisor understand how long it would take for future franchisees to find suitable locations and get planning permissions for their centres. “In the US, it’s not uncommon to find a suitable building within three to four weeks,” says Felmingham. “Here it can take two to three months. Everything in the UK tends to happen quite slowly.”
Finding the right spots is particularly challenging as not all locations are suitable for Mathnasium’s teaching centres. “It’s a key piece of the model,” says Felmingham. “We have detailed data of every street in the UK regarding how many people live there, how many children there are, what ages they are and what their household income is.” Striking this balance between having the right number of kids and parents with a good income is essential for the success of the centre. “Parents don’t need to be millionaires but we’re not going into low-income areas,” says Felmingham. Having looked at the data, the franchise believes that there are only 200 places around the country would be suitable for the teaching centres.
However, no franchise is complete without franchisees. Recognising this fact, this summer Felmingham kicked off an extensive marketing campaign to attract budding entrepreneurs to come and join the UK network. “We probably used every marketing channel there is,” he says. To spread the news, Mathnasium advertised on several franchise portals, in magazines, websites and on social media. “And on top of that we did a lot of shows,” Felmingham says. “So far we’ve done one in Birmingham and one in Manchester and we’ll be going to London in February.” And it’s safe to say that these efforts have paid off: the franchise has received over 600 inquiries to date.
But not all aspiring franchisees will be successful as Mathnasium is only looking for candidates of the highest calibre. “We are looking for people who are professional, smart and friendly,” Felmingham says. And given that franchisees will often end up dealing with parents that are distressed because their kids are struggling with maths, it’s hardly surprising that they need to meet a friendly face when they walk into the teaching centre. “Another skill we look for is that they can manage their teams and make sure they get the best out of their employees,” says Felmingham.
Given these requirements, it’s easy to see why not everyone will be able to join the company. The lucky few that do will benefit from Mathnasium’s rigorous franchise training. “It’s quite extensive,” says Felmingham. For starters, franchisees have to go through 50 hours of online training before even setting foot in a centre. Following that they’ll receive a week’s worth of training with Felmingham and his colleagues. Additionally, they will get the opportunity to familiarise themselves with Mathnasium’s teaching model at one of the teaching centres. “It’s pretty intense and they do have to be signed off on each of these stages before they can proceed,” says Felmingham.
Given the benefits of joining the franchise, it’s easy to see why the franchisor’s extensive recruitment efforts have already borne fruit. “Our first franchisee was recruited a month ago,” Felmingham says. This first trailblazer is set to open her own centre in January. However, she won’t be the only one for long. Not only does Mathnasium have two more franchisees signed up and more than ten others waiting to get validated, the company also has more prospective franchises in the pipeline. “We plan to have 200 centres open in five years,” says Felmingham.
And if you add up all the preparations it has made and the number of prospective franchisees who’ve signed up so far, it certainly seems as if Mathnasium can boost British students’ numeracy and climb the OECD ranking again.