My passion for the business
By the end of my career in banking, RBC was downsizing. I was working tirelessly, yet I felt dissatisfied. I’d always known the bank was not where I was meant to be forever. In the meantime, I heard about Kumon through a friend.
My godson had difficulty in school and was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He found it hard to buckle down and understand the lessons. His parents enrolled him in a Kumon after-school program.
I looked after him whenever his mom was travelling and he would tell me, “It’s time to do my Kumon,” so I would sit with him and watch. I saw how it helped him focus. He didn’t like it, but he knew it helped him to learn and he did really well with it.
I also had a hairdresser whose mother was a Kumon franchisee in Uxbridge, Ont., and she mentioned she was planning to sell her franchise. I ended up working there with the intention of buying it from her. I was living nearby at the time in Aurora, Ont., and felt a real happiness there and discovered a passion for the business.
I didn’t end up purchasing that location, but working there was my introduction to the company before I was eventually accepted as a franchisee. The Kumon head office offered me the chance to open a brand new location in Vaughan, Ont. That was a little over nine years ago.
A different kind of challenge
Buying and running my own franchise business was certainly a very different challenge from working for a large bank, but fortunately, I had previously run a home décor retail business with my husband as a sideline near Belleville, Ont. I found I had a natural affinity for the field and the business went really well for a few years. In the end, though, it wasn’t really for us and we decided to shut it down.
In addition to having run a successful business, it would be valuable for me to understand Kumon’s customers. As I investigated them, I also realized that as a parent and as a consumer myself on a daily basis, I could understand what their needs really were.
Kumon also does a very good job at helping new franchisees understand the product, which is its proprietary educational method for math and reading. Things are different from when I was a kid and all of our extracurricular activities were organized through our school. Now, kids visit all sorts of different businesses for supplementary education and classes.
To determine the exact location for my new franchise, I contacted a real estate agent and explained what I would need. She connected me with a unit near a Tim Hortons in a plaza close to Highways 27 and 7, where my business would be visible to a lot of traffic. And as it turned out, the plaza landlord’s children were enrolled in Kumon, so we already had some common ground and he was pleased to accommodate a new franchise in the system. He actually divided a large space in half for my opening, but the business grew very quickly and after three years, I had to ask him for the whole space!
Developing tomorrow’s teachers
The trickiest part for me was hiring and developing employees. I had done some human resources (HR) management at the bank and for the retail business, but now I would really have a lot of employees in my care.
In many cases, they are university students and this is their first entry-level job. They have to be able to connect well with children. For that reason, everyone I hire is either on their way to becoming a teacher or simply loves working with kids. And as for me, my task is to nurture them through their first working experience and make them the best possible candidate for their next job.
That was my biggest challenge: managing and mentoring my staff. Fortunately, there are commonalities across all types of jobs, including independent thinking and a strong work ethic, and I found my previous experience helped.
To some degree, working with my employees is like working with my Kumon students. As a result, I’ve had many employees stay on for years. Some have indeed gone on to become teachers—and in that role, they often recommend parents enrol their kids in Kumon. I’ve even had parents inquire about becoming Kumon franchisees themselves!
One of my longest-tenured employees is my own daughter, Carina. When she studied educational psychology at the University of Guelph, her experience with Kumon really helped her, as she already understood autism, learning disabilities and behavioural problems in young people. She turned 29 in November and still works with me today.