Learn, Play & Grow (Really Fast) at The Learning Experience
The franchised education space is morphing from competitive to crowded, mirroring other categories—such as medical franchising—that is undergoing a massive shift away from established systems. The Learning Experience is growing rapidly and focusing on its corporate culture as the education category hits a critical inflection point.
Andrew Alfano, COO at The Learning Experience, cut his corporate teeth during 15 years with Starbucks during its period of stratospheric growth from the late 1990s through 2015. He’s leveraging his personal history as his new brand prepares for its own growth spurt.
“Having come from a rapid-growth organization, no matter how you define rapid growth, we are in rapid growth mode,” he said, adding the company just signed its first deal to enter the UK market. “We’re going about it very responsibly, so it’s not just about growing or winning at all costs.”
With 300 locations “operating or under development” in 25 states, the brand’s focus on culture is couched as laying the foundation to enable continuing or even accelerating The Learning Experience’s projected growth rate.
“Myself and the CEO, Richard Weissman, who is one of the co-founders, are positioning the organization for growth and … we have a vision of where we want to be,” Alfano said. “We built a state-of-the-art, 40,000-square-foot new office with a media center, a training facility that will hold over 100 and my responsibility is to make sure we reinvest in the day-to-day, but predominantly into our people to help our franchisees.”
Harkening back to his Starbucks days, Alfano said the brand holds regular leadership meetings, which he said is a reflection of the priority put on fostering career growth among the headquarters staff.
Employee retention is a critical part of the strategy, which includes Circle Time, which he compared to a monthly state-of-the-union-style meeting where they discuss the company’s vital signs, celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and other personal matters, while providing the staff multiple opportunities to ask any questions they have—what he called a “safe place” to increase employee trust and buy-in.
For its franchisees, continuing education courses are held at the Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters, attracting more than 200 teachers from the area to reinforce and update The Learning Experience’s curriculum.
“I give great credit to the Weissmans,” he added. “It’s not like I showed up and all of a sudden we started implementing these things.”
As the franchised education category stays hot, Alfano said the company doesn’t have the option to “phone that one in.” Attracting the required number of new franchisees means looking beyond the typical education talent pool to entice a variety of franchisee types, including pizza operators and others excited to do a community service and willing to “roll up their sleeves and be on premise.”
“We are starting to attract more and more franchisees from other industries,” Alfano said. “It is proven over and over again, just do the basics 100 percent of the time.”