Brain training for kids and adults is on the menu at Learning Rx.
There’s been an explosion of educational franchises brought about by technology and a new focus on how kids learn. Each is differentiated and interesting, which makes our job selecting a top education franchise really difficult.
It was neck-and-neck in our financial research and online voting, but LearningRx came out just ahead of the three runners-up in terms of unit volumes and return on
investment and was No. 1 on our online poll of Franchise Times readers.
While LearningRx has a wide initial investment range from $83,000 to $198,000, it’s on the pricier side of the segment, according to the franchise disclosure document. With average unit volumes of $290,000, LearningRx also brings in the most sales of the four in the category, and since about 50 percent of that goes to salaries, it can be the most profitable franchise among our four finalists in the Smart Kids category.
What pushed the brand over the edge in our project, however, was the unique offering, far differentiating the franchise from the entire franchised education segment. While many brands offer tutoring to help with specific difficulties like reading or math or specific interests in coding, robots or science, LearningRx focuses on brain training.
Instead of helping students walk through a math exercise and goose their grade, the brand aims to train the student in a better way to think about math overall. Where a typical tutoring session might help a child with algebra, LearningRx helps students by identifying the root cause of the weak skills that leads to a poor grade—tackling the cause instead of the symptom.
Franchisee Suzi Donovan said the unique offering was what turned her from a 17-year public school teacher to franchisee when she joined the brand two years ago.
“Every time I was there I thought, this is amazing, why isn’t this in my town? So I called and they said I should open one,” said Donovan. “And I said, 'Yeah right. I’m a teacher. How can I run a business?'”
She said, however, she got all the support she needed from the home office, one big draw for new franchisees exploring the segment. “I had started looking for a location. Even that kind of stuff, I’d call and they’d help me negotiate the space or situate the space better and had insight into why it might not be a good location,” said Donovan. “I really, really appreciate all the support they give and the coaching and mentoring. It doesn’t matter how small my question is, they will help me.”
When she opened her location in Santa Rosa, California, she had a call with a business mentor every two weeks, then every month and then only when she needed a little insight.
For longtime operators like Rich Frieder, who operates three locations in Minnesota and has been with the brand for nearly 10 years, that growing support has been a big change.
At just shy of 80 locations across the whole brand, there were some growing pains from founding to today.
The corporate refugee turned brain trainer found the brand after his daughter was struggling in school and became enamored with the process. And when the marketing executive was “re-orged” from his corporate job, he jumped into the brand full steam. He said one of the most difficult things in the early days was marketing.
“The earliest franchisees had more of an education background, but not a business background. The actual service would be great, but getting people required some marketing acumen,” said Frieder.
The biggest stumbling point, according to Frieder, was lack of good data around the unique offering. Brain training is difficult enough to describe clearly, and it’s harder to market, especially without good data around the actual performance of students.
“We have tons of testimonials, but when you’re sitting across from a neurologist they’re going to ask, 'Where’s the research?'” said Frieder, adding LearningRx corporate has beefed up this area recently. “They’ve done a great job in the last several years.”
He said that’s critical, because those neurologists, school counselors and others with a stake in a student’s progress are a major source of recommendations. Without strong data, they’re not going to send students to LearningRx. But equipped with strong data, Frieder said he’s gotten aggressive about working lunches with neurologists and other referral sources.
“I almost always hear, ‘Wow, this is great information,’” said Frieder. “I just don’t think that people are used to getting that kind of data and research.”
One final thing sets LearningRx distinctly apart from the rest of the education franchise segment: adult training.
Because it’s brain training, not tutoring, the same principles apply to the 12-year-old girl struggling with reading comprehension and the 47-year-old businessman who feels like he’s slipping a bit.
Training for victims as treatment of traumatic brain injuries, vocational training (which LearningRx is certified to do) and brain boosts like the one Frieder’s oldest client (95 years old) is doing are becoming a major source of growth.
“About 15 percent of the business is adults. Five years ago, it was 2 to 3 percent,” said Frieder.
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