How 2 Learning Franchises Switched to Virtual Lessons
Bette Fetter, founder and CEO of Young Rembrandts, with a couple of her artist students. In one week's time, her team switched the in-person lessons to virtual and rolled them out to franchisees.
TheCoderSchool, where coaches teach kids how to write computer code, used to conduct its sessions in person. Same for Young Rembrandts, which helps people learn how to draw. Both had to pivot quickly when shutdown orders starting hitting mid-March.
"The transition was very much thrown upon us," said Wayne Teng, co-founder of theCoderSchool, about the spread of COVID-19. "Just like the whole world, right? We were watching it, it was remote, in Asia, then a little less remote. Then when it started creeping over, we started getting very prepared."
The franchise was "lucky in a way," in that tutoring kids to code lends itself to transfer online.
"As it got closer, there were definitely sleepless nights and trying out almost every single web conferencing platform out there. We were able to do a lot of testing and be prepared for it."
He said rolling out online lessons to all 50 locations took a three-pronged approach: No. 1, vetting and selecting the platform; No. 2, documenting the steps; and No. 3, "the communication part was massive."
TheCoderSchool used Facebook Workspace to hold training sessions with franchisees and answer questions. He believes after the pandemic, the franchise will use a "hybrid" model, combining both in-person lessons and online.
"The online virtual code coaching, we had to give birth to it; there was no choice. And once it was born, we're using it and using it well. It's also product-izing itself," he said.
TheCoderSchool sells monthly subscriptions that range from $119 for a larger group of students to the low to middle $200s for two kids with one code coach.
Bette Fetter started Young Rembrandts on a simple premise: one teacher helping students learn to draw while physically together. When schools closed and sent children home, a couple of corporate staff and a few franchisees floated the idea of virtual lessons.
"At first I was hesitant—for about three minutes, just thinking that's not our brand. I want kids OFF the screens." But she soon realized, "this is a great opportunity to still keep teaching and still drive revenue."
Fetter's adult son, the company's videographer, ended up sheltering in place at the family home. The video studio formerly set up in company headquarters moved into her basement, along with the education department.
"We had a call, we talked about it, and by that Friday or Saturday we were filming our first lesson," starring Fetter.
For her, it was a sweet return to the early days, before the system grew and she became CEO. "I love teaching, and I love being with kids and so it's been really sweet. When I'm filming, I really focus on, like I'm talking to one child."
She said whole families in some cases are taking the recorded lessons on demand, and sending in pictures they've drawn, marveling at how long their kids stayed engaged with the activity.
Lessons cost about $10 each, and families pay for a six- to 10-week season's worth of classes. Revenue has dropped off "a little bit," she said, especially as some families' income has dropped as well.
Based in Elgin, Illinois, Young Rembrandts has 102 units and began franchising in 2001. Total investment is $40,000, with $100,000 in net worth required.
Mohini Joshi, owner of a Young Rembrandts franchise in Michigan, wrote about receiving "nothing but positive response from my families…They are being very receptive and I am so, so optimistic that this all is going to be behind us and we will be holding in-person classes in no time."