Audrey Lim Tan is the owner and chief instructor of Kumon Tarlac, the biggest Kumon center in the province and one of the biggest in Central Luzon. From only 80 students when she took over, she has increased the number of enrolled students by an impressive 600% in a short span. Audrey shares her secret—which is not just to be a math and reading instructor, but also to be an instructor teaching children how to live. She shares her insights about choosing a business.
Question: You and your husband are owners of several businesses (hardware, office supplies). What made you decide to be franchisee of another, specifically Kumon in Tarlac?
Answer: I started Kumon by chance. It was never really part of my plan to franchise a Kumon Center until the existing instructor/ franchisee of the center in Tarlac relocated to Manila. Her sudden relocation was supposed to displace 80 Kumon students. And, seeing how the center has helped my children, I wanted to continue it for the other children as well.
After attending a Franchise Orientation, passing the exams and the interview, I formally took over the center in May 2005.
Education is one of the nobler businesses around because you invest heavily in people and training. I take comfort in the fact that I am investing my time and energy toward the future by nurturing students to become successful people who can effect positive change to Philippine society.
Q: What are the challenges of running a Kumon center?
A: When opening a Kumon Center, one first needs to have the passion for teaching and learning. Earning money should be secondary, because during the first few months of operations, you might even lose money.
Changing people's mindset was the greatest challenge. I am known as a business woman, not as a teacher. My only experience in teaching at that time was teaching my own children. I had to prove myself as a worthy replacement for the previous instructor.
People thought I took over Kumon because I saw it as a lucrative business. But I took over so that I could continue the academic edge Kumon give the children. Most parents expected things to remain the same. But the first thing I did was transfer the location of the center.
The initial center was situated inside a private school. It had been there for the past 9 years—since 1996. When I took over, I moved the center outside to a more central location. This made the center more accessible to students from other schools in the city.
The next challenge was Assistants' Training. The chief instructor needs to have assistants to help her in the center. Training and retaining good teachers is always a challenge. All my teachers are college graduates and LET Passers; therefore it is very difficult to compete with public schools in terms of salaries and benefits. However, I am blessed to have loyal teachers who have been with me since I opened in 2005. They constitute my core staff, and they have been trained very well. Through the years, I have expanded their work function and have empowered them to make decisions. I encourage them by allowing them to expand their borders and not dictate everything they do. They can also look forward to a promotion if they accomplish the Kumon worksheets themselves.
Increasing student number and retaining students are also challenging. It is important for a Kumon Center to have enough students to be able to pay for the monthly salary of the teachers, cost of electricity, water, rent, transportation, and other overhead expenses.
Q: How did you increase the number of your students in Kumon Tarlac? How is this versus standard?
A: Since I was a “takeover franchisee,” I started with 80 students in a 75-square meter space. After a year, my student number increased to 200. We moved to a 120-square meter area on our second year, and student number rose to 300 on our third year. On our 7th year, we moved to a 200-square meter area, and student number rose to 400 on our eighth year. Today, I have about 460 students, and we are considered one of the biggest centers in Central Luzon and the biggest center in the province.
Instruction, communication, and popularization (marketing) all play a key role in increasing student number. Students in Kumon are assessed according to their ability. We do not look at their age or grade level in school; they are given material according to their ability. As early as the first center day, we train the students the Kumon method of learning. Students start at a level they are comfortable in and afterwards advance beyond school grade level. This means that as long as the student follows the program, he or she will eventually tackle material not yet taught in his or her school. This makes them advanced students, which is the goal of Kumon.
We communicate with the parents constantly by informing them of their children's progress. They, in turn, also let us know how their children do the worksheets at home. That way, we can work together to help their children to progress in Kumon.
Aside from the usual marketing materials such as tarpaulins, flyers, and school visits, we rely heavily on word-of-mouth. If the parents see how well Kumon has helped their children improve, they will talk about it with their friends, even post their children's accomplishments in social media. This generates awareness and inquiries from non-Kumon parents and students.
Q: What is it in Kumon franchising that you don't get in your own business?
A: A Kumon Franchise is a service franchise. Unlike hardware or office supplies, where we have thousands of stock-keeping units and inventory that needs to be constantly monitored for theft, pilferage, damage, sales returns, etc., a Kumon Franchise inventory is much easier to manage as there is hardly anyone who wants to steal worksheets. Why would students want to steal worksheets when we can give them as many as they can answer?
We get a lot of support from the Head Office, Kumon Philippines, Inc., in terms of training and developing our assistants (teachers). The yearly free trial initiative for all Kumon Centers in the country is from the Head Office. This is where students get to try Kumon for two-weeks free of charge. We also receive marketing and promotional help from the Head Office in terms of advertisements in television programs and print ads in leading newspapers.
Q: In terms of product, what will students be missing if they don't take Kumon?
A: Kumon has many advantages, but here are three that I feel stand out:
1. Academic benefit
When a student is good in Math and Reading, he or she can spend more time reviewing for other subjects such as Science, Filipino, Social Studies, and the like. Also, he or she can easily cope with the lessons in school especially if he or she has already tackled them in Kumon.
2. Character development
Kumon does not just teach Math and Reading. Kumon, through the daily study of the worksheets (Kumon materials), also develops the child's character by teaching him or her to have good study habits. Kumon also develops a child's concentration skills, patience, discipline, and perseverance. Kumon teaches the child to set goals and to pursue them.
3. More career choices
Every parent wants the best for his or her children. And most parents would want their child to have a college education. Kumon prepares children as early as three years old to have more options in life. While it is true that not everyone wants to have a career in Math or English, the reality in the Philippine education system is that all college or university entrance examinations have Math and English questions. So, if a person is not skilled in either of the two subjects, he or she will definitely have a hard time entering the university of his or her choice.
Kumon gives that child the edge in terms of passing college or university exams and getting the course of his or her choice. Since Kumon students are trained to answer under time pressure with speed and accuracy, they can confidently hurdle exams with ease.
But like any learning method, one has to follow what the program prescribes. It is like enrolling in a gym, but not following what the gym instructor says in terms of training and diet. In the same way, if you want to be good in Math or Reading (or anything else), one must set aside time in their schedule to solve (for Math) or read (for reading) a little bit every day.
Learning Math and Reading is just like learning how to ride a bicycle. As parents and teachers, we do not ride the bike for our kids. Instead, we guide them and coach them until they can do it on their own. We stand beside them (if we have to) until they can go as far as they can. There will always be bumps, potholes, and humps along the way, but these are all part of the learning process.
Parents are our partners in this endeavour. Education and discipline really start at home. I always tell the parents, “kung di ninyo pagtiyatiyagaan ang anak ninyo, sino?" There is only so much we teachers can do for the child, the parent should also do his or her part. This is the reason we conduct parenting seminars regularly to empower parents to take an active role in their child's development and to not just rely on any teacher, tutor, school, or learning method.
Proverbs 22:6 states "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."
For complete transcript as well as interviews with other thoughtleaders, please log on to www.josiahgo.com.
JOSIAH GO is the chairman of Day 8 Business Academy for SMEs and Waters Philippines.