In this exclusive Q&A, we will be learning more about Huntington Learning Center, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, from co-founders Ray and Eileen Huntington.
Franchise Chatter (FC): 40 years – wow! How does it feel to be celebrating such a milestone anniversary?
Eileen Huntington (EH): We are incredibly proud to have reached 40 years as the leader in the tutoring and test prep industry. It’s been 40 wonderful years of working with students from kindergarten through high school on basic skills, high level math and science, and prep for standardized tests including the SAT and ACT.
It’s rewarding to know that over the last 40 years we’ve helped so many thousands of students of all ages and abilities learn the skills confidence and motivation they need to succeed. This is our mission – to give every student the best education possible.
I started out as a junior high and high school teacher in the New York City and New Jersey public schools. I opened the first Huntington Learning Center in 1977 with my husband, Ray, after I observed that many of my students had difficulty with basic writing, reading, or math skills.
Ray was working in business research at the time. He brought his business acumen to the new company, while I was focused on the educational end of the business.
After that first learning center and that first summer, we knew we were on to something special. The demand was there, right from the start.
Ray Huntington (RH): By 1985, we had opened 18 learning centers, all from cash flow, and were debt free. Based on this, we knew we had a concept we could expand through franchising. We started franchising in 1985 with the vision of striving for world class student results and franchisee profitability.
The company has grown from one center to nearly 300 centers from coast to coast. While we’ve received numerous awards and accolades over the past 40 years, our greatest joy is knowing that we’ve changed so many students’ and parents’ lives.
Eileen and I are both still involved in running the business and we’re so pleased to have our daughter, Anne, taking a leadership role as well.
FC: What is Huntington’s “secret sauce,” what makes you special and why have you been around so long?
EH: Our key competitive advantage is simple – we produce results for students and our franchisees. With our individualized instruction and diagnostic-prescriptive approach, on average Huntington students increase one or more grade levels, respectively, in reading and math over a three-month period. Average SAT scores increase 200 points after a two-and-a-half month program, while ACT scores increase an average of four points.
When I see the excitement on the faces of our students when they realize they can do it – there is no greater reward. And we hear from parents all the time telling us how we’ve changed the lives of their children and their families. Plus Huntington has helped many thousands of students get into their dream schools and obtain millions of dollars in scholarships. We are really able to change their futures!
Our results have been substantiated by many third-party studies, including those on behalf of the Chicago Public School System; the Los Angeles Unified School District; Cleveland, Ohio; the Indiana Department of Education; the state of Kentucky; and the Ohio Department of Education.
Financially, our franchisees outperform every competitor, with average revenue over 60% greater than our nearest competitor!
There are many other reasons: Huntington has the most seasoned management team in the business. Our centers are accredited with certified teachers. We offer a training and coaching program that is second to none, so our franchisees have the support they need to succeed. This includes franchisee training at headquarters and in corporate-owned centers, a full-time marketing department, and an expertly-staffed call center. And we have so much faith in the Huntington franchise system that we stand behind it by making easy in-house financing available.
Our proprietary, superior technology helps our franchisees maximize effectiveness and minimize costs. And we remain a family-owned and operated business.
FC: Technology has changed a lot in the past 40 years – how does Huntington incorporate it?
RH: We have embraced and incorporated technology in our business as a tool to help both our students and our franchisees and their staff. Our most recent example is our Navigator, part of our Digital Teaching Platform. Navigator is the latest in our suite of web-based software which we call eCenter.
eCenter is proprietary technology that helps differentiate Huntington from other tutoring and test prep organizations and is enhancing our already-strong student outcomes and accelerating the revenue gap between us and our competitors. It helps increase student performance, improve communication between teachers and staff and between staff and parents, and reduce the teacher learning curve.
We’ve also incorporated an online learning program in our centers, to provide students with engaging, individualized math and reading instruction.
FC: Realistically how much capital is required to go from start up to making money and what’s the time frame?
RH: The estimated startup cost is $110,000 to $225,000. To get a center up and running generally takes around 6 months. If the franchisee follows the system, does the marketing, and gets the word out in the community, he or she can make money very quickly.
At Huntington, our franchise model is designed to keep expenses low so that franchisees can achieve early profitability. Several years ago we revamped our franchise model to reduce start-up costs and minimize both fixed and variable on-going costs.
The model features (a) phased-in test prep services in the franchise’s first two years of operation to help new franchisees learn the business; (b) a flexible, part-time staffing model; (c) tiered center hours in the franchise’s first three years of operation, as franchisees build their businesses; (d) expanded location options, including a lower square-footage requirement and more non-retail location choices; and (e) phased-in marketing costs to reduce upfront operating costs.
This model has been very well-received and continues to drive growth of the franchise business today. The past few years have seen acceleration in the number of individuals who choose to become Huntington franchisees.
FC: Where do you see Huntington going in the next 40 years?
EH: We will continue to stay true to our mission, which is to give every student the best education possible. When we put the student first, we know everything else will continue to fall into place.
We know that the U.S. is lagging behind many other industrialized nations in terms of education. A 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study showed that 15-year-old students in the U.S. ranked just 24th out of 72 educational systems in average reading literacy and only 40th in math literacy.
Huntington will continue to be there to meet that need.
RH: We see a bright future for Huntington! The need for supplemental education and the desire of parents to prioritize their kids’ education will expand. Our franchise business will continue to grow domestically along with this increased demand, enabling current and new franchisees to own and operate a business that is both financially and personally rewarding.
We will continue to strengthen the Huntington brand, utilizing both traditional and digital and social media. We will remain a privately-held, family-run business, with our daughter Anne representing the next generation. And we will continue to invest in technology to provide the right tools to our franchisees to be successful in delivering outstanding student results now and into the future.