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Scholars franchisee Sarah Sturino shares why it’s never too late to take the leap into franchising

By Kym Wolfe

“Almost daily, I think: I wish I had bought a business like this 20 years ago!” says Sarah Sturino, owner of Scholars in Oakville West, Ontario. Instead, Sturino spent more than 20 years working as a schoolteacher, a background that she says is valuable—but not a requirement—for successfully operating a tutoring franchise.

In addition to teaching, Sturino has run a small Women’s Wellness Business for the past 10 years. When she thought about developing a full-time alternative to teaching, she recognized franchising as a comfortable way to go into business with limited entrepreneurial experience.

“I prefer to be my own boss, and I’m very creative, but being entrepreneurial requires a different mindset,” she says. Sturino also values the structure and guidance that a franchise system provides. Why Scholars? “It’s Canadian, based on Ontario’s curriculum, and their vision aligns with mine: to deliver individualized, relevant, and creative learning opportunities to students.” She also wanted a brick-and-mortar business so that she could observe the work she and her team complete in person.

Sturino purchased an existing Scholars location in July 2021, and for most of the time during her first eight months of ownership, she was on the Top 10 Leaderboard for Scholars franchisees. In part, she credits being in a good location. “We’re in an incredibly busy plaza, with one elementary and one high school in walking distance and other schools in the area. It’s a very visible location, and we have a lot of walk-ins.”

Sturino also raises awareness through her personal social media platforms on an ongoing basis, supplementing the marketing that Scholars uses to promote its tutoring services.

Satisfied families are also generating many word-of-mouth referrals. This is the type of business where parents want to meet the owner, and Sturino spends a good chunk of her time communicating with them, answering questions, and providing reassurance. “They’re entrusting you with their children’s education,” she notes.

The importance of time and care

 One key to success is having a passion for teaching and helping families advocate for their children as they navigate the education system. “Education shouldn’t be cookie-cutter,” says Sturino, and what she most appreciates about the Scholars model is its assessment-based approach, with learning plans based on each student’s strengths and gaps. While the program uses pen-and-paper worksheets, it also incorporates hands-on activities using interactive and educational games, and Sturino’s franchise has a huge shelf full of educational games that are constantly being played.

As much as she loves the flexibility and feeling of empowerment, Sutrino explains, “I’m not sure anyone can be prepared for the initial stress of business ownership, and unexpected expenses when you’re not getting a regular pay cheque.” As a Scholars franchisee, she values being connected to others who own the same business, can answer any questions, and assist with problem solving. “It’s refreshing to network with like-minded people to create a community education hub.”

Sturino has also surrounded herself with the right people at her own location to help her grow. “It’s important to do extensive research and find a good lawyer, accountant, and others that can assist you with the research and start-up. If you’re purchasing an existing business, be present during the inspection process. Bring the right team of workers on board. You look at people through a different lens when you’re hiring for your own business. Do they share my philosophy? One of my goals is that kids want to be here, and finding the right people is key.”

It’s also important to understand family dynamics, she says, and the competing demands for time that most families are juggling. “Scheduling and logistics was one of the most overwhelming parts of my work here initially.” Being a mom herself, Sturino understands that other after school activities and sports might lead to the need for a make-up session or a schedule adjustment, and she tries to accommodate those requests as much as possible.

While Sturino has some regrets that she didn’t jump into full time entrepreneurship at an earlier age and put her time, energy, and creativity into growing her own business over the years, she also recognizes that running a Scholars wouldn’t have been practical when her son was younger because of the hours—not only because the business operates after school and on weekends, but also because starting any business requires a huge daily time commitment. “I was working 12-hour days for the first few months,” she recalls, noting that she’s thankful that now that she has good staff in place, so she doesn’t have to be there every Saturday as she did initially. 

Based on her own journey, she says to others who are considering franchising: “You’re never too old to change paths!”