SA Franchise Brands welcomes Masaki Tsuda, CEO and Franchisor for Kumon Education SA.
What inspired you to bring the Kumon Education franchise to South Africa?
Kumon’s mission is to bring Kumon to as many children as possible. Prior to opening the first Kumon Centre in South Africa, Kumon Japan had had many requests for Kumon to expand into other countries, and South Africa was one of them. The Kumon Institute of Education felt that the time was right, and based on our mission and the very clear demand for a strong extra-curricular programme we decided to begin operations in South Africa. Our mission as a company is to contribute positively to society through our programme, and South Africa, we felt that at this time, the society was mature enough to embrace the need for this programme. For us, expansion in South Africa happened in the right place at the right time.
What has been paramount to Kumon Education SA’s success since its inception in 1992?
Our Franchisees! The instructors who first started with Kumon started in such a different position to those who started the programme in Japan. No one here knew Toru Kumon or had seen the vision in action, but they found a true belief in the programme. Having such passionate and capable instructor’s right from the start has been a huge influence in how we work, and in the rapid expansion of the programme in South Africa. Our franchisees have devoted themselves to understanding the complex Kumon Method and to themselves furthering the Kumon Mission of influencing as many children as possible.
What challenges were you faced with in the early years?
Challenges both in the early years and up to today do remain somewhat the same. The concept of students studying above school grade, and even high school curriculum prior to high-school is often a foreign concept to many people. This is not something that could be considered a mainstream line of thought, and getting the public to understand the absolute value of our product is always a challenge, not only in South Africa, but worldwide.
The key thing for us is to have those strong Kumon Instructors who can and do commit themselves to Kumon, and each child who succeeds on the programme, advancing beyond grade level and now to international standards is an ambassador of what the Kumon programme can do for children and society.
Being a long-term programme also has its challenges. It is only over time that the value of the programme becomes apparent to parents and students.
To become a Kumon Instructor is to make a life choice. This is not something that you will do only for a few years, but rather for long periods of time. We already have instructors who have been with us for more than 20 years and we envisage that going forward there will be more and more who do the same.
The challenge in this comes that it is only through doing and understanding that you will really know if Kumon is right for you and if it is the life choice for you. We have an intensive application and recruitment process which includes a lot of training both in and out of Centre, but the only way you will really acquire the conviction in the value of our service is by actually being a Kumon Instructor, working with the students, through the Kumon Method and seeing the results.
With more than 200 franchisees nationwide, how has your franchise model worked in favour of the group?
There are many competitors out there, but we have found that for someone who is interested in furthering the development of children, either an educator or someone who has interest in education, Kumon gives a viable alternative to being a teacher. There is some flexibility in the role, but more importantly, the goals of Kumon are to contribute to society, and so our Franchisees are doing that every day.
As a Franchisor we also have an extremely solid background. Being the world’s largest supplementary education provider does give us a unique position in the market. We are tried and tested, both in our Franchising operations and the programme. Someone coming on board with Kumon knows that they have the back up of an internationally recognised and respected brand.
What are some of the attributes required from franchisees?
For me it is all about the passion. A Kumon franchisee is passionate about education and developing children far beyond levels expected of them by society. A Kumon Instructor needs to be flexible in the way that they think, and one of our motto’s is “always something better” which is something a Kumon Instructor needs to embody, so they need to be ready and willing to always learn new approaches to their work. You also need to put in continual effort. This is a not a business where you put in some effort at the beginning and then reap the rewards. The rewards of Kumon come to you every day in Centre with your students, and continual input and effort is required of the Franchisee to keep up with this.
How would you describe the overall relationship between the group and its franchisees?
Overall, we do have a strong and productive relationship with our Franchisees. Once a person comes on board with Kumon, and has identified with the programme there is a common feeling between us as the Franchisor and we are all working together for the greater good of our students. We often refer to Kumon as a family and the franchisee franchisor relationship is a key part of that family. Overall, our Franchisees know that we are as invested in their Centre’s success as they are and that contributes to the strength of our relationship.
What kind of training and support can franchisees expect?
Kumon offer and expect our Franchisees to take part in numerous training activities. We are a learning, growing organisation and a huge part of that is training our franchisees. Even before being officially approved as a Kumon Franchisee you will attend 9 days of training and in your first year of operation there is an additional 9 days of training. It doesn’t end there though. We have various workshops, study groups, meetings and conferences all designed to keep all of our Franchisees up to date with the Kumon method and their product – The Kumon Way. All of our training is included in the monthly royalties paid to Kumon and we do not expect further payments from our franchisees. What we want is for our franchisees to dedicate themselves to all of the learning and growing opportunities presented by Kumon.
Which factors are paramount for sustained future growth within the group with specific reference to its present and future franchisees?
Kumon needs to continue to be an organisation who strive to change all the time, who are always open to learning and development and we need to keep our vision of influencing as many children as possible in our minds at all time. That, along with dedicated Kumon Instructors is what will ensure that the growth we have already experienced continues and is sustainable.
Where to from here and into the future?
We have recently taken the next step in the progression of Kumon as a brand, both in South Africa and world-wide. The business model has been revised to promote a more professional look and feel for our Kumon Centres, which in turn links to the ability to have centres which are even more successful. Any Kumon Centres opening from 2013 onwards will have to agree to and work with the requirements of this business model, which means that the Centre needs to operate from a permanent venue, be well branded and professional and the Instructor needs to be committed to it full time. Although we are not expecting our current franchisees to revise their operations immediately, we do anticipate that over time, we will see this permanent professional image reflected in all of our Centres.