Taking early retirement after more than three decades of working in the Lawton, OK, public school system didn’t mean that Howard and Jo Jean Johnson were ready to slow down. They dreamed of starting a business that would fill a need in the community and provide them with a successful career change. The ideal solution was to open a franchise of Sylvan Learning Centers, the world’s leading provider of supplemental education services to primary and secondary school students.
The first task for the Johnsons was convince Sylvan’s corporate officials in Baltimore that Oklahoma’s third largest city qualified for a franchise. “Sylvan’s demographic review indicated that Lawton was indeed a viable location for its third Oklahoma Learning Center,” Howard says. “It was up to Jo Jean and me to make it happen.”
Having worked with community education during his years as a school administrator, Howard knew all about SCORE and the valuable services the organization provides to new entrepreneurs. But he was in for a surprised when he called SCORE’s Lawton Chapter. “The man who picked up the phone turned out to be Vic Yarborough, my family’s next-door neighbor when I was growing up,” Howard says with a smile. “He and his colleagues would a tremendous help in getting us started.”
More than four years after contacting SCORE, the Lawton Sylvan Learning Center serves approximately 150 students each month with after-school help reading and math, as well as other academic needs. In terms of revenue, the Johnsons’ franchise ranks among the leading 35 percent of Sylvan’s more than 900 Learning Centers in North America, putting the couple more than halfway on the road to repaying their bank loan. They also purchased a new building that gives them an additional 1,500 square feet of much-needed space for their growing business.
The Johnson’s still call on SCORE occasionally when a question arises about management or finances. Howard is also pleased that his search for a new business advisor reconnected him with an old family friend. “I was so happy when Vic stopped by recently to tour our new building,” he says. “The expert, caring help he and his colleagues at SCORE provided was absolutely essential to our success. They have been helpful from the get-go.”
Vic Yarborough, a retired executive with Halliburton Services, immediately enrolled the Johnsons in several seminars that provided advice on banking, legal issues and zoning. As with most of new enterprises, though, the big issue was money. “Vic put us in touch with a bank and helped us prepare the business plan for the loan application,” Howard says. “That led to an SBA-backed loan that we used to pay the franchise fee, lease a building, do the build-out, purchase equipment, meet city zoning requirements and meet our other start-up costs.”