Lake Nona June 2015 - Steve

Even before he opened Mathnasium of Oviedo in June 2013, center owner Steve Massey (Oviedo & Lake Nona, FL) knew that he wanted to own more than one Mathnasium center. The opportunity to expand soon presented itself when Mathnasium of Lake Nona’s previous owner approached him in late 2013 with the intention of selling the struggling center. Steve took over operations at Mathnasium of Lake Nona in February 2014 and quickly found himself with his plate full as he worked to find a balance between growing a center in its first year of operations and breathing fresh life into another.

In retrospect, conditions seemed right. “Oviedo was doing well. We were very busy, and, at the time I decided to go through with purchasing Lake Nona, had close to $17,000 in revenues,” Steve recalls. Plus, Lake Nona was a territory ripe for growth, with many new developments springing up around the area. Once he assumed ownership of the Lake Nona center, however, Steve encountered many challenges. At that point, the center had about 35 students and had limited system alignment. “In many ways, taking over a second center was more challenging than opening my first one! It was a struggle, because none of the [HQ-recommended] processes I had in place at Oviedo were being followed,” he recalls. As an example, “All the PKs were being graded with percentages! That one really threw me for a loop!” In addition, “I would walk in to Lake Nona and look at these students—and it was like a library. They had no smiles on their faces.” Furthermore, program pricing was appallingly low: “I had students here paying as low as $119 per month for elementary!”

While Oviedo was thriving, Steve admits that he didn’t have a management structure in place to facilitate a smooth transition. He chose to remain at Oviedo and hired a Center Director to manage Lake Nona. The two centers were only a 30-minute drive away, so “I started to transition some of my good Instructors over from Oviedo into Lake Nona.” Things began to improve slightly, but with Oviedo on a steady growth trajectory and much to fix at Lake Nona (which continued to flounder), Steve still found himself overwhelmed and at an unfortunate stalemate. “I was so busy with Oviedo that I lost focus.”

Things turned around when Steve attended the 2014 Convention in Los Angeles last July and spoke with a franchisee in a similar situation. That conversation “opened my eyes,” he recalls. Steve realized that in between managing the day-to-day demands that came with managing one growing center while trying to salvage a struggling one, he had lost sight of an element critical to a successful center: “Having great people. You have to have the right people with the right attitude and the right personality.” He felt motivated to return home, “refocus efforts, and start spending more time at Lake Nona.”

Lake Nona June 2015 - Steve and Nicole

Steve’s overhaul of Lake Nona started with a fresh look at management and staffing. “I knew we needed the right people in order to be successful. I let my first Center Director go, and promoted one of my best Instructors at Oviedo, Nicole Shiery, to Assistant Center Director. She had been with me almost a year at that point, and she was able to take over the processes we had at Oviedo and implement them at Lake Nona. When I got her over to Lake Nona, things began to change quickly.”

Steve and Nicole started recruiting new staff, with the intention of phasing out less effective Instructors hired by the previous owner with those who were a better fit. “I really wanted to raise the bar with the hiring process,” Steve tells us. “I advertised at the University of Central Florida for Instructors. I spent more time interviewing candidates to make sure they had the right personalities.” Additionally, Steve and Nicole wanted to hire mathematically astute Instructors capable of supporting students across all grade levels. To that end, all candidates had to take the Higher Math Literacy Test in addition to the standard employment test. Soon, Mathnasium of Lake Nona had a new set of Instructors in place, with the exception of two exceptional staff members who made the cut. Steve leveraged his resources to speed up the onboarding process, bringing Instructors from Lake Nona to train at Oviedo “where they worked for a couple of weeks just to see how we were doing things over there. When they were done, we moved them back over to Lake Nona.”

At the same time, Steve and Nicole started getting Lake Nona up to speed in terms of systems and processes. “A lot of it was administrative, like making sure parent packs were printed out and ready to go; reorganizing the binders so all the PKs, Workout Books, and Mastery Checks were in order; and expanding center hours to accommodate more families. We also did away with scheduled student visits.” In addition, they reconfigured center layout to make for a more open and effective learning environment.

Lake Nona June 2015 - Smiling Student

Getting the right materials in front of students at the right time is absolutely critical to their progress—and overall experience—at Mathnasium. To that end, Steve and Nicole zeroed in on cleaning up the Assessment process at Lake Nona to make it as effective as possible, ensuring that students were taking the proper Assessment for their ability levels, and making the process as enjoyable and interactive as they could. Additionally, “Post-Assessments weren’t being done at all!” Steve tells us, so he and Nicole started administering Post-Assessments at appropriate intervals. To enhance the value of these reports, they rallied the entire team, calling on Instructors to provide qualitative feedback on top of measurable progress. Having these results provided an opportunity for Steve and Nicole to reach out to parents and, through meaningful feedback, keep them engaged in their kids’ progress at Mathnasium. “This was key, because there was minimal parent communication previously. All the parents would see was their child going in and coming out depressed.”

Then, Steve and Nicole started turning kids’ frowns upside down by stepping up the fun factor. Instructors—selected in part for their vibrant personalities—were encouraged to connect and build relationships with students. The center didn’t have a rewards cabinet, so Steve acquired one and stocked it full of toys, candy, and other treats guaranteed to motivate students. A new game table with a variety of center games was also a welcome addition. Then, “We started doing theme days like popcorn day, super hero day, pajama day, etc.”

Oviedo June 2015 - Summer Fun

With all these changes in gear and gaining traction rapidly, Steve felt that it was time to jumpstart marketing efforts throughout the summer to get new students in for back-to-school season. Previously, “I didn’t feel comfortable marketing, because the situation at Lake Nona was not up to par. Bringing in new students prior to July would have damaged the Mathnasium name. The way things were, [retaining students would have been difficult and] it would have been a revolving door. In fact, I’m sure the students who didn’t leave us [prior to these improvements] only stayed because of the inexpensive program fees. Plus, they were seeing some results.” Steve started advertising in local publications, sending out regular direct mail campaigns, and establishing Mathnasium’s presence at community events. When the 2014-2015 academic year started in September, “we started reaching out and forming Partners in Education collaborations with local schools.”

Steve didn’t have to wait long to see the fruits of his labor. Lake Nona’s revenue jumped from under $10,000 in July 2014 to over $17,000 in October 2014. With 95 enrolled students as of April 2015, the center’s been on a steady growth trajectory ever since. By December 2014, Steve felt comfortable enough about the quality education and service offered at Lake Nona to implement much-needed pricing adjustments that more accurately reflected our program’s value.

To show appreciation for students who remained enrolled throughout the first half of 2014 despite the lackluster learning environment, “for the most part, we honored all the deals that were in place prior to me coming on board. We didn’t raise prices on everyone—I didn’t want to rock the boat. However, there were students who were paying extremely low rates, and we worked with them to scale up over time.” While “we lost many of these older students, as they would exit, new ones would come in on the new pricing,” further fueling center growth. Steve reports that longtime students who decided to stay on are pleased with the new management. “They’re like, ‘Wow! This place has changed!’”

In retrospect, “the biggest problem was that I didn’t have enough time to spend at Lake Nona when I took over in February,” Steve tells us. “I should have had a Center Director in place at Oviedo so I could spend more time at my second center.” He also feels that he would have been better equipped to make necessary improvements at Lake Nona with a full year of operations at Oviedo under his belt. “When I think about it, I took over the second center without experiencing the spring-summer transition! With all those people leaving and new people coming in at my first center, I didn’t know what to expect. That first summer at Oviedo was still great (we started planning for it in January and February), but [investing the time and effort to navigate seasonal fluctuations like this] made it difficult to make changes I needed to make at Lake Nona.”

With both of his centers doing well and sales at Lake Nona on track to outpace Oviedo’s in a year’s time, Steve stays focused on growth. Over the next six months, “I’d like to increase sales, and continue to leverage best practices at both! Now, I’m finding that there are best practices that have taken root at Lake Nona that I’d like to move back over to Oviedo!” He credits Assistant Center Director Nicole for helping him lay the groundwork and driving the many initiatives that made these significant changes possible. “I feel that she and her incredible staff are fully responsible for our success at Lake Nona,” he says. “I’m just a facilitator!”

Of course, Steve remains grateful for the pivotal conversation at last year’s convention that encouraged him to revisit operations at Lake Nona and focus on staffing and instruction. “Looking back, I was too comfortable with the way things were going—even if they weren’t going well—probably because I was still so busy! That conversation was a huge piece of the puzzle that helped me make the changes I needed to make. Now, our numbers are double what they were last summer.” He encourages other center owners to stay committed to our core product by getting the right people on board to administer quality math education that meets the unique needs of each student. Bells and whistles aside, “If we make our students happy and show them that they’re learning and progressing, their confidence will go up and they’ll keep wanting to come to Mathnasium,” he concludes.

Steve hopes to open a third center in six months to a year.