Young franchisee Trisha Dosaj Makarov makes the grade with Oxford Learning Centres

Though Trisha Dosaj Makarov had been with Oxford Learning for eight years, she was just 34 years old when she was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. It was March 2015, and Dosaj Makarov, the then Education Director at the Richmond Hill Oxford Learning Centre, was at a training retreat. Being inspired by others working in the industry left Dosaj Makarov wondering what could be next for her with the company. At a break in the presentations, Oxford Learning COO Lenka Whitehead approached her. “Have you ever thought of running your own centre?” Whitehead asked. “We have one in your area [Brooklin, Ontario] that we think you’d be perfect for.”

“That’s when the wheels started spinning,” says Dosaj Makarov. It was great to see that her hard work and passion had paid off, she thought, but could she make this happen? She was young, with a young daughter at home. How would her family feel about her running a business? Would they be behind her? “You go through all of these things because it’s a big step, a big risk. It’s great to have your own company, but there’s so much risk and responsibility that comes with it.”

Dosaj Makarov called her husband later that day, and he was completely on board. Eventually, she was, too. Young or not, she knew she had the experience to make it work. Five months later, she took possession of Oxford Learning Brooklin, which, like the other 140-plus centres across Canada, the U.S., the Bahamas, and the Middle East, provides supplemental education to preschoolers, post-secondary students, and everyone in between.

From teacher to franchisee

The story of how Dosaj Makarov became a franchisee isn’t as simple as just making the choice, of course, and really began about eight years before opening day.

Even with a teaching degree, a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was, like many new teachers, struggling to find full-time work with a school board. So, in 2007, she applied to become Oxford Learning Richmond Hill’s full-time Little Readers teacher, and got the job. A year later, she was promoted to the position of Education Coordinator, and a year after that became the Education Director at Richmond Hill.

“I stayed because I saw the results,” she says. “I saw how we were helping the children. I saw how doing the assessments and then the programming and the teaching, how it led to students being able to learn, pick up information, get better grades, be better students.”

Oxford Learning has been trying to deliver those results since the mid-1980s, and today serves about one million students worldwide. At the 116 Canadian franchises, students and parents can choose from nine programs that range from reading skills workshops for three- to six-year-olds, to a French program for those in grades one to twelve, to SAT and ACT prep courses for university-bound students.

What ties all of these programs together and sets Oxford Learning apart from other supplemental education centres out there is that the instructors focus on teaching kids how to learn, says Lenka Whitehead. “So we focus on identifying why they’re not doing well in school, and what the issues behind that might be. And then we build a program that’s built on that research.”

To join Oxford Learning as a franchisee, age doesn’t matter. But potential franchisees do need a net worth of at least $250,000, and $25,000 to $50,000 of available working capital. They also need to have a passion for education and a passion for making a difference in young people’s lives. According to those within the organization, Dosaj Makarov has plenty of both, and it’s been those passions that have carried her through her rise up the Oxford Learning ladder.

The first year

What’s also carried Dosaj Makarov through her rise, particularly in her first year in business, is her openness to learning different ways of making the centre better, says Amy Baldwin, a Franchise Performance and Growth Manager at Oxford Learning. “And that’s especially great from a marketing perspective, because it’s not one size fits all. You have to be willing to go out and try different things until you find what works. She does that.”

That openness extends to Oxford Learning’s training program, as well. Since Dosaj Makarov wasn’t new to the company, she didn’t need to complete the full program, which includes three weeks of intense training on Oxford Learning’s education system and business practices. But once she took possession of the Brooklin franchise, she did need the ongoing support people like Amy Baldwin provided.

From helping set up the operation to suggesting goals for growth to creating a community marketing plan, Baldwin and the corporate team were available to lend a hand at every step. “They’re always available because they want you to be successful,” says Dosaj Makarov. “If you’re successful, the company is also successful.”

Dosaj Makarov’s passion and openness have paid off. When she took over the Brooklin franchise, there were three employees. Now there are 10 staff members running five programs, including the French program that she introduced soon after arriving. “I look at my numbers on a daily basis,” she says, “and I can see that our enquiries are up, I can see that my enrollments are up. Basically everything is up.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that she hasn’t faced her fair share of challenges. One has been trying to change the perceptions of some older parents and clients who, because of her age, think she must not have the experience necessary to run a franchise. But now that she’s learned to explain that she’s been with Oxford Learning since 2007 and has progressed through the company, she finds that most doubters turn to believers.

Lessons learned

Dosaj Makarov has learned plenty of other lessons as a young franchisee, too, which can be applied not just to Oxford Learning and other young franchisees, but to anyone with a new franchise.

One is how important it is to be present in your business. “Especially when you’re starting it,” she says. “You need to be hands on and part of everything. You can’t ever take for granted that your employees know what to expect or know what to do.”

Dosaj Makarov has also found that it’s crucial to reach out to other franchisees for answers to questions, and to use the system that’s provided. Franchise companies spend a lot of time and money figuring out what works, she says, so you have to trust that the system works and that you can reach out for support from corporate when you need it.

Maintaining a strong presence in her community has also helped grow Dosaj Makarov grow her business. She’s a member of her local Rotary club, a volunteer with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and a member of a ladies networking group. “I love doing that, and by getting out in the community, you make your business known,” she says. “Maybe somebody doesn’t need you today, but maybe next week they do or their cousin does. And because they know you, they’ll trust you.”

Most importantly, though, what every potential franchisee needs is a passion for the type of business they’re getting into. Young or not, Dosaj Makarov probably wouldn’t have had the courage to jump at Lenka Whitehead’s offer in March 2015 if she didn’t believe in the power of education and the potential of the Oxford Learning model. “If you don’t have that passion, it’s going to show, and then you’re not going to help anyone,” she says.  “I love what I do; I’m very passionate. I wouldn’t have bought my own franchise had I not believed in Oxford Learning and what we do on a daily basis.”