Before becoming a Kumon Instructor, Paulo Alaynes didn’t have a background in business. He hadn’t been a teacher. But he did have a passion for education and learning.
That’s why he and his mother moved last year from Ontario to open the Kumon Centre of Esquimalt, which was nestled in the small community on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. They researched other education companies but didn’t find them suitable for what they were looking for. They didn’t want to own just any franchise.
“From a general consumer perspective, it’s quite an investment if you are getting into any franchise,” he says. “If you’re getting into a McDonald’s or a Tim Hortons, you’re talking lots of money up front.
“But Kumon isn’t like that,” he adds. “It’s low cost. Besides the rental space, there’s little to invest. They have the reimbursement for flooring and paint. That’s about 95% of what I paid. And then there’s your rent and the franchise fee. That’s about it.”
About the time Alaynes was finalizing plans for his own learning centre in December, snowbanks piled high around the shopping centre’s parking lot where it would soon stand. He signed his paperwork to rent a small retail space that would eventually become the Kumon Centre of Esquimalt.
Getting that space transformed from a former hair salon to a suitable classroom would be the start of his entrepreneurial education that would teach him many lessons about opening a new business and building a customer base.
Kumon wasn’t exactly unknown to Alaynes. He grew up around it.
“My older sister and mom worked part time at a local centre when I was about 9 years old,” he says. “My aunt in Brazil also ran a centre out of her home.”
When the timing for opening his own centre came, it just worked out.
“After graduating from Western University with a bachelor’s degree in management, I began to travel to British Columbia and teach English online after taking a teaching course from the University of Toronto school of continuing studies,” he says. “Then, I went to Brazil to play soccer and continued teaching English.”
When he returned to Ontario, the pandemic was peaking, and the employment market was challenging. He worked several jobs that broadened his professional experience, including stints as an educational assistant, digital marketer and working alongside a friend who owned a pool maintenance business and had built it from the ground up.
Those professional influences helped prepare him to go into business for himself as a Kumon Instructor.
Following is a diary of his journey.
The start of his centre’s interior buildout was delayed because of Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
It was the first of many challenges he would face in the coming months. The original site he had hoped to secure was nearly half the price. But it turned out the facility wasn’t structurally suitable.
“When I got there, the structure of the building was not doing well,” he says. “The Realtor told me, ‘This roof is going to go.’ I was surprised. It was an amazing price, but the building was not in great shape.”
But the dusty space he eventually selected started to take shape in early 2023. He had signed his franchise agreement. Painters and carpeting had been scheduled while he was waiting on the property managers to get the centre’s HVAC issues sorted out and repaired.
There were also some minor changes to his center’s layout plan which meant altering his budget, which was a concern because they weren’t open and didn’t have any income coming in yet.
“We can do it, but we don’t have any enrollments,” he said. “When you’re only spending, your concern is how long is this going to go on. You don’t want to be stagnant and not making money. It creates an unsettled feeling.”
That feeling, he knew, would be there as they ventured into building the centre. But it was offset by the growing interest of the surrounding community as buildout commenced. Throughout the process of setting up the centre, strangers would stop to see what was coming and Alaynes was looking forward to having something to show them. These were also opportunities to start creating awareness about his business. It gave him reassurance that his investment would pay off soon.
In the months that followed, the centre would quickly take shape. Signage arrived, along with the furniture. Painting was finished and the carpet was installed. Finally, it looked like a professional classroom.
Alaynes proudly hung his framed college diploma on the wall. Following his business plan, it was time to officially begin meeting with parents.
At first, the conversations at parent orientations were challenging because he found it difficult to get them to understand the Kumon Method and the dedication it takes to work through the process. But he was confident the method was one the community could benefit from and looked forward to his first students.
The centre opened in February with four students on the roster and Alaynes was working six days a week to meet the needs of his customers. But he also wanted to consolidate his schedule and get more organized – something he saw as an area in which he could improve.
He also started making inroads within the community – something that’s difficult in winter months and around holidays – and soon began coaching soccer on a volunteer basis. While it’s something he loves, he also knew it would help build relationships within the community as his centre grew.
Alaynes knew he needed balance in his personal life. Scheduled to work on building the business Mondays through Saturdays, he took time for himself on Sundays for leisure.
“I grew up in a household where it was normal to work seven days a week,” he says. “So, this really isn’t anything new to me. On Sundays I’m able to get together with family or recharge alone.”
On the business side, Alaynes continued to connect with parents as his enrollment grew – slowly but steady. He added staff to help with the new business and began to generate more income.
Heading into the summer months, he had about 30 enrollments. By the end of the season, that number had grown to about 50 and he expected more to arrive as school came back into session in September.
Through this initial stretch of his new business, Alaynes has persevered as a business owner, worked through frustrations and celebrated learning victories with students.
“I think that, for me, is probably the biggest positive, that students can recognize, through time, their own capabilities and what they're willing to do,” he says. “Sometimes they need to go two steps forward, one step back, so they can try something new and kind of see for themselves. It's giving me so much opportunity to learn from parents and learn from children and learn from the Kumon Method and become more independent.”