By Nancy E. Williams, Black Enterprise
Wendy Tilford is a wife, mother of two, and owner of three Huntington Learning Center franchises—two in Houston and one in Woodland Hills, California. It may seem like a lot to handle, but coming from a background in politics, she takes it in stride and isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Tilford began a career in Houston politics as a finance director, leading fundraising for a local candidate running for district attorney. She and the team raised over $1 million. She leveraged that experience to work in public policy for six years.
At a professional and personal crossroads, Tilford and her husband decided to invest in themselves and their family through business ownership. Coming from a long line of educators, they wanted a business that involved education and giving back to their community. Naturally, they were drawn to the Huntington Learning Center franchise.
Huntington was established in 1977 and serves K-12 students and families through academic skill building, subject tutoring, and exam prep. Huntington also provides services for individualized K-12 subject tutoring and study skills, in addition to specialized programs for ACT/SAT exam prep and students with ADHD, Tilford is proud to help students achieve their academic goals and develop into independent learners.
Tilford was surprised to learn that Huntington Learning Center had prime locations available in the Houston area and knew she couldn’t pass up on those opportunities. “We built the West University Place center from the ground up, by earning trust and growing a client base,” she says.
“That area was historically undeveloped, and when assessing potential locations, I recognized the potential and the lack of tutoring services offered to those students,” she says. Tilford explained that with a tutoring business, you need to be in an area where parents can afford to pay for additional resources in their child’s learning and development.
“We provide several financial options for parents, but it’s still an investment.”
The combination of accredited programs, strategic locations, and a talented staff of college-educated teachers and tutors have been a recipe for success. The West University Place center had a strong first year with $375K in revenue, and now in its third year, is on track to bring in over $600K. These numbers clearly exceed what most new owners accomplish in the first few years of business. What is Tilford’s secret to success?
“Taking the franchise formula and putting your own creative spin on it,” she says. “We’ve also done some risk-taking when it comes to marketing.” She also shared that she had to acknowledge her strengths and weaknesses as a leader. “I’m a ‘big picture’ type of person, so I had to hire people that were better at the day-to-day details and the numbers so I can focus on what I do best.”
Recognition from Huntington Learning Center’s Corporate Leaders
Tilford’s leadership and grit caught the attention of Huntington’s corporate leaders and she was asked to serve on the Franchise Advisory Council. While Tilford is not the first African American owner of a Huntington Learning Center franchise, she is the only one currently serving on the Franchise Advisory Council. In her short time with Huntington, she was awarded the 2017 Rising Star for outstanding first-year performance and was elected as president of the Greater Houston Huntington Co-Op that includes 14 centers. Tilford says, “Leading a group of business owners is challenging as we expand our marketing into radio and TV, but the rewards are great when you understand the community you serve and can speak directly to their needs.”
Tilford plans on focusing on the ambitious revenue goals set for two Houston centers over the next 18-24 months and then branch out to open additional locations.
This article originally appeared in Black Enterprise.