An interview with Lex Baker, Director of New Business Development at Wall Street English.
Wall Street English adapted its business model during the pandemic crisis to address how the market was evolving. Their Director of New Business Development reflects on the business’s successes and where it goes from here.
Wall Street English has, for the last 50 years, been at the forefront of English language learning. A pioneer of the blended learning methodology, the company had already piloted its custom-built digital classroom facility through 2018-2019. As the Covid pandemic spread, the company accelerated its deployment, adding a central teaching facility to guarantee uninterrupted service to its clients. Now, Wall Street English has adapted its operating model and runs both online classrooms and center-based services.
Wall Street English is well positioned in today’s market. Its enhanced ability to deliver online learning and its unique and truly hybrid learning experience means that the company is poised to gain more market share.
In this interview, Lex Baker, Director of New Business Development, shares his insights into Wall Street English. In particular, how the company reacted to the pandemic, how it’s emerging from it, and how he sees the future of the organization.
1. For those who don’t know your company, could you explain who Wall Street English is and what sets you apart from other players?
We’re a provider of adult English language training courses delivered across a franchise network of over 320 centers in 31 countries. We’ve been helping people learn English since 1972. We know that by supporting their learning, we make a real difference. Whether it’s finding their first job, earning a promotion, or making new friends and networking, we’re right there with them.
Learning a new skill can be a challenge to anyone, especially a busy adult, so our approach is different. We give our students flexible access to their course and they choose when and how they want to study. Their course is well structured with clear content and learning goals so they can see their progress. Our teaching staff is always there to help, providing expert guidance, support, and motivation, and making sure our students learn and enjoy themselves.
Our courses combine self-paced online modules with teacher-led classes. This is our blended or flipped learning model. And this sets us apart. Our students learn English and we guarantee it.
For investors, the blended model ensures both operational efficiency and profitability. We’re able to make better use of staffing and floor space compared to other players in the market without sacrificing quality. And, our upgraded business model now means we’re able to further improve the cost base, diversify our client base, and enter new markets more quickly and easily.
Obviously, we rely on product innovation and technology, investing heavily in our in-house teams to continuously fine-tune our products and platforms. We believe that this commitment to edtech makes our business highly attractive for investors looking to add an education company to their portfolio. On top of that, our plug-and-play franchise concept helps them start quickly and grow fast.
2. How has Wall Street English responded to the impact of the pandemic? Could you explain how you supported your franchisees, how you adapted your services, and the ways your business innovated?
We focused on three key areas to minimize disruption. First, we wanted to safeguard the franchisee businesses with a quick response that kept services running for our learners. The deployment of our digital classroom was a great success. For example, in February 2020, we had just 1% of our students learning online but that jumped up to over 80% by April. And considering we’re talking about an overall population of 120,000 students, that’s really remarkable. Now, all our students have the choice to take classes online and/or in their centers.
Secondly, we worked closely with our franchise network to ensure business continuity. We introduced a cost-sharing principle for our new digital platforms to set a foundation for a new, streamlined operating model. We also created online marketing and sales capabilities, helping franchisees generate new revenues outside of their centers.
Thirdly, by giving students the choice between studying online, in-center, or a combination of both, we evolved our proposition to learners. And we didn’t stop there. We used the data on our learner’s study habits to rethink our center layout model and to get the job done better and more cost effectively.
Finally, we created a centralized teaching service, the Global Online Center. This resolves the challenges caused by centers that were forced to remain closed due to local pandemic restrictions. Students now have even greater flexibility of class schedules, and more choice and accessibility due to this global network. In other words, we’ve now got an even more adaptable, cost-efficient, and resilient operating model that delivers a more flexible and effective experience for our students.
3. How have your students and franchisees responded to the changes through the crisis? How well have the learners reacted to your proposition?
For everyone, whether at Wall Street English or elsewhere, it’s been incredibly tough. Our focus was first and foremost the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff. We moved quickly to incorporate online learning and teaching, as well as virtual working, to ensure everyone could continue studying and working safely. We learned together and shared best practices to support the franchise businesses. I’ve no doubt that process has brought us all closer together. And our 2021/22 results prove all the hard work, resilience, and commitment were worth it.
With our new solutions in place, we’re delighted to see many partners performing so well. We’re confident we’ll outperform pre-COVID financials progressively over the next two quarters. And, what’s really important is that we’re better equipped than ever for future growth. We’re already seeing clear signs of increased market share in some of our key markets, and that’s very encouraging.
As for the learner experience, our latest network-wide customer survey in September shows our loyalty and overall customer satisfaction have increased to record levels. Learners are happier than ever about the teaching staff and flexibility of class booking. Maybe the most exciting thing is to hear our students expressing great enthusiasm for the new Global Online Classroom: a learner from Milan can participate to the same class as others based in Buenos Aires, Riyadh, or Seoul.
4. Now that you’re offering a hybrid learning approach to your customers, what opportunities have arisen out of the pandemic for investors?
Clearly, we’ve dramatically increased our addressable market. Our new hybrid learning model means we can cater to learners living outside of our center catchment areas, and reach a wider audience sooner than with center-based development.
In addition, this evolved concept enables learners to switch easily between online and in-center classes based on their choice. This ability to deliver the same progressive learning program independent of how the student accesses their course is a very strong differentiator in the market, and attractive to business clients as well as individuals.
Our unique offering combined with a more streamlined operating model makes for an exciting investment opportunity.
5. Reflecting on these last months, what would you say have been your greatest achievements?
I’d say that we’re most proud of retaining the loyalty of our students. Their continued determination to learn is truly inspiring. Learning English makes a difference to their lives. They trusted us to adapt and support them through the pandemic. Together we’ve transformed to build a new way to access learning, to engage with one another, and to speak better and more confidently in English. That’s quite an achievement.
Secondly, I commend our franchise network as it’s been a true partnership. We’ve collaborated to adapt our model not only to sustain the business through the pandemic but also to build the foundations for greater market share. It’s the determination and commitment of our franchise partners combined with our management team’s expertise and efforts that have underpinned the transformation of our organization.
After the last couple of years, it’s quite humbling to see our student enrollments increase each month. Sharing our partners’ excitement as they expand their businesses, whether in Italy, France, Indonesia, or elsewhere, while others renew their franchising agreements, is an honour. And it’s very satisfying to welcome new partners who see the potential in investing with us to develop countries such as Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Germany, and Algeria, to name the most recent additions.
6. How do you see your franchise company in five years?
We really believe a franchise business is only as strong as its franchisees. The impact of the pandemic highlights this point. We’ve all moved forward and our franchisees need to be able to perform, grow, and earn real returns on their investment. We’ll continue to evolve our concept and improve our business performance while delivering a best-in-class experience to our learners.
Looking ahead, we’ll carry on refining our proposition whilst retaining the essence of our flipped learning model to accelerate business growth.
I firmly believe we’ll see Wall Street English expand its presence, adding a significant number of new centers as well as increasing our online market share. And this will only be possible as we continue to focus on providing our students with personalized service and support, and helping them reach their learning goals.
Wall Street English is now more attractive for investors than ever. As the world opens up, there are unprecedented opportunities available to introduce the brand in new countries and regions. Contact us for more information.