Jon-Anthony Lui came from an entrepreneurial family. His father had been a successful businessman and the younger Lui was destined to follow in his footsteps. He found his niche - and his passion - when he began working for Tutor Doctor, the brand that offers one-on-one tutoring to children in the home.
"Making a difference with young ones has always been a passion of mine. We all remember who made an impact on our lives at some point--a teacher, friend, relative, or mentor--and I liked the idea of capturing that magic and releasing it upon the masses in an organized, structured way. That's a beautiful thing," says Lui, who owns 10 Tutor Doctors, whose 350 tutors serve 850 families in 10 territories in Greater Toronto.
Lui, whose parents died when he was 21, opened his first franchise territory, Tutor Doctor Vaughan, in 2009. In 2013, he became the brand's first franchisee to reach $1 million in sales. In 2014 Lui, the brand's largest franchisee, was named Franchisee of the Year.
His path to success began with five years at an e-learning company, selling design and development services for online training. "I saw that in a face-to-face meeting with people, I could make an impression and be effective. I experienced the same thing with public speaking, starting when I was seven through my church congregation. Over time, I developed a love of that and teaching others. In that sense, I thought being an entrepreneur would leverage and improve those skills," he says.
He also was attracted to franchising. "I liked the idea of having a business that allowed you to work on it rather than in it," says Lui, who earned his diploma in marketing from Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto. "I love the strategy of it. It's like playing chess: you always have to think a couple of moves ahead."
After leaving the e-learning company, Lui contacted a former colleague of his late father, who offered him a job managing a Tutor Doctor unit for him. "It was a new territory, so I started from scratch and bought it from him six months later," says Lui, adding that he saw Tutor Doctor as having low risk and high potential.
In contrast to tutoring models that were primarily brick-and-mortar centers with a group learning environment, brands such as Tutor Doctor, which was founded in 2000 and began franchising in 2003, struck a chord with parents who wanted one-on-one tutoring for their children at home, says Lui. Tutor Doctor, he says, has grown into the fastest-growing in-home private tutoring franchise and is set to surpass $102.8 billion in sales by 2018.
His wife Clarissa, who also has an entrepreneurial bent and had opened her own business making custom suits for women, was behind him 100 percent. "She was extremely supportive. We both had the desire to create something," he says. "She was enjoying her work, but she saw me struggling with paperwork and helped me out. Since I needed more and more help as we grew, we figured we'd focus on this together."
The division of duties fell along the lines of their training and abilities: Clarissa worked in administration on the back end, and her husband focused on the front end, dealing with customer service and marketing. "That was our agreement and we learned to work together pretty well," he says.
"Living in the same house, working across the desk from each other, couples are bound to have challenges, but we set boundaries about work and schedule when to talk about it. It's highly regimented, but what we had to do to attain the lifestyle we want. On a Saturday, unless it's an emergency, we don't talk about work. We save it for Monday when we have a staff meeting." As Jehovah's Witnesses, the couple spend their time off volunteering in the community, leading Bible studies, and going door to door to talk about their church, he says.
Lui's best advice for potential franchisees? "Many people have told me not to worry so much, to just take things one day at a time," he says. "I'd also add: Don't be afraid to ask for help."
Doing just that has led Lui to where he is today. When he decided to become an entrepreneur, he took his late father's address book and called everybody in it. "I started by introducing myself as Mario Lui's son and wondered if they had a minute to talk to me about my father and how they knew him." That strategy eventually led him to that Tutor Doctor job.
In addition to maintaining a strong marriage and a profitable business, Lui says he finds Tutor Doctor's contributions to improving the lives of students and their parents to be most rewarding. "When a family knows someone is helping them address their child's needs, it reduces stress and gives them more time to focus on being a family. That's what it's all about."
Name: Jon-Anthony Lui
Title: Owner, with wife Clarissa
Company: Tutor Doctor Vaughan
No. of units: Tutor Doctor, 10
Family: Married to Clarissa Lui
Years in franchising: 6
Years in current position: 6
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