Teaching the kids to jam

Clive's Music is going global after interest from abroad, but the franchise is still looking for franchisees in the UK, as managing director Sophie Brooks told Workingmums.co.uk

When multi-instrumentalist Clive Brooks started up his music teaching business, it was the post-punk era and adults and kids alike were looking to learn a few chords and get out and perform.  Thirty years later his company is now teaching the X-Factor generation to play and the franchise has gone global.

In 1981 Clive decided to teach a range of musical instruments in a back bedroom of his mum's house in Southampton. He started teaching and writing course material to integrate learning and performing. “It was about easy learning or learning in an easy way,” says Sophie Brooks, the current managing director and Clive's daughter. In the early days Clive taught a mix of everyone, young and older. Now the focus of Clive's Easylearn Pop Music School is on teaching seven to 17 year olds and Clive has stepped down as managing director as he has a record deal with a US label and an ambient new age-style music album about to be launched in October.

After starting teaching in his mum's back bedroom, Clive built a studio in the garden. Eventually he bought the house from his mum and started to get more pupils than he could teach. He leased local premises and took on extra staff. As the business took off, 10 years ago Clive decided to franchise it. He got a consultant on board and ran pilots. Sophie knew how everything worked as she had grown up with the business, but did not become involved until after she left college where she studied sport. She had only ever taken a few music lessons, partly as an act of youthful rebellion. She says her interest is in the business side and that the franchise business grew organically. It now has 24 franchises across several areas. Now she plans to promote it more proactively and “take it to the next level”. Her dad is still chairman of the company and her mum does the accounts so it is very much a family business. Things like IT are outsourced, but the company employs a franchise support manager.

The model has developed over time, but is now a simple one. Franchisees do not have to be musicians, but they need to have an interest in or passion for music. “Franchisees have to be good at talking to children so parents make good franchisees. They also have to show an interest in current music because the children will ask them questions,” says Sophie. “Communication skills are vital. If potential franchisees have business experience that is great, but we can teach them marketing skills.”

Not only do parents make good franchisees – two of the current 24 came through Workingmums.co.uk – but they also get a lot out of the business in terms of being able to work it around their family lives.

Local musicians

Franchisees hire local musicians who are trained to deliver the Clive's Easylearn Pop Music School lessons. Every instrument that is taught has a course attached to it that is module-based. The electric guitar, for instance, has a Spanish style module; the drums have rock and jazz modules. The children learn for 45 minutes in a music club format. The premises has a series of music stations. There might be, for instance, a tutor with two children learning guitar at one end; next to them might be another tutor teaching two students drums and so on. They all wear headphones and each has one to one tuition with the tutor rotating between two students. For the last 15 minutes, they perform three songs and the electrical instruments are plugged into amps. They play three songs. The tutors play the lead and then they gradually turn the volume down on their instruments and let the children take over.

The children regularly perform on stage. “It gives them something to remember for the rest of their lives,” says Sophie,

In a few instances, says Sophie, the children go on to form bands. Often the children stay with the lessons for several years.

Each franchisee can choose the hours for their classes, but many teach on week nights and on Saturday mornings. They get a lot of support from Sophie and her franchise support manager with issues such as marketing, whether that is online through a page on the website and support for social networking, offline marketing in local publications and through flyers or community involvement in local fetes and school road shows. “They can take their pupils along to perform – seeing the children perform can generate a lot of business,” says Sophie.

The business is not just looking to extend itself across the UK, but is also going global. A lady from Canada got in touch recently after finding the company online. “She asked if we were coming to Canada and was very persistent,” says Sophie. She decided it was a good opportunity to test the business abroad. The lady came on board as a licensee and now has 20 children she is teaching. The support Clive's Music gives is virtual – through video conferencing – and it has proved such a success that Sophie is now looking at other potential countries, such as South Africa.

As this year is the company's 30th birthday it is offering a 30 per cent discount to new franchisees. The total package of the franchise plus all the equipment and working capital normally costs around £17,000 [the franchise itself is normally £9,995 plus VAT]. This year it is being offered for £14,000. Clive's Music has a recommended equipment list, but suggests franchisees develop a relationship with their local music store as this can help them to find tutors.

Sophie says that the money franchisees can make from the business depends on how much they put into developing it. Those who are interested are sent an information pack and asked to sign a confidentiality form. They are then invited to come and see the business in action and are taken through the business plan. If both parties are happy the franchise goes ahead.

Sophie says it is all about making learning to read music fun. “The classes also give the children confidence and there's a huge interest in performing with programmes like X Factor around. They leave the lesson buzzing and motivated.”

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