Stuart Baronofsky has struggled to gain market share since opening...

Stuart Baronofsky has struggled to gain market share since opening his tutoring and test-preparation franchise, Chyten Educational Services, in February 2010. (May 29, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

Stuart Baronofsky's firm isn't just a David among Goliaths. It's also the new kid on the block.

Since opening a tutoring and test-preparation franchise called Chyten Educational Services in February 2010, Baronofsky has struggled to gain market share in an area long served by popular at-home private tutors and brand-name companies, including Kaplan Inc. and The Princeton Review.

So far his business, in a Syosset strip mall, has helped 217 students with everything from their homework to college entrance exams. But that's just a little more than 1 percent of his target audience -- the 17,841 students attending middle and high schools in seven school districts, Syosset, Jericho, Plainview, Oyster Bay, North Shore, Half Hollow Hills and South Huntington.

"I haven't taken a paycheck yet," lamented Baronofsky, 56.

But the competitive challenges don't mean Baronofsky should have steered clear of the market in the first place.

"There's no reason why he can't compete," said Gloria Glowacki, regional associate director of the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University. "Because he's smaller, he has the ability to maneuver and reposition, and he can react faster and tailor to the academic needs of specific schools."

Standing out from crowd

Competitive forces require him, though, to make his firm "unique" -- whether through its pricing, offerings or location and size of its classes, she said.

To that end, in his marketing pitch, Baronofsky points out that his franchise's seven part-time teachers all hold at least master's degrees, and that his classes are taught in a formal learning center -- not in a room that is rented on an as-needed basis or in a home where distractions can interfere with concentration. And unlike the at-home SAT tutor who helped his son, now a college senior, but spoke nary a word to Baronofsky about his offspring's progress, Chyten lets parents know how their kids are faring via a Web portal.

Baronofsky blitzes his target area with direct mail six times a year, while trying to stay on high school guidance counselors' radar with bimonthly emails. Each August, he attempts to set up meetings with them to discuss his classes and whether Chyten can tutor their students on-site. But most have only granted him permission to drop off brochures.

Baronofsky needs to tweak his strategies, experts said.

He should look to students' parents for help in breaking into the school systems, said Richard Strautman, president of Picus Enterprises Llc, a Port Washington business consulting company. Parents can serve as advocates, he said; their word-of-mouth recommendations can help Baronofsky leverage their "success stories."

Baronofsky said he has already benefited from at least one of his student's stellar scores this year. Her SAT score not only spurred more than 40 of her schoolmates to navigate a path to his center but persuaded the private school she attends to send out Chyten's brochures to its parents and to allow the company to offer on-site SAT review classes.

Adding more communities

While Baronofsky believes relationships with more schools in his targeted market are critical to growing his student rolls, Glowacki suggested that he expand his marketing efforts to additional communities.

That means operating satellite locations so students don't have to travel so far, she said. It could also involve offering online courses.

But Baronofsky said Web-based learning runs counter to the pedagogic philosophy of Chyten, which has franchises in 14 states. "We still believe in the importance of interaction between students and teachers," he said.

A CPA who made his mark in the corporate world selling technology to global financial services firms, Baronofsky decided to go the entrepreneurial route after getting downsized one too many times. He chose Chyten after a friend's daughter scored high on her SATs courtesy of a Chyten franchise in Westchester. Baronofsky paid $37,000 for the franchise and $150,000 to renovate his storefront space.

Although the Syosset business' revenues are on track to grow to $350,000 this year from $285,000 in 2011, Baronofsky believes the projected 20 percent increase is not significant in light of his marketing area's large student population.

"My biggest challenge continues to be breaking old habits and convincing parents to try something new for their kids," he said.


Chyten Educational Services, Syosset

Owner-director: Stuart Baronofsky

Opened: 2010

Employees: Seven part time

2011 revenues: $285,000

2012 projected revenues: $350,000

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