Music School Franchises Making Noise in Mass.
Posted on: February 8, 2013
When Ed Jackowski was exploring business opportunities, he considered five or six franchises. But just one, as he put it, jumped off the page – a rock music school for kids.
So Jackowski and childhood friend Tom Burnelle, a TV producer, invested in a School of Rock franchise. The two are scheduled to open their first school in Norwood next month and have plans to open two more in Massachusetts by next year.
School of Rock, its popularity buoyed by the Jack Black movie of the same name, is founded on the idea that kids learn music more quickly by playing contemporary music in bands, as well as through performing and recording. That’s how Jackowski and Brunelle got their start when they were teenagers, and the reason the School of Rock concept appealed to them.
“We were playing at high school and junior high school dances,” said Jackowski, a musician who is also co-owner with Burnelle of New England Music LLC. “We only played five or six songs because it’s all we knew. But that rush and excitement is on a very similar parallel as we’re feeling today.”
Franchised music companies are turning after-school music instruction on its head and posing new competition for traditional local mom-and-pop music schools. Illinois-based School of Rock is the most prominent of these, with three locations in Massachusetts – Watertown, Seekonk and Jackowski’s soon-to-open Norwood location.
Rival Bach to Rock is also looking at expanding in the Boston area. Bethesda, Md.-based Bach to Rock operates six company-owned stores in the metro Washington area, with one franchise location in Long Island and plans for six more in Philadelphia, Connecticut and New York.
School of Rock franchisees can expect to spend between $200,000 and $300,000 on the franchise fee and to build out the space they need, CEO Chris Catalano said. Meanwhile, Bach to Rock franchisees likely will spend between $400,000 and $600,000 in fees and build-out costs, said Brian Gross, president of Bach to Rock.
Catalano said the School of Rock, which offered its first franchise in 2004, has grown to 104 schools at the end of 2012, up from 63 schools at the end of 2010. In 2009, School of Rock founder Paul Green, whose life story was the inspiration for the 2003 movie, sold the company to Chicago-based private equity firm Sterling Partners. Sterling is the company’s biggest shareholder, and most of its franchise growth has come since the firm invested, Catalano said.
Meanwhile, Bach to Rock – owned by Cambridge Information Group, an investment firm with offices in New York and Maryland – generated revenue of $3.9 million in 2011 compared to $302,000 in 2007, Gross said.
Local music school operators said the chains’ approach to teaching music – an emphasis on contemporary pieces and playing in a group setting – is a good approach. But those operators hope that independent schools’ intimacy will set them apart.
“We really tailor the experience to the individual,” said Alyssa Lee, director of the New School of Music in Cambridge. “I don’t know if a larger institution can do that as effectively as we do.”
Lee said most of the students who attend the school, ranging from young children to senior citizens, live within walking distance of the New School. “I know all 300 students who come in the door…by name,” she said.
Christy Zarlengo, owner of Children’s Music Center of Jamaica Plain, said she’s not intimidated by the new rivals but she knows she might feel differently if the franchised music companies get too close.
“We’ve done well being small,” Zarlengo said, “but then School of Rock hasn’t come into Jamaica Plain yet.”