Opening a Bushiban?


#1

Strange phenomenon lately: a lot of friends and acquaintances lately have told me about their looking into opening their own bushiban. This has gotten me wondering about whether this is a good idea.

In my experience, there is usually a lot more involved with doing this sort of thing than what you can see from the outside. I have taught English in the past, so I know the business from that angle. What I’m wondering is what it takes to successfully open up and run a bushiban.

Among the areas I’m curious about:

  • Investment amount needed.
  • Legal issues: licensing, taxes, sponsoring foreign teachers, etc.
  • Open a franchise vs. your own independent school.
  • Any special issues a foreigner may face.
  • Practical issues: hours, hiring, parents, etc.
  • Location, location, location.

Is there anyone with practical experience who can share?


#2

An even stranger phenomenon is someone thinking that opening a bushiban is a good idea. The market is saturated with cram schools and an unknown doesn’t have a prayer of making it fly. The only people, including myself 15 years ago, who I have known to make a go of their own school, is a guy married to a local in Puli (probably long gone – Apple English), and another guy who just built up a reputation as a good teacher over the past nearly 20 years.
I would say that the grief is not worth the effort.
But you can try.


#3

I’ve heard that buxibans come up against issues like other buxibans offering higher rents for their location just to screw them over, insurance questions if the kids are hurt for any reason, etc. etc. Then I suppose you have to “pay off” the right people depending on where you are and what you were doing. Lots of other regs about the size of the building, number of students permitted, floor (1st or 2nd mostly for young kids), fire code, etc. etc. And then you would probably need a certain amount of sales to have the privilege of granting foreigners visas (or else deal with illegals)…

If it were me, I think I’d just set up some kind of outsourcing service (i.e., send teachers to businesses or the like, or even convince parents to do some sort of cooperative thing to get a group of kids together for a class at someone’s house) instead of going the buxiban route. Much easier to hide!

Terry


#4

I would suggest that you don’t do it ‘yourself’ as a foreigner. I understand that in order to stay competitive buxibans all do lots of dodgy illegal things that the authorities more or less turn a blind eye to, which as a foreigner you wouldn’t be bale to get away with. You’d need a partner. Then you’ve got to consider the many reports that there’s no money in the market anymore (although I also here reports saying ‘the real money’s not in teaching English, it’s in opening your own school’ so who do you believe?)

Bri


#5

You can make a load of money if you own your own school… but getting to the point where you are making loads of money requires loads of money to start with

  • to pay off someone in the education department
  • to pay for the rent and the facilites
  • to do marketing
  • to get good people in under you
  • create a syllabus for teaching
  • to give donations to the local police and officals

You really do not need to be a teacher to open a school… since it is obvious that most schools are businesses anyway.

Investing money with Taiwanese should be avoided if necessary as there have been several cases of the foreigner getting shafted and having no legal comeback on it. Better to get someone you trust or are related to (them being a Taiwanese citizen)

But now the place is becoming over saturated with schools… so I wouldn’t go down that avenue.
I know a certain foreigner owner of one school who was throwing money in for seven years before anything came back


#6

Everybody, thanks for your response.

And I appreciate your caution. I’ve owned my own business before, so I know that I need to know what you’re getting into (rather than be surprised later). I also know that running a business is like adopting a very expensive child: it needs constant care and attention if it’s going to survive.

The way I look at it is like this: I used to be in the restaurant industry, and a month didn’t go by that I didn’t hear somebody say that they always thought of opening their own place. I would be polite, but I knew deep down that if they hadn’t ever run a restaurant before, they’d probably end up losing their shirts. I figure that running a bushiban is the same.

Zhukov–thanks for the response. I’m looking for all of the hidden details involved in this sort of business, plus an overall perspective of what’s really involved. You have any experience yourself with the phenomenon of official vs. “non-official” payments?

Thing is, I do have people that I trust that I might be working alongside. One person is managing a bushiban, and I have another friend who owns his own. I’m hoping that I can either tap them for advice or get them to work with me on this so that I can get their expertise and wisdom.

Bu Lai En–you bring up a good point. Some have suggested opening a franchise. What’s your perspective on that? In the US, a franchise means it’s quicker to get up and going, but it’s also usually very expensive to buy into. Assuming I took all precautions, might that be worth it?

This is great info. Please keep it coming.


#7

A little more positive note here, with some big caveats. I got into the business several years ago and am doing well now. This did not happen overnight but was not exactly the result of backbreaking labor either.

To answer your original questions

  • If you start small–one or two classrooms–you can set up a place for 500,000 to a million i’d say depending on how nice you want to make it.

  • licensing–Taiwan is cutting a lot of the red tape out of their beauracracy, I have a friend who did all the legwork on this himself with the help of an architect friend (an architect is required and they charge handsomely.) There are still numerous hassles in this though. You have all kinds of fire and safety regulations which can change without warning. We in time-tested fashion did our license through the Taiwan Supplimentary Educational Association, this is run by a guy named Zhang with good connections in the Jiaoyuju, I paid him 200,000 to deal with everything, this included the architect and a number of small unavoidable things that came up and probably some foreigner overcharges but I have zero regrets about it. Fire equipment cost us another couple of hundred thousand–mostly due to big exhaust fans that had to be installed–but changed regulations would have made that expenditure unneccesary today, things have gotten much easier for any school under a certain size, I can’t recall right now if it’s 100 or 200 pings.

  • Independent. a franchise makes you part of the crowd. start a small school based on your own ability as a teacher, it will take time to get going but if you can start building up some loyal parents it can snowball through word of mouth over time

  • a caveat here, I am married to a Taiwanese woman and so she is the ultra-convenient front for the whole thing and eliminates any legal questions. I believe that foreigners are now legally allowed to start a school, but my friend still found it easier to use his wife’s name when licensing last year. without such marital aid, could I have done it? don’t know. but if you go the small personal route your parents will be attached to you.

  • My hiring questions have been greatly simplified by the fact that after several years I am the only teacher at our school parents are another question, our school uses a method of teahing pioneered about 15 years ago which has proven quite successful, parents are encouraged to come and watch the class as their grade school kids attend and most do. so there is usually very close contact with parents. this has 95% positive and 5% negative effects, however being the teacher and boss gives me all the cards in dealing with the negative ones, in other words I take no shit. well maybe a little when we were just starting but suffice it to say not using the normal Taiwanese bushiban method of dealing with parents. this will give you some short term losses in profits but the long term gain can be good if you thus succeed in attracting people who are likewise attracted to your style of teaching. hope that makes sense.

  • location is crucial. we found a good one on a busy corner in a relatively untouched neighborhood for our style of teaching which is a niche market to begin with. a subway stop happened to magically blossom next to it and seems like something we couldn’t do without now.

As for all I’ve heard about payoffs it’s bullshit in my opinion, if you want to construe my initial licensing consulting fee as a payoff I could understand that but it was voluntary and people have got their license without doing it. I have encountered no such animals since then. visas for foreign teachers are easy to get, i think you can get three for each classroom you have registered.

another caveat, I got into the business with a friend already established, I knew shit about the business beforehand and couldn’t have done it on my own. You seem to be a teacher already and presumably able to rely on your own ability.

if you’re married or in some other way have one of the new work permits, it raises an interesting question. the big hurdle to starting a school without a jiaoyuju license was that the cops could come in and deport your teachers for working illegally. with a work permit this is not an issue. many schools have operated for years without a license, the jiaoyuju has always been very lenient with unlicensed schools, of course this is subject to change

big caveats but hope this is useful to you!


#8

Dalton-Wow- what a great response. Very thorough. Thanks for the info. You say you’re teaching a method pioneered about 15 years ago? Is that the Kobe/Mo Da Wei connection? They, too have the ‘parents at the back’ thing going on. Lot’s of pronunciation work, drills, punitive reinforcment etc.

Schools that have evolutionary roots to Kobe/Mo Da Wei are the only ones (run by foreignors) that I’ve seen succeed (some wildly successful) in Taipei. That said, I’ve seen a number of these schools flounder, and some have closed down.

Would you mind, Dalton, giving us more detail about the origin of your program, without giving away trade secrets of course?


#9

It may cost quite a bit to open up a cram school. I still think that the business will work as long as you have a trusted local to help you deal with administrative and understanding the consumer psychology of Taiwanese. I’ve juset opened one last month and still can’t see any results now. But im hopeful about it in the near future.


#10

and as for the market being saturated…although this may be true in the major urban areas…go a bit further into the “countryside” and you be able to make a nice living…