INTERNATIONAL accolades continue to roll in for Niesha and Richard Brown’s English language schools, the most recent of which is Language Travel Magazine’s (LTM) Star Award for the best English language school in the Southern Hemisphere.
Accepting the award at the Hilton London in front a 700-strong audience, Richard Brown says the event ‘was like the mini-Oscars for the education sector’.
“We were very surprised to win the top award. Initially I thought we were in for a chance but history has shown that schools get nominated two or three times before winning so it was unusual,” he says.
“It’s a fantastic accolade for our brand that has certainly lifted our profile. In the past we’ve always told agents that we were the best, but now we have the proof and recognition to back that up.”
When they were 23 and 21 respectively, Niesha and Richard took note of the larger number of language schools scrambling for marketshare. This created a gap for an institution to build itself on quality rather than price.
On a $100,000 loan from their parents, the duo opened the doors to Browns ELS Gold Coast campus in 2003 – complete with four students across two classrooms.
International accolades continue to roll in for Niesha and Richard Brown’s English language schools, the most recent of which is Language Travel Magazine’s (LTM) Star Award for the best English language school in the Southern Hemisphere.
Having since expanded on profits alone, the Browns will this month surpass the 500 student mark for the first time – evenly distributed over new state-of-the-art Southport and Brisbane campuses.
The tough start-up stage is well behind them, but the Browns are battling the same challenges that are facing the wider education sector.
“The Australian dollar is a concern. You can’t pick exactly what will happen but we expect the dollar to remain very high for quite some time,” says Niesha.
“But because our business model has always targeted the top quality, premium end of the market, Browns ELS is much more robust than many other education providers who are more reliant on price competitiveness alone.
“We just have to keep pushing the destination and the unique cultural experience of Queensland and our student numbers will continue to grow.”
An immediate challenge for Browns ELS is the international student intake in Australia and the impacts the Federal Government’s crackdown on skilled migration is having with the number of eligible occupations slashed from more than 400 to 181.
While the closure of Mackintosh College on the Gold Coast earlier this year was attributed to the market effects of the new laws, Richard says diversity saved Browns ELS from taking a similar dive.
“We’ve lost many students from Thailand, Korea and Vietnam because a large proportion of students from that region were on migration-based learning,” he says.
“But we’ve also boosted our student numbers from South America and Europe as most of these students are studying English to use back in their home countries.
“The diversity of our student base and the fact that we aren’t price sensitive has created long-term resilience to financial and migration factors at Browns ELS. Right from the start the emphasis was on market position.”
After spending much of their youth travelling internationally on backpackers’ budgets to build a worldwide base of student agents, the Browns cite passion and dedication as the driving forces of entrepreneurship.
“You’ve got to be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices,” says Niesha.
“When your friends are having barbecues, going surfing or out on a friend’s boat you’ve got to be prepared to be working. You’ve really got to love what you do or you might not find the necessary drive.”
Young Entrepreneur Profile
Richard and Niesha Brown
Age: 30 and 32
Business Est: 2003
Growth: 58 per cent
Turnover: $6 million
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.