Tutoring and study service finds thriving niche in northwest Arkansas
By Dwain Hebda
It is said of New York City, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” and apparently that “anywhere” includes northwest Arkansas. At least, that is, if you’re 25-year-old Anna Morrison, chief executive officer of Campus Concierge.
Morrison, recently named 2015 Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Arkansas District of the U.S. Small Business Administration, returned to her home state in 2013 after two years in the Big Apple working in marketing and stepped into the leadership role of the company her parents founded in 2012. “I moved to New York (after graduating college) in 2011,” she says. “My parents had come up with the concept and when they originally opened it, it was just a study space. I was involved in the planning part of it and doing what I could remotely and when I moved back to Fayetteville, we started to really develop the business.”
Morrison slimmed down Campus Concierge’s business plan to focus on one-on-one tutoring and study services, refined the monthly membership fee schedule and started hiring tutors. Last semester the company hired 76 such tutors and already for fall, 87 have signed on. But it’s still not enough to keep up with demand.
“It is kind of a small family,” she says of her staff. “It’s great because everyone has the same goal in mind and that’s for everyone to be successful. The tutors want students to succeed and I want my tutors to have a great experience here as well. With our staff it’s a very open door policy, we all work in one room and we stress everyone communicating and nobody feeling inferior.”
The thing that stops you in your tracks about Campus Concierge is the very students who cram into the company’s study facility at Dickson and Block streets in Fayetteville are just a stone’s throw from campus where tutoring services are available free of charge. Morrison, who graduated from the University of Arkansas, said there are key differences that have kept Campus Concierge competitive with her alma mater.
“The larger the college gets, unfortunately it doesn’t mean they’re going to hire on more people,” she says. “At the tutoring center on campus, a student might come in when they need it and there might be four people asking one tutor five different questions. It can be overwhelming. “We can’t meet our demand as it is, so a lot of the time, I’m pointing our
students to use U of A resources. But I think it really boils down to a lot of students are just not prepared for college and they need to learn from someone figuring out how to study the material. I mean, they wouldn’t be in college if they weren’t smart individuals, obviously they are. I really think what makes us stand out is that we take that one-on-one individual approach and we try to treat them like adults.”
The system works so well, Morrison has her eye on expansion. She’s tasked some of the company’s college interns with studying the challenges expansion would bring, including proper supervision and vetting tutor applicants. She’s had positive discussions with Texas Christian University as well as several colleges in Arkansas, so she’s convinced the idea can work, if rolled out correctly.
“I learned early on in any business you have to keep your customers first and you have to figure out ways to meet their needs, and the old principle of the customer is always right is something that you should always adapt to,” she says. “You can’t have the mindset, ‘Oh I just want to get rich quick,’ because that’s not going to happen.
“With our students, I basically had to listen to what they wanted. We came up with this great concept that we knew was needed, but is it actually what the students want and what they need. And, obviously, we don’t want to lose that focus going into another campus and so what we’re doing right now is getting information from the students about what they need and how can we provide that to make this successful for them but also a profitable business for us. We’re definitely learning all of these things.”
The company is also bearing down on another milestone: Its initial crop of clients is entering their junior year. Talking about them and the prospect of watching these early adopters of Campus Concierge walk the graduation stage makes Morrison’s voice flutter. “It’s been difficult trying to figure out how to change the mindset that tutoring is the cool thing to do and you’re not stupid if you’re getting tutoring. Every 4.0 student will tell you, you have to go above and beyond to get there,” she says. “Now, it’s more of a culture; it’s kind of adapted on its own and created itself. No one’s forced to come here, everyone who’s coming here is here because
they want to do better. And because our tutors are students as well, they’re able to connect to these other students and there’s not that traditional hierarchy teacher-student relationship. They can communicate this culture of doing well in school is the cool thing to do.
“The students that started with us our first semester don’t need as much encouragement and support now, because they really believe in themselves and they know that they can do it. I call them the champions of our brand.”