The movie might be 18 years old, but Jack Black’s turn in “School of Rock” still enjoys popularity in South Africa, where a brother-and-sister duo have set out to bring music education to one of the continent’s most populous countries.
“It’s very, very recognizable in South Africa,” said Keith Taeuber of the movie loosely based on the franchise’s founder. “It leaves you with a feel-good vibe and you can’t help wanting to get a piece of that action yourself.”
Taeuber and his sister, Leigh Spaun, opened the first School of Rock in South Africa six years ago, and the success of their location in the Cape Town suburb of Claremont prompted the duo to sign a master franchise agreement to open at least eight new locations across the country. To hear them tell it, though, there’s opportunity for many more.
“Forty locations is the vision,” said Spaun, who added they undertook a market survey before the COVID-19 pandemic and prioritized 14 city center locales within the major cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. Those cities all have “vastly different demographics,” added Taeuber, and the school’s offerings will reflect that.
South Africa, he continued, “has 11 or 12 official languages, different cultures and sub cultures within those cultures.” Their ability to incorporate what he described as an “African flavor” into the music and performances means their schools can adapt as needed while tapping into the local knowledge of their sub-franchisees.
Taeuber, a self-taught musician who plays bass guitar, saxophone and piano, and who before launching School of Rock was managing a large farming operation in South Africa, said he decided to “follow my heart, follow my passion.” He looked into starting his own music school before discovering the franchise through an internet search.
“We were both ready to skip out of the corporate world,” said Taeuber of he and Spaun, whose career was in media, sales and publishing. “We said, if we opened a rock school in South Africa, what would that look like? And then we discovered the School of Rock model and it was a perfect fit. We saw a massive opportunity.”
During a visit to the corporate office, which at the time was in suburban Chicago, Spaun said she “saw a business that had soul and heart,” and its mission of building confidence and inspiring students resonated with her. “We heard the same sentiment from other franchisees. We met students and parents and heard stories of how literally School of Rock saved their lives,” she said.
When Spaun and Taeuber opened their location in 2015, leasing space within the Standard Bank Galleria next to Cavendish Square, a large shopping center, the concept quickly took off, they said. “Within the first year we recognized we could have more than one location,” said Taeuber.
Then in August 2020 they moved into a larger, more prominent space to accommodate weekly lessons for about 300 students and, once their franchise expansion plans were firmly in place, serve as their South African headquarters. “With COVID, people weren’t willing to go back into a mall setting,” noted Spaun of another reason for the move.
The duo opted to sign a master franchise agreement rather than open more of their own locations because School of Rock is “a very hands-on business,” said Taeuber. “It’s a business that requires personal attention.” He said they’ve been able to demonstrate growth through the pandemic and after—he credited School of Rock’s quick implementation of virtual programs—and pointed out the demand is there from parents looking for activities for their kids. “Parents are keen to find things for their kids that add value,” he said.
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