Roughly 2.2 million students today are in public or private school year-round, a 22% increase from 1.8 million students in 1996, according to San Diego-based National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE). More than 3,050 schools in 45 states offer year-round programs, compared with 2,400 schools in 38 states five years ago. And if still more schools adopt year-round programs, school supplies catalogers could benefit from increased sales.
“We’re finding that we can mail throughout the year, and that used to not be the case,” says Mary Ann Kleinfelter, vice president of sales and marketing for Nashua, NH-based school supplies cataloger Delta Education. “I think it will be good for us, but it’s too soon to see a big effect on sales from the year-round school programs.”
But year-round school programs may not yield year-round ordering. “Many of the schools we mail to have two budget cycles — ending around June 1 for spring and Dec. 31 for fall,” says Julia Stock, vice president of sales and marketing for Anatomical Chart Co., a Skokie, IL-based cataloger of educational products. “We haven’t seen [changes in sales] yet, but if schools are open all year it will hopefully give them another buying cycle.” Anatomical Chart mails out its catalogs about every other month.
Year-round school programs should also necessitate that participating schools spend more on all matter of supplies, from chalk to workbooks to toilet paper. But Dave Vander Zanden, chief operating officer of Appleton, WI-based multititle mailer School Specialty, warns against seeing a significant increase in sales anytime soon. “I think the switch to year-round programs — and increased spending on supplies — will be gradual,” he says. “School districts are slow adapters to change.”
Grabbing the market by the tail
Even if school spending does rise, year-round programs do nothing to alleviate what Kleinfelter calls the long tail of the school supplies market — the time it takes catalogers to determine successful merchandise offerings. The longer the selling season, the longer the tail may grow. “A longer tail means that it takes a long time to determine which products and offers are working,” she says. “And that is our biggest challenge: our inability to turn on a dime.”
At least the overall school market is enjoying steady growth. According to Shelton, CT-based research firm Market Data Retrieval (MDR), public schools spent 6% more in 1998-1999 school year (the most recent year for which data are available) than in the previous year, for a total of $8.5 billion for all instructional materials. And the total amount spent per pupil has consistently risen by about 5% annually since the 1995-1996 school year, reaching $5,862 in 1998-1999. (For more on the business-to-business school supplies market, see “Market Sector Report: School Supplies,” in the February issue.)