Netting consumer customers

Since it was launched in 1995, Appleton, WI-based cataloger School Specialty has sold its nontextbook educational supplies to schools and other institutions.

But now the $521.7 million mailer is targeting parents too, via the Web. School Specialty signed a deal with portal America Online (AOL) to feature ClassroomDirect.com, the company’s consumer Website. The cataloger hopes the agreement will help it tap into the home-schooling market. “There’s a lot in the AOL agreement that takes School Specialty to another level,” says the cataloger’s chairman/CEO, Dan Spalding. “We have a spot in its mall, which will allow us to expand our market base. We are AOL’s only education merchant.”

Unlike JuneBox.com, School Specialty’s Website that caters to institutional buyers with an online purchase order system and volume discounts, ClassroomDirect.com appeals to consumers and teachers by promoting discount pricing. “Prices on the Website are much lower than in the print catalogs, but you can only get that pricing if you order via the Internet,” says president/chief operating officer Dave Vander Zanden. “Price reduction sets us apart because many times teachers pay for merchandise out of pocket.”

School Specialty isn’t worried about losing revenue from customers who migrate from the full-price catalogs. “I think there will be some cannibalization with our print books, especially from parents and teachers who will be lured to the Website’s discounts,” Vander Zanden says, “but we see this as a fantastic opportunity to get new customers and broaden School Specialty’s reach.”

Another acquisition

Since its inception, School Specialty has acquired more than 20 companies. Its latest acquisition, an equity investment in Costa Mesa, CA-based Games2Learn, is in keeping with the cataloger’s interest in the Web. Games2Learn is an online provider of educational games and software. The February investment in the marketer was a natural fit, since “it was already selling about 500 products from our Childcraft catalog,” says Vander Zanden. Childcraft sells shelving, storage cabinets, and other classroom furnishings.

Games2Learn is now expanding its product line to include about 300 products from Sportime, another School Specialty title, which sells physical education products. “The investment and relationship with Games2Learn allows School Specialty to leverage the Childcraft and Sportime brands, which will be offered to consumers on the Games2Learn site,” Vander Zanden says. And all of Games2Learn’s orders will be fulfilled out of School Specialty’s Mansfield, OH-based facility.

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