SmarterKids.com, Early Childhood Learn to Share

Consumer toys Website SmarterKids.com and business-to-business school supplies cataloger Early Childhood will join forces in April to form LearningStar Corp.

“They have a catalog, we’ve got a Website, and we’re going to leverage their catalog infrastructure and incorporate their products into our selection,” says Al Noyes, chief operating officer of SmarterKids.com.

In fact, Needham, MA-based SmarterKids.com plans to expand into print this fall. “It’s still in the planning stages,” Noyes says, “but we’re certainly going to use Early Childhood’s catalog production resources and data processing to launch a catalog.”

SmarterKids.com stands to benefit from Early Childhood’s field sales team too. “We have 50 sales reps who will go into the preschools and day care centers that shop from the Early Childhood catalog to give workshops for parents about SmarterKids.com products,” says Ron Elliott, Early Childhood’s president/CEO. “A percentage of each SmarterKids.com purchase that parents make will go toward future Early Childhood purchases from the daycare or preschool.”

As for Monterey, CA-based Early Childhood, Elliott says, “We were an efficient retail/catalog company, but we knew we had to move into the Internet space. Our core competencies made us successful, but not with respect to Internet technology.” Early Childhood’s site added e-commerce functionalities in August 1999. The company then relaunched the site by fall 2000, but “the project was a disaster,” Elliott says: “We spent about $4 million, and the technology wasn’t anywhere near the sophistication of SmarterKids.com. And we didn’t have the staff or the cash to devote to it once it was up.”

The upcoming merger will enable Early Childhood to relaunch its site yet again. “We produce a magazine called Early Childhood News, and it will become the content base of the Website,” Elliott says. “Discount School Supply [Early Childhood’s catalog] and SmarterKids.com will still be stand-alone Websites, but they will link to each other.”

Also as a result of the merger, “we’ve reduced the SmarterKids.com headcount by more than 50% of our 120 employees, because we’re relying on Early Childhood’s infrastructure for a majority of our operations,” Noyes says. Early Childhood has 400 employees and catalog circulation of about 3 million. For the first nine months of 2000, he says, its sales were $68 million. SmarterKids.com’s sales for the first nine months of 2000 were $4.5 million.

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