A season of striving and success at Usborne Books & More.
|USBORNE BOOKS & MORE
Headquarters: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Top Executives: Randall White, President and CEO
2018 Net Sales: $118,811,300 Products: Educational children’s books
These words are both timely and true for Usborne Books & More, as the last three years have been marked by more change and growth than perhaps some thought the company could withstand. However, today, as the dust of expansion and change have settled, CEO Randall White and his team look confidently forward, believing the best is yet to come.
As the tide of the digital age began to rise, every industry with ties to the printed page held its breath, especially those in publishing. “Ten years ago, people told me that we’d be out of business because everything will be digital and no one will be buying books,” recounts Randall White, CEO of Educational Development Corporation (EDC) and Founder of Usborne Books & More (UBAM). Today, that doomsday prediction isn’t even on the radar for UBAM, a Tulsa-based seller of educational children’s books. “As far as children’s books, nothing has changed,” he says. “Nothing has changed about holding books, chewing on them or dropping them.” While advancing technology didn’t usher in the end of books as we know them, it did change how people buy them. This digital evolution forced UBAM into a season of uncomfortable transformation that has forever changed the way the company operates.
Usborne Books & More was launched as a direct selling division of Educational Development Corporation in 1989 with a mission to get high quality, affordable children’s books in more homes across the country. Until the mid-2000s, UBAM independent consultants mainly sold books through traditional direct sales home parties and book fairs. But all that changed with the advent of the online marketplace. More and more, customers began purchasing UBAM books online and then through Facebook parties, generating record growth for the company from 2015 to 2018.
“Today the business is no longer a side conversation. We offer a growing, bustling business opportunity that happens to sell incredible books. ” —Heather Cobb, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer
“In 2015 when we went from $32 million to $65 million, it was okay,” shares White. “But growing from $65 to $107 million the following year, that was a real struggle, one of our most difficult times handling the growth.”
As sales and consultant numbers grew, UBAM moved into a new facility in early 2016 to accommodate more inventory, but as much as the company needed more space, it also required more efficient operations. By the fall of 2016, UBAM’s overextended distribution process had reached a breaking point.
“In late November of 2016, we had 127,000 orders prepaid to ship—many were Christmas presents—and we could only ship 8,000 per day,” he says. “It was taking us about 4-5 weeks to ship an order. We lost a lot of consultants and customers (during that time).”
As the largest UPS shipper in the entire state of Oklahoma, UBAM looked to the shipping giant to advise on best practices, knowing they needed a complete overhaul of their distribution system. “We ship heavy products,” explains White. “It’s quite a challenge to ship that quantity. UPS served as a consultant for us and told us what we needed. We put in a state-of-the art picking system. We ran night shifts and got it done. We got more efficient, and now UBAM shipping is world-class— we ship the same day we get the order!”
In December 2018, EDC Chief Operating Officer Craig White was featured on the cover of Modern Material Handling with the headline Educational Development Corporation writes a new chapter in distribution. The challenges of the previous three years had been successfully navigated, and a new season was on the horizon.
Turning A Page
Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Heather Cobb sums up this transformative season this way: “The last years have been spent growing, catching up to that growth and preparing for more.”
The tremendous leap in sales wasn’t the only jump UBAM experienced in that season. UBAM saw their consultant roster increase from 8,000 in 2015 to over 31,000 at the end of 2018, just in time to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary.
“We’re seeing a new generation of UBAM families who were raised on our books and are now having kids of their own.” —Heather Cobb, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer
“We celebrated our 30th anniversary at our 2019 National Convention with a play on words – ‘30 Years in the Books,’” shares Cobb. “We put all the focus on our products, that’s our one absolute constant over the years. All of our speakers used one of our books in their presentation, including our keynote speaker Christy Wright.”
While the UBAM business opportunity hasn’t changed significantly over the past three decades, this last season of growth led to a subtle cultural shift that is empowering both new and veteran consultants.
“Culture-wise one of the biggest changes we’ve experienced is that we’ve gone from a company that sells amazing, quality books and offers a side business to making the business the forefront,” explains Cobb. “Today the business is no longer a side conversation. We offer a growing, bustling business opportunity that happens to sell incredible books. We’re more open and transparent about the business opportunity and more confidently sharing that opportunity.”
New consultants can choose from different kit options when they join UBAM – a standard kit that includes twenty titles for $125 or a “mini” kit for $75 that includes ten titles. To celebrate 30 years in business, UBAM also offered a summer promotional kit for $30 with five titles. “The 30th anniversary recruiting special was huge – we had 10,000 signups,” says Cobb.
The Next Chapter
With thirty years “in the books,” many UBAM consultants have been in business for decades, sharing books with children who are now becoming customers and consultants themselves. “We’re seeing a new generation of UBAM families who were raised on our books and are now having kids of their own,” shares Cobb. “They want the opportunity to share the books they read and the characters that they knew with their own children.”
“We put in a state-of-the-art picking system. We ran night shifts and got it done. We got more efficient, and now UBAM shipping is world-class.” —Randall White, President, CEO and Founder
Usborne’s treasured titles from years past are joined by a constantly expanding collection of new titles, including hundreds of Kane Miller books that joined the UBAM family in 2008 such as the recent addition of survival handbooks by Bear Grylls. “We continue to seek out the highest quality books,” says Cobb. “We want to make sure we sit on that top shelf space, especially in the minds of our customers.”
To share these exciting titles, UBAM has made technology and social media a large part of its marketing strategy. The marketing and creative team create social media graphics and backgrounds so consultants can create their own personalized materials. Beyond engaging customers with eye-catching creative, UBAM is leveraging technology to make business activities easier for their consultants as well. “We’re looking to become totally mobile friendly for consultants and the younger generation joining us,” says White. “Our big push is to make our business compatible with any tech someone wants to use.”
While technology has changed the way many people buy them, the value that children’s books have in society remains the same. “At the end of the day there continues to be a literacy crisis,” shares Cobb. “The need for quality kids’ books in homes and libraries is our biggest reason for growth and what drives us each and every day. It’s important to us that we keep them affordable, available and offer an opportunity that’s for everybody.”