A Course to the Top
Open the front cover of its flagship catalog, and you’ll be greeted by a note that begins, “Who is School Specialty?” That’s a question this fast-growing $870 million company has no trouble answering.
Having acquired upwards of 45 companies during the past 10 years, School Specialty now is a large and diverse organization with one common thread: to provide “everything but the textbooks” to the education marketplace, according to company CEO and President Dave Vander Zanden.
Indeed, School Specialty sells desks and lockers; library and media room equipment; workbooks and supplemental education products; classroom decorations; art and gym supplies; awards and incentives; and videos and DVDs.
The 80,000 SKUs School Specialty sells are geared primarily for kindergarten to 12th grade classes, and the company is starting to adapt some of its product lines for the pre-school market, too. There are 53 million students in the United States, and supplies for schools amount to a $6 billion market, of which School Specialty has a 15-percent market share.
School Specialty services this large market through various catalogs and channels. But it started out as a company called Valley School Supply, selling furniture to schools in Wisconsin. In the 1980s, the company zeroed in on the K-12 education market as its niche, and started acquiring companies to service that market with more specialized products.
The company now has School Specialty’s traditional company, plus eight major specialty catalog brands: Childcraft, Classroom Direct, Sax Arts & Crafts, Sportime, Teacher’s Video, Premier Agendas, Frey Scientific, and Brodhead Garrett.
It eventually took the School Specialty name from one of the businesses it acquired in 1995.
In 1996, School Specialty was bought by U.S. Office Products. Two years later, U.S. Office Products broke up into five companies and School Specialty became a publicly traded firm. It bought its largest competitor, Beckley-Cardy Group, later that year.