Final word from Sian Haskell

Tapping into education.

The education sector offers huge potential for independent office products dealers wanting to increase their bottom line and capture sales within the growing and profitable school and colleges market. 

There are many sales opportunities available as schools look to invest and stock up on their supplies for the year ahead. As with all industries, when selling to schools it is important to really get to know your customers’ needs and requirements so that you can recommend the right products. It’s not all about price – good product knowledge and advice is crucial when it comes to selling educational products. Engagement with customers is also essential when trying to maximise sales in this stable yet lucrative market.  

Build on your strength

An education catalogue is a vital tool to establishing yourself as a credible supplier and allows you to clearly set out your capabilities.

Dealers need to generate awareness of their ability to supply educational products and have a focused sales campaign with targets for sales teams to open doors with local educational establishments.  

Office products dealers have the added advantage of being able to provide a local, personal service. In the UK market, the buying period of local authorities is usually between April and June. In my experience they generally actively seek a local business that is part of the community. 

Don’t hesitate to strongly market your USPs, including stock room management, storage of bulky items and a flexible delivery service. Also, always try to leverage your high service levels and customer service excellence wherever possible – this isn’t something the mainstream educational suppliers tend to do well.  

A dealer group can support its members with a complete educational programme to help gain new business from local schools. This may incorporate preferential terms with relevant suppliers, catalogues, direct mail and email marketing together with training and advice on how to market your business within this sector. It can give office supplies dealers the opportunity to quote on annual bulk purchases as well as ongoing business throughout the year. It can also help them remain a valuable supplier to schools on specialist education products while developing their general office supplies business at the same time.

Dealers need to listen to the conversations of those working within the education sector and get to know their irritations and satisfactions. This will then allow campaigns and promotions to be tailored. Use these to your advantage to raise awareness amongst your target audience.

Dealers can also level the playing field by switch-selling to entry-level products. In education catalogues, the price on the page is the sell price in the majority of cases. ‘What you see is what you pay’ is the norm for most education customers rather than ‘list less’ or separate contact lists.

Product focus

Many of the top-selling commercial stationery products such as pens, pencils, filing and printer supplies are also bestsellers in education. Indeed, in many instances a dealer’s office products range will closely mirror an education supplier’s office products range. 

More unique products include exercise books which are usually forward-ordered and supplied in bulk rather like diaries in the commercial market, and classroom supplies such as stickers, stamps and specialist papers, as well as classroom furniture and lockers. Significant volumes of audiovisual equipment are now also being sold into the market.

The style of teaching is continually changing in both primary and secondary schools and with that change the resources and the equipment required. With iPads at one end of the spectrum and more paper-based craft materials at the other, this creates the need for secure storage cupboards and more IT accessories.

Classroom chairs, tables and storage units are perennially popular with primary schools, especially flexible dining furniture that can be easily put out, folded and stored away. June is the time to target schools for furniture sales as these high-value projects are usually negotiated around this time so that goods can be delivered and installed during the (UK) summer holidays.

There is huge potential in the education sector. With the right support dealers can really tap into this area to maximise sales.