|Trust goes a long way with homeschoolers|
|Written by Sarah Rice|
|Friday, 13 March 2015 10:55 AM America/New_York|
Showing home educators you’re in their court has the potential to grow store sales
Home education is now legal in every state, and with a second generation of homeschool kids being raised by parents who were themselves homeschooled, Christian retailers need to take note of this growing market. There are an estimated 2.5 million children being homeschooled in the U.S. today, and with home educators spending an average of $1,000 annually per child on curriculum and supplies, the market is one Christian retailers cannot afford to ignore.
Parents want to have a say in their children’s education, spend more time together as a family and provide a safe environment for learning. This educational choice also allows parents to tailor materials for each child to how they learn best—and retailers can play a supportive role to these parents.
“Books and homeschoolers are virtually inseparable terms,” said Israel Wayne, author and second-generation homeschooler. “Many homeschoolers—myself included—believe the best learning often happens through reading biographies, firsthand accounts of history and original-source ideas from great thinkers.
“We want our children to be saturated in a literary environment rather than an entertainment environment,” Wayne added. “We want to help them unlock their imaginations, rather than be over-inundated with mind-numbing, fast-paced visual imagery.”
Whatever parents’ reasons for educating their children at home, they take this responsibility seriously and make a heavy investment in finances and time.
FIT AND FAVORED
So, where does the Christian retail store fit in? Retailers who effectively communicate their support of the homeschool mission through the resources they offer will win an audience among homeschoolers who will be sure to share the store’s name within their networks. Retailers then can serve this community by continuing to build and maintain relationships with them.
Deborah Scott, formerly with East Tennessee’s Cedar Springs Christian Stores, shared about her store’s work on behalf of homeschoolers.
“We carry homeschool product as an outreach to our local homeschooling community,” Scott said. “Our commitment to homeschoolers is rewarded by their loyalty and return business. We are known as the place to go in our area to find what you need whether you are just deciding to homeschool, or if you’ve been homeschooling for years. We don’t just ‘stock’ homeschool books. We have staff dedicated to helping parents choose their child’s curricula, and we are available to offer encouragement and even hand-holding when necessary.”
Our company also has learned the value of serving the homeschool market. For many years, Master Books, an imprint of New Leaf Publishing Group has been providing books and other resources to homeschooling families. While we appreciated their acceptance of our materials, we were not specifically targeting the home education market until two years ago when we realized the potential of this market and decided to start publishing homeschool curriculum. Since that time, we have not only seen increased sales revenue, but we have also developed a deep respect for homeschooling families—and we learned a few lessons along the way.
Here are a few tips that may help you as a retailer as well:
1. Find the “alpha moms.” Experienced homeschooling moms tend to have a significant amount of influence in their local homeschool community. They often lead co-ops, organize field trips and become the go-to contacts for a new parent looking to homeschool. Because these moms serve as mentors to new homeschoolers, they have a lot to say about the curriculum choices and methods that are used. They also influence where others might purchase their materials, so reach out to influential homeschoolers in your area.
You might be surprised at how many homeschooling parents are willing to give you input and direction regarding how to best serve their needs. If you show a genuine interest in developing ways to serve them, they will be your best guides. If you see a parent with school-age children in your store during a school day, you can be pretty sure this is a homeschooling family.
One of our mentors was a mom of nine who had been homeschooling for almost 20 years. We met her at a homeschooling convention and found that she loved our books and had a passion to help us. She even had experience developing and selling curriculum. Her knowledge was a tremendous help to get us into the market.
Note that there is no one-size-fits-all homeschooling solution. Curriculum that may sell well elsewhere may not sell as well in your market because the homeschoolers in your market are recommending something else. Be sure to ask some experienced homeschool parents which curriculum your local market is using.
2. Address any bias you may have about homeschooling. Homeschoolers are sensitive to those who believe in what they do and those who don’t. Seek to learn the facts, and if you have questions, just ask. Homeschoolers are used to answering the tough questions.
3. Know that homeschooling is a lifestyle commitment that involves the whole family. Many homeschool parents are also active in ministry and influence other purchasing decisions such as Vacation Bible School curriculum or small-group studies, so you also will have the opportunity to cross-sell apparel, Bibles and gifts to homeschoolers.
INVOLVED AND INVESTED
As you become more invested in serving home educators, consider the following five ways to demonstrate your care.
1. Learn the law. Become familiar with the rules and regulations of homeschooling in your state. A new homeschool parent may have questions, and it would be good to be able to help answer them. Keep a list of websites such as the site for the Home School Legal Defense Association (hslda.org) that could help parents understand the homeschooling process and the law. This will show the community that, as their local retailer, you are there to help them find solutions.
2. Educate yourself. A retailer with a working knowledge of the different types of curriculum will help parents gain confidence about the products available to purchase so they can avoid buyer’s remorse. Subscribe to trade magazines and educational catalogs that feature reviews about homeschool material. Send The Light Distribution (stl-distribution.com/homeschool/) is one company that offers a unique program for retailers to learn about homeschool curriculum.
Ask authors and publishers to help you understand how the format and intended use of the curriculum. Have a local author of books or curriculum relevant to homeschoolers come to your store and share their knowledge. Store employees also would benefit from this event.
3. Invest in the community. Hire a veteran homeschool parent to work in the store a few days a week to assist those who are new to home education or who may have questions regarding how they are homeschooling. The store could also offer “tutor” sessions for parents new to homeschooling. You also may want to stock how-to-homeschool books to help new homeschoolers—and train your associates.
“Homeschoolers are book buyers,” Wayne said. “However, trust is huge with them. If a retail company can somehow distinguish themselves as a reliable source to provide quality content, and can demonstrate that they specifically understand and care about the homeschooling family, they will have a loyal, repeat customer.”
Considering offering workshops or hosting an open house. Feature experienced homeschool parents who could offer advice to parents in the stages of deciding to educate their children at home or not.
Create a monthly homeschool club, and if possible, make a room available for participants to meet in for networking and support. Offer light refreshments to create a relaxed atmosphere that would give the homeschoolers a chance to see new products in the store.
4. Attend homeschool conventions. Participating in these shows will enable you to sell product, learn about marketing techniques and check out sources of new material. Christian retailers will find these conventions to be a great place to build awareness for their local store and what resources are carried there.
5. Build relationships with homeschoolers. Get involved in homeschool co-ops and organizations. Consider sponsoring homeschool trips or providing family discounts on curriculum and supplies. You also may consider offering a scholarship to a homeschooler in your area.
Advertise inexpensively in the homeschool community. If local homeschoolers don’t have a magazine or newsletter, create one and invite them to share valuable tips.
There are many ways to become part of this relationship that is rewarding and valuable. It is a great benefit that you are local to where the family lives, as the homeschool parent won’t have to make large minimum orders, and they can pick up materials at your store without waiting for shipping.
“Most retailers (and publishers) have neglected this growing market to their own detriment,” Wayne said. “As sales slow through traditional brick-and-mortar stores, retailers will need to find ways to attract these active book buyers back into their stores.”
Homeschooling is a journey parents embark on to provide the best educational experience they can for their children. Being part of this process is a huge but rewarding responsibility for the Christian retailer too. There is always hard work when entering a new market, but the payoff is there—if you do your homework.
Sarah Rice is publicist at New Leaf Publishing Group, which houses the Master Books imprint that publishes many titles helpful to home educators.