by Tina Manzer

The Educational Supplies & Furniture Program from Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM) is coming up, February 9-12. The goal of the non-traditional, appointment-only “trade show” is to drive long-term, critical business relationships between buyers and sellers.

To find out what educational buyers can expect at the Château Élan Winery and Resort in Georgia, we recently talked to Jeff Smalley, the company’s senior vice president of General Merchandise. With 25 years of experience in consumer packaged goods, Smalley joined ECRM last June. His mission is to lead efforts to grow engagement with buyers and sellers in his division, which includes category-specific programs ranging from Innovative Technology to Interior Home & Mindfulness Living items. Here is what he told us about the upcoming educational supplies/school furniture program.

Ed Dealer: In 2018, ECRM held a school furniture event late in the year, separate from its educational supplies program in February 2019.

Jeff Smalley: And for 2020 we’ve added furniture back in. Truly it’s where it should be. As we move forward with the core focus of school supplies, school furniture will remain in the program, along with arts & crafts, books, and educational toys. The sellers who come here want to engage with educational dealers and distributors who sell through a catalog and online.

That’s the big difference between this program and our School & Office Supplies Program in August. Buyers there are brick-and-mortar retailers or have subscription-based services. Some of them are online retailers, and there are end users as well.

For February, the program is pretty packed. It’s actually one of ECRM’s larger ones. We’re excited about that. Percentage-wise, the event is spread almost evenly across all the categories we present.

Does this program cover more categories than other ECRM events?

Not necessarily. But we may see more categories emerge. For instance, within “educational toys” we are watching the progress of STEM/STEAM.

What I’ve discovered from attending traditional tradeshows is that you can’t walk into an exhibit hall today and see all the STEM-based products in one place. It hasn’t become its own category yet. STEM products are mixed in with other products; with all learning toys and those that focus on math or science, for instance.

ECRM is starting to attract more and more smart technology companies, so we’re closely monitoring the growth of STEM/STEAM. In addition, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are key terms right now.

What other products has ECRM identified as “growth” products?

Something that’s really hot, but like STEM/STEAM has not developed into its own category yet, is “sensory.”

Right now, data companies define products as sensory only if the outside of the packaging says so specifically or it’s included within the nomenclature of the package itself. Sensory products are part of other categories, but that’s changing.

Sensory items are no longer defined only as a solution for children with ADHD. Instead, their use has grown as part of a tremendous movement to help kids, all kids, be more attentive and learn at a better pace. As a result, more toys, tools and materials will come to market with a sensory appeal to them.

Helping children with special needs will be one of the products’ drivers, but there are others. For instance, 90 percent of us shake our legs as we talk on the telephone. It helps us focus on the task at hand. Today, more and more items are available that we can use within our hands to help us focus – without shaking our legs.

Yes, consider the number of adults who keep fidgets and other sensory objects on their desks.

That’s a fantastic point. The products are evolving well beyond school into office, home, and even your commute to work. Sensory items enable a better learning process – or better learning efficiency, if you will. It’s no longer “just” a solution to a problematic situation.

Another cool thing about them is their price points. They are incredibly conducive to purchase; low enough to be impulse related. Prices range from $9.99 up through $29.99, so sensory items are great basket builders. They don’t restrict you from also purchasing other items, like books, a toy, or a binder. And then they enhance the use of those items.

We are excited to get behind it, to push sensory as a category. Watch for it to come into its own in the next 12 to 18 months.

How about the other categories covered by this program?

According to our data, arts & crafts is a growth area. It includes any items that help consumers personalize something, or make something that’s generic their own. It ranges from stickers to drawing tools to coloring. Our data shows that adult coloring books, for example, are still a popular fad.

ECRM is a facilitator. The data we collect helps our sellers engage in our programs. It gives them a reason to have meetings with the buyers we attract.

We do a pretty good job of getting ahead of the trends. We identify them, and then identify the niche sellers in the marketplace. We bring them in and match their core capabilities with each of the buyers out there. By doing so, we give sellers a platform that they normally couldn’t get on their own. Then we continue to guide them with data so that they have a successful program.

In 2021, the ECRM Educational Supplies & Furniture Program will move from Georgia to the Weston Hilton Head. It will also have a new Monday-through-Thursday format, from February 8 through 11, “because the Super Bowl is scheduled for Sunday, February 7,” notes Jeff.


Meaningful Support for Teachers

ECRM recently teamed up with the Kids in Need Foundation to honor America’s teachers and provide critical school supplies to those most in need. In Georgia in February, the two organizations will kick off their new Teacher of the Year award program, designed to raise money for the foundation and to recognize one teacher and one retailer who have helped students succeed in the classroom.

The program culminates in August with an awards gala, preceded by a charity golf outing, at ECRM’s School & Office Supplies Program in Scottsdale, Arizona. A portion of the proceeds goes to KINF.

Scheduled for August 9-13 at Scottsville’s Phoenician Hotel, the annual school and office event is attended by suppliers, retailers, and distributors. A special guest speaker will be announced shortly, and sponsorship opportunities exist for each hole of golf.

Teacher of the Year candidates will be among the 14,000 who have applied for Teacher Supply Boxes from the Kids In Need Foundation. Teachers in the program share stories of the ways free supplies from KINF have impacted their classrooms, like creating more equitable learning environments, improving student behavior, and expanding children’s interest in learning.

Participating ECRM suppliers and retailers will have the opportunity to identify teacher candidates for the new award, and to advocate for them throughout the first half of 2020. Participants will also amplify their teacher’s story and provide them with two Teacher Supply Boxes containing a classroom’s worth of school supplies.

“With so many teachers going into their own pockets to purchase supplies for their students, we knew we had to find a way to give them meaningful support and help our industry get involved,” said Jeff Smalley.

The winning teacher will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to The Phoenician Hotel to receive their award.

To learn more about the Kids in Need Foundation, visit kinf.org or giftateacher.org. For more information about ECRM School & Office Supplies program, visit ecrm.marketgate.com.

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