Generations of Learning

05/23/2024

Creative Teaching Press Celebrates 60 Years
by Victoria Ritter

 

Founded in 1965, Creative Teaching Press has become a staple in the educational industry. The company has grown to provide resources in the forms of individualized learning, classroom décor and workbooks. Today, the second-generation family business is celebrating its history and looking to the future.

 

A recipe for business

Founder Luella Connelly taught at the elementary level for 17 years before taking master’s program classes. During a creative writing class, she conceptualized a collection of writing ideas called “Recipes for Creative Writing,” which became the first product of Creative Teaching Press.

“My parents literally launched it from the basement of our home. I was in middle school at the time,” said Jim Connelly, Luella’s son and current owner and CEO of Creative Teaching Press.

After a couple years, Luella and her husband Pat moved their business out of the basement and set up operations in Huntington Beach, CA. Soon after, Creative Teaching Press expanded its offerings to include individualized learning resources; it became one of the first companies to offer supplemental items for classrooms.

Early product lines included materials for primary and intermediate learning levels; Learning Centers workbooks, which students could work on as they waited for classmates to finish their lesson; dozens of titles for Story Starters; and Math Games That Teach. Creative Teaching Press sets itself apart by providing materials that are designed for grade ranges rather than a specific grade.

“The founding premise of the company was textbooks at the time were designed for the median child at the middle of the bell curve,” Jim said. “There were always going to be kids who were moving faster or slower than the pacing of the textbooks. We developed products that teachers could easily integrate into their lessons to help kids who were moving faster or slower.”

Jim eventually became involved in the educational supply industry, making connections along the way. He helped his parents throughout his college years; and in the 1980s, they asked Jim if he wanted to come back to work at Creative Teaching Press. Jim likened his return to coming home.

“It’s really fulfilling,” he said. “One of the reasons I came back to the industry was the educational dealers. I really felt a warmth from that part of the market.”

As the owner and CEO of Creative Teaching Press, Jim upholds the company’s mission of providing affordable and valuable resources for teachers.

 

The smell of success

Business took off in 1976 when 3M came to Creative Teaching Press with their Scratch ‘n Sniff products.

“They were trying to get Scratch ‘n Sniff into books,” Jim said. “They felt the sensory experience of having a smell along with the text would help.”

However, the companies weren’t able to produce Scratch ‘n Sniff books in an affordable way. One day when Luella was talking with a representative from 3M, she noticed samples of Scratch ‘n Sniff stickers. Together, they produced packs of 72 and 12 stickers in four scents.

“It just blew up,” Jim recalled. “We had a year exclusive on Scratch ‘n Sniff reward stickers from 3M from 1977 to 1978 and we couldn’t keep them in stock.” Between 1977 and 1984, Creative Teaching Press sold between 50 and 60 million stickers, according to Jim.

Creative Teaching Press’ experience with Scratch ‘n Sniff opened them to other product areas. In the 1980s it started to provide classroom décor including bulletin board materials, calendars and posters. As the 1990s began, an educational dealer expressed a desire to compete with larger book publishers such as McGraw Hill and Wright Group Publishing. In turn, Creative Teaching Press produced a 72-book Learn to Read series that was half the price of competitors’ products. Now the company is on its third version of the series, among other book titles.

“We refresh the illustrations and the text every few years,” Jim said. “We have about 400 titles now. We sell those globally. The last I knew, we’ve sold over 50 million copies.

“There’s a fun aspect with the illustrations and the story, but there’s always some kind of instructional message, too,” he continued. “They serve a dual purpose.”

 

Evolving with the times

Even after creating a robust offering of individualized learning resources, consumables for the classroom and books, Creative Teaching Press continues to look for ways to improve.

Over the years, the Creative Teaching Press team heard that teachers tended to set up their classroom décor at the beginning of the school year, making small changes through the following months. In the mid-2000s, team member Sue Lewis developed graphic designs to align with their needs.

“Her idea was that teachers were in their classrooms as much as they were at home and a lot of them wanted to make their classroom comfortable,” Jim said.

“Every design has an educational purpose behind it – whether it’s a border or a cut-out,” said Suzie Slope, sales and marketing manager.

Educators and other consumers are finding more creative uses for Creative Teaching Press’ products. Teachers turn adhesive name tags into labels for bins and file cabinets. Bulletin board borders have become headbands and crafting supplies for students.

“Teachers are pretty creative,” Jim said. “They always find different ways to do things. It’s fun to stay in touch with them and get feedback.”

Currently, Learn to Read and workbooks are the most popular educational products while borders and punch-out letters are stand-outs in the classroom décor segment.

“They can be used universally,” Jim said. “We find them in high schools and retail stores. Anyone who wants to create a sign can buy our punch-out letters. They’re fun, cute and colorful.”

“Hospitals, day care centers, college departmental offices, anybody can use these letters,” Slope added. “They’re easier to use than stickers. And they’re not just letters – there’s a design element to them.”

Creative Teaching Press has new products coming out this summer. Decodable Books – available in English and Spanish – are designed to help students improve reading accuracy, gain reading confidence and empower independent reading. Meanwhile, the Jungle Friends and Star Bright series will add pops of color to classroom walls.

“Every year we come out with new décor items and every year we’re either revising or coming out with new books,” Slope said.

Buyers can find these and more items on Creative Teaching Press’ online catalog. Jim explained that the company, in an effort to support educational dealers, offers products online at retail prices. Additionally, the company participates at various trade shows including CSI, ECRM, homeschooling shows and educational shows in Dallas and Las Vegas.

“We have a multi-pronged approach – not just marketing to our dealers, but also marketing to our users – which is very important,” Slope said.

 

Looking ahead to the next 60 years

With Creative Teaching Press’ 60th anniversary approaching next May, Jim is dedicated to the survival of his family’s company. In 2019, the company underwent a big change, outsourcing its production and distribution centers to Cincinnati and consolidated operations to about 20 employees in California, most of which are focused on sales and marketing.

With a “great culture” and a diverse product offering, Jim hopes operations will remain strong over the next few years.

“It’s very rare for a company to be in business with the same owner for 60 years,” Slope stated. “It demonstrates a lot of what Jim’s parents started and what he’s been able to carry on for all these years. We’re excited for what the future holds and we’re ready for another 60 years.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *