By Dennis Abrams
Benjamin Conn, founder and former owner of school book distributor Knowledge Industries, Inc., and his wife Marla Conn, a former schoolteacher and president of the educational consulting firm Readability, have started a new educational distributorship and publisher for grades K-8, the Classroom Library Co. Their goal is to build their business not from a corporate perspective, but from the perspective of teachers and their needs.
The St. Louis-based company will provide classroom-ready collections of books tailored to the student’s reading levels and state-mandated standards, and has signed an exclusive partnership with Charlesbridge Publishing’s School Division.
“We say there has to be a middle ground of being able to provide great value — all our books are discounted 30% — plus educational support,” explained Ben Conn, who says they will provide everything from the books to the bookshelves to put them on. “What we did was look at it from the perspective of a classroom teacher.”
Conn is also supplying digital learning materials: “We’ve got a Smartphone app that gives them the title, level, genre, etc., so that they can lend the book to a child instantly. But it’s not just about the books we sell ourselves – we took the databases of publishers we’re not able to sell and we include those in our app. So it’s not just us but what the teacher has in the classroom. We’re going to organize and make their classroom library easier.”
The company’s aims to build on the “model” of retail bookselling, with individual service tailored to the customer’s needs. “We want to make it easy for people to call us – we’re not going to rush, and we’re not going to rush you through it. Tell us what you need and we’ll come up with a solution to it.”
How committed is Conn to providing the ultimate in customer service? His cell phone number is listed on the site. If you want to talk to the boss – you will. And his dream is to get children reading. “That’s all that matters. I’m not naïve enough to think that every kid is going to go to college and be a rocket scientist, but, hopefully, we’ll at least help to give him the life skills he needs.”