Sunday, November 22, 2009

We Are Thankful for Our Great Customers

People that make an extra effort are always appreciated, and shopping at a specialty store such as The Golden Apple Learning Store does require a little extra effort.
For one, you have to go against the powers of the big media/advertising machines that trumpet brand names and simple solutions. You have to gamble that you can judge an item's value on its own merits: few things in our store have ever had an ad campaign; they don't feature Sponge Bob on the package; They're just toys (but you can always ask us why they're great!). If everyone shopped like loose cannons, retailing in our country would likely collapse, along with the advertising industry.
Secondly, you have to buck the social norm of shopping where everyone else shops. It's not a small thing. The old saying "No one ever got fired for buying IBM" may not be true anymore, but the convention that going with a recognized, national brand is the safest choice is still prevalent. You may like being a rebel, but will the person for whom you are buying appreciate the effort?
We, of course, believe the benefits of shopping at a small independent store are many, and worth the effort. Check out the 3/50 Project for a few reasons. There is also one big benefit for us - the people that give us their business are the cream! We can't expect everyone to shop with us all the time, but the folks that do are exceptional, and we're grateful.

The playhouse in the picture is a Color Me House that was decorated by one of our exceptional customers, Julia. Thanks for sending us the pictures Michèle!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An Imploding Industry

As readers of this blog know, we've been doing this a long time. So long in fact, that I am able to brag to the others at the Senior Center that I knew Frank Schaffer. If you don't know who Frank Schaffer is, let me tell you, he's a legend in the school supply industry. He invented the Cheap Chart! (Not quite at the level of inventing the laser, or the microchip, but...). Our history with the Frank Schaffer company is complicated. Once upon a time, we were joined at the hip. About half of everything we carried had the FSP logo. The company was famous for creating packages every year at the trade show - just buy the package, you get every new product, plus all the racks and displays, you don't have to pay for it for a year and we will take an extra 50% off the price for you. We filled our store with new charts, workbooks, bulletin board sets. When corporate merger fever arrived in the 80's, FSP was one of the first victims. They were bought by Instructional Fair, their chief competitor. That was ok, because we loved IF too. Then the new, merged company was bought by McGraw Hill. We loathed McGraw Hill. They were carpet-baggers, trashing companies, stealing the best stuff for their direct to schools division and firing all the people that made the companies good in the first place. Within a few years, McGraw-Hill sold the now hollowed-out company to School Specialty, who's entire business was selling directly to schools. After that, we dropped all FSP/IF/McGraw products. (By the way, this included dozens of other companies - Ideal, Judy Instructo, ATA, Good Apple etc. that had been swallowed at various times) The good news for the School Supply industry was that most of the great people that had made up all those companies drifted to new, innovative companies that still had ideas and energy. The main place they landed was Carson Dellosa.
Today I received an email telling me that Carson Dellosa has bought Frank Schaffer. This has turned into a giant Katamari that will eventually absorb everything. It's bad news for the industry - less publishers means less quality books. In the short term, it means we may carry Frank Schaffer products again. Wish I could be happy about that. I'll try to write more about this trend later.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let's Celebrate the Private Sector!

It's not news that California schools have suffered massive budget cuts. Many schools are getting by on $1000 less per student, along with increased class size and staff cuts. Not an easy environment to learn in. This week, report cards arrive in our local schools, with parent conferences following. What that means for the Golden Apple Learning Store is business! Parents will turn out in droves for flashcards, workbooks and games. This first report card is always an eye-opener, and this year there will be lots of open eyes. The only way to assure personalized instruction is to do it yourself, and that's our chance to shine!
I would prefer better schools. Happy engaged teachers, small class sizes, and excited students would be as good or better for our business. I would rather have kids excited about reading, math and science - oh the things I could sell! Bring back the days of energized teachers with money to spend!
Instead we sell lots of remedial materials. When report cards arrive this week we will all learn the real-world effects of budget cuts.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Build It Up, Knock it Down

Apparently, this is something you don't outgrow. We see this live about 20 times a day. I hope his mother made him clean it all up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Risk, Toys and Oysters

From the New York Times
"A federal effort to ban the sale of raw oysters harvested during the warm months along the Gulf Coast has kicked up a hurricane of opposition from oystermen and members of Congress and threatened to derail a signature food-safety initiative by the Obama administration.
The government plans to ban the sale of raw oysters taken from the Gulf of Mexico in warm-water months unless the oysters are treated to destroy deadly bacteria.
At issue is how far the federal government should go to save the lives of 15 people each year who die from eating contaminated raw oysters."

What's the connection? The Toy Industry is being turned upside down by the new CPSIA law that was passed a little over a year ago. Many small toy manufacturers (and stores) are threatened with extinction because of a poorly written law that punishes the little guys, while letting the big guys skate. Read more about the status here. Meanwhile, the seafood industry feels that saving 15 lives a year isn't worth forcing them to take basic steps to insure a safe product. Remember, no deaths or serious injury have been attributed to unsafe toys sold at Specialty Toy stores. Not per year, ever. The issue seems to be more about power than protecting consumers.
(by the way, I love oysters, and don't really think they need to be nuked. What ever happened to not eating shellfish in months without R? Also, look both ways before crossing the street!)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where Does Music Come From?

Last month, Bill Harley visited our store. For those of you who aren't familiar with Bill, he is a Grammy winning singer/songwriter/storyteller. His songs and stories are perfect for school-age kids, as he captures the thoughts, feelings and trials of that age perfectly.
We were thrilled with the turn-out, and it was a special treat when Bill brought out his guitar and performed several songs for his fans. I was happy to see the kids enjoying music being made. It's very easy to disconnect the sounds that come out of cd players and ipods from the people that play. Seeing a person strum a guitar, open his mouth and produce music is magic, and the closer kids can get to the makers of this magic, the better. Live performances by musicians keeps them in business, and allows them to connect; it's an important connection for everyone.

How Do We Fix Our Schools?

"To fix our schools, we need teaching programs that are as rich in resources, interesting, high-reaching, and thoughtful as the young people we want to attract to the profession. Show me a school where teachers are smart, well-educated, skilled, and happy to be there, and I'll show you a group of children who are getting a good education."
-- Susan Engel, senior lecturer in psychology and director of the teaching program at Williams College, in an op-ed in The New York Times, November 1, 2009