Educational Development Corp. posted sales of $32.5 million in fiscal 2015, with earnings of under $1 million. By fiscal 2018, revenue had soared to $112 million and profits topped $5 million, but Randall White acknowledges that EDC had lots of challenges in dealing with the explosive growth.
The Tulsa, Okla.–based company has two divisions: its traditional publishing company, Kane Miller, and its home business group, a direct selling operation that currently has about 35,000 home-based representatives that primarily sell the Usborne book line. The direct selling unit has been the primary driver of EDC’s sales (its revenue in fiscal 2018 was $104 million) and earnings gains, and White traces the sales boom to two factors. The first was his much publicized decision in 2012 to stop selling to Amazon, a move aimed at assuring EDC’s reps that they wouldn’t be undercut by Amazon’s prices, which made recruiting easier. The second was the decision to have the reps focus more of their efforts on the web in general and Facebook in particular, rather than using traditional home party events to sell books.
The first year EDC saw significant gains from the new selling approach was fiscal 2016, when revenue doubled over the previous year. To keep up with demand, in calendar 2016 EDC installed a number of new software systems as part of a plan to upgrade its warehousing and fulfillment operations. The new systems, however, had numerous bugs, so even though EDC reported a 68% increase in sales and a 35% gain in profits in fiscal 2017 over 2016, White admitted that the year was a difficult one.
“It wasn’t a lot of fun,” White recalls about the process of trying to keep up with orders in the 2016 holiday season. The mistakes of 2016 led to a complete overhaul of EDC’s operating system in calendar 2017, and to the hiring a new chief financial officer. Those actions have paid off, and in fiscal 2018, though sales growth slowed to 6%, earnings jumped 82% over the previous year. The trend of earnings growth exceeding revenue gains continued into fiscal 2019 when—for the first six months of the year—profits rose 43% over the comparable period in fiscal 2018, on an 11% sales gain.
White says that profits will probably continue to grow faster than revenue in the immediate future. And on a personal level, he adds that he can take a little time to appreciate what his company has accomplished: “It’s been quite a ride. I love being involved with children’s literacy. It has been very rewarding.”