SMRI has been conducting a quarterly survey of school marketers for several years. This year, the survey provides a unique insight into the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our industry. As the first quarter ended, the pandemic was spreading throughout the country and schools were closing with no clear sign of how the school year would end.
Survey participants were feeling the pain from school closings and bracing for a tough second quarter. They reported sales down by -4% for Q1 2020, -7 points below a forecast of +3% made at the beginning of the quarter.
Many schools declared they would not reopen in the Spring of 2020 and the second quarter forecast was bleak. Survey respondents expected Q2 sales to drop by -35%. More than half of the respondents (54%) said they planned no change to their promotion and advertising budgets. Another 40% were planning to cut their budgets by an average of almost one-third (-29%). The expectation for FY2020 was an overall forecast of sales down by -17%.
We do not know how successful schools will be with hybrid systems that combine in school and remote teaching. Nor do we know how many schools will continue with completely remote education systems.
Looking for a Rebound by 2020 Year End
As the second quarter ended, survey respondents reported actual sales down by -26%, 9 points better than their forecast. Their overall sales forecast for Q3 was -13% and the 2020 full year forecast remained the same as it was at the end of the first quarter, -17%.
At this writing, many unknowns remain. We do not know how successful schools will be with hybrid systems that combine in school and remote teaching. Nor do we know how many schools will continue with completely remote education systems.
Less Competition for Catalog Mailers
According to the second quarter forecast, 51% percent of those surveyed planned to mail in fall 2020. Additionally. 56% plan to mail in January 2021. For those companies that do mail in the fall of 2020 or January of 2021 there will be a significant decrease in competition in the mailbox.
Stay in Touch with Your Customers
We know that schools will eventually reopen and that supplemental materials and school supplies will be needed for next school year. We do not know exactly how or when educators will make purchasing decisions. In light of this, it is especially important to stay in contact with customers and other interested parties.
Virtually all of us maintain house lists — emails and postal addresses of the educators who have bought from us in the past and others who have inquired about our products and services. Educators will check their emails daily and, even if schools are closed, they will periodically go to school and check their mailboxes.
Make an Offer
You have the opportunity to show that you care by making special offers to this audience. Offers can take numerous forms. Discounts are first to come to mind, but free trials and extensions of credit are also a way to provide incentives to a purchasing process that requires consensus and approvals. While these offers can be risky with prospects that risk is greatly reduced when making such offers to customers who have a history of making payments.
Participate in the SMRI 15 Question Quarterly Survey: In addition to overall survey results, survey participants receive changes in sales and forecasts by industry type including publishing, school supplies, and furniture. Also, they receive breakouts by market type including elementary, middle/junior, and senior high school. All individual survey responses are kept in strict confidence. To sign up go to www.smriinc.com.