Remember the fun of back-to-school shopping, when you got to stock up on Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, Five Star notebooks, and gel pens? Kids don't look forward to that late-August trip to Office Max anymore, according to Ido Leffler. He fondly recalls his childhood school shopping trips, but says his daughters don't get excited about amassing crisp, new supplies. "I remember being so enamored by school supplies when I was doing my back-to-school shopping;it was an exciting adventure," he told Fast Company. "When I took my daughters down the aisle they ran past it without even looking left or right."
"Yoobi is the coolest, most innovative, fun, dynamic, colorful school supplies line on the planet," he explained.
School supplies can only get so exciting, and not all of Yoobi's products differ too much from the standard pens, notepads, and paper. But to Leffler's credit, Yoobi puts some fun twists on typical school supplies. The line's pencil case, for example, is a fuzzy cylindrical container covered in an explosion of soft nubbins. It comes in bright colors like purple and chartreuse. In addition, the push-pins and paper clips come in an assortment of colors and shapes, such as pink hearts and bright yellow donut holes. Even the less exciting items, such as notebooks and pens, are available in shades of pink, purple, yellow, and blue. Everything retails for less than $10 at Target, their exclusive distributor, starting today.
Kids seem to like the stuff. A Fast Company editor gave her daughter a bright yellow-green pencil case, and the four-year-old couldn't wait to stuff it with pens and pencils. Leffler said he's tested it with groups of kids, including his own, who all loved the products. "I'm wearing a Yoobi T-shirt this morning and I literally walked into my house and my daughters were like Yoobi, Yoobi, Yoobi, Yoobi—that's all they can say," Leffler said.
But the most distinctive and potentially enticing thing about Yoobi is that for each item purchased, the company donates an item to a classroom pack, which when filled will be sent to a U.S. school in need. Because of a lack of funding, 99.5% of public school teachers spend their own money on school supplies, instructional materials, or classroom materials, according to a recent NSSEA study. On average, they spend almost $500 each. "That is the average teacher; we heard of some teachers spending up to $3,000," added Leffler. "That's crazy on a teacher's salary." And, of course, the teachers who opt to siphon off less of their paychecks for stocked supply closets have barren classrooms.
Together with the Kids in Need Foundation, Yoobi has identified K-3 schools in which at least 70% of the students qualify for the national school lunch program, the metric by which Yoobi has chosen to determine need. Each classroom pack contains 900 items, enough to last a class of about 30 kids an entire year. The supplies are Yoobi branded, but not the exact products sold at Target. Kids don't need jumbo highlighters as much as they need pencils. The standard pack will contain pens, pencils, glue sticks, rulers, folders, scissors, glue bottles, pencil cases, crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Yoobi hopes to reach more than 30,000 classrooms by 2015, giving away pens, pencils, notebooks, and other learning tools to 750,000 kids nationwide.
While that might sound ambitious for a brand-new startup, Leffler has secured key partnerships that should help him meet his goal. A seasoned entrepreneur with the popular Yes To line of products, he used his already existent relationship with Target to get the line in stores nationwide. The big box store makes perfect sense for Yoobi's education-related cause. Target already has education initiatives, and caters to customers who want to support socially conscious brands. "We have a wonderful retailer in Target, which firmly believes in the cause and what we’re doing," added Leffler.
In the era of social entrepreneurship, the buy-one, give-one model is about more than do-gooding; it's savvy branding. When faced with the choice of purchasing a pencil from an established, just-for-profits company, or one from a newcomer with a social mission, many consumers will choose the latter. Hence the success of the Warby Parkers and Toms of the world, which have similar business models as Yoobi for glasses and shoes, respectively.
The Toms BOGO model has been criticized for not actually helping people. And Yoobi, at the end of the day, is a business. The school donations get Yoobi products directly into the hands of its consumer base: school kids and their parents. Plus, the social angle will attract buyers who want to feel good about the products they choose.
But that's what makes Yoobi an exciting new brand in a tired space. "Everything that we do, from the merchandising to the give, is more fun," says Leffler.
[Image: Flickr user Jimmie]