Article from the St. Louis Business Journal, published on October 10, 2019
2018 revenue: $18.45 million
2016-2018 change: 153.94%
The mission of Classroom Library Co. is simple: Get kids reading. CEO Benjamin Conn and his wife, co-founder and publisher Marla Conn, hope to extend that mission as far as possible.
When they started the company in 2011, it was a culmination of both of their lifelong passions. Benjamin Conn grew up in his family’s retail book business in Brooklyn, New York, while Marla spent 18 years in education as a reading specialist in nearby Queens, New York, before moving into publishing consulting.
A few years after moving to St. Louis, the couple decided to merge their interests and launch CLC. The company distributes books and other classroom resources to pre-K-12 school districts and other private retailers around the country.
The Conns planned to do big business from the beginning — when they launched operations in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse at the old Corvette plant on Union Boulevard. Over the past three years in particular, though, growth has picked up. CLC grossed $18.45 million in revenue in 2018, an increase of more than 150% from 2016. Though it began as a husband-and-wife team, the company now employs 30 people and expects to top $20 million in revenue this year.
That growth has been driven by the company’s unique approach. “There’s nobody really packaging or distributing these books in a way that the schools or customers can consume,” said Benjamin Conn. “We aggregate everything so there’s a really good user experience.”
When a school or entire district needs to update its curriculum, CLC’s representatives help it select the exact mix of materials needed to meet its specific goals along with state and national standards. As of this year, the company has added thousands of organizations to its roster. CLC works with private labeling for companies such as Barnes & Noble, providing books for deployed troops in the U.S. military, and with many school districts around North America.
The rapid growth is fueled by the Conns’ knowledge of the business and passion for the mission.
“It’s all bootstrap, meaning that we have no private equity, we have no big money behind us,” said Benjamin Conn. “We have Enterprise Bank who loans us money, we pay it back, we borrow it again and so on.”
This year, the company acquired Texas-based proprietary publisher Novel Units, which has provided CLC with its first opportunity to develop its own resources. While CLC currently sells single primary sources, say the novel “Catcher in the Rye,” Novel Units will enable the company to sell packages that include teacher guides and student packets along with the novels.
Year founded: 2011
Headquarters: North city
Number of local employees: 30
Top local executive: Benjamin Conn, CEO