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2019 Sales Up +3% Compared to 2018's +1%

Amazon, SEO, and President Trump Moving the Numbers

Feb 5, 2020

By Bob Stimolo

Survey participants reported sales up by 2% for Q4 2019 - well below the forecast of +5%.  The FY 2019 finished overall at +3% in sales.

If there is a bright side it is this:  2019 sales actuals reported for every company type and market category by far exceed any corresponding statistics projected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  In their most recent report entitled Projections of Education Statistics to 2027, total enrollments were projected to increase just +.2% (that’s 2 tenths of a percent) between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years. Current expenditures in constant dollars were projected to increase a total of +1.6% which was a little over half of the overall reported sales increase for 2019 of +3%.  NCES projects the 2020-21 school year current expenditures in constant dollars to increase by the same rate of +1.6%.

Will 2020 Be Another 3% Year?

Are we looking at another 3% sales increase overall for 2020?  The overall forecast from the Q4 survey for FY2020 is +5% in sales.  Unfortunately, we have somewhat of a history of being overly optimistic about the full year, especially with the forecast in the first quarter, but we’re getting better.  Last year our Q1 forecast for FY 2019 was +4% and the year-end actual was +3%.  Not bad forecasting compared to earlier years.  In 2018 the year ended up just +1% against our first quarter forecast of +6% and 2017 ended up +4% against our Q1 forecast of +7%. Up and Coming

Eighty-one percent of our survey respondents are top executives in their companies, with the majority selling into the K-12 market.  The two biggest reasons given for sales performance in Q4 2019 were overall economy and competition from – the first time Amazon has risen to second place in explaining sales results.  Fifty-five percent of respondents are planning no change to their promotion and advertising budgets, leaving a rather large percentage (45%) who are unsure going forward.

Increased Feeling for Modest Improvement in Economic Conditions Before School Year Ends

Just over half the respondents (51%) anticipate no change in economic conditions before the end of the 2019-2020 school year.  Thirty-eight percent are optimistic, anticipating a modest improvement before the school year is out – twice the number that anticipated modest improvement in the 2019 Q3 survey.

SEO Beats Email for the First Time

Sales Reps and Direct Mail remain top choices for most effective marketing media followed by Search Engine Optimization which beat out email marketing as the third choice for the first time.  Fully 60% believe that President Trump will be reelected, up from 44% in the 2019 Q3 survey, 24% think former Vice President Joe Biden will be elected president, up from 19% and just 2% think the next president will be Senator Elizabeth Warren, down from 14%.


Survey Responses by Question

Primary Business

            School Supplies                       36%

            Furniture                                   34%

            Publishing                                19%

            Other                                         6%

            Technology                                4%


What is your title?

            President/Owner/General Manager         66%

            VP Marketing/Director of Marketing       15%

            Other                                                    15%

            Product Manager                                    4%


Which do you consider to be your primary market? (multiple responses)

            Preschools/Day Cares              26%

            Elementary Schools                  77%

            Middle Schools                        60%

            High Schools                            60%

            Colleges/Universities                 21%

            School/Public Libraries             11%

            Other                                         2%


Relative to last year, would you say that your fourth quarter 2019 (October 1st through December 31st) school market sales were:

                                                Average                                       Average

                           2019      Increase/(Decrease)         2018      Increase/(Decrease)

            Up           48%                  12%                     43%                  10%

            Flat         26%                    0                       24%                    0

            Down      26%                 (14%)                    33%                 (14%)

Overall Q4 2019 Sales +2%


To what reason(s) do you attribute this performance?  (multiple responses)

            Overall Economy                                           33%

            Competition from                      28%

            Marketing Strategies                                      26%

            New Product Development                             26%

            Change in the Timing of School Spending       24%

            Change in School Funding Levels                   17%

            Growth of Technology in Schools                   15%

            Enrollment Change                                          2%

            School Choice/Vouchers                                  2%

            Weather and/or Natural Disaster                       2%


Relative to last year, would you say that your fourth quarter 2019 year-to-date school market sales were:

                                                Average                                       Average

                           2019      Increase/(Decrease)         2018      Increase/(Decrease)

            Up           52%                  10%                     49%                   9%

            Flat         22%                    0                       20%                    0

            Down      26%                 (10%)                    32%                 (11%)

Overall Q4 2019 YTD Sales +3%


Are you changing your promotion and advertising budget in response to current economic conditions?              

                                                                Average (Cut)/Increase

            Cutting Budget                13%                    (13%)

            No Change                      55%                       0

            Increasing Budget            32%                      9%


Relative to the first quarter of 2019, what are you forecasting for the first quarter of 2020 (January 1st through March 31st)?

                                                Average                                       Average

                           2020      Increase/(Decrease)         2019      Increase/(Decrease)

            Up           60%                   7%                     62%                   7%

            Flat         32%                    0                       26%                    0

            Down       8%                 (16%)                    12%                  (9%)

Overall Q1 2020 Forecast +3%


Do you expect economic conditions to improve before the end of the school year?

            No Change                               51%

            Modest Improvement                38%

            Modest Decline                          6%

            Major Improvement                     2%

            Major Decline                             2%


Relative to full year 2019, what are you forecasting for full year 2020?

                                                Average                                       Average

                           2020      Increase/(Decrease)         2019      Increase/(Decrease)

            Up           72%                   8%                     75%                   7%

            Flat         17%                    0                       15%                    0

            Down      11%                  (7%)                    10%                 (14%)

Overall FY2020 Forecast +5%.


Who do you think will be elected as our next president?

            President Trump                                60%

            Former Vice President Joe Biden        24%

            Other                                                 14%

            Congresswoman Elizabeth Warren          2%


FREE List Critique
Still planning your promotions for the 2020 Winter/Spring season?  SMRI has the most experience reaching PK-12 educators. You can benefit from our research and testing. Contact us for a FREE list selection critique. Call 1-800-838-3444 x201 or email

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