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Rebecca Kochenderfer, Editor of Homeschool.com sat down with Brett Walter, the Founder and President of the Homeschool Buyers Co-op, to talk about the Co-op and the services it provides to homeschoolers.  For more information about the Homeschool Buyers Co-op, click here.  Note: Co-op membership is FREE and confidential.
 

September 10, 2009
 

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INTERVIEW:

Rebecca:  Welcome, Brett.  Why don't you start by giving us an overview of the Homeschool Buyers Co-op?

Brett:  Sure.  With over 49,000 homeschooling family members, the Homeschool Buyers Co-op is the world's largest purchasing cooperative for homeschooling families.  In a nutshell, what we do is use our purchasing power to get volume discounts on high-quality curriculum for members.

Rebecca:  What a great idea!  How did you come up with it?

Brett:  Well, when my wife and I decided to homeschool our twin boys over four years ago, we went to a local homeschool conference.  I was wandering through the vendor exhibit hall, and it struck me – school districts get volume discounts, but we homeschoolers are all paying retail prices!  The reason for that, of course, is that school districts have purchasing power, and homeschoolers don't.  So I went up to some of the vendors and said, "If I were to put together a buying group of homeschoolers, would you give us volume discounts?" and they all replied "Of course!"

Rebecca: Fast forward four years.  How is the Co-op doing today?

Brett:   Well, we now serve 49,000 families, but with over 1 million families homeschooling, we sure wish that more of them knew about us – we could save them so much money!  That's why we're always saying to members – "Tell your friends and homeschool groups!"  A large membership is the key to the savings we are able to bring to homeschoolers.  Having said that, I'm very pleased that our membership is now large enough that we are taken seriously by virtually every curriculum provider in the country.

Rebecca:  I have seen some incredible offers on your website for brand name curriculum like Rosetta Stone, Discovery Education, and Kaplan SAT Prep.  You call them "Group Buys", I think?

Brett: That's exactly right. We contact educational providers and say, "Hey, we think our members would be interested in your products. Would you give us volume pricing if we put together a buying group for your products?" If the answer is "Yes,", then we set up a Group Buy offer page on our website and say to members, for example,  "Hey everybody, by purchasing as a group we will all save at least 20% and as much as 50%, depending on how many of us buy; so tell your friends!"  Most Group Buys last only a month, but in many cases, once we hit the maximum discount, we are able to continue the Group Buys indefinitely, thereby locking in the great pricing for new members as well.

Rebecca:  Are most curriculum providers willing to work with the Co-op?

Brett:   Yes.  There are a handful of companies that have declined to work with us, but the vast majority of the companies we contact are very supportive and come through with some absolutely fantastic pricing.  Some great current examples are Mark Kistler drawing subscriptions (save 60%), Meet The Masters art education (save 50%), Simply Music  piano curriculum (save 35%), Explode The Code Online phonics curriculum (save 42%), and more.  You can find many more examples in the Group Buy section of the Co-op website.

Some other suppliers want to work with the Co-op but are unwilling to discount their products.  So, when we can, we become a reseller, sell at the required price, then rebate roughly half of our earnings to members in the form of SmartPoints – a special Co-op currency that can be used to purchase other curriculum available through the Co-op.  A perfect example of this is Rosetta Stone.  When members buy Rosetta Stone through the Co-op, they get the lowest price anywhere, free shipping, and a pile of SmartPoints that they can use to purchase other curriculum through the Co-op.  It truly is the BEST DEAL ON THE  PLANET for Rosetta Stone.   Other similar examples are Switched-On Schoolhouse from Alpha Omega and BrainPOP.

Still other suppliers have wonderful products for homeschoolers but have virtually no homeschool marketing program.  They are willing to give the Co-op member discounts because we take on the heavy lifting of promoting and supporting their products.  Some perfect examples of this are Discovery Education streaming Plus (save $176), Discovery Education Science, and Discovery Education Health.  Members can save over 47%-76% on these products. Other examples are Destination Math (save up to 66%) from Houghton Mifflin,  The History Channel Multimedia Classroom Series (save up to 40%), Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trips (save $450), and BrainWare Safari (save $290)

Finally, there is a large universe of fantastic curriculum products that are not available to homeschoolers – except through the Co-op, if at all. That's not because the publishers are hostile to homeschooling, but simply because they haven't worked out the economics of marketing to and supporting homeschoolers at prices that are affordable to homeschoolers.   So, in those cases, the Co-op will purchase a school or district license, and then bring members in under our license.  Some examples of this are Kaplan SAT Online Prep (save $350), Aha!Math (save 50%), EasyTech (save 45%) from Learning.com, and SkillsTutor(save 57%) from Houghton Mifflin.

Many of the products offered through the Co-op have won numerous educational awards.  One of the things we hear over and over from members is not only appreciation for the great discounts, but also appreciation for the high quality of the curriculum that we make available.  We are very proud of that record..

Rebecca: Do you have Group Buys for products from Christian publishers?

Brett:  Absolutely. We run periodic Group Buys for Answers In Genesis, God's World News publications, Drive Thru History from National Day of Prayer, and products from Alpha Omega Publications, Standard Publishing, and others. We have frequent Group Buys for Dave Ramsey's financial literacy products. Dave is well-known for his faith. We also work with secular publishers. Keep in mind that we have a large and diverse membership. Many of them have gifted children, and they are interested in challenging curriculum such as Thinkwell video courseware (save up to 44%) and Descartes' Cove. Others have children with learning challenges, so we help out with self-paced, multi-sensory curriculum such as Skills Tutor (save 57%), Destination Math (save up to 66%), Math Fact Fluency (save 60%), and YourTeacher.com (also a math product) (save 64%).

Rebecca:  So, to take advantage of these great deals, homeschoolers need to join the Co-op.  I understand that membership is free??

Brett:  Yes, and absolutely confidential. We have a strict privacy policy, we do not rent or sell member contact info.

Rebecca: How do I use my membership to get discounts?

Brett:  To participate in any Group Buy, you simply place your order on our website and you get the group price automatically.

RebeccaCan you tell us about what else our readers can find on your website?

Brett: One of our most popular features is our free Homeschool ID card. You select a template, type in your info, upload a digital photo, push a button, and, voila! Our software generates an ID card image that you can print and laminate to make a passable ID card. Or, if you want a sturdy, professionally-printed ID card, we'll print it for you on PVC plastic for only $6.95. We also have a free classifieds section and many other free services for homeschoolers. We maintain several databases of very useful information such as Free Curriculum, Field Trips, and Educational and Contests & Scholarships.  We also have a large group of suppliers in our network with ongoing, exclusive discounts  for members.

Rebecca:  Brett, thanks so much for sharing this information with us!!

Brett:  You are very welcome!  Please ask your readers to forward this interview to their friends and homeschool groups!


   
 

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