If the last few years taught us anything, it’s that businesses need to adapt and innovate to stay relevant and successful during challenging times. Especially those reliant on business from in-person institutions like schools.
Yearbookplanet, a family-owned enterprise serving the greater Toronto area, embodies this spirit of adaptation and innovation. Matt Sloan runs the business alongside his wife, Mary, and his kids, who also lend a helping hand in multiple departments. Matt discussed his company’s journey from being a yearbook publisher for over 20 years to becoming a thriving player in the school apparel market.
Embracing Change in Challenging Times
Beginning in 2000, Yearbookplanet was originally a yearbook publisher serving Canadian elementary schools. The business had a strong niche and a solid reputation throughout the Canadian school system.
But the onset of COVID-19 brought the yearbook industry to a standstill. School closures and limited activities changed the face of the traditional school experience.
That drastic change also altered what kinds of products school customers wanted. With that significant shift, Matt says Yearbookplanet had to think outside the box to keep the business afloat.
Yearbookplanet had previously only dealt with apparel for schools on a referral basis, where Matt would recommend printers to his customers for their swag needs. But with the change in school culture and product demands, Matt and his wife decided to venture into the apparel industry to provide schools with custom apparel options.
“Having been in business for over 20 years, we had a lot of contacts,” he explains. “So we knew how to get in touch with all the school principals and secretaries.”
The business initially focused on helping schools set up individual web stores where students and staff could order personalized hoodies and T-shirts. This transition helped the company start generating steady revenue during the height of the pandemic. But Matt says their existing web store solution eventually hit a wall.
“One day, I was setting up some new stores, and a notification came up that said we were out of webpages,” he explains. At that time, His web provider only allotted a certain amount of pages and stores, effectively preventing them from adding more customers.
Yearbookplanet suddenly faced another challenge: Finding an online store solution that could grow and scale with the company’s fledgling school store business.
Yearbookplanet + InkSoft Stores
On the hunt for a solution that provided them more flexibility, Yearbookplanet chose InkSoft. Matt says both the ability to run several stores without limitations and the ease of setup made it an easy choice.
“Within 20 minutes, customers had a store link and could see what their store looked like right away,” he states. “They were thrilled because they thought it would be a month before a store would be ready.”
InkSoft Stores also made it simpler for Yearbookplanet to relaunch a sale or campaign and keep track of records for all the various schools the business worked with.
“Previously, when we just had a web page, if someone called two months later and said they didn’t get their full order, it was difficult to track all the information down,” he states. “Once we started using InkSoft, we could trace the day, the school it was delivered to, and what the order contained.”
Finding a better option for online stores also came with a few other needs. Because of COVID, Matt says he sought a platform to handle order management and efficient fulfillment that met zero-contact protocols most places were adhering to.
“You couldn’t have school secretaries opening a box and handing out shirts,” he explains. “Orders had to be packaged and organized when they left the shop for easy pickup.”
Now, Matt says he was able to ship out orders with detailed packing slips and size counts so every school customer knew exactly what they were getting.
Additionally, Matt says the integration with ShipStation facilitated efficient order processing and shipping, enhancing the overall customer experience.
Growing with InkSoft + Yearbookplanet
Through a school-based intranet, Yearbookplanet’s reputation as the go-to source for Canadian elementary school stores and apparel began to grow. Matt says principals from various districts would hop on and tout the benefits of working with the company and running successful online stores for their classes.
That word-of-mouth campaign has grown the business yearly since they started offering stores.
“Within six months of signing on with InkSoft, we doubled our volume, and then we doubled again the following year,” says Matt. This year, he estimates Yearbookplanet will be up by 20%.
In terms of stores, the business has maintained as many as 80 stores for schools since it started using InkSoft. Branding, he says, has been super convenient.
“For example, if the school says their customer colors are green and black, then we’ll brand the store with those colors,” he states. “The store looks professional, which is good for them and us.”
Yearbookplanet: Two businesses under one roof
Even as the company flourished with school apparel, Matt says the primary goal was to do the same thing they’d already done with yearbooks: exceed expectations.
“We wanted to make sure we delivered good customer service because we were known for that for the yearbook side and knew the yearbooks would eventually come back,” he states.
Once life returned to normal, Yearbookplanet had two parallel businesses under one roof. Matt says they’d found the perfect fit by combining their prior success selling yearbooks with their recent luck with school apparel.
Meeting evolving customer needs
Since those early days of the pandemic and up to now, Matt says Yearbookplanet has continued to meet the changing demands of what school customers want.
“One thing the pandemic did was get schools to focus more on recognition, community building, diversity, and marking student achievements,” he notes.
Exclusively through heat transfer decoration, the business provides its school customers with a range of decorated apparel to meet these expanded categories.
Matt says focusing on the elementary school market has ultimately helped Yearbookplanet stick out. He says his competitors often overlooked elementary schools or stuck them with setup fees or inconvenient ordering experiences.
“Customers said they would have to sort out boxes and don’t have time for that. So we offer individual web stores,” he explains. “It makes it easy, and we take care of all the customer service, and every order will have a packing slip.”
A family affair
Like most print and promo businesses, Yearbookplanet is truly a family operation. Matt’s wife, Mary, and their children, Daniel, Thomas, and extended family Emma, all help keep the business running at full steam. That includes everything from cutting out heat transfers and packing orders to graphic design and video. Matt says that this family-oriented approach extends to customer relationships, where the personal touch of speaking directly to the business owner provides a unique level of trust and customer satisfaction.
Looking ahead, Matt says Yearbookplanet envisions continued demand for recognition products in the elementary school market and a continued focus on community-building initiatives from schools.
“We see a continual growth with online stores, so it’s steady as it goes,” he states, adding that Yearbookplanet aims to keep meeting the demand of its elementary school customers and growing to fit their needs. “You don’t want to grow so quickly that you can’t answer a phone, but I think it’s better to grow steadily so you can still pick up the phone when customers call.”
For more information, visit https://yearbookplanet.com/.