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August 15-31, 2005 Edition
Making Big Difference
For Inner-City KidsNEW JERSEY/8/7/05In an online article in the North Jersey News, staff writer Richard Newman profiles the founders of Peoples Publishing Group, which expects to soon have sales of $50 million. James J. Peoples and Diane M. Miller launched Peoples Publishing in 1991 with four full-time employees after acquiring the publishing rights from another publisher. Today it employs 175 people and has sales of $32 million.
Peoples, who in the 1980s had served as president of Prentice Hall’s and Simon & Schuster’s educational publishing arms, says he set out on his own 15 years ago because he wanted to use his knowledge and publishing experience to make a difference in the world.
His vision at first was to create instructional materials that would better serve inner-city public school children, and that would speak more directly to the cultural experience of the minority groups that were having a tough time in school.
We were losing a whole generation of young kids, especially children of color, he said.
Miller, who had worked with him in the past, shared his vision.
During the 1980s she was the publisher of Globe Books, a supplemental educational materials company owned by Simon & Schuster.
Peoples expects that 2005 will again be a profitable year, and the company has a goal of building sales to $50 million. “More importantly,” Peoples says in the article, “we feel we are making a difference for millions of students in this country.” Read the full story at the North Jersey Record/HeraldNews site.
“She brought all the product development experience I didn’t have,” Peoples said.
As luck would have it, the market for multicultural and remedial educational materials for grades K-12 never gained traction. Only after the company began focusing on test preparation materials did the business start to grow rapidly. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which links test scores with eligibility for federal funding, provided an added boost.
Sales climbed to $32.5 million last year, up from $18.8 million in 2002 and $6.5 million in 1998.
A $3 million stock offering in May put the company on the NASDAQ small cap exchange where its shares have been trading lately at around $7.25, up about 15 percent from the initial price of $6.30.
Peoples and Miller didn’t start the business completely from scratch.
With financing from Cherry Tree Investments – a venture capital firm in Minnesota, a subsidiary of which remains the largest shareholder – they acquired a company in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1991 that was selling $750,000 a year in remedial instruction materials.
“We bought a lot of finished titles and titles in the works,” Peoples said.
Peoples, who started out working from the basement of his Franklin Lakes home, and then from his accountant’s office in Rochelle Park, moved the company into its current headquarters at 299 Market St. in Saddle Brook about five years ago. About 155 of the firm’s 175-member workforce are employed there, said CEO Brian T. Beckwith.
Product development, editorial production and marketing are done in-house, with warehousing and some of the copy-writing chores handled by outside contractors, he said.
Beckwith, who is former president and chief operating officer of the encyclopedia and children’s book publisher Grolier Inc., was one of several new managers brought in between 1999 and 2001 as the company became a force to reckon with in the $3 billion supplemental classroom materials market.
Peoples remains chairman of the company and has taken on more of an advisory role.
Miller, also a board member, and one of the three largest shareholders, is executive vice president.
“I regard our first 10 years as an incubation period,” she said.
The company started selling test preparation materials in the late 1990s and sales climbed from $278,000 in 1997 to more than $20 million last year, representing nearly two-thirds of the company’s overall sales. Sales of remedial, multicultural and college preparation materials make up the rest.
The “Measuring Up” line of diagnostic tests and test preparation guides based on state standards have become the flagship products. Sales representatives are hawking “Measuring Up” to public school teachers and administrators in more than a dozen states and new books are being produced for launch in additional states.
The company also has teamed with Cisco Learning Systems to develop online test preparation programs.
And just this year, the firm launched new “focused instruction” materials and teacher-development guidebooks for New Jersey, Florida, Texas and other states, based on those states’ math and reading standards.
Competition in the supplemental materials market is intense with major publishers such as Scholastic, School Specialty and McGraw Hill all vying for market share.
And the company experienced a downturn in the first quarter due to an increase in spending on new product development and a seasonal downturn in revenue, related to the school spending cycle.
The company posted a loss of more than $800,000 in the quarter. Second-quarter results are scheduled to be released on Thursday.
Peoples still expects that 2005 will again be a profitable year. And with his initial goal of building a business with $50 million in annual sales seeming to be within reach, he now has his sights set on $100 million.
“More importantly,” he said, “we feel we are making a difference for millions of students in this country.”
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