By Donna Giachetti
Even our most devoted customers may not realize that Educational Innovations is a leader when it comes to creating custom science kits upon request. Sure, we have a catalog with hundreds of products, but in truth, there’s no limit to what we can offer our customers. Have an idea for a hands-on kit featuring feathers, magnets, ping pong balls and pipets? Sure! Need delivered to your students’ home? No problem!
Our customer service crew are truly the unsung heroes and heroines of Educational Innovations. They listen, ask the right questions and most of all, they help teachers, parents, and science lovers find exactly what they need—all at great prices.
And now, with our custom science kits, there’s even more reason for us to praise our crew. I interviewed Nina H., the veritable queen of customer service. If you have called us, chances are good that you’ve spoken to Nina. She turns new customers into satisfied converts who wouldn’t think of looking elsewhere for the latest in science materials to inspire young minds.
I asked her about our custom kit program, and here’s what she had to say.
When you speak to teachers, what reasons do they give for choosing to go the custom kit route?
Sometimes it’s a question of how much time they can devote to shopping and compiling all the materials for their students. Other times it’s a money thing. They get in touch because they really love a particular kit that we already have on our shelves, but they don’t necessarily want all the components. Or they have a budget that won’t cover the whole kit. We work with them to stay within their budget.
How long, generally, does it take from the time when a customer first reaches out to when we send them their kits?
It varies. Once we have the final order, we tell customers it’s best to plan two to three weeks for us to build and ship the kits. In reality, we usually do it faster than that.
Sometimes it takes a while for the customer to nail down the kit specifics. It’s not unusual for schools to form committees to make their final decision—whether it be questions related to kit items or budget issues. That kind of group feedback takes the most time, but it assures that the customer will get exactly what they want. The only other thing that occasionally slows us down is getting a purchase order in hand. But it all works out in the end!
The good thing is, once a customer—such as Stanford University—has worked with us on their first kit, they are able to make decisions more quickly when they order a second or third kit. They know the routine and they approach us with clear ideas already in place.
Do teachers call in already knowing what they want, or do you have to brainstorm together?
I’d say it’s a mixed bag. Some teachers call and they know exactly what they want. They send us a materials list, we get the pricing, and it’s a done deal. But just as many times, teachers call with an idea—for instance, “I want my students to build a functioning Ferris wheel”—but they leave it to us to figure out what materials would be most cost-effective and easy-to-use. That was a fun project. We developed the kit, and the customer loved it. In fact, we ended up creating a version that’s now offered on our website, the DIY Ferris Wheel STEM Kit.
Or they may want to adapt some of our existing products. The Surprising Science for Kids collection is very popular for grades 3-8. Each one has six or seven hands-on activities for kids to do on their own. There are topics like Electricity, Magnets, Force and Motion, Oceans, and more. Some schools like the idea of using just a few of the activities in a custom kit.
Aside from K-12 teachers, what other types of customers have ordered custom kits?
We get many requests from universities—Harvard, among others. Those are bigger, more complicated kits that are usually shipped out to the students directly.
Museums call us, too. They like to do outreach at local schools. Plus, some of them sell the custom kits in their gift shops. We’ve heard from a number of after-school programs, Scouts programs, Boys and Girls Clubs… We’re even working with a few corporations who want specialized science information kits for their customers.
Are more custom kits sent to students directly… or to school in bulk?
It varies. We can do either. The good thing about sending kits to students directly is they have their own tracking information. For college kids, this is a benefit. Instead, for lower grades, a teacher might prefer to receive the whole order and hand them out to students. It really depends on whether they are teaching virtually or face-to-face.
What’s the smallest quantity of custom kits you’ve dealt with? Is there an average number of kits per order?
We’ve done as few as 14 kits for a small elementary school. I don’t think I can say there’s an average number of kits. It varies quite a bit. We’ve done 200 kits, 2,000 kits, and even 20,000 kits. Really runs the gamut.
Has there ever been a kit you COULDN’T produce for a customer?
Not yet! We do have to get creative at times. For instance, one school wanted a kit that included animal teeth, which proved hard to find. But we were able to offer them shark teeth, which served just as well for their needs.
Generally, what has the feedback been to the custom kits?
It’s been amazing. Just wonderful to hear from teachers after they’ve received the kits. They’re trusting us with their ideas, and we’re committed to keeping them happy. We’re not trying to just sell you some science stuff… It has to work in your classroom, with your students, in a way that makes your teaching more effective.
I think our custom kits represent that in a nutshell. We hear from satisfied customers every week. They can’t believe we got it done so quickly… at such a low price… with so many quality components. We feel really good about those comments.
Why do you think our custom kits are so popular?
This is such a crazy time for all of us. Whether you’re teaching in class or remotely, chances are good that you’re struggling to find something that will spark that “aha” moment in your students. Educators around the country call us because they’re aware of our reputation, and they know we’ll bend over backwards to help them. It may sound corny, but we really ARE “Teachers Serving Teachers.” It’s just that simple!