Classroom Prep in Just One Step: An Interview with Sonja of Supplies By Teachers

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Let’s say for a moment you are mother with two elementary school aged children, working full-time, and has a husband with a super busy schedule. The end of summer is drawing closer and on top of shopping for school clothes, immunizations, and open houses, the kids need school supplies. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a website you could visit and order all of the supplies with one click and have them shipped to your doorstep by the time you can remember to procrastinate again?

Thanks to a smart woman named Sonja, you can. When a heart in teaching and an obsession for office supplies collided, Supplies for Teachers, was born. While the idea for the niche of online shopping was originally designed to help teachers prep their classrooms, busy parents benefit from the idea as well. Before we explain what Supplies for Teachers can do for you, here is more behind the edupreneur who is helping thousands of people every year.

Sonja:  I am currently teaching 28 first grade friends. Supplies by Teachers is growing and I still really enjoy being in the classroom. I started teaching in 1997 in San Jose where I taught kindergarten and second grade. In 2000 I moved home to Seattle and I was hired to teach first grade…where I still am today! Over my career, I have done a lot of work with technology. I have been designing and maintaining web pages for 15 years. I actually like to read HTML code!

ET: What inspired you to start Supplies for Teachers?

Sonja: My love of school supplies! Actually, my husband encouraged me to start a business after years of seeing me buy lots and lots of “stuff” for my classroom. His family is in the office furniture and supply business so he has first-hand knowledge of the business. He also saw that most of the technical aspects of the business could be done “in house” which helped keep our initial overhead down.

The idea of Supplies by Teachers isn’t particularly unique but the difference between Sonja and someone else who may have had the idea, was taking the first step. This is what turned Sonja’s hobby into a profitable business.

Sonja : The first steps were figuring out what products we were going to carry and to do a lot of market research. Was there a need for a business such as ours? Are other businesses doing the same kind of business? I looked through product catalogs for 4 years narrowing down the products we were going to carry. During these 4 years we came up with a name, logo, motto “classroom prep in just one step” and finally, for Christmas a couple years ago, my husband got the whole business set up through Legal Zoom!

Even though Sonja had the support of her husband, she admits starting a business was challenging. She managed to overcome her fears with balance. And because she could not neglect other responsibilities in her life, she took small steps over the course of four years to get the business started. It was during that time that she chose not to discuss her plans with family and friends because she wasn’t sure she could do it, but she did not stop working towards her goals. She knew she had done well when she reached her proudest achievement.

Sonja: I think my proudest achievement so far is the day that VELCRO started following us on Twitter! It was early in my social media days (you know last April) and one day “VELCRO is following you” popped up on my screen. My 1st Grade Team and I were jumping up and down…super teacher dorks!

ET: What advice would you offer for teachers who are thinking about starting their own business and have not taken the leap?

Sonja: Be patient. Set achievable goals. Have a great team. It takes time a long time to get things going in a business. My husband stressed the importance of a business plan, which helped me set goals. My most important advise, is to have a great team. My husband and several friends help make the business work. We pick up where the other left off and help each other with whatever is needed. We also have lots of laughs along the way!

Eventually, Sonja wants to be able to work part-time both managing her business and in the classroom to create time to volunteer at her children’s school more.

Connect with Sonja and learn more about Supplies by Teachers at Sign up for the email list to receive coupon codes and featured products.

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