With a motto of “Smart Starts Here” and banners inside urging learners to “Believe, Achieve, Succeed,” the store opened about two months ago and stands as a pantheon to the thrills of education.
The interior of the spacious facility entices shoppers with a plethora of colorful and fascinating educational products, from smiley-face erasers and outstanding-student pencils, to oversized Big Time demonstration clocks, world maps, hydroponic kits and telescopes, Bold Buddies hand puppets dressed as sheriffs, knights and pirates and a caterpillar abacus.
The newest in a line of four stores, the Flagstaff shop joins three venues in the Valley: Phoenix, Glendale and Mesa.
The company says it has more than 60,000 customers and proclaims a mission to “Send our children of today well equipped into the world of tomorrow.”
In addition to serving customers at the stores, the business also serves a worldwide clientele with an online educational supply warehouse.
Valley resident Theresa Bundgaard is the owner. “We are always looking for opportunities to expand and grow our business. Business is excellent! July and August are our busiest times of the year with back to school. However, we stay busy year-round!”
She taught in the Phoenix area for more than 10 years and was given the opportunity to purchase the business from her in-laws. Able to stay in a field she was passionate about, she changed the name from Teaching Stuff to Teaching & Learning Stuff to cater to a larger audience, beyond professional educators.
Bundgaard said there are thousands of items in the inventory.
“This changes with the season, but we do a great job of keeping up with the best in educational materials and products,” she noted.
“Reaction to the new store and our breadth of products has been very positive,” Despain said. “People have been excited to find a store where they can buy gifts for children that are both fun and educational. Teachers are happy to find one place where they can get everything they need to set up and run their classroom.”
Involved in education since 1994, Despain worked at Northern Arizona University in the early days of online education and was the former owner of The Learning Bug.
He says he enjoys his new assignment.
“It’s a great place to work!” he said. “I get to interact with kids, work with teachers, and help people learn new things. It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.”
Teaching & Learning Stuff caters to infants and children as young as six months old with simple soft puzzles. It offers items to illuminate the world of older students, challenging them in math and science using remote control machines.
Customers are a fairly even mix of teachers, students and parents.
“Parents and grandparents are very engaged in the educational process nowadays,” Despain said. “They want to reinforce at home what’s being taught in school. Parents bring their children in and we work together to find an item that the child is excited to use. Throughout the year, teachers are always looking for ways to supplement their curriculum.”
There are also many aids for teachers, including wall hangings and banners and deluxe scheduling pocket charts in eye-catching colors.
In addition to the joys of learning, teachers and parents can reward students with mini gold trophies, favors like whistles and balls, shiny starburst stickers, and classic toys like play money.
A popular item is play foam, a sculpting material that never dries out. “Books for practicing handwriting have also been a big hit,” said Despain.
The store’s extra credit program offers rewards for purchases that discount future purchases.
Despain tests the products on his 14-year-old son, who enjoys “Hit the Trail,” a math game that works for kindergarten basics to algebra. He says grown-ups have just as much fun playing and learning as children do. FBN
By Betsey Bruner, FBN