Working on Fun School 2 and 3
Europress had a software publishing side to its magazine publishing business.
It had had good success with a title called Fun School, which consisted of 10 programs on tape for £4.95 which was offered exclusively through the magazines for the BBC Micro and its baby brother, the Acorn Electron. The inlay card was cheap and cheerful: in single colour.
This ad was one way these programs were promoted…
…and there was this ad too…
Between Derek Meakin, his son Meash Meakin, and Peter Davidson, the editor of The Micro User who had some excellent ideas, the idea was hatched to create Fun School 2, and make it available for a whole range of computers and sold through shops.
I had plenty of experience of selling software into retail from my 3 years with Micro Power and Superior, so I felt that it should come in a professionally designed box.
One of my best mates at school was Roland (‘Roly’) Quesnel. I knew that one of his sisters, Rachel, was an artist, though she was working full time as a teacher, and had young sons. I rang her and asked her if she’d design the artwork for Fun School 2. She said she didn’t have the time, but she had a really good friend called Wendy Barratt who would be ideal. She invited me round to her house the following week to meet her. I did, I liked Wendy’s portfolio and commissioned her. She did the design, and a very talented guy called Paul McNamara did the illustrations of the bear, frog and robot.
This is what the finished cardboard boxes looked like – double the size of the original Fun School cases…
This is a full-page A4 ad which I commissioned Wendy to design…
Meash loved the designs and decided to manufacture 100,000 boxes!! This was an amazing quantity as the original Fun School probably only a few thousand copies by mail order through the magazines.
Diane O’Brien was the sales person who sold this to the software distributors, and around this time Meash and Derek split off the software division into a separate company and made me Managing Director, and made Diane Sales Director and gave us both shares in this new business. I now had about 30 staff reporting to me. I had never had staff report to me before.
Diane tried to get shops to stock the product. They weren’t interested. Educational software didn’t sell. What was available was poor quality and very amateurishly packaged. So she went on a 200-mile trip by train to London, went into a shop, and got permission to put empty boxes on the shelves. Within 24 hours Diane got a call from the manager of the shop to say that people were picking up the boxes and wanting to buy them – but all he had were empty boxes!
So Diane sold him some stock, then rang other shops and told them of this first shop’s success.
And so Fun School 2 started to sell and do well.
I think it was Meash who brought in a sales promotion team called Impact Promotions. (One of their 2 directors once appeared on the TV show Top Of The Pops in a Wombles outfit when one of Mike Batt’s songs charted.) We paid them about £2,000 (US$3,000) a month so that around 6 of their team would visit computer shops around the country and show them promotional sheets and packaging for our products and encourage them to buy stock from their wholesale distributor.
Fun School 2 was available in 3 versions: Under 5s, 6 to 7s, and 7 to 11s. These were available as tape and disk versions (if appropriate) for a range of computers. This meant that there were more than 30 different versions (SKUs: Stock Keeping Units) in all.
I created a form which these reps had to fill in to show which SKUs each shop had. I received back hundreds of forms, covered in ticks, and the name of each store at the top.
I soon realised that most shops had just 2-4 SKUs – just a fraction of the potential 30 they could stock. The brief therefore to Impact’s team was to get this average quantity of SKUs far higher. They did a great job doing this, and sales rocketed.
Those 100,000 boxes were all used.
The next job was to create Fun School 3. We found a teacher called David Jones to design the 8 programs for each age range. We also came across a brilliant graphics designer for the Atari ST and his friend who was a programmer. So we decided to create the first version of Fun School 3 on the ST. I had some ideas of my own for some of the programs – even though I didn’t have children or know any. I had seen reviews of educational software that was popular in America so I had a rough idea of what was possible and likely to work. David and I spent many hours talking late into the night, and I spoke with the programmers and artist too. And my team spoke with them as well.
We had a blast designing this suite and it was very well received when it came out, with lots of publicity like this…
Wendy, who was now a good friend, did the artwork for this product too…
We also did some PR to help it sell. Here is a photo of me with Richard Vanner (who is now a developer of iPhone games (including iDare), and director of Dark Basic, a PC games creation platform), and Peter Leigh, one of the software support team…
By the time I left Europress the Fun School range had sold 150,000 copies. Since then it has gone on to sell more than 500,000 copies.
Credits: magazine pages scanned by Dave at Acorn Electron World.
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