Magento Celebrates World Book Day at Imagine with First Book

April 23, 2018

What better way to celebrate #WorldBookDay than a chat with Carey Palmquist, Senior Vice President for eCommerce at the nonprofit, First Book. Appearing on stage at Imagine on Monday, Palmquist told Mark Lavelle and the General Session audience how First Book transforms the lives of children in need: They provide brand new, high-quality books and educational resources, sports equipment, winter coats, snacks, and more – with an eCommerce operation based on Magento Commerce.

“We have about 375,000 educators who serve kids in need. They come onto our marketplace site and buy books and other basic needs at really great prices, because they don't have any money,” Palmquist said. “Our eCommerce site is a gateway to resources for the teachers who are helping kids in need...our whole premise is to level the education playing field for kids, regardless of socioeconomic status.”

Since 1992, First Book has distributed more than 175 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in more than 30 countries. First Book currently reaches an average of three million children every year and supports more than one in four of the estimated 1.3 million classrooms and programs serving children in need. With an additional 1,000 educators joining each week, First Book is the largest and fastest-growing network of educators in the United States exclusively serving kids in need.

Palmquist explained: “We have two distribution models. One is called the National Book Bank and that’s all donated inventory that comes to us from publishing partners who—instead of pulping it—give it to us. Last year we took our Book Bank and we put that on the Magento platform too. So now our educators can either go onto the marketplace site and buy products or they can go onto the book bank site and get free books, and they don't have to pay for shipping and handling. Our distribution model is made possible because of Magento.”

Palmquist, who joined First Book after four years as executive director of the nonprofit, Operation Warm, said Magento makes the site tick. “We can make changes quickly and make the experience really wonderful for our teachers.” Because teachers have little screen time, Palmquist said, they need to keep their site updated with new content. “The ability for us to do that on Magento is wonderful and it keeps our folks coming back, because every time they see something interesting. Magento is a fabulous platform. We just love it.”

“Our goal is to become 100 percent self-funded,” she added. “So, we don't have to go looking for money from foundations or high net worth individuals. It’s a big job to do that.” But for now, Palmquist said she was delighted to be taking home from Las Vegas a check from Magento Commerce for $10,000. She also enjoyed the experience of joining other commerce innovators at Imagine.

“We’re the front-runners in putting product out on a Magento site and selling it to this population,” she said. “Magento has also afforded us the opportunity to bring in products from other nonprofits and move them through our logistics pipeline.”

But the real innovators, said Palmquist, are the teachers.

“They’re heroes.”