Economic downturn? Not at this business

Updated 1/26/2011 6:14 PM

ScholarBuys, a small business in Carpentersville, is an anomaly in today's economy. Not only is it growing at a rapid pace, but the 4-year-old company is excelling in an area that has seen deep budget cuts and fewer resources: education.

Through -- and its offshoot -- school districts, colleges, consortiums and students are able to purchase educational hardware and software from publishers like Adobe and Microsoft for up to 85 percent off retail prices.

Some of the deals include Microsoft Office Professional, which retails for $499, available through for $94.95. Or how about the design program AutoCAD for $184.95 through compared to $3,975 from a traditional retailer?

The concept for ScholarBuys is based on group buying and the economies of scale. But unlike the most omnipotent group buying company in the country, Groupon, ScholarBuys offers the deals for an extended period of time.

"There's definitely a bunch of people out there that are not aware of the discounts still," co-founder and vice president of operations Matt Ryan said.

Ryan, who started the company in 2007 with Bob Smith, now vice president of sales, said the company serves as a channel from the publisher and distributor to consumers. He said ScholarBuys is able to establish purchasing agreements between publishers and groups of schools, a specialized focus that is unique in the area, Ryan said.

"The process of verifying or proving that someone is a student or faculty member is very tedious," Ryan said. "You're not going to find these discounts at a regular retail store."

Students can also take advantage of the discounts through the company's VarsityBuys website, which resells software and other products directly to students. All of VarsityBuys' advertising is done through social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.

The concept has worked for ScholarBuys, which grew from just over $4 million is revenue in 2008 to almost $8.2 million in 2010.

"Our philosophy from day one has been to run a very lean operation, incorporate innovative strategies, and focus on building long-term relationships," Ryan said. "We knew we could do more with less if given the opportunity. It just so happened that the recession was that opportunity. It has allowed us to assemble a very talented team of recent college graduates. Additionally, office space and secondhand office furniture is plentiful."