Company Drops Plans for Teachers To Sell Games

By Jonathan Weisman — June 05, 1991 2 min read
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An unusual effort to mobilize an army of teachers to market kits of ''individualized” educational games was abandoned last month after nine months of disappointing sales and mounting investor fears.

The Intelligy Corporation of Pleasanton, Calif., has sold the marketing rights to the games package, known as “Wings,” to a firm that employs a more conventional sales force.

Intelligy drew widespread attention--and sparked criticism from some educators--when it announced last year that it would require Wings salespeople to have a teaching license or prior teaching experience. (See Education Week, June 6, 1990.)

But investors and others close to the project said last week that most of the 1,200 teachers who signed up for sales training had proved to be less-than-stellar sales representatives.

“Teachers are not what you might call aggressive sellers,” said Esmond Goei, director of Transtech Ventures, a venture-capital firm that has invested about $2.5 million in Intelligy. “While they believed in the product, they weren’t exactly going out there and pushing it.”

When Wings was launched last August, Intelligy officials projected that annual sales would reach $100 million. But according to Donald D. Kingsborough, the firm’s founder and president, sales reached a 2,400-family test market in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, and several California locations, then stagnated.

Last month, Mr. Kingsborough, well known in the toy industry as the entrepreneur behind the once-popular Teddy Ruxpin and Lazer Tag toys, sold the marketing rights for Wings to the Memphis-based National Safety Association, a direct-marketing8company with a sales force of 62,000.

In an interview last week, Mr. Kingsborough refused to disclose the price of the sale, but said it was for “not a few million.”

According to Carol Swain, an associate professor of education and director of the elementary-education program at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., teachers had enthusiastically embraced the product, a set of toys that would be “customized” for each child based on responses to a series of questions and activities for parents to complete.

“But [teachers] feel a real conflict of values when they go into the marketplace,” said Ms. Swain, who consulted on the development of Wings. “When it came time to go and sell, they just weren’t getting out there and making the contacts they needed to make.”

Mr. Goei of Transtech Ventures said his disappointment at the failure of the project went beyond the bottom line. He said inadequate teacher salaries were at the heart of the country’s educational problems, and he had figured the $10,000 a year he thought teachers would make selling Wings part time would be “a great way to help teachers and solve America’s education crisis.”

But at the time the effort was launched, some educators felt the concept of using teachers was “kind of crude,” as Jewell Gould, director of research for the American Federation of Teachers, put it last year.

Ms. Swain acknowledged that the idea was primarily to capitalize on the trust parents have in teachers and the professionalism of an educationally trained sales force.

Mr. Kingsborough last week again predicted that annual Wings sales would reach $100 million, but said it would take four to five years.

A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 1991 edition of Education Week as Company Drops Plans for Teachers To Sell Games

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