VERSAILLES — From an early age, my life has been influenced by the pages and presence of books. Browsing the covers in my “free time” was a daily habit that has followed me into my adulthood, both as a parent and an educator.
Interestingly, studies have shown that just six extra minutes of reading per day can help children achieve better academic results. Yet, even in 2021, reading can still be a struggle for some children, due to the inaccessibility and cost of providing books. While 53 percent of American fourth graders engage in recreational reading “almost every day,” only 20 percent of eighth graders maintain that same level of interest in reading. One Darke County entrepreneur is committed to closing this reading gap by encouraging educators, non-profits, libraries, churches and preschools to build up their collections by making books more affordable and accessible.
Books By the Bushel, located at 164 Subler Drive in Versailles, is a national children’s book company specializing in distributing children’s books and sole source book collections to nonprofit literacy programs across the country. Started in 2009 by CEO Paula Darnell, Books by the Bushel continues to offer thousands of titles for children of all ages — particularly, from birth to Grade 3.
As an industry professional working for “Reader’s Digest” in Atlanta, Darnell’s editorial focus had always been on providing educators with exceptional, high-quality resources for early childhood education and K-3, building the “Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)” program for “Reader’s Digest” across the United States. When her division closed in 2008, Darnell began to dream of opening up her own book company and publishing house; in March, 2009, with the support of her husband, Mike, and family, Darnell invested $6,000 and opened her business in the garage of her Calhoun, Georgia home.
“Since I can remember I have loved to read. As an adult I found a job as a sales rep for a division of ‘Reader’s Digest,’ and this is where my passion for helping get books into the hands of our youngest readers blossomed. My division at RDA was closed in 2008, and it was my husband who pushed me to open my own book company, “ said Darnell. “I will admit it was a daunting task to open a business during the economic downturn of 2008-2009. My husband has always been my biggest champion and I simply couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
It was during this time that Mike, a U.S. Army veteran and 17-year employee of Dow Chemical, was injured in a serious motorcycle accident, spending six months in rehab, and making a full recovery. When Dow was sold in 2009, the couple decided to move home to Ohio (to be closer to their children), where Darnell continued to advance her business; by 2011, Darnell had leased her first warehouse in Frenchtown and hired Mike to be Director of Operations and Logistics. By 2013, Darnell expanded her growing business by leasing a second warehouse, and by 2016, moved her operations by breaking ground on a new 10,500 square foot facility in Versailles, located at 164 Subler Drive.
In 2016, Darnell’s company also became a nationally certified woman-owned business, undergoing an extensive vetting process through the National Women Business Owners Corporation [NWBOC], whose requirements include at least 51 percent woman ownership of the business, and unrestricted control and management of day-to-day operations. Since that time, Darnell has established her own warehouse in Versailles, and plans to break ground on another this summer, 2021.
“I was in business for over seven years before I took on the task of becoming a certified woman-owned business (NWBOC). It took well over eight months, and included a site visit from the national office, before I became certified.”
As a certified woman-owned business, Darnell connects with many early childhood literacy organizations and programs who are benefited by the availability, selection, and cost of the books offered by Books by the Bushel, including “Reach Out and Read,” a nonprofit that incorporates books into pediatric care facilities, offices and hospitals, “Parents As Teachers [PAT],” a national program which develops curricula that support a parent’s role in promoting school readiness and healthy development of children, “Parent Child Plus,” a national program to assist low-income families in improving literacy, and ”Baby Talk,” a national program to encourage early childhood literacy.
“We are contractually obligated to only sell to literacy programs,” said Darnell. “This can include anyone that is purchasing books to give to children or to assist in teaching children and parents. We sell to schools, hospitals, libraries, homeschool organizations and home visiting programs across the United States and its territories.”
With COVID-19 affecting thousands of schools, non-profits, preschools and healthcare providers, Darnell implemented a plan which would allow for books to be shipped directly to students and families, allowing her many customers to continue their mission to help young readers and families.
“Immediately after we were allowed to re-open, we implemented a ‘Direct To Home’ shipping program to assist our customers in getting books into the hands of their students and families. This was instrumental in us seeing record growth in 2020,” explained Darnell. “This program has allowed us to assist our customers in shipping the books directly to students that are learning from home. We currently ship about 15,000 books a week from our warehouse.”
Although there is no showroom or retail store, local teachers, preschool providers, churches, homeschool groups, and nonprofits in Darke County and surrounding areas who are interested in purchasing books can visit Darnell’s website, sign up for an account, and pick up purchases locally, avoiding costly shipping charges. “Organizations can visit our website at www.booksbythebushel.com and sign up with us. When they go through the check out process, they can select “Local Pick Up” for their payment method. This will remove our shipping charges, and allow them to pick up the books here at our warehouse,” explained Darnell.
With years of experience in editing and publishing, Darnell has created a path for new authors to engage broader audiences. “We work with hundreds of publishers, which allows us to offer a wide selection of books. We also publish some of our own books. We like to think those are our top sellers. We do accept samples of author’s books. They can mail them to us at P.O. Box 261, Versailles OH 45380,” said Darnell, adding, “The publishing industry is a tough market for new authors. My advice would be to talk with an expert to get a better understanding of the best route to go when publishing and selling your own books.”
To learn more about Books by the Bushel, visit their website at www.booksbythebushel.com, or on Facebook. Questions? Just call 877-251-6598, or email [email protected]