Couple start company to make school supplies more accessible, affordable for families

Investing in the community leads to a brighter future for everyone.

That's what Clare and Brandon Richards hope to achieve through their startup Impacks, a tech-powered company that simplifies back-to-school shopping by partnering with schools across the nation to give parents a streamlined way to buy school supplies online. A custom portal is created for each school partnered with Impacks, and parents can order kits for their children at a reduced cost that are shipped directly to their school. A future goal for the company is to launch a ship-to-home option.

The couple first got the idea for the company after taking part in multiple school supplies drives locally through Rotaract — a young leader service organization under the umbrella of Rotary. The Richards started the St. Cloud chapter of Rotaract in 2015.

Clare Richards"We just saw this same need occurring over and over — lack of support in the classroom for the students when it comes to supplies, teachers spending exorbitant amounts of money out of pocket for school supplies on behalf of their students — it's not a good system," Clare Richards said. "If we were to have a lasting impact, I think it would be by creating a system that's a little bit more equitable, a little bit more consistent, and a lot easier for parents. If we can make this an easier solution for parents and we can amplify the social impact of that school community, then perhaps we wouldn't have teachers spending an average of $750, up to $1,000 per year on school supplies. There's this ripple effect that happens by making back-to-school easy and affordable."

The Richards started Impacks in 2020, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some school partners had to back out initially due to the overwhelming changes brought about by the pandemic, the company was able to partner with enough school districts to continue its launch. In the years since, Impacks has grown by leaps and bounds.

The company's revenue grew by 498 percent from 2021 to 2022, and aims to see a similar growth trajectory for 2023. While it was only in Minnesota in 2022, Impacks now has over 100 school and community partners across eight states in the upper Midwest. It moved from a 2,000-square-foot warehouse to a 10,000-square-foot facility, and received the 2022 Innovation Award from the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation. While brick-and-mortar retail is not Impacks' primary strategy, it recently launched a partnership with Coborn's for in-store school supplies kits for St. Cloud Area School District 742 parents.

"We're really trying to change the dynamic of back-to-school shopping in America. If you think about the system now, it's not great," Clare said. "Parents are spending hours shopping from store to store trying to find everything they need, or they're buying everything through digital retailers like Amazon and way overspending. It's very inconvenient, and there's no consistency across schools in terms of what is required for an education."

According to the National Retail Federation, average back-to-school spending is up to $140.39 per student — and that's not including clothing and shoes, food or any technology. Impacks' average school supply kit costs $50, and contains everything specified in a participating school's supply list. The company has established relationships and negotiated pricing with major brands like Dixon Ticonderoga, Elmers and Crayola, among others, that allows savings to pass on to customers, the Richards said. Saving money on school supplies may seem like a smaller step toward improving the education system, but the savings add up quickly — especially for families with multiple children, Clare said.

"It is a smaller component, but even the small components have a deep impact over the entire system," she said. "I hope for Impacks to really make a dent in that system in a positive way."

Impacks is a for-profit organization rooted in a social impact methodology with a built-in donation capacity for its school partners. Parents can contribute to their child's classroom with a donation, and Impacks increases that impact through a matching donation. On top of that, Impacks works with businesses and nonprofits to facilitate school supply drives throughout the year. Impacks has generated nearly $40,000 in donations, with the help of community members and businesses, for schools across the upper Midwest.

"The story is compelling, the mission is compelling," Clare said. "If you're doing good in the world and you're trying to create a more positive social impact mission and vision, I think you bring people along on that journey and I'm super, super proud of that."

The couple hopes that, as Impacks continues to grow, they're able to spread positive change throughout different areas — not just in education, but economically and socially in communities as well.

Brandon Richards"We'd like to make a big impact on the local St. Cloud community as far as being a major employer," Brandon Richards said. "That would be pretty cool for us here."

"I'm not particularly money motivated, but if we become independently wealthy through this business venture or other business ventures we explore over the course of our lifetime, my hope is to leverage that to contribute to the community," Clare said. "I've seen the power that funding can have when we're talking about these big ideas to change the fabric of a community for the better."

In addition to their work through Rotaract, the couple takes pride in being community driven and involved in other ways. Brandon has helped coach and currently advises the Esports program at Alexandria Technical & Community College, while Clare serves on boards or councils for the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, Central Minnesota Community Foundation, Granite Table and the University of Minnesota-led Center for Integrative Leadership. Clare was awarded the 2023 Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award by the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce — an award that has historically been handed out to the likes of numerous U.S. presidents as well as Elvis Presley and Henry Ford II, among others. Clare works as CEO of Impacks while Brandon is COO, and both are co-founders.

"I'm behind the scenes," Brandon said. "Clare's the face — a much prettier face, too."

Brandon earned his degree in psychology from St. Cloud State in 2013, while Clare earned her graphic design degree in 2014. They both said they appreciated the atmosphere and reputation on campus as well as the affordable education the University offered. While both have moved away from their original programs, they said SCSU gave them a solid foundation and valuable skill sets for starting and growing their own business, as well as being able to handle the new challenges and opportunities that come with it.

"I still feel like the education I received was important as a foundational piece that set me up for what my career trajectory eventually led to," Clare said. "Starting a business is a heavy lift, and you're learning new skill sets every single day — things you never thought you would need to know — and you get outside your comfort zone pretty much 98 percent of the time."

"Yeah, I don't know that you're ever in a comfort zone," Brandon added.

Clare said one of the most powerful things universities like St. Cloud State can do is invest in the local community — through partnerships, through forging that relationship with local employers — to create pathways for graduates to stay in the region.

"I'm very, very passionate about greater St. Cloud and I want to see an evolution with our higher education institutions in the region really creating those pathways. I think SCSU has done great work in this area, and I think more amazing work is yet to come, and I'm very excited about that," she said. "We're really active in the Greater St. Cloud community, especially in the burgeoning startup ecosystem. I believe Greater St. Cloud is well on its way to becoming an innovation and startup hub, and I'm excited to be here for the journey." 


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