Back To School: The Sequel

Discussion
Jan 19, 2007

By Faye Brookman, special to GMDC

It may be freezing outside and Valentine merchandise is arriving in stores, but so are back-to-school (BTS) customers.

There is a second season for pens, pencils, notebooks and other items needed by the 55 million students attending schools in the U.S. who are in need of fresh supplies. This is also the season when science fairs kick into gear sending many would-be Einsteins to the office supply shelves. As an added benefit, the stationery department also serves tax season needs as consumers gear up for April 15.

However, one industry observer notes that retailers, dazzled by the opportunities of Valentines, frequently overlook the potential of BTS II and offer little in the way of seasonal promotion, display or excitement.

They could be wrong. According to Dean Erlandson, vice president U.S. sales for Crayola, the BTS II period runs from January 15 to March 15. Although office supply stores get the lion’s share of sales — food, drug and mass marketers have been gaining volume as they enlarge sections. “All three together [back to school, office supplies and science fairs] make it a very lucrative season for those that play hard,” said Mr. Erlandson.

Total BTS continues to be a bigger and bigger business for mass marketers. According to the National Retail Federation, spending in 2006 rose from the year before with the average family shelling out $527.08, up from $443.77 in 2005. It is estimated the sequel season accounts for about 25 percent of that total.

According to more than 500 mothers of grade-school aged children surveyed by Parenting magazine’s Mom Connection and Elmer’s Products, Inc., there are more items on children’s lists than ever before. Over half of moms reported needing to buy twice as many supplies as when they were kids, with items that didn’t even exist years ago such as hand sanitizers, computer supplies, highlighters and colored pencils.

Of course there are standbys that must be featured in the mix such as white school glue, which scored toward the top of the list, and even brand names such as Elmer’s make moms feel nostalgic for their own days of schools.

Discussion Questions: Is BTS II big enough to become a seasonal event for mass market retailers, or will it just erode Valentine’s Day? How and where in the store should this seasonal opportunity be handled? If it becomes part of food and drug retailers’ overall seasonal program, would it provide leverage versus the office supplies stores and big mass merchants?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

11 Comments on "Back To School: The Sequel"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Gerald Friedler
Guest
Gerald Friedler
15 years 4 months ago

The first basic requirement during any school promotional season is to make sure the regular shelf space have the best assortment, TPR or advertised signs, and that the cycle for orders for these sections are double during the fall and winter BTS period. If a section got one order normally, during the promotional periods there should be 2 or even 3. This is easy, high profit business. Once a retailer insures they are taking care of the basics, then there is an opportunity to use some of that extra gross profit to offer very hot specials to further stimulate sales. Also, in January, don’t forget the office supply categories of “organization” and “tax.”

Alex Yakulis
Guest
Alex Yakulis
15 years 4 months ago

I would place a bet that BTS II would complement the foot traffic being enjoyed by Valentine’s Day purchases. We have taken a look at longitude and latitude of Office, Mass, Food and Drug stores to understand the dynamics of “lift” during the BTS period. How does a Kroger store perform that sits on the same corner as an Office Depot during BTS? Does it help or hinder sales for Kroger? These types of learnings help to better define not only the channel but the stores that would best support BTS II.

Leon Nicholas
Guest
Leon Nicholas
15 years 3 months ago

I think that BTS II is more of a college-event, and thus likely to stimulate more sales online. I wouldn’t ignore the brick-and-mortar opportunity, but the opportunity to market to the college crowd online is substantial.

Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Customizing the promotion and assortment to the specific market is the key to these types of campaigns. If the store services a lot of shoppers with home offices, the retailers should slant the offers to products that help organize those offices. If there are a lot of professional offices in the area, stock up on tax products and team up with a local accountant to post tax tips in store and in the circular. If the store is in a college town, make sure you have the school-branded notebooks, clothing and other accoutrements.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

There certainly is a second BTS market; however, it is not identical to the first market. Elementary school and the lists of supplies to begin the year really make headlines the first time around. During the second market are a whole group of college, high school, and some junior high students who need supplies for new classes (notebooks, papers, pens) but the lunch box and backpack markets are not as prevalent. However, the Kleenex and hand sanitizers may be more important with the cold and flu season generally in full swing. In addition, this is project time, whether it is the science fair or big social studies project. Knowing who is buying what kind of supplies could lead to some interesting new displays that do drive traffic during the second season and make it distinct from the first season.

Kelly Hill
Guest
Kelly Hill
15 years 3 months ago

There is an ancillary need here for basic school apparel and uniforms. 5-17 year old kids grow between August and Christmas. January is also a time the replacement key clothing items like tennis shoes, long pants, and long sleeved t-shirts (not short sleeves or capris as are often the major choices out there now). These items don’t make holiday gift lists, but are a part of family seasonal needs.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Expanding on Leon Nicholas’ comments: back-to-school is a very big event in college towns, and particularly at college bookstores. Most colleges are still on the semester calendar. Any office supply or large drug store or mass merchant near a university should stock up and promote appropriately.

Mark Hunter
Guest
Mark Hunter
15 years 3 months ago

The key to leveraging BTS II is by maintaining the right product mix all year long. Making a major event out of BTS II would be a mistake if it takes away space from Valentine’s Day etc. Valentine’s Day–due to its emotional appeal–will always be able to generate more incremental sales than a BTS II. Plus Valentine’s Day shoppers are going to be less price sensitive than BTS II. This is not to say BTS II does not have potential, but by merchandising the section correctly retailers can capture BTS II and the continuing growth of the “home-office” category. (Final note on BTS II: due to staggered start dates for schools around the country, it would be virtually impossible for a chain to coordinate any type of a consistent event.)

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

As a university professor, I am very aware of the opportunity to sell school supplies. While we traditionally see “back to school” as a primary and secondary school issue, occurring in late summer and early January, for university students there are also summer school and intersessions that generate demand for school supplies.

For university students, online buying is a natural. However, I would consider places that these students frequent that are not traditional school supplies providers, e.g., coffee shops, CD/DVD retailers, video rental stores, book stores, fitness centers, electronic stores.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 3 months ago

BTS II, assuming it really exists as an “event,” is not long enough in duration to planogram for, manage inventory around, or provide for an end of event sell down. Overall, it lacks most of the characteristics which lead to successful “events.” There is no lead up to it…Christmas precedes it and consumes all the purchasing possibilities. Fact, many larger ticket BTS II items come as Christmas presents. Further, once school starts, the need is over. Either you’ve re-equipped the kids, or you didn’t. Most of the demand revolves around replacement product, and sufficient retailers exist with year-round presentations to meet the need. Slightly flexing an existing assortment is about the extent BTS II offers in event profits.

David Schulz
Guest
David Schulz
15 years 3 months ago

BTS business has gone to office supply stores by default. Merchandising BTS II won’t infringe on Valentine’s Day but could benefit from that traffic, as others have suggested. This is also an opportunity to be creative as to what classifications to include. The concept is brilliant.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Will consumers respond to powerful seasonal promotion and display for BTS II?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...