Senior Director, and seasoned mom, Shawna Thayer reveals new marketing opportunities available to school supply retailers
The Back-to-School Mindset: Parents and Students
It’s that time of year again. Parents and students share mixed emotions about the Back-to-School (BTS) season – the excitement of a new school year ahead combined with the sadness of an ending Summer. For parents and students, these upcoming weeks represent more than a $68 billionshopping event. This is a season of transition as new schedules, new routines, and new priorities take shape. For many parents, this transition includes a renewed interest in getting organized and preparing to invest more time in children’s activities.
Retailers have known for some time how to advertise across both parents’ and kids’ needs during the BTS period. Kids are focused on having the right products to launch a successful year. Staying up to speed on the latest trends is a way to “fit-in” for many students, particularly in those challenging middle-school years. As technology requirements become increasingly important, a significant shift for students has moved from finding the right notebook, to finding the right tablet.
On the other hand, parents are typically more focused on costs (no surprise there)! Parents want to get the best deal possible without compromising too much on style or quality; over 60% of parents this year note that sales and promotions are the top drivers for their purchases.
Retailers and manufacturers have focused on these two points of view successfully for several years, but our work suggests that there is another element that may be a missed opportunity for businesses looking to capitalize on this crucial BTS season.
Shifting from a B2C to B2B Focus for Back-to-School
Several years ago, my son’s elementary school Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) started a new fundraising program to purchase school supplies in bulk. Admittedly, at first this seemed like a really bad idea to me; I was worried that my family would “miss out” on the fun of picking out shiny new binders and pre-sharpened #2 pencils. But after my initial trepidation, I have since realized significant time and money savings from this effort.
And I’m not alone -- this is becoming an increasing trend in PTO groupsacross the country, and something that BTS advertising has largely overlooked.
- School/PTO-sponsored supply kits serve several objectives for students and parents:
- Makes BTS supply shopping easier for parents – no lists to check through, no extra shopping trips, etc. Parents can focus on those other transition concerns like new schedules, clothes, and getting their kids motivated to start the year off strong. Personally, this has been a huge benefit for my family and I’m grateful to have one less thing to worry about this Fall.
- Reduces the costs for parents to purchase supplies because bulk pricing can be negotiated with retailers. Parents do not need to stalk the latest deals and promotions online and in the paper under this model. No more running to your local office supply store when they open to make sure they have the right Sharpie marker set in stock!
- The effort can raise money for the PTO budget. Some programs add a small percentage to the raw costs of the supplies to help raise money for Fall programs. In addition, many PTO organizations offer rebates and/or free supplies to families of economic need from the extra funds. Teachers may also benefit from the fundraising, receiving extra classroom supplies.
- This approach reduces the focus on the “latest trends” in supplies. Although students are sure to bring in a few extra “special” items for their desk, the majority of supply basics are the same for all students. In a time when teachers struggle to get their students in a back-to-school frame of mind, avoiding any distraction is helpful.
In addition, these B2B programs can benefit retailers in several ways:
- Retailers can secure contracts earlier in the year. Rather than waiting for the critical end-of-Summer period to secure BTS sales, many of these commitments occur the previous Spring. This allows retailers to make adjustments to their forecasts and broader BTS marketing plans.
- Retailers can leverage these programs to support social responsibility efforts (and achieve positive public relations). Some retailers are offering charitable donations as part of these programs, both through donated product and cash.
- Retailers can secure a long-term relationship with the schools directly. Once these PTO relationships get started, the opportunity to extend contracts into the broader school system (e.g., tech equipment for the new computer lab renovation, or furniture for the new school addition) may open up. This gives retailers a chance to bid on bigger contracts when they may have been overlooked in the past.
Considerations for Marketers
Back-to-School season is critically important for retailers selling a variety of products. There is no doubt that winning sales from parents and students should remain a foundational piece for mass marketing efforts. But we encourage retailers to consider allocating targeted marketing and/or local marketing dollars to drive B2B efforts in schools. This opportunity can extend well beyond school supplies. For example, apparel retailers have opportunities to drive contracts for school/gym uniforms and “spirit wear” for the football season. Food retailers can stock school pantries with healthy allergy-free snacks to energize students suffering from sluggish “summer-bummer” syndrome. Taking a B2B focus for the BTS season offers an opportunity to benefit retailers, parents, and students in years to come.