As homework and bedtimes replace flip-flops and fireflies, small businesses are gearing up to capture some of the $68 billion in back-to-school spending. Both the K-12 and back to college markets have increased by double digits over the past 10 years, according to the National Retail Federation.
Attracting back-to-school shoppers means getting creative about products and promotions. It also means staying on top of the latest digital trends. To make your business stand out, try these six strategies to improve your back-to-school selling.
1. From Haircuts to Carwashes: Help Customers Get a Fresh Start
Back to school isn’t just about clothes, supplies and electronics. It also marks the season of new beginnings. Think about what products and services you can offer customers to help them feel confident for the upcoming year.
If you own a hair salon, consider a late-summer special to get people looking their best. Oil change and repair shops can target young adults returning to college. Medical and dental offices can encourage parents to get routine checkups out of the way before school starts. Gardeners, contractors, roofers and chimney sweeps can all offer seasonal specials.
2. Make Your Digital Presence Work for You
From making your website user-friendly to appealing to kids with clever social media content, a strong digital presence can bring in customers and boost sales. Even if your business is primarily in person, people will browse your website for products, prices and promotions.
Social media is a great way to connect with tweens, teens and their parents. If you sell clothing, create a lookbook of the trendiest styles and post it on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook, where it can be shared with friends.
Consider paid, sponsored and targeted online advertising. While parents and kids both shop online, students are much more likely to make digital purchases.
3. Get in Tune with Your Town
Know what’s on the supply list for schools in your area and display it prominently. If much of your business comes from nearby towns, consider making a product bundle that includes everything on the supply list for each grade in each town you serve. This makes shopping easy for time-strapped parents. Offer a buy-online, pick-up-in-store option if possible.
Teachers are often expected to buy their own school supplies. Offer discounts or group purchases to attract this dependable market. Finally, be prepared for extra business if your state offers a tax-free shopping week and think about adding additional promotions to attract even more customers.
4. Host an Event to Attract Customers
Bringing people into your business with entertainment is a fun way to build your customer base. Providing entertainment for younger kids while parents shop can be a godsend. Offer story time, simple arts and crafts or a sing-along. Not only will you be giving people a reason to choose your business, they might invite a friend to shop with them while their kids sing or color.
Hosting entertainment during extended business hours can also help to bring in customers who work during the day. Market your events through advertisements and social media. Include a coupon to make it even more appealing.
5. Make a Big Deal out of Discounts
Deal up some discounts that customers can’t ignore. Back-to-school shopping can get expensive, especially for families with multiple children. Consider a buy-one, get-one-half-off promotion for siblings. Also, don’t forget paper and mobile coupons. For price-conscious consumers, a coupon could be the deciding factor.
Team up with another local business to offer incentives and rewards. In one town, for example, a sporting goods store gave out free certificates for a cone at the ice cream shop nearby. The ice cream shop reciprocated by distributing coupons for the sporting goods store.
6. Prepare Early & Think Ahead
In order to execute the kinds of promotional activities that will help your business have a successful back to school season, it’s important to prepare early. Make sure you have enough working capital on hand to ensure you have the right amount of inventory in stock and can hire any seasonal help needed. Just like the holiday season seems to start earlier each year, the sooner you begin executing on your back-to-school plans, the sooner you’ll be able to start drawing in customers.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that the whirlwind of school shopping is just the first phase of back to school and the next 10 months. As families acclimate to the change in schedules, look for ways to make their lives easier. Ferrying kids to afterschool activities or long days at the office can make it hard to find time to make dinner. Restaurants can offer specials geared to families, such as a pizza night or fully prepared takeout meals.
This is also an opportunity for babysitters, dog walkers, housecleaners, gardeners, handymen and massage therapists to step in and help busy families deal with their hectic lives.
Back to school shopping can be stressful for kids and parents alike. By providing a way to make it a positive experience, small businesses can build a loyal clientele that appreciates the extra effort. Back to school is a new beginning. Seize the opportunity to give your business a fresh start.
Daniel DeMeo is CEO of CAN Capital, the market share leader in alternative small business finance.