This year, spending for back-to-school and college supplies is expected to reach $82.8 billion, nearly last year’s $83.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Not only is a lot of money being spent, it’s being spent across a variety of retailers, from department stores to local businesses.
To make sure customers think of you when they start their back-to-school shopping, we recommend executing a fun marketing campaign or offering an eye-catching promotion. And remember that even though back-to-school is a retailer’s game, it doesn’t mean you can’t get in on the action if you own another type of business like a restaurant, coffee shop, or salon.
Here are some ideas to get started:
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1. Show your school pride weekend.
Shortly before classes are back in session, invite shoppers to represent their school by wearing t-shirts, jackets, hoodies — anything with their school’s name, colors, or logo. You could offer a discount for people showing their pride, or enter everyone who buys something in a drawing for a store gift card.
No one is excited to do homework, but having new supplies and a cool desk area definitely helps. If you own a boutique that sells items like stationery and decorative accessories, invite your Pinterest and Instagram followers to post photos of their kids’ homework stations that include at least one item from your shop.
3. Throw a back-to-school pep rally.
Team up with other local businesses in your neighborhood to host a pep rally–style block party with food and entertainment like performances from local school bands, cheer squads, and dance teams. And, of course, offer great shopping promotions. Work with your partner businesses to cobrand your marketing efforts and combine budgets for a bigger reach on platforms like email, social media, radio, and print.
4. Host a bad school-picture contest.
(This one is more for the parents or older students.) Everyone has some unfortunate-looking yearbook photos in their past. If you own a salon or a clothing store, have fun with these by asking your followers to post their funniest examples on Instagram with a designated hashtag.
Post some of your favorites and invite one or more of the people in for a discount on a service or new threads. Then, post the photos of the ultimate school picture do-over.
5. Start a school supplies drive.
No matter what type of business you run, giving back to local schools is always a good idea. If you run a clothing store, send an email to your subscriber list promoting your new fall arrivals and offer a discount when shoppers bring in school supplies. If you own a cafe, alert your social followers that they’ll get a free small coffee with purchase when they drop off supplies. Then donate those supplies to local schools or teachers.
6. Give teachers a break.
Educators don’t get nearly enough credit for the excellent work they do, so start the school year off on a thankful note with special offers for teachers. For example, for a limited time give teachers a size upgrade on their coffee or an extra shot of espresso at no cost. Or offer discounts on merchandise or a free gift with purchase.
(Note: You could do the same for students by giving them a discount when they show their student ID. This is something retailers like Topshop and Madewell do year-round.)
7. Celebrate with parents.
The first day of school is full of mixed emotions, but for parents who are worn out after a long summer with the kids, it can bring some serious joy. If you run a coffee shop or restaurant that’s open for breakfast, invite parents to come by and celebrate after they drop off their kids.
Offer special themed menu items (Freedom French toast, anyone?) or discounts like a half-price pastry when someone buys a coffee drink. Keep the momentum going and become the go-to spot for parents by giving customers a loyalty card.
Once you’ve thought of a promotion, don’t wait — get moving on it. Recent studies show that back-to-school shopping starts even sooner than you might think.