Back To School
Back To School

Position yourself to be front and center when students and teachers are seeking art and crafts supplies

When class bells start ringing again in late August, don’t let your store get lost in the shuffle.

Teachers, parents and students will be flocking to big-box retailers and office supply stores looking for deals on school supplies. But arts and crafts stores should also position themselves to be on the shopping list of anyone looking for specialty products and special quantities that the other stores won't carry.

Arts and crafts stores cater to two primary groups in the education space: Teachers shopping for classroom supplies and art students shopping for specialty supplies. They are two distinct groups coming to your store for two different reasons, but you have the capability to cater to both.

Art students

Back-to-school time is prime time for your art supply department. Save for the holidays, there likely isn't a better time to drive customers to those aisles. High school and college art students will be on the lookout for deals on specialty items such as canvases, paints, brushes, pastels, colored pencils and sketchpads.

"The back-to-school items are driven by class lists that students get on the first day," says Brian Waugaman, an art supply buyer at Darice. "That includes things like paper and pads, canvases, and basic drawing and painting supplies."

When it comes to marketing to students and their parents, those are the items that deserve the spotlight. In-store displays and aisle end caps should also draw shoppers to your selection of art supplies.

Students and parents won't necessarily come into your store looking for pens, pencils and glue. You might be able to sell a few of those basic items as add-ons or impulse purchases, but you need to highlight the products that shoppers can't find at a big-box store. Your best bet is to try to augment specialty product sales with additional specialty product sales, and product placement is a major factor in driving those types of sales. If customers are considering sketchpads, let their eyes easily drift to a nearby charcoal pencil display. Paint should be stocked close to the canvases.

"The key thing we recommend is to always put related products together," Waugaman says. "You want the customers to come in, have an easy shopping experience and find additional things they'll need."

Quantity is as important as selection. Waugaman says art teachers and professors will frequently list similar items on their syllabus. Expect many students to come into your store looking for items such as 9-by-12 inch sketch pads, 16-by-20 and 18-by-24 inch canvases and paint in primary colors.

"Have the products in stock, in a timely fashion, because things move quickly," Waugaman says. "Students will get their syllabus on a Monday, and they'll be in your store that week. They're not going to want to go to three or four different stores, so if you have what they need at a competitive price, they'll buy it from you."

Teaching supplies

Besides specialty products, the other characteristic that separates arts and crafts stores in the back-to-school space is specialty quantities of common products.

Big-box retailers might carry pipe cleaners (also known as chenille stems) in limited-quantity packages with a limited color selection. Teachers looking for larger packages in less-common colors will likely come to your store.

"If teachers are looking for packages of 25 or 50, they might be more likely to come to your store," says Jill Vinborg, who specializes in education products for Darice. "Chenille stems will often come in variety packs of different colors at a bigger store, whereas you have the opportunity to carry larger quantities of a specific color. You'll be in a position to offer packages of red, green and white for class projects around Christmas, or red, pink and white for Valentine's Day."

Because schools often don't release the names of their teachers, marketing directly to educators can prove a challenge. However, there are ways to cast a wide net and increase your customer base.

"You can, for example, send mailers or coupons to schools and ask that they be distributed to the teachers in their school mailboxes," Vinborg says. "You might send schools a print ad, offering a special discount to teachers."

But if you want to get teachers to physically walk through the door of your store, a special event is hard to top. Vinborg suggests an after-hours, teachers-only event during the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, just as teachers are starting to stockpile supplies.

"Perhaps the event takes place on a Sunday after normal business hours," Vinborg says. "You could schedule it for an hour and a half, after close, and invite only area teachers. It makes it feel exclusive, and that by itself could be enough to drive a solid turnout."

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