How Small Businesses Can Capitalize on Back-to-School Season

Supporting local teachers, schools and parents can grow your profits and boost your brand.
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Catering to back-to-school season is not only good for your small business but can benefit education as well. (Photo: unguryanu/Shutterstock)

Each year, major retailers crowd the airwaves and newspaper circulars to cash in on back-to-school season. But as a small business owner, there are ways you can benefit, too.

Here are some creative strategies to reach students, teachers and schools while growing profits and boosting brand awareness this fall.

Treat teachers like VIPs

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Chief Marketing Officer of Sheer ID Marci Hansen suggests thanking teachers in person when they make a purchase at your small business. (Photo: Marci Hansen)

At cash-strapped public schools, teachers not only work hard, they often buy supplies with their own money. One survey found teachers spent an average of $487 on classroom supplies last year.

“Teachers are the holy grail of the marketing world,” said Marci Hansen, chief marketing officer at SheerID, which verifies consumers’ eligibility for exclusive discounts and promotions. “Teachers are seen as respected members of the community by other teachers, parents [and students.] They are a central cog of communication.”

Acknowledge their contributions to the community with an exclusive discount or freebie, such as a complimentary glass of wine. It may be enough to get teachers to spread the word about your restaurant or shop.

“An overall 10-percent [discount] is not as good as a VIP treatment,” said Hansen. She recommended restaurants go the extra mile with a free appetizer or generous coupon, or by giving groups that contain at least one teacher a special deal at happy hour, such as 15 percent off.

She also suggested that managers or owners thank teachers in person at their establishment. “It’s a personal touch that doesn’t cut into your profit.”

Offer parents discounts and promotions

Hansen recommended offering discounts of up to 20 percent for back-to-school supplies. Hair salons can also get into the act by offering the youngest school-age member of a family a free haircut with the purchase of an adult haircut.

Keep in mind that many states offer tax-free shopping weekends during back-to-school season. These are huge shopping opportunities for families, who will be hunting for the best deals.

Sponsor a classroom

Another way to help local schools and build awareness of your business is by sponsoring a classroom. Businesses used to send boxes of donations directly to the school, but online services make it easier to get classrooms the exact supplies they need.

DonorsChoose is one program where you can go in and pick a classroom to support and fund so the teacher doesn’t pay out of pocket,” said Hansen. Expect to make a donation of $100 to $1,000 per classroom — and ask customers to kick in.

“Ask your customers to round up their bill to the nearest dollar and donate the change to the classroom,” said Hansen.

Yes, sponsoring a classroom will cost you money. But in return, your business will be seen as a valuable contributor to education and the community. Often, teachers whose classrooms have been sponsored will send letters of gratitude from students. Hang these around your store or restaurant.

Leverage branded giveaways

The promise of freebies encourages customers to step into your establishment. Consider buying customized supplies to give away.

“Restaurateurs can demonstrate their commitment to education by creating logo branded supplies, such as bookmarks, rulers, erasers and book covers which are easily customized with the logo,” wrote Linda Duke, CEO of Duke Marketing, in her book “Recipes for Restaurateurs.”

Graphite Pen & Pencil Company, for example, personalizes pencils with business names and logos for as little as 11 cents per piece. A pack of 1,000 custom bookmarks from Overnight Prints will run you $33.85.

Go social — and keep it going

No matter what you do, make the most of your efforts (discounts, freebies, donations) by sharing info and photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“If you’re doing something in-store, get the word out on social media ahead of time,” said Hansen. “You can encourage teachers to forward the information to their teacher friends.”

Finally, don’t limit your efforts to August and September. You can continue supporting education throughout the school year. May is Teacher Appreciation Month, so it’s a good time to renew the VIP specials for teachers. And report cards come out every quarter — why not give your community’s straight-A students a free ice cream for their hard work?

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