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Back to School!

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | August 6, 2017
The end of summer vacation is in sight, and people are preparing for the start of another school year.  Teachers and administrators are working hard preparing facilities and lesson plans.  Students are counting down the days of summer.  In any community, but particularly in a college town, “back to school” provides significant opportunities for businesses and organizations- IF you are prepared.
Yes, people that are new to the community may wander in by chance, or they may become regular customers simply of their own volition, but a little strategy and training can improve your odds, traffic and sales.  Lets look at a few things you can do to improve your “back to school” boost.
1.  Grab “back to school” lists from area schools, and adjust your signage and displays accordingly.  As we would say in the office: “To the Google!”  Look up your local school supply pages; are there things on that page that you sell?  Can you produce signs and displays that make it easier for parents to pick up those items?  A little extra attention to marketing can drive people to your door and improve impulse buys.
2.  Set donation boxes for class supplies and other related items for students and teachers.– Classroom supplies can be a tough expenditure for some.  Creating donation boxes that correspond with area lists for students and teachers can provide an opportunity for your business to give back, generate more sales, improve marketing opportunities and increase foot traffic.

3.  Remember that back to school isn’t just about kids.  Teachers and administrators are back to school now, and they may need supplies, a wardrobe update, new tech or a variety of other


things that your business could supply.  Each year we also see a new group of parents that put their youngest child into the school system for the first time, and these parents may be a good source of part time (or full time) employees (if they stayed home with kids).  Even if your business isn’t kid related, you could have an opportunity to market to school employees if you adapt your approach.  For example, food merchants have made a lot of money over the years targeting parents or grandparents of college students with prepaid “care packages” that can be delivered throughout the academic year (particularly at finals time).  Students may be the ones (hopefully) attending classes, but they often have a support system of potential buyers you may identify as a target market.

4.  Target and reinforce your marketing.  So, how do you reach out to the people you are marketing to?  Many businesses make the mistake of simply using one mechanism, and an oversimplified marketing campaign lacks the repetition most consumers need to make a message stick.  Instead, try mixing traditional media, social media, internal signage and displays that reinforce the same message.  Try to develop campaigns that your consumers will “share” with others- either through word-of-mouth or social media.  Ask traditional media their advice on the best way to reach your target market (you need to know who that is in advance- age, gender, income, psychographics, etc.), and target social media posts to reach out to the specific identified group.
5.  Ask yourself “how can I make the buying process easier/better for back to school shoppers?”  Consumers love convenience.  If they have to search all over for items, can’t find anyone to help with questions (or people available can’t answer questions), or if businesses don’t have flexible ways to pay/deliver items, consumers get frustrated.  Frustrated consumers don’t make for good shoppers.  Try empathizing with a hypothetical customer you are trying to reach.  What super services can you provide to improve their shopping experience?
6.  Train your staff to continue conversations.  If students are new to the area, their parents  are new to Emporia, or teachers/administrators have moved into the region for a job, it is really important to form a connection.  Train your employees to continue conversing with customers while they ring people up, grab the different sized clothing item, make the coffee, or whatever they are doing.  Small talk may generate a conversational “in” that improves consumer loyalty.  Worst case- your business gets the reputation of being really friendly.
7.  Become an information resource.  Know what is going on in the community.  If you can recommend local sites, other unique local businesses or highlight upcoming events, consumers will listen to other things you tell them about.  Conversely, if your staff tells people to head out of town or to a non-unique location, we become a suitcase community or “Anywhere USA” that doesn’t justify a repeat visit in the mind of the consumer.
8.  Serve the cool aid.  Talk about how you love your town.  Encourage people to join in your excitement.  When people see community pride, it is infectious.  The result in the pride you show for the city, our schools and our region encourage more positive word-of-mouth and reinforces peoples decision to study/work here.  It sounds simple, but advocacy can have a big cumulative impact.
9.  Set the example.  Once you talk to people about how cool the community is, you have to live the values you promoted.  If you tell someone to “shop local” and then they see you in Lawrence, KC, Manhattan, Topeka, Wichita, etc. the next week, everything you said will be dismissed.  If you talk about how great the town is, and then get negative with the next customer, you will have credibility issues.  In a world of “fake news”, people actively look for reasons not to believe messages delivered.  So, if you talk the community talk, you have to walk the community walk.
A little strategic thinking, followed by solid implementation, can set your business or organization up for success this back-to-school season.  Look through the nine points above, and jot down a few thoughts of some things that you can do to improve your readiness for the school year.  Share your thoughts with staff.  Create something new!

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.


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