In Your Store

The Inside Scoop on Back-to-School From MacPerson’s Account Managers

With September just around the corner, BTS season is nearly here. What better time to connect with our Account Managers, a.k.a. “field experts,” and check in around best practices for BTS! The following advice comes from a group with over 578 years of combined experience in the art supply industry with an average of 27 years each. Many are former retail managers; all are deeply invested in  maximizing your store’s exposure to students and creating opportunities for connections that can spark long-term relationships. 

Years of Experience, Pearls of Wisdom

We gathered insight, tips and tricks from a handful of our Account Managers from across North America. Tune into best practices, tips and tricks from:

David Griffith, Birmingham Alabama, 38 years in the industry

Kerry Smith, Charlotte, North Carolina, 36 years in the industry

Alex Blasioli, Long Island, New York, 9 years in the industry

Cassie Brehmer, Chicago, Illinois, 8 years in the industry

Mia Fesmire, San Luis Obispo, California, 2 years in the industry

Dina Wuisman, Rockledge, Florida, 32 years in the industry

Paul Mulcahy, Maryland, 30 years in the industry


How can stores enhance their customers’ shopping experience during BTS?

Mia: Remember that BTS is a very busy time of year for both your store and the students; your customers are also feeling the stress of the season.

Cassie: Keep the atmosphere fun, but working like a well-oiled machine. Spread your “A players” out over the schedule this month. Make sure everyone gets a real day off (including you!) once the season is in full swing.

Alex: Have extra cashiers on hand during these weeks to keep long lines moving. A bad experience at the register can negate a good experience on the sales floor. BTS may be the last time a student goes to a store if the perception is a chaotic place with a long wait.

Kerry: Don’t let that student go directly to checkout when they are finished gathering their Listed Materials. Ask them to look around the store before they leave to see what else they may discover. When the store is busy, store clerks may feel their job is done when the materials list is completed. Invite them to stay awhile; they may buy more than just the requirements.

Paul M: I know of a store that will run a stretch limo from the Student Union of a nearby university to the store (about a mile away). It’s free transportation for students to buy art supplies. The kids love the limo and the store gets most of the business from campus.

Do your stores set up a “back to school central” area with all basic items in one area?

Dina: Yes! It’s a great idea to have a designated BTS table with basic supplies like charcoal, kneaded erasers, sharpeners, graphic pencils, newsprint pads, drawing pads, spray fixatives, artist tape, glue sticks, mesh bags, etc, with some depth of product. Add great signage and sale pricing for a pleasant shopping experience. 

Mia: Having knowledgeable staff that know and understand the products is a must, especially with new students who may not be familiar with all the required materials. If you can help them with what they need, and have it in stock, they will buy it from you and hopefully return!

Cassie: Clear signage will make or break this section. Make sure everything is clearly priced and attractive to this age group. This age of shoppers feels their identity is wrapped up in their purchases and where they buy from. How do you want them to feel? If you want the store to feel young and vibrant, try adding some humor to this section in the form of memes or cartoons drawn by staff members. If you want them to feel elevated, try adding a pop of color to sales signage or extra paper backing for an attractive border. It’s those little things that make your store have a sense of “home” for these young adults for years to come. If you’re worried about online sales, go ahead and print off the Amazon page for this item to demonstrate pricing.

What promotions do you see performing best during BTS?
(Discount off vs. Buy Some/Get Some)?

David: I think having a straight discount works best as opposed to buy/get because many class lists are large and when you include textbooks and other supplies, students are spending a lot of money. They seem to only want to buy what is needed. For a single-use item like canvas, a buy/get can be more effective.

Mia: Give students an additional discount coupon for the next time they return! 

What extra steps can your staff take to help during these busy times? 

David: When a customer comes in and an employee says, “Let me know if I can help,”  a customer hears “You are on your own and I don’t have time for you.” Try starting with “How can I help you today?” or ”What brings you in?” This starts a conversation and lets the customer know you want to help.

Cassie: Remind everyone about the importance of eye contact with customers as they enter the store. Not only will you catch a smile, but you can make a positive connection to let them feel good about coming in. This moment also demonstrates to any potential shoplifters that you aren’t too busy to see them or keep an eye on them. 

Kerry: Don’t let any opportunities leave the store. If a customer leaves without finding what they need, capture them by saying, “Tell me about your needs.” You never know what product you could be missing on your shelves for your community.

Any other tips or tricks?

Alex: BTS is a good time to experiment with cross-merchandising. If you haven’t tried it before, give your staff a break from walking aisle to aisle. Put commonly grouped items together in one place. It doesn’t have to be a permanent move and will help you see if your staff and customers respond well to this style of merchandising. 

Mia: Stores that are most successful have made relationships with teachers. They are able to see what the teacher requires on their list before the semester and have those items in stock. Some teachers prefer to do kits once they realize how easy it is. We can absolutely make a kit with all the items in it, ready to go. Offering BTS discounts specifically to students and upping your reach on social media to promote these discounts also has a big impact. 

David: Have sufficient inventory on the most important BTS items and work with your local teachers to get their supply lists a month before school starts. Pick different items to promote monthly: that way your customers see you as a destination for deals. It is also a means of running through excess inventory. 

Cassie: Don’t forget to advertise to your core customers about the benefits of buying during this promotional period. Even if your store isn’t a back to school destination, you can be competitive by advertising promotions to new artists and professionals alike who may otherwise gravitate towards sales elsewhere.

Do you have any BTS tips to share? Share in the comments!

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