NONFOODS: School Supplies: Higher learning

Progressive Grocer interviewed School & Home Office Products Association (SHOPA) president Steve Jacober about trends in the college market, then compiled some of the need-to-know points into a convenient "back-to-college shopping list" for grocers. Each item can be immediately put into action to better align the school supply category to the college market. The following actions will help retailers draw these students to the category and keep them there.

-Let students know you're in the school supply business. For many college students living on campus, this is probably the first time they've ever done their own food shopping, and they likely don't expect a supermarket to be capable of providing for their school supply needs, too. "Grocers should promote to colleges," says Jacober. "Merchandise featuring the college logo should be grouped together with school supplies for better cross-merchandising."

-School supplies are more than just pens and pads. While the traditional school supply commodities such as bulk paper are essential, nontraditional school supplies, like general merchandise, housewares, and apparel, can boost overall sell-through of school supplies, according to Jacober.

-Prepare for growth in the market. According to the U.S. Department of Education, college enrollment will rise 5.8 percent, while during that same period the number of students in eighth grade and below will decrease 0.1 percent, and high school enrollment will decrease 2.5 percent.

-Bulk up. Offer bulk paper, bulk pens, and bulk CDs. "You want to stock up on the traditional supplies, especially for the August rush," counsels Jacober.

-Help them get organized. "There's not a lot of space in the college dorm room, and items that help students make the most of their limited space, such as file folders, multicolored notebooks, and highlighters, sell well to the college market," notes Jacober.

-Get them where they live, too. Not all of a college student's school supply shopping is done near campus. Often, during August, they'll shop closer to home, and in many cases their parents do the shopping for them. So it's not only important to know where students go to school, but also where they live.

-Leverage impulse items. Since typical college students don't perceive a supermarket as a school supply source, impulse items in the category stand out all the more in a grocery environment. "These include various electronic items and accessories, like printer cables, extension cords, cell phones, prepaid calling cards, printer ink, and recordable media such as CDs," says Jacober.
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