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Back to school a boon for retailers

The first day of school has been labeled as the most wonderful time of the year for parents, but increasingly, the weeks and months leading up to that day have become somewhat of a boon for retailers.
Canadians expect to shell out more than $300 this year for back-to-school purchases, according to a survey released by the Bank of Montreal last week. The report by Leger Marketing, carried out online between Aug. 2-4 with a sample of 1,501 Canadians over the age of 18, found one-third of us expect to spend more than $200, and on average plan to shell out $319 for new pens, pencils, binders and clothes.
“For many retail businesses, the back to school shopping season is the second-most important sales period in the year,” Cathy Pin, vice-president of BMO commercial banking, said in a release.
“That’s an absolutely fair statement to make,” remarked Keith Schelter, owner of Schelter Office Pro on Church Street in Elmira, when informed of the survey results.
“I would say August and September would be our top couple of months for sales in the year,” added Schelter, who is also the treasurer of the Elmira BIA.

GETTING READY It’s back to school season, and some retailers say the weeks and months leading up to the first day of school are among the busiest of the year, including Mari Schaefer (left), Carla Schott, Keith Schelter and Leah Grierson of Schelter Office Pro in Elmira.

Economists expect this boost in sales to help the retail sector grow by about two per cent in August and September, and the survey suggests that about 36 per cent of shoppers want to pick up those supplies locally, which is good news for small business owners across Canada.
Many of those purchases are to replace lost or broken items from the end of the last school year, or to simply replace used-up supplies like glue, pencils and paper, Schelter said, and despite the fact that Schelter Office Pro has been in business for 50 years, school supplies have remained relatively the same.
“Every year I guess there is one or two new things on the market, but amazingly Crayons are still Crayons and they’re still as popular today as they were probably 20 years ago,” Schelter laughed.
He also said that many schools now provide a list of recommended supplies for students so parents know exactly what their child needs before heading off to school.
The numbers associated with those new purchases can quickly add up. According to the BMO survey, parents can expect to pay between $25 and $40 on basic supplies such as pencils, pens, highlighters and notebooks, another $210 to $260 on new clothing, and $35 on top of that for accessories such as a new backpack, pencil case or lunch bag.
That doesn’t include the estimated $800 to $1,200 that might be spent on a new computer or laptop for students heading off to university for the first time.
“As a parent myself, it is one of the seasons that we do have to open our pocket books and spend a little bit of money,” Schelter said, “but I would guess there is probably a lot more money being spent on new clothing than there is on school supplies.”
Clothing retailers also see a surge in numbers and sales in the months leading up to school because many kids want or need a new wardrobe before meeting up with friends who they may not have seen since the end of the last school year.
“The days that we’re open later have been a little bit busier,” said Stephanie Smith, the owner of Core Clothing in Elmira, which caters specifically to younger, school-aged kids and teenagers. “Definitely busier than in June and July.”
Smith said that almost everyone wants a fresh look heading into the fall season, be it students or young professionals, and that is why a lot of sales occur in the weeks leading up to September and October.
Moreover, Smith – who has three young children of her own – said that during the summer months a lot of kids can simply outgrow some of their older clothes, making it necessary to buy new ones.
She also recognizes the high costs associated with buying for back to school, and has made a conscious effort to keep costs lower than they are in the cities to keep customers buying locally and to show her appreciation for their business.
“Our prices are the same, or anywhere from $5 to $10 cheaper because we want to encourage the local shopping,” she said. “We’re even thinking of having a student appreciation sale when students get back to school at EDSS. When they bring in their student cards they can get up to 15 per cent off of regularly-priced clothes.”
Not all households can afford to spend upwards of $300 on new supplies for their children every year, and Woolwich Community Services answers the bell each year by organizing a school supply drive through their annual backpack program. They collect donations and distribute the supplies to low-income families throughout the townships.
“We were finding a lot of families were struggling with income, or lack thereof, and we understood that going back to school can be a very costly period of time for families,” said WCS executive director Don Harloff of the program’s roots. Last year, they distributed 206 backpacks to area families.
While kids may be drawn to the new supplies because they feature the latest superhero or pictures of the newest rock band, parents in particular see those supplies as necessary for the long-term academic success of their kids – even if it means lightening their wallets a little more in the process.
“Parents are very concerned about their child’s education and they want them to have every opportunity to do well,” said Schelter.
“Their investment in school supplies is seen as that part of their overall thinking about helping their child achieve a quality education.”

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