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Back-to-School Business

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Don’t let back-to-school shopping get the best of you!

BacktoschoolbusinessThe dreaded back-to-school season is upon us. For our children, it marks the end of summer vacation and the start of eight-hour days of dreaded education. For the working mother, it symbolizes the stress associated with getting our kids fully prepared for the start of the new school year. The ritualistic purchasing of school supplies and the seemingly endless number of doctor appointments — and everything else that goes along with the back-to-school fiasco — may seem mundane to most, but back-to-school season is treated as a holiday for most retailers; there is even a Classrooms by Wal-Mart campaign (with teacher registries) currently in circulation.

In merchandising, back to school is the period between August and September when mothers purchase supplies and apparel to prepare their kids for the upcoming school year. In the United States, back-to-school shopping is a way to associate Labor Day with a shopping tradition, in much the same way that Memorial Day is associated with shopping for summer products and Thanksgiving is associated with shopping for Christmas gifts. Labor Day has since become symbolic as the unofficial end of summer, since most schools and colleges begin their school year around that time.

Office supplies have also become an important part of back-to-school sales, with the rise in prominence of personal computers and related equipment in education; traditional supplies such as paper, pens, pencils and binders will often be marked at steep discounts, often to entice shoppers to buy other items in the store. For an office-supplies chain like Staples, this period is as important as the end-of-year holiday season is for most retailers. Shoppers usually take two or three trips to compile all the gear they need for the first day of school, and they expect to have two or three weeks to complete the task.

Big retailers must cater to the early shoppers — moms and teachers who have been anticipating the back-to-school deals as their deadlines approach. It is one of the most competitive times of year for big retailers. They know consumers are on budgets, and they’re vying for those dollars. According to an infographic by onlinecolleges.net, back-to-school spending accounts for nearly $84 billion in sales — making it the second-biggest season for retailers (behind the winter holidays, of course). Though that’s a far cry from the winter holidays’ $580-billion profit (according to a recent article in Advertising Age).

In the same way that the winter-holiday shopping season grows more distended each year, the back-to-school period likewise slinks earlier and earlier as well. This year, many stores rolled out deals before the Fourth of July, and even before many students in the Northern part of the country finished up the school year.

The bulk of working moms don’t intend to scale back when it comes to preparing their children for school this fall, according to a JPMorgan Chase Bank-sponsored survey of more than 300 working mothers. The survey found that 41 percent of professional mothers anticipate spending more this year than last year on back-to-school supplies. And while it may seem like interaction takes place more through technology than through face-to-face contact most of the time, according to the survey, nearly 70 percent of working mothers plan to do most of their shopping in person. But fitting in a trip to the mall or Staples around a taxing work schedule can be an issue. Balancing the needs of work and children continues to be the top challenge working moms face heading into the new school year.
Career-driven mothers are coping with this stressful period by shifting their work schedules to accommodate the needs and time required for these tasks. A nine-to-five workday does not really exist anymore for the working mom. Flexible schedules are becoming the norm at many companies. As the owner of multiple businesses, I am afforded the luxury of making my own schedule. I also delegate tasks to others that do not fit my core competencies, shopping for school supplies being one of them. At one point in my life, I had to be as flexible as possible with the rigid schedule that was given to me by my employer, so I understand the plight that most moms must endure at this crucial time of the year.

5 Ways To Embrace Back-To-School Season

Keep it Age Appropriate

For younger kids who can’t yet grasp the concept of money, it’s valuable to include them in the process. Getting kids involved is really important in terms of teaching them to be aware of, and to value, what they already have.

It’s OK to Say No

Kids today face a lot of peer pressure to have the coolest stuff and the latest gadgets. Discipline matters when it comes to money; we have to remember as parents that “no” is actually a good word — especially if you find yourself buying an item you can’t afford just because your kid wants it.

Lead By Example

Paying attention to your shopping habits and what you’re spending is one of best ways to teach your children about money. In some cases, what you don’t buy is just as important as what you do. Just showing restraint in spending is a useful lesson for your child.

Re-Establish School Routines

Use the last few weeks of summer to get into a school-day rhythm. Have your child practice getting up and getting dressed at the same time every morning. Start eating breakfast, lunch and snacks around the times your child will eat when school is in session.

Nurture Independence

Once the classroom door shuts, your child will need to manage a lot of things on his or her own. Prepare for independence by talking ahead of time about responsibilities that he or she is old enough to shoulder. This might include organizing school materials, writing down assignments and bringing home homework.

Michelle Seiler is the author of Sell Your Business For More Than It’s Worth, an award-winning and bestselling book that encourages everyone (including all working mothers) to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit so they can live the life that they have always envisioned.