Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Back-to-school day spa packages, retail tie-ins

August 15, 2012

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Facebook's full of back-to-school photos and the buses are running. Photo by Flickr user Svadilfari

OK, you know that back-to-school promotions have reached absurdity levels when even casinos get in on the act.

Yes, a recent direct-mail postcard from one of my area gambling parlors offered a free backpack as what it dubbed its “Back-to-school giveaway event!”

I had to laugh, but it’s clear that just about any purveyor of consumer goods and services these days is trying to grab a piece of the $30 billion pie the National Retail Federation calls the second-biggest spending season after Christmas and the winter holidays.

Here’s a look at some more angles you might take up before Labor Day weekend spells the unofficial end to summer:

Quirky promotions. 

Casinos may be the kookiest, but you don’t have to cast too wide a net to find other interesting and perhaps unexpected tie-ins.  Back-to-school beauty is the focus of this Spafinder Wellness blog post that lists salon treatments aimed at teens who want to head back to class with healthier skin, polished nails and the calming effects of a massage.  Are any salons or day spas in your area offering promos aimed at teens, parents or teachers?  A great story to localize.  Take a look at optical shops, too — Eyecare Professional’s online magazine tells industry insiders that young patrons might enjoy a back-to-school pair of eyeglasses based on themes like Shrek, hippie-style daisies and the Wizards of Waverly.

Medical practices and walk-in drugstores tout immunization specials, while even grocery stores offer stock-up sales in August and early September.  What’s the supply chain for, say, Lunchables and how does increased demand at the market translate backward into increased production of cheese, sausage, crackers and other ingredients?   Do farmers and commodity traders experience anything from the back-to-school bump?  j

Cars. 

Teens and college students often need reliable wheels, and back-to-school season appears increasingly important to the used-car market.  Market research sites like Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book offer helpful suggestions for buyers and sellers; you might check in with local mechanics, body-shop proprietors, vocational school instructors and other experts about what to look for in a cheap commuter car, what to avoid and how to strike a good deal.  Credit unions and banks can offer input about financing, and used-car-lot operators and dealers can talk about inventory.  Don’t overlook Craigslist and the classified to get the experiences of private sellers;  this could be a colorful, timely and useful personal finance package.

Banking for college students. 

An eye-opening report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says schools are forcing students to use fee-heavy debit cards to access financial aid, and that partnerships between schools and financial institutions are reaping millions of dollars at student expense.  It’s a must-read (PDF) report that names names; even if you area institutions aren’t on the lists, you can survey them about any programs they run with financial services firms and distill the caveats in the PIRG report into a warning for area students.

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