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Businesses beyond retail gain back-to-school sales

August 18, 2014

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

It’s axiomatic that back-to-school season is good business for apparel and footwear sellers, purveyors of pencils and gadget suppliers.

But for an interesting twist on the standard end-of-summer stories, how about a look at other businesses that benefit from back-to-school, including unexpected sectors like lice salons and bars.  Services that reflect the realities of hectic family life will be revving up, too.

Even moving companies are in on the act — UHaul offers an array of services for the return-to-college cohort, including a storage service to students need not schlep their belongings home between semesters.  And check out this piece about Bellhops, a by-the-hour packing and moving helper service started by a couple of enterprising students a few years ago.  It’s now in more than 130 cities.

The National Retail Federation says combined spending on “BTS” and “BTC” (back to school and back to college) is expected to near $75 million in the United States this year — a powerhouse spending season rivaled only by the Christmas/winter holiday mania.    The elaborate NRF portal of BTS and BTC data is a testament to just how crucial this spending impetus is to an array of retailers, from housewares suppliers to discount apparel stores.

But the resumption of academic routines and schedules also can be a boon to non-merchants.  We know that health care checkups are necessary for a lot of kids heading back to class or to sports activities;  Walgreen’s is offering camp and school physicals for $39 at its drugstore clinics — why not check in with area hospitals, health centers and doctors’ offices about trends in the business of medical checkups.

But for a quirkier take on the health care implications of full classrooms, check into the local business of “lice salons” — practitioners who specialize in eradicating the little pests that proliferate when a lot of kids get together.   As NBC12 in Richmond, Va. reported last fall, the number of lice removal businesses has quadrupled in recent years with busy families paying hefty fees to be relieved of the problem; new technology like heat blowers is subbing for pesticides.  What on earth propels a small business person into the lice removal industry and what’s the business model?   Readers would like to know.

Other services that accommodate time-pressed families include student transportation services; sort of a mobile facet of the day care or after-school care industries.  Companies like All Student Shuttle will drive kids to and from school, appointments and activities when parents can’t, or pick up ill children from school.   This is an interesting example of how businesses spring up to fill gaps created by shifting work and household trends, from parents with longer commutes to single-parent homes with fewer car-pool options.  What considerations — like booster seats and insurance liability — are involved in creating these companies, and what are the revenue possibilities?

Demand for tutoring and extracurricular lessons such as music, gymnastics and skating ramps up this time of year; with many parents telling the NRF they continue to be concerned about the economy & are looking for shopping bargains, I wonder if that frugal mindset will extend to spending on optional activities and lessons.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the college crowd, businesses that cater to adult needs, like bistros and eateries, are licking their chops at the return of their patrons as well.  As WBTW in Myrtle Beach, S.C., reports, “Back to school means back to business for local  bars and restaurants.”   Not to mention laundry services, salons and barbers, theaters and other firms that rely on the influx of transient residents to stay afloat.


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