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Get Ready for Back-to-College Sales

Get Ready for Back-to-College Sales

Students will soon be headed back to school and college, and before they do, parents and students alike will be making a list of everything they need for that first day of school or dorm life. This year, back-to-school spending is expected to hit its second-highest level on record, according to a report by the National Retail Federation (NRF). Home improvement retailers can cash in on this market if they look for the right items to feature.

The NRF report says total spending for school and college combined is projected to reach $83.6 billion, a more than 10 percent increase from last year’s $75.8 billion.

“Families are now in a state of mind where they feel a lot more confident about the economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says. “With stronger employment levels and a continued increase in wages, consumers are spending more and we are optimistic that they will continue to do so throughout the rest of the year.”

Parents with children in elementary school through high school will spend the most on clothing, followed by electronics, shoes and school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes.

College students and families plan to spend the most on electronics, followed by clothing, snacks, dorm or apartment furnishings, shoes, personal care items, schools supplies, gift cards and branded collegiate gear.

While both groups of shoppers are potential customers for home improvement retailers, back-to-college shoppers may hold the most potential. Retailers in college towns in particular have an opportunity to sell to current students throughout the school year. Retailers can get the word out by advertising their store on college bulletin boards and in dorms. Here are some areas retailers can gain sales.


Electronics devices such as laptops and tablets will be popular items for back-to-school shoppers. While home improvement retailers may not sell electronics, they may be able to sell accessories. According to the survey, one in four shoppers plan to purchase electronic accessories such as a mouse, flash drive or charger. Many of these items can be merchandised as impulse items on or near the checkout counter.

Students moving into dorms may need small fans or space heaters. Merchandise portable models on an endcap to capture this customer base.

Cleaning Supplies

Even if they don’t clean very much, there are a few items students may want when they start dorm life. Look for items that make cleaning easy. Sweeper-mops and mini vacuums are easy to store and make it easy to clean the floor. Paper towels and disinfecting wipes are always good items to have on hand. A cleaning kit for the student going away to college should also include dish soap and bathroom cleaners


Students moving into an apartment or a dorm room may be looking for a few small appliances. The two most likely to sell are coffee makers or microwaves. Retailers should focus on those models that are small enough to fit in a small dorm room. Inexpensive bath towels and sheets are also essentials for dorm life. Students may not be looking for a luxury towel that they’ll keep for many years, so retailers should sell the inexpensive models.


Home improvement retailers are particularly suited to get students the tools they need for the small projects that may come up in dorm and apartment life. Duct tape might be known as the universal fix-it tool. Retailers who want to set themselves apart from the many other places selling duct tape can stock it in popular school colors. A compact LED flashlight, and maybe even a personal protection device such as pepper spray, will be a good impulse buy for students thinking about their security. Compact multi-tools or small tool sets will be easy for students to carry and handy for small projects.

About Jesse Carleton

Jesse Carleton
Jesse Carleton has visited independent hardware retailers, conducted original research on the industry and written extensively about the business of hardware retailing. Jesse has written for more than a dozen of NRHA’s contract publishing titles, all related to the hardware retailing industry. He also was instrumental in developing the Basic Training in Hardware Retailing courses now used by thousands of retailers across the country.