Educator Consumers Are Chains’ Most Loyal Customers

Discussion
Aug 17, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Don’t look for any members of the National Education Association (NEA) union to be calling for a boycott of any of the large office-supply chains anytime soon.


Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot have all rolled out marketing programs designed to help educators do their important jobs without having to dig deep into their own pockets to accomplish the task.


During Staples’ teacher appreciation days, the retailer offers coupons with extra savings available only to educators.


Ryan Hoyt, who teaches fifth-grade at Northeast Elementary School in Waltham, MA, told The Boston Globe he spends approximately $200 a year on supplies for his class.


“Getting supplies for free or at a reduced price is very attractive when you’re earning what a young teacher earns,” he said. “It’s smart that these stores, like Staples, have decided to take hold of teachers. It definitely creates loyal customers.”


Chris Duncan, director of retail marketing for OfficeMax, said that the teacher market is too large for any retailer in the office supply business to overlook. “We see teachers as a significant part of our back-to-school marketplace that is underappreciated. There’s a lot of teachers out there, and they spend a ton of their own money.”


According to the NEA, the average teacher spends $1,180 of his/her own money on supplies. There are approximately 3.4 million teachers in the U.S., according to the Department of Education.


Teachers buying supplies from OfficeMax earn a $10 credit for every $75 they spend. The chain also gives teachers a two percent discount when they buy ink and toner.


Office Depot is testing a pilot program at a dozen stores with “Teacher Aisles” filled with supplies needed in classrooms. If successful, the chain intends to roll out the concept nationally. The chain already offers educators a five percent discount on supplies and 15 percent savings on copying as part of its existing Star Teacher program.


One of the chain’s stores in Countryside, Ill. recently ran a teacher appreciation breakfast with free coffee, doughnuts and tote bags filled with supplies. Teachers were also given a 10 percent discount on purchases they made.


“The freebies are really exciting, and the selection of teacher supplies is impressive,” said preschool teacher Sandy Forst. “Most teachers are spending their own money so this is really helpful.”


Moderator’s Comment: Are the office supply chains creating more loyal consumers with teacher appreciation days and other programs targeted to educators?
What practical lessons can retailers take from this story and apply elsewhere in marketing, merchandising, customer service and other areas of their business?

George Anderson – Moderator

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7 Comments on "Educator Consumers Are Chains’ Most Loyal Customers"


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Tom Zatina
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Tom Zatina
15 years 6 months ago

I, too, agree that educators should not be forced to reach into their own pockets to pay for necessary supplies. However, they always will for this or for that, and I think that the office supply companies have hit the right note in reaching out to this group. In general, I am in favor of almost anything that supports the efforts of great teachers.

Jeff Weitzman
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Jeff Weitzman
15 years 6 months ago
When my wife was teaching in NYC and Westchester (where the spending per student is about the highest in the country) she still spent $1,000 per year on supplies for her classroom. Here in Palo Alto, CA, where we just passed (with about 70% of the vote) a parcel tax to fund local schools, we are still asked to contribute $500 per student per year to pay for supplies, and I’m sure teachers still spend out of pocket. Against that background, stores that run programs like these are valuable members of the community. They should rightly look at it as an investment: better schools produce better citizens; citizens who fill jobs at their stores, citizens who don’t vandalize their stores at night or shoplift. And yes, they should absolutely be rewarded with loyalty by the communities they serve. Not just by the teachers, but by the parents and others who know that store is doing its part to help their kids. Retailers should go a step further: create a teacher registry, like a bridal registry.… Read more »
Len Lewis
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Len Lewis
15 years 6 months ago

I think the lesson here is to help consumers help themselves, whether they are teachers or just regular shoppers. There’s no doubt this will create loyalty among some shoppers.

As always, the danger is that teachers will take advantage of the specials that the office supply chains offer, then head off to Wal-Mart for cheaper everyday prices on school supplies.

If the chains really want to foster loyalty among educators, perhaps they should look at the bigger problem. Teachers shouldn’t be digging into their own pockets to pay for supplies. That’s why we pay taxes, have budgets and boards of education and district school boards around the country. I would encourage the chains to start lobbying local politicians to refocus on education and put the money where it will do the most good. Partner with teacher organizations and schools to make sure the kids are getting what they need. A coupon isn’t going to do it.

If teachers aren’t forced to subsidize their own schools, we might attract more and better people to the profession.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

How true, Len. In our district, the school taxes we pay are so high I have to take oxygen before reading the budget. And yet I remember the case of my daughter’s English teacher who used to ask parents to bring along a pack of copier paper when they visited the classroom because he always ran out mid-year.

One idea would be for the chains to set up online registries, as is done for wedding couples. Teachers could create a list of most-needed items and parents could get “gold stars” for contributing.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Teachers are a great market. They have more time and focus than money. Scholastic Publishing runs a 9-figure business selling paperbacks in classrooms, using the teachers as salespeople. And the teachers’ commissions are simply a few free books they can use in their classrooms.

The majority of Americans seem unwilling to see that schools systems are reasonably managed and funded, both. Since Scholastic has been running the classroom book business for over 50 years, it seems this issue is not a recent one. Scholastic wouldn’t have much of a business if teachers and students had enough books.

Tillman Estes
Guest
Tillman Estes
15 years 6 months ago
I must agree with the other replies that it is bad that the teachers do this out of pocket. However, the office supply stores have it right: Take care of our teachers. Yes, this does breed loyalty and for good reason. Teachers must be frugal. After all, we refuse to pay them what they are worth. And at the same time, we love to place blame when the grades do not match expectations. However, they do indeed advertise by word of mouth, as with classroom displays. I don’t think the teachers head off to Wal-Mart after the back to school big push, as much as they will follow the buying power of their dollars. The teachers need the tools. Teacher loyalty is about providing the right tools, not just saving dollars. That’s why they buy the items themselves. The retailers cannot abuse this relationship by increasing “educator” margins. I am part of the educator loyalty movement (only the son of a teacher can understand). I go to Staples to partake in their huge sales in… Read more »
Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 6 months ago

The office supply companies have created not only good will in its communities, but also have given the teachers the advantage of good quality products at a discount. And, online shopping and delivery may be in this program, or coming!

Sure, the teachers are the link of loyalty, and the students will know what office/school supply company is helping their schools. Over time, it will build loyalty with the students, as they note the service, quality and value.

So who needs Wal-Mart, that would take time to go to, and not offer the range of brand names or quality? Hmmmmmmmmmmm

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