Back to school is big business

Cash registers are ringing away long before the first school bell rings. The National Retail Federation predicts parents will spend an average of $688 on each child's supplies - including clothes, shoes and electronics. That's up 14 percent from last year.
Marie Havenga
Aug 22, 2012


The Huntington Backpack Index breaks back-to-school budgets down by age. It estimates expenses at $548 for elementary students, $724 for middle school kids and a whopping $1,117 for high schoolers.

That sounds high at first blush, but some local shoppers are following the national spending trends.

Grand Haven resident Robyn Burkall shopped for hoodies and colored skinny jeans for her 10-year-old daughter, Jada, last week. Burkall was also in the market for T-shirts, jeans and a pair of shoes for her soon-to-be-kindergarten son, Trenton.

“I think I'll be spending less on clothes this year because a lot of stuff fits her from last year,” Burkall said. “But now she's to the age where she wants brand-name stuff. All of her clothes are more expensive because I can't just go to Walmart anymore.”

Burkall estimates she'll spend $200 to $300 on clothes, shoes and supplies for each child, but a $1,300 iMac computer put her over the national average.

“The iMac should last three to four years,” Burkall said.

Fruitport High School senior Sarah Harken has a clerk's eye view of back-to-school economics — she works at Glik's in downtown Grand Haven. Harken said her parents give her $500 toward school-season shopping and her grandparents kick in another $100.

Her list includes dark wash, floral print and coral-colored jeans, Ugg shoes and a pair of flats, pens, mechanical pencils, and glittery notepads and folders.

“I'm graduating in January so I'll probably get a laptop (computer) eventually,” Harken said. "I already have a cell phone and an iPod. The high school provides computers and we have a couple at home.”

Grand Haven High School junior Arielle Sadowski estimates she'll tally about $500 for jeans, shirts, a backpack, shoes, binders and pencils.

“I'll be spending more than last year, but I have higher standards of clothing than last year,” Sadowski said between trips to the Glik's fitting room. “I like all the different patterns and colors that are out this year. I'll be getting some neon.”

Jeff Glik, owner of the Glik's chain, said 2012 back-to-school shopping is in line with the last couple of years. He his 57 stores will sell $6.5 million of clothing, shoes and backpacks for the commencement of classes. He projects the Grand Haven store, which opened in April, will top $100,000.

“It's really our second-biggest season of the year,” Glik said in a telephone interview from his St. Louis, Mo., office. “Christmas is No. 1.”

Christmas comprises 28 percent of annual sales, while school shopping rings in at 20 percent, according to the clothing chain owner.

Glik said sales continue to be robust after school starts.

“The week after school starts is a huge week for us,” he said. “Kids want to see what everyone else is wearing, then they come in and set it right. That's what we've experienced the last five to 10 years.”

Megan Needham, owner of Aberdeen's in downtown Grand Haven, said fall sales are often strong.

“There's a lot of stuff you can spend money on for kids,” she said. “It seems as they get older, they need more calculators and advanced stuff. There's lots of stuff you have to get for kids now to go back to school."

Although she would love for parents to spend the National Federation of Retailers' projection in her store, Needham is happy with the 15 to 20 percent increase in sales from 2010 to 2011, and her anticipated 10 percent gain this year.

“People always want something new and different to start the new school year,” she said. “It's something exciting for the kids to look forward to and it gets them excited about going back to school. And anything you can do to encourage them to be excited is good.”


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