Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On the way to Kindergarten: Office Depot

I just got back from vacation and one of the pieces of mail I was particularly excited to open was the Kindergarten welcome letter from my daughter’s elementary school. I hadn’t done much shopping for her yet and wanted to do it together so she felt proud and part of the process. We skimmed through the letter quickly so we could get to the important stuff: KINDERGARTEN SUPPLIES, listed on page 2. Listed on page 2 is an understatement. The list honestly took up the entire page. Here it is:

“[Name of school] will supply each student with scissors and paper. In addition, your child should bring:

  • Roomy backpack big enough to hold a folder, projects, papers, lunch and a jacket.
  • A dozen pencils, regular size #2
  • A dozen (or more!) glue sticks, any brand, to be shared by all
  • One bottle of white glue
  • One box of washable markers to be shared
  • One box of 16 crayons to be shared
  • One package of 3 x 5 note cards
  • One ream of white copy paper (8 ½ x 11)
  • One box of Kleenex (or more!)
  • One box of antibacterial or baby wipes (or more!)
  • Liquid hand soap dispensers or refills (one or more)
  • One box of band aids

Office Depot offers our school a generous rebate on year-round purchases so please remember to mention [name of school] to the cashier.

Now… it’s been a long time since I’ve attended Kindergarten and my daughter is my oldest child, so at the risk of sounding completely out of it, I still have to remark that this list came as somewhat of a shock. I do like the part about “the school will supply each student with scissors and paper” though. That’s a nice, generous touch.

Still, eager to do some shopping (remember, I was already in a shopping mood), we grabbed the little one and headed down to Office Depot to take care of the list. On the drive down I kept thinking that I never would considered Office Depot for my incoming Kindergartner had I not been so easily lured by the “generous rebate” copy on the school’s welcome letter. Apparently everyone else in the school district was too, because the parking lot was packed on a rainy Monday afternoon.

The store was somewhat prepared for us. The front entry had a display listing all of the area schools’ supply lists (in case you left yours at home – a very nice touch) and, although it took us a bit of time to locate the “back to school” section (in the back of the store) we did find almost everything on the list. Including hand soap, tissues, and baby wipes! Who knew you could get baby wipes at Office Depot. (I’m still not sure what’s going to happen with those wipes but I guess I’ll find out at parents’ night.)

The downside: the back to school section was crowded with parents and kids of various ages (including my one year-old who always makes shopping trips more difficult) and the rows were too narrow for a shopping cart. The visual merchandising could have been a lot better too, organized by grade level or with fun signs pointing out cool stuff. I was hoping for more of a traditional back to school shopping spree a la Target or other superstore where Back to School is made to feel like a special event and recognized as the important rite of passage that it is. Office Depot has also missed out on a lot of obvious licensed merchandise opportunities. Most of the school supplies we saw were really generic and “too boring” according to my daughter. Still, I was able to buy some Cars branded glue sticks (the last one in stock) and my daughter whined for a particularly ugly Hannah Montana backpack, but that was really it. (By the way, I am adamantly opposed to any licensed merchandise that doesn’t further the brand’s core values but that’s a topic for another blog post).

All in all, I give Office Depot huge points for partnering with local schools and offering non-traditional merchandise so we could satisfy our supply lists in one trip. We filled the cart and spent $40. The salespeople were exceedingly helpful too. I’ll definitely be back next time we need to stock up, but I won’t expect the trip to satisfy any rite of passage urges for me or my daughter.

Still feeling the “urge” to do something special for my daughter, I eagerly opened a marketing e-mail from Hanna Andersson about their back-to-school specials, and promptly drove down there and spent $70 on an adorable striped backpack, matching wallet and pencil case. And I got her a new outfit. We were both hugely satisfied. How’s that for retail therapy?

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