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Boost Your Business with Local Schools Markets

Posted: 8/19/2016

According to US and Canadian government data, over 75 million North Americans between the ages of 5 and 25 are students. They attend over 80,000 schools, all of which have extra-curricular activities, academic awards and faculty and staff deserving of recognition and appreciation.

This means that you, as a digital decorator, have a very large market with needs for personalized and branded products right in your own backyard, and if you have not yet tapped it, you should be. There is a lot of room to be creative here and high demand, as you’ll be primarily providing impulse buys, spirit products, awards and other items that people love. Here is some information and advice to help you get started selling to this customer-rich sector.

What to Expect

Within schools markets are the actual schools and their related organizations (PTAs, athletic teams, extracurricular and service clubs, etc.), and they can be anywhere within the area in which you do business. All of them are potential targets for your business. However, the greatest opportunities exist within high schools (see below), which have a large number of extracurricular activities, students with their own money, parents with money to spend, and a network of parent booster clubs that are involved with the school.

To be successful in this market, you need to understand the landscape, who the players are, what they want and how to reach them. Most schools have little or no money to spend on digitally decorated products. 

A realistic opportunity may be to target the support (booster) groups, which typically operate under their own budgets (not controlled by the school system) and typically engage in fundraising activities to support their cause. This is a good place to start in order to gain their attention and create a profitable business relationship.

Specific information about the schools you are targeting can often be found on the web. Most schools now have websites and spending some time there will provide you with contact names within the school, including the support organizations and background information that will allow you to better market your products to a school.

Colleges, middle schools, and elementary schools all provide opportunities, as well. And to some degree, there are also opportunities with preschool and daycare centers. Though they may not be officially part of the local school system, they still offer similar opportunities for selling.

What You Can Make

There is a seemingly endless list of products you can make to sell within schools markets, but it's crucial that you understand the differences among the different levels and types of schools you're targeting. For example, elementary schools don't usually offer much opportunity to offer products that focus on athletics. However, there is a lot of opportunity to sell these kinds of items within high school and college communities. 

Here is a quick look at some products that are in demand within the elementary, middle and high school sub-markets, as well as for colleges and universities. For a more in-depth look at each of these sectors, download our Making Money Guide - Schools Markets.

Elementary Schools

  • Motivational and Award Products: Bookmarks, key chains or bag tags could be used on a school-wide level for children. They could be customized with the school logo/colors and include a motivational or self-esteem building phrase like, “Reading is Fun for Everyone!” Plaques given to students for awards and recognition would also be good items to offer. Your ability to produce full-color awards will be appealing to schools because, as they are motivational and will appeal to children. Plaques are also items that can be offered for teacher and staff awards, as well as donor recognition.
  • Identification Products and Signage: Think nameplates, desk plates, plaques and small interior signs for offices, classrooms and desks. Name badges and lanyards are good items to offer administration for all teachers and staff to wear at events where parents and other community members are visiting the school. Your ability to create full-color signs will help schools to have a more “child-friendly” appearance.
  • School Spirit Products: These could be sold to parents, as a way for them to show support for their child’s school. Mugs, license plates, license plate frames, t-shirts, water bottles and picture frames are examples of items that you could offer to the school for parents to purchase. 
  • Kids' Artwork Fundraiser: Feature kids' artwork on products that have mass appeal to the elementary school market, and make it into a fundraiser! This even works for preschools and daycare centers). The students create artwork, which is then sublimated onto photo panels, plaques, mugs, mouse pads, etc., and offered for sale to the parents. It’s the type of product that no parent can refuse!

Middle Schools

  • Athletics: Students and their families start to get more into athletics during the middle school years than during elementary school, which makes athletic and spirit products a great idea to sell. Logoed and personalized products go hand-in-hand with athletics. Sublimated products can be used to promote team unity and membership, raise school spirit, and commemorate team and individual accomplishments. Bag tags, picture frames, license frames, car flags, I.D. tags, key chains, plaques, and basketball goals are just a few of the products that will appeal to middle school athletes and their parents.
  • Academics: These clubs and extracurricular activities, like student council or the school paper, also make good targets. They're not only important to the school, but often are positively correlated with academic success. Because of this, parents typically encourage their children to become involved and are eager to support these activities. Since parents would be purchasing these products either for themselves or their children, the parents must see them.
  • Fine Arts: Though not all middle schools have a fine arts program, the ones that do will provide you with another opportunity. Whether it is singing, acting, or playing an instrument many schools will have a number of students that participate in these extracurricular activities. Recognition of membership and acknowledgement of achievement or participation are reasons why students and parents would want your products. Award plaques, bag tags, picture frames, T-shirts and key chains are examples of items to offer for these activities. 

High Schools

  • Athletics: Sports are serious business in high school, and there is vast opportunity to make money here. Products that appeal to teams would include bag tags, license frames, I.D. tags, basketball goals, car flags, etc., and can be given out at the beginning of the season to help boost team morale. An athletic department can also purchase sublimated products as recognition awards for athletes, and gifts for coaches and other employees. Booster clubs and parent groups are also prime targets for personalized products. All booster clubs raise funds and you can offer a fundraiser with no risk to the club, as products are made to order. License plates and frames, car flags, coffee mugs, key chains, and picture frames are great items that parents can purchase to show their support of the program and raise money for the athletes. The list goes on. 
  • Academics: Interest groups, like the math team or chess club, the school paper, magazine or yearbook, quiz teams, broadcasting clubs, and career related clubs such as a college club or FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America). Academic groups can use many products in much the same way as athletic groups: to promote unity, membership recognition and to give awards and special recognition to students, parents, and faculty.
  • School Stores: These stores usually offer spirit items with the school logo and team affiliations/colors. They are usually faced with the dilemma of having to place a large minimum order on most products, so often their stock and selection is limited. Your ability to produce orders in small quantities will allow them to offer new products with minimal risk. You can even offer school stores the option of placing a catalog or brochure and product samples in the store, and having them take orders for you. This option will leave them with no risk and allow you to sell your products to the entire school.

Colleges and Universities

  • Greek Life: One of the largest opportunities at the college level exists with fraternities and sororities. Some fraternities and sororities even have their own color, flower, or other symbol that they have adopted and might like to include in their designs. Picture frames, personalized T-shirts, ornaments, key chains, mugs, jewelry, tile boxes, plaques, and name badges are some of the products that would appeal to them. Also, offering products like message boards and basketball goals to decorate dorm rooms or rooms in the fraternity/sorority house would work as well.
  • Athletics: At the college level, another large possibility for sublimated sales comes from athletics. he most obvious reason an athletic program would want to purchase your products would be to promote team unity and membership. Products available in the team area would include bag tags, license frames, I.D. tags, basketball goals, car flags, etc. These products can also be given out at the beginning of the season to help boost team morale. They may also be interested in products for fans, donors, supporters, alumni, media personalities and even parents.
  • Administrative/College Advancement: Offer high-quality, personalized products incorporating the college logo (which aids in their marketing efforts) with personalization for donors. The ability to personalize these products with the donor's name, date and even a special message is an excellent selling point, because these offices are always looking for ways to encourage donors to continue contributing to the school. Another opportunity within a college is for identification products. Nameplates, desk plates, plaques and small interior signs are all products that could be offered to any of the administrative offices.

Learn More

Now that you have some ideas as to what you can do with sublimation in your local schools markets, get the full story by downloaded our Making Money Guide: Schools Markets. This in-depth resource includes strategies, information, creative angles and sales and marketing advice. You'll also find links to images and artwork to create the perfect sample kit for pitching your sublimated products to new prospects. 
Also, be sure to check out these BusinessBuilder webcasts, for more insight and ideas: