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Meijer, Target get ‘freaky’

Andrew Thagard | Monday, September 1, 2003

SOUTH BEND – For many Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, trips to discount retail stores have become part of the back-to-school routine at the end of August – right up there with the opening Mass, bookstore runs and Rally in the Alley at Turtle Creek Apartments.

Back-to-school shopping is undeniably big business for area retailers, especially giants Meijer and Target, who rank the two-week period surrounding the start of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s with the holiday season as the busiest times of the year.

Tim Corbett, director of the Meijer on Grape Road, said his store sees a 33 percent increase in sales during this time.

“For those departments that are impacted, it certainly ranks up there with the holidays,” he said.

Stephanie Anglin, Target’s regional executive director, said it is against company policy to provide specific data on store sales. She said, however, that Target ranks a store’s business level for back-to-school time using a three-fold scale. The scale places stores in categories, including “not affected,” “freaky” and “super-freaky,” depending on how much traffic it attracts. Anglin said the recently-opened Mishawaka Super Target is classified as a “freaky” store. She anticipates, however, that the store will earn the “super-freaky” designation next year.

“We’re a brand-new store,” she said. “We just kind of learned from this year that we can sell even more.”

Top-selling items at Meijer and Target include plastic products like space crates and boxes designed to fit under beds, along with typical school supplies like paper, pens and pencils. Dorm necessities like futons, rugs, mini-refrigerators and bedding materials are also popular, Corbett and Anglin said.

“Students like anything that’s hip and trendy,” Anglin said.

Both stores begin the back-to-school planning process months in advance. Meijer begins ordering products for the end of August around Jan. 1, and the store starts planning displays and product positioning in March and April, Corbett said. Nationwide, the companies drum up back-to-school business by highlighting popular items in the six weeks of advertising prior to the event, Anglin said.

The retailers also try to make shopping as convenient as possible once customers enter the store. Both Meijer and Target place popular items toward the front of the store and use displays to attract shoppers’ attention.

Target also integrates technology into the process, allowing customers to go online in the store and order items that may not be available on-hand. The items are then shipped to the student’s residence.

Meijer makes a special effort to ensure that students and their parents are having fun, Corbett said. The store sets up an outdoor tent stocked with games, food and prizes. This year’s grand prize was a Pepsi vending machine, won by a Notre Dame off-campus senior.

“We really try to pull it off as a carnival or festival,” Corbett said.