One of the hot new items for this year are big Trapper Keepers and binders with shoulder straps, according to Traci Reynolds, assistant manager at Office Max. "It's something a lot of people are looking for," she remarked. "Students like the strap so they don't have to carry them."
Marc Edwards, Office Max store manager, pointed out that stretchable book covers are also popular this year. Another high-demand product are scientific graphing calculators, especially for high school students.
"We mainly sell what is on the ad," Reynolds said of notebook, folder, pen and pencil sales. Another factor that plays into the choice of these items are school guidelines, according to Edwards. For instance, some schools don't allow mechanical pencils. However, he pointed out that gel pens appear to be more popular than other styles.
Reynolds suggested that a student's choice of notebook depends on their grade. "The younger kids use one-subject notebooks," she remarked. "As they go up in classes, students start using the multi-subject notebooks."
Backpacks are another item that appear to grow along with the students, according to Burnett. "The more compartments, the better," he commented.
Laptop series backpacks are also more popular this year compared to other years, according to Perry Burnett, store manager at the VF Outlet. These are primarily purchased by college students, but he has also seen some younger students buy them.
Mesh, see-through backpacks are required in some schools, but students appear to like them as well, Burnett said. One-strap backpacks are also popular.
But one of the most sought-after backpack styles are those with cushion support. "They give more curvature to the spine," he said. "They have more padding along the back and on the straps."
Burnett highly recommends that older students purchase a cushioned backpack. "Kids are overloading their backpacks," he said. This could help prevent back problems later in life.
The appearance of a backpack also plays a factor in what students buy. KayBee Toys' manager Nikki Simmons suggested that preschool and elementary school students prefer character designs. "Spiderman, Care Bears and Sponge Bob have been really good sellers this year," she said. These styles have also been popular lunch box sales.
For the older students, Burnett said "brighter is better." Girls tend to buy shades of red, pink and purple. He has seen some students coordinate their backpacks with certain outfits. Boys, on the other hand, tend to buy earth tone colors, such as brown, beige and dark greens.
Students aren't the only ones searching for needed school supplies. Teachers are also out buying materials. Nancy Craft, owner of Craftmasters KidSmart and her husband Roger said that sales have been outrageous recently.
"We've had to reorder a number of times already," Craft commented. He and his wife agreed the economy has been in a slump for the past couple of back-to-school seasons, partially due to the 9/11 crisis. But this year's sales are going strong. "Money has been starting to come back since 9/11," he commented.
High demand items for teachers include name tags and plates, bulletin board sets and motivational items and posters. These items can be used by preschool teachers up to high school teachers, Mrs. Craft pointed out. Supplemental items, such as workbooks or inflatable balls are available, as well as stickers, lesson plan books, incentive charts and several other items.
Although Craftmasters is aimed mostly toward teachers, a few student items are available, such as Cliffs Notes. The Crafts also pointed out that students usually shop at their store in the middle of the year, when science fairs roll around. In addition to selling display boards, borders and lettering, the staff brainstorms with students for display ideas, according to Mrs. Craft. "We're here to help," she commented.
Craftmasters has a large selection, with over 25,000 items in the store, according to Craft. "Teachers have found out about us and are coming from all over the Midwest to shop."