End of Season Sales – What to Look and Ask for
In this time of clearance shopping and crazy crowds, here are a few reasons why you should hop in your car and head to the stores. Know that this advice is coming from someone who works part-time retail. I have lived through the picky customers, fussy children, angry tag-along shoppers, loud cell phone conversations while in the check out line, shopper melt-downs, and (sometimes) genuinely nice people who come out to shop between November 1st and December 25th. I have lived and worked through all of that and I am STILL encouraging you to take the risk and head out for a little light shopping.
I think you should go shopping because RIGHT NOW there are some really great clearance deals that will benefit you and your classroom. I’m going to share some tips and pointers on what to buy for your music classroom during holiday clearance sales including some resources for concerts, centers, decoration, and lots more! Read on and see what I’m talking about and then grab your keys and go!
Big Decorations for Free!
Ask around at any shop that you think has cute decorations and tell them your story. There are many companies that have a strict “you must destroy these props” policy. For instance I saw this amazing sailboat that looked like it was folded origami-style paper yet somehow made of wood a few years ago in the Banana Republic window. I loved it! I called over and asked if I could have it once they were done using it for display and they nicely told me that they had to destroy all of their old props and couldn’t give them away. I sadly told them thank you.
But don’t despair! It is worth it to ask a manager to see if those decorations are up for grabs. Tell them your story and your situation and sometimes it will get you somewhere. At another unnamed retail shop the same year as the Banana Republic sailboat I saw some really huge oversized ornaments that were shiny green and red. I asked the manager if I could have them once the season was over and she told me that “No” officially she could not give them to me. I mentioned that I was a music teacher and that those would make the perfect backdrop props and she smiled and told me about how much she loved music in elementary school. Then she took my email and said that she would hold them for me and even deliver them to my school when they were off the sales floor as long as I didn’t tell corporate.
Some stores are like that with a “must destroy” policy. I get that. They don’t want their iconic work to get reused in another store to promote a competitor’s product or used in some picture that doesn’t fit their image. Imagine if Target gave away their in-store decorations and a local general store used them to promote their products or if someone took the Bath and Body Works displays and used them as a backdrop for a Hell’s Angels photo shoot. B&BW probably doesn’t want to be seen as a sponsor of something like that.
I work part-time for Anthropologie (which has amazing in-store merchandising). Anthro is one retailer that will often give away or auction its decorations when the season is over. They give the proceeds of the auction to a local charity. Check with the store manager about details.
Now is the time when retail is starting to turnover and prepare for the next big thing. Everyone is doing clearance sales and huge markdowns to get their holiday product out the doors and out of the way for the new spring lines and merchandise. I have seen this over and over again as I have worked a part-time retail job for the last few years. I have also watched with dismay (and sometimes delight) as bright and elaborate holiday displays got taken down and hauled out to the dumpster. Companies at the retail centers and malls around the country spend thousands and thousands of dollars on cute little displays that get dumped as soon as the big shopping holiday is over. Do your best to snag those decorations for FREE!
I worked for Fossil for a few years and always loved the people and experiences I had there. They have some really creative and interesting window and in-store displays to show off their product and one spring they had cute little birdhouses all over the store. The birdhouses came in many bright colors and shapes and were fun to look at. When a representative for a children’s summer camp with the word “Birdhouse” in the camp name came in we were excited about the prospect of giving away our birdhouses to them. The camp was a local one and catered to children with disabilities. We emailed our corporate office and asked them if we could donate our window props and birdhouses to this amazing camp and they quickly agreed. They even sent an official letter from the corporate office signed by the director of visuals and merchandising to include with the birdhouses when we gave them away.
It never hurts to ask. If you see something you like in a store, make inquiries. Everyone in retail is taking down holiday decorations now or in the next week or two, so go out and get looking!
Office Freebies – End of Year Clear Out
One of my favorite “just ask” moments was when I asked the Facebook world where they bought strips of magnet. I needed some magnet strips or magnet sheets to complete a manipulative/activity I was working on for my second graders.
Out of the blue a friend from church choir messaged me and said that the credit union where she worked might have something I would like. Every year they give out little magnetic calendars as a gift to their clients. They were flat and about the size of a 4×6 photograph and the entire back of the calendar was a flat magnet. They give them out throughout the year but now it was December and the magnets had become useless.
There was a huge box of magnets they had not been able to give away during the year and they would just gladly give to me. Score! They cut the name of the credit union off of the magnet and gave the rest to me. This saved me tons of money on sheet magnets and was a gift that I didn’t even know to ask for. I used them for the project and have lots of these little gems left over for future projects! Go and check with your local bank branches, credit union, or anyone else who might have magnets to share!
Odds and Ends — Worth taking a look!
Now is also the time to get random little things on clearance at drastically reduced rates. Always check out the clearance aisle and see what’s there. I never walk into the clearance aisle of a store thinking “I want this specific thing” but I try to walk in thinking about all the possibilities and ways that I could use something in there. I have found countless little things in the clearance aisle that become a part of my classroom.
That said, you could easily blow $100 on a cartfull of nothing if you don’t limit yourself and ask “would I really use this?” or “can I honestly use this in the way that I was thinking?” Go in with an open mind but be sure to stop and rethink before you wheel your cart out of the aisle. Nearly every time I traipse into the clearance aisle I pull four or five things OUT of my cart before I walk away. Don’t buy uselessly.
Also, think about other folks who are packing up and putting away decorations at home. A year or two ago I put out a Facebook status asking all my friends/family to save any old holiday decorations and wrapping paper/supplies that they didn’t want. I got a ton of responses with things that people had and were willing to give away. There were many things that I could use to decorate for programs or decorate my music room. I also loved using old wrapping paper and bows on a bulletin board to make it fun and new.
Thinking Ahead — Programs on the Horizon
I try and plan out my future music programs as best I can and TRY to think through that timeline about a year in advance. What can my kids take on in a year? What have my colleagues in the district/area tried out that was cute/fun and works well? Would my kids like to deal with a certain subject matter? What would work well for our curriculum and what would work well with our community?
For instance, I knew about this time last year that I wanted to do the holiday program “Fiesta: The Legend of the Poinsettia,” an amazing little mini-musical that teaches the Mexican folk tale of the Poinsettia plant. There had been two mini-musicals I was debating doing and when I chose the other I put “Fiesta” on the back-burner and planned to use it the following year. This was great for several reasons: I could start planning out what I would need for props/scenery, I could think ahead to how the program cycle would fit into my yearly schedule, and I could begin to look for cheap and super discounted decorations. You can bet that at Cinco de Mayo (and the following clearance) I cashed in and bought cheap. I could even do this a little with Valentine’s Day decorations and buy a bunch of discounted sparkly red garland to pack away and pull out for program time.
I knew early on that I would put together this program, “Operation Overboard,” for my Kindergarten and 1st grade. The show was in February but I knew what I was doing the previous June (or at least I knew the theme) so I could buy and collect decorations early! I bought almost all the decorations you see at the end-of-summer clearance. Score!
Knowing that I would do “Fiesta!” in December allowed me to be smart with money throughout the year. My district doesn’t buy musicals for us so I planned to spend the $80 or whatever it was for the musical and accompaniment CD in July when I had less school expenses (and since I planned so far out I actually bought the kit on Amazon for $30 less). I also began to look at the US Toy and Oriental Trading websites EARLY and wishlisted things and purchased things slowly when I got the right coupons or sales. Knowing in advance what subject matter I would be dealing with helped me shop smart.
So, are you going to do an ocean-themed show sometime this/next year? Shop for blue twinkle lights now when they’re on sale. Going to do a multi-cultural festival next year? Get your discounted menorahs and tannenbaums and nativity scenes now. Think ahead and pick up your cheap/clearance garland, lights, ornaments, decorations, and lots more while you can!
I hope that the ideas above help you out and encourage you as you enter the post-Holiday, post-cookie, post-nap, post-shopping, and PRE-school season. We’ve still got a few more days to enjoy the freedom! I hope that this post encouraged you to read a bit (while enjoying your pre-school cup of afternoon coffee) and plan a bit for your next little shopping trip.
And before I go… last year I wrote a blog posts about what to buy, where, and why during the post-holiday rush. Check out these posts to read about cheap electronic helpers, decorations, computer accessories, and lots more!