08/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

School's Coming -- Got Your List?

I'm not too worried about how the NYSE is doing these days. Ditto for the
S&P 500, GNP, and all other well known economic barometers. Even if
business has been buffeted by stormy weather in some sectors, a ray of
sunshine is about to emerge. During the next several weeks, merchants all
over the country will be getting their annual monetary boost from the BTS
(Back to School) factor.

A lot of parents know what I'm talking about. The BTS factor takes effect
in late July and early August, when many schools begin sending out packets
of information about the upcoming academic year. Enclosed with each packet
is a copy of The List.

The List is an assortment of school supplies that every student must
bring to class on the first day. Many stores provide extra shelf space or
set up large tables to accommodate the enormous volume of merchandise that
is needed to satisfy BTS consumer needs.

During the past decade, while bumping elbows with other shoppers
scrambling to fulfill their BTS requirements, I became aware of an
intriguing fact: The List appears to be the same almost everywhere.
Granted, each school puts out its own version, so the actual document will
vary in size or color. But the specific items, and the order in which they
are listed, seldom show much variance. To me, this is clear evidence that
some central authority is involved in preparing The List.

Why have the conspiracy theorists not jumped onto this bandwagon? The
invisible hand of corporate-globalist power must surely be involved in the
explosive growth of BTS commerce during the past 20 years. You don't have
to be an honor roll student to see what's going on. The Freemasons, Federal
Reserve Board, and Tri-Lateral Commission have obviously climbed into bed
with pen makers, paper mills, and even Elmer, the Borden cow.

Their penchant for subtle monetary manipulation is reflected in the
numbers on The List. It may, for example, tell you to obtain 18 pencils.
Then, to your chagrin, you discover that pencils are only available in
packs of 12. This disconcerting distortion of supply and demand holds true
for glue sticks, erasers, and many other classroom necessities.

The conspiracy crowd should target their deepest suspicions toward the
Crayola company, which maintains a massive presence in the BTS marketplace.
In all honesty, how often does the average person need a new box of their
product? Has anyone in recorded history ever used up an entire crayon, worn
it down all the way so there is only a tiny sliver left?

No, crayons get used until they are about half their normal length, or
they break into smaller pieces, and eventually they all get tossed into a
jar or plastic bag which is put away and soon forgotten. The moment kids
see BTS store displays, they immediately assume that used crayons are
obsolete. And occasionally, the Crayola people will tweak buyer interest by
using their tried and true sales ploy: adding a new color.

Suspicion, however, is not a useful response to the BTS factor. A more
productive approach would be to ride with the economic currents. Instead of
criticizing the Crayola company, I should be buying their stock right now.
So long as student achievement and academic standards remain hot button
issues, it seems likely that BTS-related businesses can look forward to many
upcoming semesters of prosperity.

Good luck to everyone who's heading out in the coming weeks to shop for
BTS items. Try to get it done exactly right. The people who drew up The
List may be watching. And if you make a mistake, it might end up on your
permanent record.

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