Patrick Alvarez walks into big-box stores and their rows of school supplies and his trained teacher eye makes an astute observation.
“A lot of the inventory doesn’t move,” said Alvarez, a social studies teacher at a Brownsville charter school. “It’s not what teachers really need.”
The dollar stores offer discounts on inexpensive items like glitter and markers, but what about the more specific supplies and decorations teachers commonly need to adorn their classrooms?
“You won’t find them there,” Alvarez said.
There was a niche to be filled, reasoned Alvarez and his wife, Rebecca, who is also a teacher.
“There needs to be something between the big box and discount stores,” Patrick Alvarez said. “A place where teachers can find what they’re really needing, a store where you can find quality over quantity.”
Knowing and Addressing the Need
The Alvarez couple is working to fill that need at their Super Teachers Supplies & Resource Center. They opened the store on Price Road in the spring of 2019. The way the two educators see it is that they precisely know what teachers need. The education content posters, thematic decors, and all the bits and pieces to go with trims and borders are items they’ve used in their own classrooms.
Dressing up classrooms with posters, decorations and ornaments is an expectation most teachers must meet even while most school districts do not provide all the funds needed to make that happen. Teachers have to dig into their own pockets and purses to buy the necessary items – and that’s if they can readily find them.
Super Teachers aims to meet those needs. There are rolls of butcher paper of many colors that are a must in many classrooms in providing the necessary backgrounds for artwork. Posters featuring science and mathematical content are well stocked at the Brownsville store. Racks contain neat stacks of an array of accents and trims. Butterflies and stars are among the items available for the thematic decors.
“We know how it feels to fill up your classroom out of your own pocket,” said Rebecca Alvarez, who left her Brownsville middle school teaching job to run the business full time. “I give them (teachers) advice and options.
“New teachers in particular need help,” she said. “I know what they need before they finish telling me their stories.”
Finding The Right Spot
The sweet spot between big box and the dollar stores was enhanced last year when Gateway Printing & Office Supply closed its Brownsville location. It had been a go-to store for many area teachers. The San Antonio-based company has Edinburg roots before growing in recent years into a corporate entity with multiple locations. Gateway’s departure in Brownsville meant Super Teachers was suddenly the only store in town with teacher-specific supplies.
“People walk into our store and they might say, ‘this isn’t Gateway, you’re a lot smaller,'” Patrick Alvarez said. “That’s true, but we have what you need, and we’ll take the time to help you.”
Inventory at Super Teachers has both high-end and discount items, Rebecca Alvarez said. Educators receive a 10-percent discount on purchases at the Brownsville store. The store’s website also provides assistance for online orders and deliveries.
“Ninety percent of what teachers buy comes out of their own pocket,” she said. “We’re very aware of affordability.”
Super Teachers also serves area school districts as a general merchandise vendor for school district and charter schools in Brownsville and Los Fresnos.
“We’re not in it just for the sales of products,” Patrick Alvarez said. “We’re from here and we’re teachers too.
“We want to be of service to our customers in any way that can help them,” he said.