Australian Newsagency Blog

A blog on issues affecting Australia's newsagents, media and small business generally.

The importance of checks and balances in your cash management processes

Mark Fletcher on July 24, 2014 5:24 AM

I was talking with a retailer a couple of days ago about the theft from his business of more than $50,000 by a business partner. He was devastated that the long-term business partner would steal from their 50/50 owned business.

The theft has challenged the future of the business as two long time family friends collapse their business relationship. It is touch and go if the business will survive.

Partners can steal from each other if there is easy opportunity. That was the case in this situation I am writing about.

For the sake of everyone involved, partners should agree on a transparent process for handling cash with different people responsible at different times. This coupled with good checks and balances and a fine attention to actual grow profit by department and with proper stock control processes and you have several points at which theft can be uncovered.

The easier you make it to detect theft in your business the less likely you will be stolen from including by your business partners.

It is wrenching hearing someone talk about theft by an employee or a business partner. The damage beyond the cash itself is far-reaching. It can change someone forever.

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Anzac calendar a hit with shoppers

Mark Fletcher on July 24, 2014 5:19 AM

anzaccalThe calendar commemorating the Centenary of ANZAC is popular with shoppers even though we are a year away from the commemoration. We are it out and on display as part of a Father’s Day calendar pitch. While calendars are popular for father’s Day, this ANZAC calendar is attracting new shoppers to the category very early into the2015 calendar season.

Placed at the front of the newsagency I have noticed shoppers stopping at to take a look at it. This tells me the calendar has the potential to find new shopper traffic for us.

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Working around columns

Mark Fletcher on July 24, 2014 5:14 AM

columnsWorking around load-bearing columns in any retail situation can be difficult.

I have seen some newsagents use mirrors effectively. I have seen others not use a column at all, treating it as a frustration.

In one of my stores we have premium slat-wall attached and we use each side of the column to promote a different category or product. What we promote is dependent on the product adjacencies.

Sales determine the frequency with which we change what we have located where on the column.

Sometimes we dress the column completely in a colour to best feature the product placed there and other times we use the original fixtures as the background.

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A good small brand for kids

Mark Fletcher on July 24, 2014 5:11 AM

itngThe In The Night Garden plush range is a nice counter offer parents like to see in the toy / plush range. It’s a rand they trust thanks to an international TV show that ended a few years ago but still attracts interest.

One thing I’ve learned about plush is that it’s not a fixed department – lost of evolution responding to trends. It’s also a broad appeal department serving shoppers of all ages buying for all ages.

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Fairfax Digital report on newsagencies and the future

Mark Fletcher on July 23, 2014 3:46 PM

I’ve just done an interview with a journalist from Fairfax Digital on newsagency businesses and the future of the channel. It started out with a question about why many newsagencies are closing. But the time we finished we’d had a good discussion about the considerable good news about the channel and proactive newsagents with growing businesses.

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How to grow your newsagency

Mark Fletcher on July 23, 2014 5:21 AM

Here is a video shot just over a week ago looking at one of the most valuable tools I am finding for growing my newsagency – discount vouchers. This video looks at the April through June data.

To those who say this is a post advertising Tower Systems, I’d note that POS Solutions say they have the same facility in their software.

I don’t care so much which software you use – more that you engage in a smart front-end loyalty facility that is genuinely competitive to the me-too points based programs.

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→ 5 CommentsCategory: Newsagency management · newsagency marketing · newsagency of the future · Newsagency opportunities

Finger puppets!

Mark Fletcher on July 23, 2014 5:17 AM

ingerpuppetsHere is a good example of the type of impulse purchase item that works well at the counter. Kids, parents and grandparents love these finger puppets. They purchase them for a kid right away – instead of a candy – or to slip in a card and post. While c-stores, supermarkets and plenty or others have candy at the counter, it’s with items like these that we can pitch a point of difference.

A single item will not make our fortune … many single items could.

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Okay so the Classic Cookies cookbook is not really $5

Mark Fletcher on July 23, 2014 5:13 AM

awwclassiccookiesA colleague newsagent sent me this photo showing the collateral they received from Bauer pitching the  premium Classic Cookies cookbook at $5.00 when purchased with another item. Their merchandiser provided the material.

The problem is that Bauer has not been consistent in pitching this to newsagents – I’ve heard of many who received no such collateral.

The other problem is that Bauer did not set this promotion up with the newsagency soft are companies. It would have been easy enough to do had the company wanted to enforce the benefit.

This promotion looks like it has been poorly managed – unless there is communication and marketing collateral I am missing.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: magazines · Newsagency challenges · Newsagency management

Newsagency sales benchmark study: April – June 2014 compared to 2013

Mark Fletcher on July 22, 2014 5:59 AM

Some newsagents had a strong June 2014 quarter while the majority did not. The latest newsagency sales benchmark study shows the gap between newsagency businesses continues to widen. Here are the headline numbers:

  • Customer traffic. 68% of newsagents recorded an average decline of 2.6% in transactions. 9% reported no change and the rest an average growth of 2.2%.
  • Overall newsagency sales decline. 61% reported an average revenue decline of 5%. Of those reporting growth, the average was 5.4%.
  • Basket depth. 58% reported a decrease in basket size (items in the basket) with an average decrease was 3.2%. 3% showed no change. The rest achieved 1.9% growth.
  • Basket dollar value. 23% of newsagents an average increase in basket value of 2.4%.
  • Discounting. 11% of respondents engaged in discount based loyalty marketing of one form or another.
  • Circulation product sales continue to fall for most.

Newsagencies are not one size fits all – some doing very well and others doing poorly.

The gap between those doing well and those doing poorly does not need to be as great. Much of the success, or otherwise, comes down to leadership.

Newsagents make choices every day that can help a business grow or hold it back.

That said, would be wrong to talk about newsagents and make a common statement about how they (we) are doing as there is no common situation.

For the record, I note that the dataset includes independent newsagencies and branded businesses: Nextra, News Extra, Newspower and newsXpress. Of the latter, with which I am connected, there are only four.

Benchmark results by key departments:

  1. Magazines. 74% of newsagents reported an average decline (in units) of magazine sales of 7.1%. 5% reported no change and 21% reported average growth of 6.2%. NEWSAGENTS CAN GROW MAGAZINE SALES. In the 21% reporting magazine sales growth, most growth was outside the weeklies. Partworks continued to play an important role in the growth achieved by those achieving growth.
  2. Newspapers. 81% reported average decline of 3.8% in over the counter newspaper sales. HOWEVER: Cover price rises continue to account for revenue growth.
  3. Greeting cards. 55% of newsagents reported average growth of 2.2%. Of those reporting a decline, the average was 4.1%. NOTE: Everyday counter cards account for between 50% and 60% of all cards sold in most newsagencies – this where we need to focus our attention.
  4. Stationery. 56% of newsagents reported an average decline of 2.3%. Of those reporting growth, the average was 4.3%. While over a softer quarter for stationery, the results are not too bad.
  5. Ink. 46% of stores report ink separately. Of these, 56% reported growth of 2%.
  6. Gifts. 71% of the newsagents in this study have a separate gift department. Of these, 52% reported average growth of 4%. Gifts are down overall on previous benchmark reports – speaking to the importance of careful management of this category.
  7. Plush. 4% of newsagencies report on plush sales separately. I recommend this. A reasonable sales benchmark for plush is revenue equal to 25% of card revenue. In stores reporting on plush, sales are up on average 46%.
  8. Tobacco. 91% of stores with tobacco reported an average decline of 7%.
  9. Confectionery. 58% of stores reported an average decline of 5%.
  10. Toys. 51% of stores with the department reporting growth of 4%. However, only 7% of survey participants have a toy department.

The strong are getting stronger and the weak are getting weaker.

There is no geographic or demographic barrier to growth from what I can see. One newsagency in a town with tough economic challenges and competing with several newsagencies achieved excellent year on year growth – by owning their situation and being proactive.

Product mix shift. Embedded in the data I receive is information about unit sale and revenues contribution between all product categories. The shift I saw last quarter is continuing – from the traditional print, lottery, card and stationery mix to a broader appeal by some. It is fascinating seeing the results of deliberate actions on the shop floor to attract more shoppers to a business.

Why my own newsagency is not included in this study: My numbers are significantly outside the average and I did not want them to skew the results. I don’t mean this to be an arrogant statement.

My numbers, all off a good base, are: Art & Craft up 83%, cards up 13% with Everyday Counter up 10% and it accounting for 47.44% of all sales, Gifts up 66%, magazines up 13%, Women’s Weeklies magazines (New Idea, Who, Woman’s Day, Famous etc) up 11%, Party Supplies up 96%, Plush up 47% and Toys up 86%.

This business does not have lotteries and does not sell tobacco products.

Average sales – up 2%. Average sale value – up 15%. Average items per sale – up 5%. Overall average GP – up 11%. Each of these measurement points compounds on the other, delivering a very strong result for the business.

This growth is as a result of a structured approach established in our business plan. This newsagency is in an outer suburban Westfield centre in Melbourne with around 300 stores including majors, another newsagents twelve gifts shops – plenty of nearby and price competitors for cards, gifts, magazines and plush.

It is run 100% under management.

I mention that the numbers are off a good base to provide context. The growth I claim off a low base would not be as good as these results off a good base.

I include my own data here for comparison and to illustrate that I walk the walk with newsagents. When I encourage newsagents to try things it is because I do in my own business. I put my money where my mouth is.

Newsagencies are good businesses to own. This study supports this belief. That many newsagents are reporting growth is magazines sales is a testament to the active engagement of those newsagents and their employees in this traffic-critical category.

The best type of newsagency to own is the one where you have the most control over what you sell and where you generate traffic for several product categories where average gross profit is 50% or higher.

The most important advice I have for newsagents has not changed: Run your business today as if today is your pay day. Too many newsagents continue to run their businesses as if their pay day is when they sell. This will not happen.

Newsagents: look at your business, your sources of traffic, your average GP. Your success will come from many small steps.

Suppliers: Get smart in your engagement with newsagents. Trust them. Treat them with respect. Share their mission to grow traffic and GP and basket value. Give newsagents complete control over what they sell of your products.

This year on year same-store newsagency sales benchmark study is an analysis of basket data from 136 newsagencies: city and country, shopping centre and high street, banner groups (Newspower, Nextra, News Extra, newsXpress and independent) and independent. To be included, a newsagency must have been using the same software for both analysis periods and be compliant with industry data standards.

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→ 2 CommentsCategory: Management tip · Newsagency management

No, delayed billing does not let you use my newsagency as a warehouse

Mark Fletcher on July 22, 2014 5:41 AM

magsdiamondringsdbNetwork Services sent us four copies Diamond Rings magazine. had they asked us we’d have said no thanks. Instead, they sent the four copies. I am guessing they thought the delayed billing to the end of September let them think it was okay. It is not okay sending a title we are not likely to sell and for which we have no space and no decent category. It sucks that we had to send back all four copies as full returns – what a waste of money.

This is a perfect example of how newsagents are disadvantaged over our biggest competitors in the magazine space.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: magazine distribution · magazines

Tapping Star Wars fans

Mark Fletcher on July 22, 2014 5:37 AM

magsscifientertainIf you have SciFiNow I suggest to place some copies with your entertainment titles as the cover story about Star Wars Episode VII should drive impulse purchases for you – of the magazine and other products you may have for the brand. Star Wars fans spend big on their interest.

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Home Beautiful responds to promotion

Mark Fletcher on July 22, 2014 5:34 AM

magsbetterhomesWe have been promoting the latest issue of Home Beautiful magazine with this aisle end display. Home Beautiful responds well to promotion – right through the on-sale period. We have found the key is having the full cover on show.  We’re increasing supply.

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Unfair magazine distribution model makes newsagents less competitive

Mark Fletcher on July 21, 2014 6:46 AM

afr-june102014

The installation of ExchangeIT software at newsagencies enabled PBL to track real-time sales of all titles and thereby fine-tune its distribution and cut costs.  After that triumph, Alexander as also put in charge of the Nine Network, which has since improved its leadership of the television stations. SIC.

This is from a story by Trevor Sykes published in The Australian Financial Review on June 10, 2004.

It is July 2014. While the magazine distributors may have fine-tuned their distribution and cut costs, newsagents have not. Indeed, the magazine distribution model does not offer levels with which we can control this side of our business. The processes imposed by the magazine distributors hobble our businesses.

Too often today, ten years on, we receive magazines supplied at volumes that do not reflect sales data. Indeed, the experience today and in the last ten years makes a mockery of the story by Sykes.

A good journalist would have done their research rather than taking the PBL spin about XchangeIT. Sykes clearly did not. I wrote to Sykes at the AFR at the time and no correction was printed.

For the record, the problem is not XchangeIT, it is a model that sees distributors ship all stock they are provided. For the most part, that is how they are paid – as a freight company. If their compensation model was based solely on sales newsagents would start to see fairness.

Today newsagents are not treated the same as our competitors – the two big supermarket groups. Coles and Woolworths are supplied on a more equitable basis, giving them an unfair competitive advantage.

With more than 60% of all magazine titles supplied to newsagents loss-making, something has to give. I think we are reaching a tipping point where newsagents will exit the category. Several have done so already – they have stopped selling magazine altogether. I am not advocating this, just reporting that it has happened.

Magazine distributors have the capacity to supply on the basis of sales data and to a model with a goal of selling out close to the end of the on-sale period. It is time they started using their data to achieve this.

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→ 8 CommentsCategory: magazine distribution · magazines

WARNING: If you sell or give away a computer you have used in your business…

Mark Fletcher on July 21, 2014 6:03 AM

Slastdot has a post about an old computer that had been used for running POS software in a retail business which was sold on eBay. Here’s what was found on that old computer: default passwords, a security flaw, and names, addresses, and social security numbers of employees of the terminal’s previous owner.

The safest way to get rid of a computer you no longer need is to take a hammer to the hard drive or solid state storage. Smash it to bits. If you do sell it or give it away, format the drive first.

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Vogue covers up the competition

Mark Fletcher on July 21, 2014 5:58 AM

magsvoguecoverupThe latest issue of Vogue Australia covers the title behind it with the card holding the St Tropez tan gift with purchase. I moved it after I took the photo so it was in the top pocket and not obscuring anything. In many newsagencies I suspect it would not be moved – thereby blocking the title behind. Publishers of the obscured would have every reason to be frustrated, especially if sales are impacted.

While a good gift can lift sales, publishers sending our packages like Vogue Australia with this issue of should ask for placement that respects other titles.

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Quality Classic Cookies cookbook too cheap?

Mark Fletcher on July 21, 2014 5:54 AM

magscookiespricewhatThe AWW Classic Cookies cookbook from Bauer feels too cheap at $5.00. It’s a good quality product that feels like it could sell at two or three times the price. It’s the type of cookbook that could sell as a gift.

Am I missing something in thinking it’s too cheap? What do you think? 

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Sunday newsagency marketing tip: Use your business card

Mark Fletcher on July 20, 2014 6:48 AM

What does your business card say about your business? Does it pitch you and your business or does it include the basic details? Does your card represent your unique selling proposition or does include the basic details?

Does your business card define you and your business? Does it reflect how you see yourself?

A business card that’s basic will achieve basic results for you.

Maybe that’s what you want, a basic, functional, business card. While there is nothing wrong with that, a business card can be so much more.

A good business card can encourage pride in your business, it can promote your business it can attract new shoppers and it can be clear on your USP. A good business care is one you will be proud to thrust your card into the hands of more people, inviting them to connect with your business.

Take out your business card and have a look at it, think about whether it pitches your business in the best way possible. Embrace it if you are happy with it, change it if you are not.

Make your business card your personal advertising billboard. Get noticed. Get more business.

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Sunday newsagency management tip: Ask for proof

Mark Fletcher on July 20, 2014 6:44 AM

If a supplier claims a product is selling well, ask for proof. If someone on the phone says they have been told to call you by a colleague, your marketing group or someone else, ask for proof. If a landlord makes a promise, ask for proof – get it in writing. If a salesman makes a claim about being better than a competitor, ask for proof – get it in writing.

Too often in our channel we are too trusting of what we are told. You’ll often find that asking for proof, evidence or documentation of a position put is ignored or declined – meaning it’ open to you to not trust what the have said.

There have been some grand lies told to newsagents, individually and collectively, over the years, lies that have cost individuals and the channel dearly.

Asking for proof is basic due diligence.

It’s healthy to be suspicious and trusting when you are provided appropriate evidence.

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Promoting magazines at the front of the newsagency

Mark Fletcher on July 20, 2014 6:38 AM

agsweekendfrontWe are promoting magazines this weekend on the lease line – facing into the mall. I selected the titles to appeal to our typical weekend shopper. Food made sense to me being the weekend and all. The Ian Thorpe cover on Who made it a good choice to cap the stand.

I placed the stand next to the Peppa Pig display as this gives parents something to browse while the kids look at Peppa.

So far the stand is working for us.

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Promoting Take 5 and gift with purchase

Mark Fletcher on July 20, 2014 6:36 AM

magst5jul14We have been promoting the latest issue of Take 5 with a placement in a second location above the pocket where the title is usually located. This placement features the gift with purchase – allowing it to do its job at driving sales. We’re doing this of our own accord and not because the publisher asked – because we want the sales.

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Newsagents: beware any who claim they can get you a better lease deal

Mark Fletcher on July 19, 2014 6:21 AM

I heard this week about a newsagent who relied on someone who claimed they could get a better lease deal and ended up paying more per square metre than a nearby competitor. The lease negotiator they used negotiated the lease for a couple of newsagencies that went broke on the back of what I’d saw were poorly negotiated leases. I say they were poorly negotiated because I saw the leases and would not have agreed to them myself.

It is easy to claim to help newsagents get a better lease. Achieving a good lease requires a good business or business plan from the newsagent, diligent professional work, a co-operative landlord and a lease professional who has no vested interest other than getting the best lease deal for you.

If a newsagent asks me for lease advice, especially one in a shopping centre, my advice is to pay for the services of an independent lease professional.

Too many newsagencies have gone broke in recent years on the back of leases negotiated by parties with a vested interest. This is why I say buyer beware of people who claim they can negotiate a better lease for you.

Be inquisitive about any marketing pitch by someone or a business claiming they offer lease negotiation services or that they are favoured by landlords. Seek evidence. Seek clarification. Get it in writing and do your research.

See if the claims about lease negotiation stack up to the test of history.

Anyone can make a claim in their advertising and marketing. The truth is what matters and I know of former newsagents who would say that they wish they had done their research before believing they would get a better lease through a specific party.

Ask for before and after evidence in writing. Ask for their most recent references. Don’t accept their word, accept only proof of good they have done.

Even ask for advice from a friend or someone in whom you have trust. Don’t be afraid. The alternative is you trust them and maybe find that the lease they negotiate for you is the worst business decision you even made.

A bad lease can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, your home, your health and even your family. There are former newsagents with stories they could share.

This post is about no one person or business. The advice is advice anyone with your best interests at heart would give.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: Ethics · Management tip · moving shop · Newsagency challenges · Newsagency management · retail · retail leases · Retail tenancy · Social responsibility

New TV Week title coming

Mark Fletcher on July 19, 2014 6:17 AM

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 11.06.39 amMaybe I missed the announcement to newsagents. Publishers Australia has details of TV Week Soap Extra launching at the end of the month to sell fopr $3.95. It will be fortnightly and published on a Thursday. Maybe I am wrong but I suspect this could be more of a supermarket focussed title.

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Are you leveraging knitting interest?

Mark Fletcher on July 19, 2014 6:13 AM

knittingThe Herald Sun reported yesterday a surge in interest in knitting. This is reason enough for newsagents to promote knitting titles including the Better Homes and Gardens knitting title.

The age of the people in the article suggests we move knitting titles to next to Frankie, Yen and Russh. The article is a reminder to not to prejudge who purchases knitting titles.

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$20,000 Newspower / West Australian competition

Mark Fletcher on July 19, 2014 6:11 AM

nppromoSomeone anonymously sent me a flyer about a Newspower / West Australian promotion running at the moment offering a chance to win $20,000. It looks like a good promotion depending on what the words chance to win $20,000 mean. Is there a $20,000 prize for one customer or a chance to play a game of chance to win $20,000? If it’s the latter it’s not as strong a promotion.

There is an asterisk on the poster but no explanation for the point of the asterisk.

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TV coverage works for magazines

Mark Fletcher on July 18, 2014 7:54 PM

kitcrosJust as Better Homes and Gardens sales surge around the TV show, the promotion on 7 of Your Knitting & Crochet Collection is boosted by advertising and promotion through the Better Homes and Gardens TV show. I saw the title promoted on TV tonight as it was a reminder to co-locate the little remaining stock we have – from our second order – with newspapers to get extra sales.

This has been an excellent tile for us as as noted already it’s generated traffic from passers-by.

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