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

Fascinating read: Apple as a cult

From a retail brand and experience perspective, this Twitter thread by Chris Hladczuk is fascinating:

Even on a local small business single store level, there are point of application here.

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retail

Featuring The Saturday Paper

I love this placement of The Saturday Paper in the front window of a bookshop in Melbourne, which I saw over the weekend.

With over the counter purchases of newspapers continuing to decline in our channel, promotion of a full front page in the window every few days could be a way to stem the decline.

Many of us ripped out our front of store newspaper stands and gave that space over to more profitable lines, believing that newspaper customers will go to wherever they are in-store. Those moves made sense, and the make sense today for newsagents yet to make the move. But, such moves see newspaper front pages being seen by fewer eyeballs.

Looking at the photo in the bookshop window, I was reminded to treat a newspaper as a product rather than as a service or utility. This means looking at the front cover and leveraging it if you think it could attract impulse purchases in your area.

I am not suggesting a significant change to the treatment of newspapers. Rather, I am suggesting a more considered approach. If you think a front cover could attract impulse purchases, give it a moment in the spotlight.

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Newspapers

The shop early for Christmas message has cut through

Looking at Christmas related sales for a range of newsagencies and some other retailers and it is obvious that the news stories about supply chain challenges have cut through.

Across all Christmas related categories, sales are up compared to the same time in 2019. Yes, I compare with 2019 for a more authentic comparison since 2020 was Covid impacted.

Christmas single cards and Christmas boxed cards are a good indicator for our channel and both are doing very well, which is not good news for suppliers yet to deliver Christmas singles.

Gifts and toys, too, are performing very well, calendars, too. Toy shops I have spoken with say that October for them has been like the first couple of weeks of December for an average year – extraordinary sales.

The approach of shoppers appears to be if it could work as a gift, buy it now because who knows what the situation will be like next week.

Smart retailers are embracing the opportunity with easily shopped, practical placement or products people will want to give adjacent to cards, bags and wrap.

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Newsagency opportunities

The obsession with supporting jobs impacted by economic changes in pursuit of reducing carbon emissions is ignorant and selfish

It frustrates me seeing some in the National Party and some in the media raving on about necessary support for jobs that will be lost if Australia pursues reasonable carbon emission targets.

They bleat and moan that we have to support the miners and others who will have to re-train.

It’s pathetic really.

Here in the Australian newsagency channel we have been going through and dealing with extraordinary structural change, loss of core income, loss of core shopper traffic, all in plain sight and all without a cent of government support.

While more recent changes have come about because of worldwide disruption to the print media model, the bigger changes began in the late 1990s when the Howard federal government took away protection for local small business newsagents, protection put in place by the federal government, in support of big business mates in supermarkets and a national convenience store chain.

Yes, the federal government took away protection, sliced off a ton of business newsagents relied on and they did this without any compensation to newsagents whatsoever.

The miners have seen the mess of climate change worsening for decades. Smart people in that industry prepared. It’s only the laggards complaining now, wanting government cash to protect them, when they should have been better prepared themselves.

It appalls me that the government may chuck billions at helping a relatively small number people / businesses adjust to a world chasing reductions in carbon emissions considering the history of the federal government forcing structural change on our newsagency channel and offering absolutely no support whatsoever.

I guess the situation speaks to how the Liberal and National politicians see small businesses compared to big businesses. The thing is, through their actions and inactions, we know they do not see us.

I have been writing about the failure of the Liberal / National Party coalition federal government to appropriately support local small business newsagents on whom they imposed deregulation and took away considerable business value. This, for example, from 2005, offers some background:

Newsagents and pharmacists are two forever-protected species as far as the coalition is concerned. 

This is a quote attributed to Joe Hockey, the former Minister for Small Business in the Howard Government.  It’s on Page 12 of the Perspective insert in the Australian Financial Review (Dec 30 – Jan 4).

Joe Hockey and his colleagues demonstrated their commitment to newsagents through their years in office by:

  1. Facilitating the elimination of exclusive newspaper and magazine distribution territories without compensation for taking away from newsagents this century-old right.
  2. Driving newsagents to enter into new contracts with publishers and permitting this to be done by newsagents negotiating on their own behalf and not using professional negotiators.
  3. Allowing poor leadership of newsagents at the time to wipe off more than $100 million dollars of value of newsagent businesses without compensation.
  4. Permitting a contract relationship for newspapers and magazines which deregulated one side of the transaction and left newsagents with an expensive and inefficient system which was designed for a regulated marketplace.
  5. Permitting the 865 Government owned Australia Post retail outlets to become more and more like newsagents, moving into areas traditionally serviced well by newsagents.
  6. Refusing to intervene in 2004 when Australia Post was engaged in what I’d consider grossly unconscionable practices when newsagents tried to establish an alternative bill payment network.
  7. Refusing to respond to newsagent representations in 2004 about an unfair magazine distribution system which operates at a loss for many newsagents.

Joe Hockey is wrong about newsagents.  The Coalition has not demonstrated any concern for newsagents other than hollow words.

My point is that it looks like people in dinosaur climate-impacting sectors are about to be showered with cash by the federal government for reasons that were as relevant to the small business newsagency channel a few years ago. If it happens it speaks to government support for big business mates over small business retailers.

In fact, the situation newsagents had to deal with were bigger in that they were government created. Newsagents played no role in the changes coming about.

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Newsagent representation

Halloween plush a massive success in the newsagency

Both in-store and online, we have been selling truckloads of Halloween plush. The Pokemon range has been a stellar success as has the entire Halloween Beanie Boo range.

In one store alone, $12,000 in four weeks. While Covid has played a role in this, social media engagement, online opportunities and tactical placement in-store have combined to really drive success.

Looking at stores specific data, the store is up 22% and the plush sales are up 100% – demonstrating the success of this category even ahead of excellent store growth.

I mention it this afternoon because a newsagent told me yesterday that plush was over as a category. I see no evidence of that in this data, nor in data from a bunch of stores experiencing similar results.

Data doesn’t lie. It feeds our success.

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Newsagency management

The late newspaper problem in Brisbane that has customers and newsagents frustrated

For all their talk about a better customer experience with changes they have made to newspaper distribution in Brisbane, News Corp. is yet to deliver (excuse the pun).

It’s now more than 3 weeks into the new arrangements and newsagents and customers alike are frustrated, upset, disappointed and angry at the continued failure of News Corp, Fairfax and their distribution partners to deliver the newspapers on time.

The newspaper delivery failure costs sales and damages customer service.

It’s like the newspaper publishers don’t care about newspapers any more, a newsagent wrote to me yesterday.

They took a system that was working and f*&%ed it up royally, another newsagent said.

I’ve ditched my print newspaper forever, said one long-standing home delivery customer.

The emotion aside, this is a dreadful situation that has come about solely because of decisions by the publishers. It is their failure to own.

What amplifies the situation is the poor communication from the publishers and their appointees about it.

Late newspapers are a problem in Brisbane. But, please, don’t blame your local newsagent.

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Newspaper distribution

‘Being a newsagent is addictive’ what a wonderful story

This article from the Irish Times is a good read, heartwarming, encouraging and inspiring for many.

End of an era as the Last Corner Shop closes: ‘I’m going to cry’
John Hyland’s devotion to his customers has made him a much-loved shopkeeper

“Everything changes,” says John Hyland. At 69, the newsagent is retiring after 35 years in his well-known shop on the corner of George’s Street Upper and Clarinda Park West in Dún Laoghaire, in south Co Dublin.

The crowded shelves and stacks and racks of newspapers and magazines have been gradually depleting, and over the weekend and into Monday a steady stream of regulars, of all ages, have been coming in for their papers and to wish Hyland well.

As he courteously thanks people for their custom, he seems quietly surprised at the reaction to his departure. “Some I wouldn’t even know by sight. I have lovely customers. When I do a little thing, get something they’re looking for, they’re so grateful.”

John Hyland may have been both the worst shopkeeper in Ireland and one of the best. Whether some customers had the money to buy what they wanted didn’t seem to bother Hyland too much: he always put them first

The sign over the shop reads Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop: A Service Newsagent. His wares have been spread on to the footpath, on makeshift tables and racks, since well before Covid made it a popular approach. He has stocked an astonishing range of publications: regional papers from every county in Ireland, Le Monde, the New York Review of Books. If you couldn’t find it at Eason you could probably find it at John’s (as locals call the shop), from 5am until 2.30am every day of the year. As well as sweets and cigarettes, there’s a small range of other goods, from cornflakes to condoms to cat food.

It’s worth reading the whole article and watching this video from Ronan Kelly:

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Customer loyalty

Crossword sales benchmark opportunity for local small business newsagents

Crossword magazine unit sales should be at least 5% of your magazine sales in any newsagency. It’s a reasonable benchmark to target.

I say this based on data from hundreds of newsagencies: city, country, high street, shopping centre.

While there are plenty where crossword unit sales are 8% and more of all magazine unit sales, equally there are plenty at 3% or less.

Based on everything I have seen, 5% is a reasonable benchmark that anyone can attain. Businesses I have worked with have been able to list crossword sales by:

  • Installing a single column of good titles next to women’s weeklies.
  • Featuring a crossword at the counter.
  • Placing one or two crossword titles with newspapers.
  • Where possible, full face displaying crossword titles.
  • Relaying the crossword section to tell a better story.
  • Reviewing your range and expanding to serve more shoppers.
  • Mentioning crosswords from time to time on social media.

Of all the magazine segments, crosswords responds well to some love from the business. This has been the case for decades.

Check our your percentage and if you’re above 5% well done. If you’re below, take some easy steps and expect to see the segment respond positively.

Now, if you think why bother? because of the paltry margin or some other reason, I’d note for you that crosswords are the most broadly efficient magazine category in a newsagency. By efficient, I mean their value beyond the sales of the titles.

  • Crossword buyers are more likely to have other products in their basket. Products like jigsaws, cards, stationery and craft products regularly feature in baskets with crossword magazines.
  • Crossword customers are more loyal, returning for their next fix, often because you have range. This loyalty is something a smart retailer can leverage into purchases from other product categories.
  • Careful placement on the shelves can easily result in purchases of more than one title from a sub-category in a basket.
  • Crossword lovers talk to each other, they are a good word of mouth army.
  • Crossword customers love words and tend to love books, too.

While there are problems with the magazine distribution model and it is difficult for newsagents to actively manage range, the crossword segment provides an opportunity for benefits beyond the sale of crosswords themselves. We have an opportunity to engage and achieve greater value for our businesses, despite the magazine supply arrangement impediments.

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crosswords

Pet Circle targets local petfood shop with Google ad campaign

The big Pet Circle business has been targeting local small business The Petfood Warehouse with ads that specifically name The Petfood Warehouse.

Google permits this, a business naming a competitor in an ad. This is what one of the Pet Circle ads targeting The Petfood Warehouse looks like:

 The headline of one Pet Circle ad says: The Petfood Warehouse – Fast Delivery + Free Shipping.

 The headline of another Pet Circle ad says: Petfood Warehouse | Low-Priced Pet Food Online

If you click on either ad it takes you to the Pet Circle website.

I can understand how a shopper may think they are shopping at The Petfood Warehouse when they click on the link. The headline suggests that it is an ad for The Petfood Warehouse and the ad presents when you do a Google search for The Petfood Warehouse. But this is an ad for Pet Circle.

Why does this matter, why am I writing about it at the Newsagency Blog? fair question. The Petfood Warehouse is a customer of the POS software company I own, Tower Systems. I feel for their situation as I went through the same thing last year. The Google keyword Tower Systems was targeted by a company that used it in their ad heading promoting POS software. No, it was not a newsagency software company. People searching for us were presented their ad with our name in the ad headline text – which is exactly what has been happening with The Petfood Warehouse.

This all matters here because it can happen to you. Beware. keep your eyes open. I know of one business it happened to and their online sales dropped from 25 a day to 5 a day when this happened.

Pet Circle is not the local small business serving the Illawarra like The Petfood Warehouse.

I’m not saying Pet Circle is a bad business. But, I am raising a concern that they are paying to use the name of a competitor of theirs in a apparent move to see people looking for that business to shop at Pet Circle.

In my opinion, it sucks that Google permits this type of advertising, where a competitor uses the name of another business in a headline for an add to effectively pass the ad off as being for the other business.

I am all for competition, fair competition. Local small businesses do not have the marketing budget for expensive Google campaigns. I think any Google ad that uses the name of a competitor to divert eyeballs and clicks is unfair, inappropriate.

Maybe the best way to deal with businesses that squat on a competitor’s business name like this is to click on their ads. A higher ad spend for no revenue will soon get the attention of those in control of their ad budget.

Being a local small business is challenging, in the physical world as well as online, as this issue shows.

Hopefully, the folks at Pet Circle will change their approach. I have lobbied them to do this, in support of the family that owns The Petfood Warehouse.

Footnote: LegalVision makes some interesting comments about this type of advertising.

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Ethics

Newsagency / LPO may close due to vaccine status

The Guardian has a story about Merrigum newsagency / LPO and their position in relation to the vaccine for Covid.

The tiny town of Merrigum in regional Victoria may lose its only post office because its operator has refused to be vaccinated for Covid-19, citing her “freedom of choice”.

Angela Spedding has operated the Merrigum post office and newsagent for more than six years.

On Tuesday, in a post on social media, Spedding said she had been told by Australia Post that the post office would have to close if she had not booked in to receive a vaccine by the end of the working week, and she would also have to cease delivering mail.

Australia Post denied Spedding had been told to close the office, but said she had advised them it would close from Thursday after discussions about her compliance with state health orders.

Reads like crazy stuff. But the Facebook page for the business supports the story.

I have been told by Australia Post that if I haven’t booked in by Friday 15th the Post Office will close. As it is my choice to not get vaccinated the mail will be transferred to Somewhere. As for your street mail they have another contractor but where it will go I have no idea. I apologise for the inconvenience this will cause for you all but it’s my freedom of choice.

It’s not an Australia Post thing. No, the Department of Health has ordered that everyone working in an essential business has to have had had their first vaccine dose by October 22.

If it was up to me, vaccination would be mandatory for all except those with a legitimate medical exemption. The risk posed by the unvaccinated because they want the right to choose not to be vaccinated is too big for their ignorant stupidity to put those too young or those who cannot be vaccinated at risk.

This is not the first business in this situation and it will not be the last. Unfortunately, each story is fuel to the bonfire setup by ignorant anti-vaxxers.

UPDATE: The business owner has advised Australia Post that they have booked their vaccination appointment.

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Social responsibility

Happy Christmas cards popular in early Christmas card sales

While it’s early in Christmas card season for 2021, I am seeing store level data indicating considerable appeal for happy / cheerful Christmas cards ahead of the more traditional cards and even the religious cards.

Customers are commenting, too, about shopping for happy cards. In fact, it was these comments that had me take notice of the trend.

We have responded by giving the happy cards prominence in card placement, to ensure the happiness they pitch / share is seen and understood. I think this will further help sales.

We are not holding back other cards, just giving the happiness focussed cards a brighter light under which to shine.

At this time in the season, it is the religious cards tend to be leading in terms of sales. I’d note that that is the case with boxed Christmas cards.

We have had our Christmas singles out for more than. two weeks now and our boxed cards for longer. Currently, sales are more than double this time last year – and we did have stock out them for the same time as this year.

Looking at the sales of Christmas cards in your shop can guide placement decisions. There will be differences between businesses.

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Greeting Cards

Shopper theft in local small business retail

Theft by shoppers is expensive for local small business retail. It is a crime committed with ease, as shown on the video footage so often captured. First, there is the browse.

Then, the pick-up of the product.

Next is the smooth hiding.

Finally, the exit having finished “just looking”.

Beyond the cost of the products stolen is the impact on the mental health of local business owners. Shopper theft hurts local retailers far more than they usually let on.

These images are from a video shared recently by a newsagent. In the video, the face of the ‘shopper’ is far more visible than shown in the photos I have shared.

More retailers are sharing video in the hope of tracking down the ‘shopper’. Once they are identified, reporting their details to the police is vital.

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theft

Local US newspaper switched to the Postal Service for home delivery

KOAM NEWS NOW has this story:

JOPLIN, Mo. – Customers of the Joplin Globe newspaper will be seeing changes to home delivery. That’s according to a letter from paper carriers to customers.

Paper carriers wrote the letter, getting in touch with customers about the change.

The letter stated in part, “October 30th, 2021 will be your last home delivery. The Joplin Globe will be making a change, they will do away will all paper carriers and will start delivering your papers to you by the United States Postal Service starting November 2nd, 2021.”

The paper carriers expressed that it had been a pleasure delivering papers and wished folks happy holidays. They also shared hope that the delivery service will be the same great service they provided.

The US Postal Service has announced changes to its handling of periodicals, which are detailed in the above noted article and which are designed to improve delivery time apparently.

The USPS has been delivering newspapers in parts of the US for many years. I thought it was interesting seeing a local paper make this move, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

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newspaper home delivery

Finding happiness in your retail newsagency business

2021 has been some year for sure, packed with challenges, things that can make your retail business less enjoyable than you hoped.

I am grateful through my work to see retail in many situations and, over time, have learnt from these businesses and the people in them.

There is no doubt for me about the value of being happy in retail. But, it’s not something you can decide to feel. It’s not a switch you can flick.

Finding happiness in retail takes planning and engagement throughout the business. While it does sound like work, it is also about respecting the business and that there will always be challenges, and knowing that being happy can help you get through them.

Here are my tips for finding, nurturing and managing happiness in a local retail shop:

Have good data. Yeah, I know this is a boring topic for many. But as a POS software company with decades of experience we know the value of good data. Good data is your rock. Build on a rock and life is, for sure, good. Good data will make you happier because your decisions will be better, and by better we mean you’ll make more money, and that will make you happier.

Be in control. Stop getting pushed around. If a supplier pushes something on your, use your data to deal in the facts. This, too, will make you happier. Facts matter. Any time someone says fro this or that ask for evidenced preferably in your business data. yes, we are still banking on about the value of good business data.

Price for margin. Maximise when you can.

Price for turn. You can’t bank a gross profit percentage until you sell something. So, price to turn, and bank dollars.

Lean on others. Spread the load, share the responsibility. Hire well. Train well. rely on the team to help you and this will make them happier, you happier and the business a happier place overall.

Set your narrative. In social media posts, stories you share in the business and in your marketing set the tone, set the narrative to be positive, happy and optimistic. This will encourage others to do this too. Own your narrative and own your happiness.

Of course, there is way more everyday practical stuff too: happy music paying, happy window displays, happy product displays, featuring happy products, samples, taste tests, games, fun events, giveaways, competitions … all these things and more can make the shop transactionally happy, which is good, too.

Happiness is good for business and all who interact with it.

Good luck. Now, get out there and smile. 😃

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Management tip

Too many newsagency suppliers are late communicating about inventory delays

Almost daily recently I have heard from at least one newsagent about a supplier advising of delays to stock delivery. The complaints are commonly not about the delay itself but about the delay in sharing news of the delay.

Suppliers appear to think that not telling retailers of a delay protects their position of forward orders.l It does not do that. It lets newsagents know to be skeptical in ordering from that supplier again.

This time of the year, supply certainty is key. Many retail business settings rely on it: labour, space allocation, marketing, and more. When stock does not turn up, all of those long-planned settings are compromised.

I heard of one supplier this week who was chased by plenty of retailers about stock that was due in store a month ago. They finally responded by dismissing the queries with don’t you know we’re in a pandemic. What a silly response. Retailers see through it because so many suppliers have made appropriate changes to ensure inventory supply. Some have changed source country. Plenty have brought production to Australia.

The big issue here is poor communication from suppliers. That is what I will judge them for. I want to deal with suppliers that understand that good communication is one of the most important assets in any relationship.

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Newsagency management

Wow, what a letter to a newspaper, admitting newspaper theft

Theft of home delivery newspapers was a serious cost to our business back when we were doing that 15 years ago. It was so bad that several times we followed delivery people to catch those stealing. The worse situation was in a retirement village where a long-standing feud was found to be the motivator.

I know of situations where people stealing considered it an essentially victimless crime, thinking that the publisher ultimately paid. Little did they realise.

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Newspapers

CoComelon attracting new customers to the newsagency

A brand achieving YouTube video plays in the billions is sure worth considering. CoComelon is one such brand. This Bath Song video has been viewed 4.5 billion times.

In Australia, CoComelon is searched close to as many times as people search for Lego. yet, it is a brand that you will not commonly see in a newsagency.

The majors have CoComelon, as you may expect.

In my work with newsXpress I started research CoComelon, understanding what else people were searching for, understanding the shopper in the context of what we offer in our stores today. That research revealed a niche opportunity allied to another category segment doing well for us. CoComelon offered an opportunity to expand reach and to be seen by shoppers not currently seeing the business.

Now, with the brand well established in-store, it is kicking goals, attracting new shoppers as well as driving impulse purchases from existing shoppers.

But, my point today is not abut CoComelon as such. Rather, it is about using data to help uncover new shopper traffic opportunities. This is where expansion, growth, get their footing. Playing with new brands and new segments within categories is vital to our retail business journey.

From a small in-store stock weight, we have been able to deliver consistently good results already.

There is this product and allied product and then there are cards and gift packaging. It’s the whole opportunity value we are looking at and chasing when considering a marquee brand like CoComelon. This is where the data research plays a role for it is in here that we can see what the CoComelon shopper is looking for, what they are buying.

Back in the day a supplier would say, hey you should stock this, and often we would. Today, I am seeing better value from researching, chasing suppliers, often new suppliers, and discussing where the brand / range fits within the business strategy. Because this is all about being strategic from planning to buying to floor placement to social media narratives. This is where our small business nimbleness can play a role in driving success.

I use a range of commercial tools to assist the analysis. Having multiple sources helps facilitate accurate data and accurate data fuels better decisions.

I look not only for volume but also longevity, so that the pay back period for investment will fit something more useful than a fad product.

This is what newsagency management looks like today, researching, looking for new traffic opportunities, chasing data down rabbit holes and backing the evidence in the data. It is exciting in that for every ten or so we investigate, we are lucky if one is worth pursuing.

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Newsagency management

Tabcorp seeks to block retailers from using juniors to sell lottery products

Tabcorp’s The Lott announced to retailers on Friday that staff under 15 years of age will no longer be allowed to sell lottery products. This is infuriating some retailers.

Tabcorp’s announcement claimed The restrictions on minors selling lottery products should not have a direct impact on your employment decisions. I have had retailers contact me claiming this is not true.

Retailers have staffed their businesses based on a set of rules and regulations. To have them change is challenging. To do this without wide consultation is disrespectful. To do it during a busy period of the year is offensive.

This move increases the labour cost base for selling lotteries in retail. It also reminds retailers that regulations they operate under are tighter than selling lottery products online, where an app or website cannot do a reasonable age check.

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Lotteries