Australian Newsagency Blog

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

We need to remind people what we sell

Mark Fletcher on June 25, 2018 6:13 AM

It falls to us as retailers to remind shoppers what we sell, even everyday items that we think people would come to us for first. We need to do this in our front windows, in advertising and using social media. We need to attract shopper traffic by pitching items so when they do need them they think of shopping with us.

Take the old HB pencil. It is easy to think people will think of shopping in a newsagency ahead of every other retailer if they want a HB pencil. That might have been true years ago but I doubt it is true today. Today, I think the HB pencil shopper would think of checking out a newsagency down on the list of shops they would consider.

Officeworks, supermarkets, discount variety and online would be high on the list of possible sources for a HB pencil. I say this partly because we have tended to stop promoting everyday stationery, partly because stationery is a poor cousin on the shop floor and partly because there are other outlets that are top of mind for stationery.

One way we can counter this is by promoting stationery ourselves. I have been doing this for one of my shops with a series of posts for everyday stationery department times, including the old HB pencil. I do this reasonably regularly to remind shoppers we have everyday stationery products they may need. Most recently, I did a week of posts about stationery items: HB pencils, NO JUNK MAIL signs, L and P plates, playing cards and more.

On social media it is free to pitch these items. There is no downside as long as the posts are interesting.

Every day we need to be pitching our businesses outside the business. These pitches need to include in their mix core items for which we were the destination retailer users ago.

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→ No CommentsCategory: Newsagency management · newsagency marketing · Stationery

End of financial year advice for retail newsagents

Mark Fletcher on June 24, 2018 7:08 AM

The end of the financial year is less than a week away. Here is some advice for those wanting to be prepared. If stock on hand data in your computer system is accurate through structured and consistently followed inventory arrival, sales and return processes, a stock take is not necessary according to ATO advice. However, you need to provide a stock listing that can be relied upon.

Here is end of financial year advice:

  1. Take an additional backup of your business data on June 30th. Mark it as your END OF FINANCIAL YEAR BACKUP and store it in a safe place. You will need this in case you want to get information from that particular date.
  2. Print a Debtors report on June 30th, listing all debtors and their respective balances. You can then save this report as a PDF and/or e-mail a copy to yourself and your accountant.
  3. Write off any bad debts.
  4. Write off any old stock which will never ever sell and remove it fro the business.
  5. Complete a stocktake (if your stock on hand data is not accurate) and print a Stock Listing Report for your accountant.  If you have been managing stock using best practice methods, this may not be necessary.
  6. Print a Monthly Sales Comparison Report to compare the performance in the current financial year to the previous. Read this. Assess the results. Develop a plan of action for the ew financial year if not done already.

The end of the financial year is an opportunity to reset and reconsider. If you are not happy with the performance of your business, change is essential.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: Newsagency management

Check that you are paying your employees correctly

Mark Fletcher on June 23, 2018 7:25 AM

The stories in the media this week about underpayment of employees in cafes and other retail businesses is a reminder of the need to ensure you are paying your team members according to the law.

  1. Ensure you have proper record keeping for hours and wages.
  2. Provide a written pay slip with every pay.
  3. Pay on the record and not cash in hand.
  4. Ensure you pay the correct overtime rate.
  5. Ensure your superannuation payments are up to date.
  6. Ensure your workcover (or similar) is up to date.
  7. Ensure you have accurate records for leave.

No, family members should not be treated different to any other employee.

Employees can easily lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman. They investigate every claim. Even the smallest oversight can have cost and reputational consequences for a business. Ignorance is no excuse.

I regularly hear from current and former newsagency employees with stories of claimed under payment. In each case I refer them to the Fair Work Ombudsman. When I have the opportunity I make it clear that I don’t want to know the business name as I am not the regulator. The thing is, however, people come to me after months of getting nowhere with their current or former employer, they come to me out of frustration and, often, anger.

I don’t want our channel to be the subject of the types of stories we are hearing right now about cafes where underpayment and other crimes are getting considerable media attention. We avoid this by obeying the law and encouraging our colleagues to do the same.

The most challenging story put to me is of a close relative of an owner, an adult male, being paid $15 cash in hand for 40+ hours a week that includes 8 hours every Sunday. This have gone on for three years. My rough calculation suggests that there is at least $50,0009 owed plus superannuation plus likely penalties. I am told this would kill the business. As I see it, the person who contacted me has to go to Fair Work for themselves and the likely other employees being treated similarly while the owner lives a more luxurious life. I suspect the owner has the money to fulfil their obligations.

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→ 21 CommentsCategory: Management tip · Newsagency management

Handling the wrong price on the newspaper

Mark Fletcher on June 23, 2018 7:18 AM

A newsagent sent me this:

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→ No CommentsCategory: Newspapers

Wow. Time.

Mark Fletcher on June 22, 2018 11:15 AM

Reminds me of when news magazine covers sold plenty of extra copies in Australia.

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→ 11 CommentsCategory: magazines

Beware lender of last resort loans

Mark Fletcher on June 22, 2018 6:29 AM

There are some expensive financiers pitching easy to obtain finance to newsagents and other small business retailers at the moment. Two of these pitching for business in recent weeks are charging interest at close to 20% with escalating penalties for late payment.

Their pitch is similar to discredited payday lenders – fast access to easy to arrange finance. They sometimes say there is no interest, because they call it something else and charge the full amount up front regardless of whether you pay out the loan early.

Some of these lenders are outside of banks and second and third tier lenders. They are in a field of their own, at the fringe, and for good reason. I say this based on what I have heard of their tactics at collection based on a missed payment or two. A pressured situation quickly escalates.

I understand that small business owners short on cash may feel they have no choice, usually because of pressure from creditors. However, if you take out such a loan without a cashflow model showing you can meet the payments as and when they fall due you could be making your situation considerably worse – because of cascading costs and and often heavy-handed approach to collection.

You could be better off letting your current situation play out rather than making matters worse by taking out a loan you can’t pay. It all depends on your cashflow projections based on a realistic view of the business. A loan from a lender of last resort may only delay the inevitable.

Insolvent trading is a serious matter. Seeking a loan from outside the usual lending circles at a higher than fair cost could be an indicator of insolvent trading. This is something else to contemplate prior to entering into such a funding arrangement.

I appreciate these are complex matters to consider as you can be caught between being prepared to do anything to save your business and not having the clarity to understand whether the business is actually saveable. Talking to someone not reliant on the business could be a useful step to help guide your thinking.

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Spike in requests from charities for help from small business retailers

Mark Fletcher on June 21, 2018 6:12 AM

I have seen a spike in requests from charities and community groups for donations this year. Every day there is another request.

What is most interesting is the increase in what I’d call anonymous requests. These are from groups or people you have never heard of and they are made anonymously by impersonal email, letterbox flyer or Facebook message.

As I have written here and here before, my preference is to support groups local to my business, made up of members who support the business. This reinforces the necessary commercial nature of charity and community group support.

I have a standard email or letter I provide to explain the policy. This includes an opportunity for them to submit again at a later stage if they meet the local community objectives of the business.

Some requests that are challenging are those from people seeking product and cash donations for a fund raiser for someone with a health issue. I have received three in the last week. The business already actively supports two health related charities. There is only so much we can do.

Another request that is challenging is the person physically in the business. Their request can go badly. Hence the need to handle these in a structured, consistent and documented way. It is the only way I can see. Otherwise, the business loses goodwill if people see you handling donation requests in a way that is not ideal.

For what it’s worth, here is a recap of key advice I have provided previously:

HOW TO PICK GROUPS TO SUPPORT

Focus on community groups that support you. That is, groups with members who support you. The more they support you the better you are able to support the community.

Be prepared to ask where people shop for the items you sell in your business. Ask if they will change in return for your support.

Asking these questions underscores to you the importance of approaching the decision as a business decision.

Be thoughtful and deliberate. Support the groups that support you. This is important as it helps you stay within a budget.

REWARD ENGAGEMENT

In addition to any direct gift, consider an offer whereby anyone who is a member of the group who shops with you accrues an amount you donate to the group. You could manage this through your software. It could be you offer a discount to the shopper as well as accruing a value for the group.

This type of program could also be in addition to your core giving program as the value here is driven by sales – hopefully, incremental sales.

EDUCATE GROUPS ABOUT GOOD ENGAGEMENT

Here are things groups you support can do to help your business. You should ask them to do these things:

  1. Tell members to buy from you.
  2. Write about your business on their Facebook page.
  3. Distribute flyers of your offers.
  4. Have you speak at a meeting.

WRITE ABOUT YOUR ENGAGEMENT

Once you have a decision on which groups you will support, write about this in your newsletter and on Facebook. Not just once but multiple times. Invite them to provide you with content to publish too. Talk about their good works.

Ask them to write about you too.

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GNS closes OfficeSmart, partners with Office Choice

Mark Fletcher on June 20, 2018 6:20 AM

GNS yesterday announced the closure of the OfficeSmart B2B discount stationery program it has run for more than twenty years. It has replaced this with a partnership with Office Choice, a marketing group for independent stationery businesses.

Here is the GNS announcement:

Dear OfficeSmart member,

Since OfficeSmart was launched in 1995, the stationery and office supplies market has evolved significantly, with the rise of specialist independent dealer groups, a change in the role and emphasis of stationery within newsagencies and the emergence of Officeworks’ SME offering.

OfficeSmart members have also evolved and are no longer a homogenous group of large successful newsagents looking to drive success in the B2B market: many are ecommerce-first businesses, there is a very wide range of member stationery revenue, and there is a significant variation in views of how OfficeSmart should be marketed.

Having conducted a review of the OfficeSmart programme over recent months, member feedback suggested:

  • the relaunched website, catalogue and brochures for OfficeSmart were unlikely to be capable of satisfying members’ needs now or into the future;
  • members’ needs had evolved (both in terms of breadth and depth) to the point that it would be virtually impossible for GNS to implement or manage a cost-effective programme that would fulfil these successfully;
  • some members’ only reason for membership was access to discounted pricing for their retail newsagencies; and
  • members’ expectations of OfficeSmart programme features were not aligned with the true costs of such a programme.

On that basis, we have concluded that a partnership model for OfficeSmart – leveraging existing proven solutions for member services – is the right approach for the future and best safeguards members’ and shareholders’ interests.  We are therefore excited to announce the entry into a partnership with Office Choice Limited, one of Australia’s major B2B office supplies and business solutions groups, to support OfficeSmart members’ needs into the future.

Office Choice has the resources available and in place today to provide the appropriate level of marketing support to OfficeSmart members wanting to maximise the stationery opportunity.  Office Choice’s strong brand and marketing activity – including a bespoke B2B-focussed full line catalogue, seasonal sales catalogues and promotional flyers – drive foot traffic and sales enquiries.  And having invested significantly in their website in recent years, Office Choice’s e-commerce platform is a powerful and proven solution to drive stationery revenue.

Office Choice will provide a high service, low cost membership model that will provide a compelling offer to OfficeSmart dealers, offering an unrivalled level of customised service, marketing and support.  Both GNS and Office Choice are confident that the partnership will greatly assist active OfficeSmart members to accelerate their office supplies objectives within their businesses.

Importantly, nothing will change as to how you source or purchase your stationery and office supplies: GNS will still supply to you in full on the same delivery schedule and terms as you are used to today.

I’d like to personally thank you for being part of OfficeSmart and for the feedback from those members who provided it. I fundamentally believe that these changes will result in an improved offering for your customers and better position your business for success.

The new partnership will take effect on 1 July and as such, May/June 2018 will be the final OfficeSmart invoice cycle, reflecting the continued provision of advantageous pricing and hosting/support of the website.

I have no doubt many of you will have questions about how the transition will work. Given the significance of this change, further communications will follow in the coming week regarding seminars, state road shows and videos. In the interim please feel free to contact Jamie Keyzer (Office Choice National Operations Manager on 0439 060 962) or Dragi Ristevski (GNS General Manager – Sales on 0417 663 260).

I am very excited about this partnership and the positive impact this should have on your business.  Please feel free to reach out to me in the meantime if you have any questions.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Yardley
CEO | GNS Wholesale

Disruption of the traditional newsagency business continues. I expect we will see more announcements from the new management team at GNS.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: Stationery

Parcel pickup woes in the UK

Mark Fletcher on June 19, 2018 2:38 PM

Smiths News in the UK has closed its 3,500 outlet strong Pass My Parcel service.

Smiths News has shut down its Pass My Parcel service with immediate effect after announcing “very disappointing” financial performance.

Newly-released interim results predicted that Pass My Parcel would make an even larger loss than last year due to decreased margins.

In a statement, the company said: “After a careful review of the prospects for Pass My Parcel, the group has decided to close the proposition and wind down its associated network of local retailers. We are currently in discussion with key clients to effect as orderly a withdrawal as possible.”

I mention this today because of the debate among newsagents about the value of offering parcel pick up. I know some newsagents who swear by offering parcel pickup and others who dread ever agreeing to take on this service.

Personally, I have no experience in my stores as I see low fee agency business like this of little value for the time involved and the distraction from higher margin retail activity.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: Australia Post · Newsagency management

Awesome start to the day

Mark Fletcher on June 19, 2018 5:58 AM

You know it is going to be a good day when you have $690.00 in online sales from overnight to process and it’s not even 6am. The money is in the bank, the goods are in-store. All that needs doing is packing and shipping, which is easy.

One purchase is click and collect while the rest are being shipped interstate, to people who will never set foot in the shop. Online is a terrific way to win business beyond what would be usual for your local area.

The road to achieving consistent online sales is long and complex. However, once you are there and have your systems in place, it is straightforward. The work to maintaining sales is consistent – search engine optimisation, out of store marketing and encouraging word of mouth.

I know of plenty of newsagents achieving good overnight sales. Yes, people are shopping online at 2am and at other times when most of us are asleep.

Winning online sales is a race to the cash. It requires you having a good website that is mobile friendly, flexibility with payment options and certainty that what is ordered will be supplied. Get these thi nags right and first time shoppers will purchase with you as long as you have what they want.

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→ 13 CommentsCategory: newsagency of the future

How much time do you send on magazine supply shortages?

Mark Fletcher on June 18, 2018 7:16 PM

I head from three newsagents today frustrated about the Gotch handling of supply shortages. In each case they have advised Gotch of shortages. Gotch rejected their claim, without providing important details.  They then have to call Gotch to get the details.

This is appalling customer service, which I am sure Coles and Woolworths do not put up with.

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Leveraging Red Nose Day fundraising

Mark Fletcher on June 18, 2018 5:37 AM

Like many retailers we are raising funds for Red Nose Day with the placement of this product stand at the counter, in prime position. We are supporting there cause beyond the counter placement with engagement through education in-store and on social media.

While fundraising is important, I think non-financial contributions can make a difference for charities we support in our businesses. It can also make a difference for our businesses too.

With good foot traffic in our shops, we can spread the word for charities. I like this as it engages us beyond the transaction.

If you look at Red Nose, there are plenty of businesses supporting the charity. Doing more, acting beyond what is usual, we can have a more appreciated impact I think. Some folks in the community will notice and this adds to our capital, which matters if we see our local businesses as more than financial based transactional.

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Pitching Win a Car on the lease line

Mark Fletcher on June 18, 2018 5:29 AM

We have been promoting the Pacific Magazines Win a Car promotion on the lease line, facing into the mall.

We pocket count what we place in the stand. That way we can track its performance compared to the usual location for the promoted titles in-store. This front of store placement works every time we do it.

The stand is strong and slim, perfect for our tight space situation.

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Peppa Pig is a mega-brand you can’d live without

Mark Fletcher on June 17, 2018 8:11 AM

How many different Peppa Pig products do you have in your newsagency? For a solid Peppa Pig story to be pitched in-store you need twelve different products at the very least. Ideally, you will have more, like twenty-five plus to truly tap into the Peppa Pig opportunity, which is huge and lucrative by the way.

There are 201,000 searches online in Australia every month for Peppa Pig. That data is current, as at today, counting searches this year up to yesterday. You can add at least 100,000 Peppa Pig related searches. It is one of the most searched licences in Australia.

There are many factors driving this interest in the Peppa Pig licence including the TV show, books and the live show that is touring Australia right now. Significant worldwide growth is coming from Asian markets and this is also driving growth in interest here in Australia.

Books, plush, jigsaws, games, activity books and more are products we can tap into for this licence. These are all good products for our businesses, they fit well with a newsagency business today. A front of store display backed by regular social media posts can help us attract new shoppers to our businesses.

While national stores and discount variety stores do have Peppa Pig products, there are enough good-margin opportunities for us differentiate in range and display.

I urge newsagent to not ignore the Peppa Pig opportunity.

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Newspaper price rises coming at the wrong time

Mark Fletcher on June 16, 2018 6:49 AM

In the next couple of weeks, the cover price for plenty of News Corp. newspapers will increase. If this increase goes like the last one, there will be plenty of customers who complain.

Years ago, ten or fifteen at least, newsagents agitated for cover price increases. back then, newspapers were bigger and more valued. Today, with newspapers some days of the week as thin as a brochure, cover price increases are problematic because of less perceived value.

For our part all we can do is properly educate our customers, to ensure that we do not set the price and offer empathy for any customers who do complain.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: Newspapers

The newspaper subscription disconnect on show

Mark Fletcher on June 15, 2018 6:09 AM

On 774 ABC radio in Melbourne yesterday, a caller called the open line to express frustration at newspaper subscription arrangements. I’ll do my best to recount what they said.

The caller has been a newspaper subscriber for decades. They love the physical paper and enjoy digital access that comes with their subscription.

Their local newsagent decided to withdraw from home delivery. The subscriber was okay with that, expecting they could walk the few hundred metres to pick up the paper.

The frustration comes from the newspaper publisher refusing to fulfil the subscription through a pick up service from the newsagency and that it took multiple emails and calls to get even mediocre resolution.

The newspaper publisher refunded the unused portion of the subscription, requiring the long-term customer to now purchase over the counter at full price, and too pay separately for digital subscription.

The caller had sympathy for the newsagent. The frustration they expressed was at the newspaper publisher.

Here are my thoughts on this:

  • Newspaper subscriptions should be available for pickup through newsagencies. I have proposed this many times for more than twenty years. It would be easy to manage and help reinforce consistent print product engagement. I am certain we could win new subscription customers.
  • Newspaper publishers should respect long-term customers rather than penalising them.
  • Publishers need better communication with subscribers. When things like this happen, they need to be more open and attentive.
  • It is like the publisher is pushing people from print to digital. This is a comment reinforced buy the newspaper subscriber during the call on ABC Radio.

This scenario will happen more as more newsagents withdraw from newspaper home delivery. Publishers should have a more consistent subscriber friendly approach. I have never been given a good reason for newsagents not selling and offering newspaper subscription supported by over the counter collection.

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→ 7 CommentsCategory: Newspaper distribution · newspaper home delivery · Newspapers · Ugh!

Retail work available: Melbourne

Mark Fletcher on June 14, 2018 3:05 PM

If you know anyone looking for retail work in Melbourne please have them email me. There are several roles coming up. mark@towersystems.com.au.

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Is your plastic bag plan sorted?

Mark Fletcher on June 14, 2018 6:07 AM

With plastic bags about to banished by several national retailers and new rules to apply to degradable bags, time is short to have a new shopper bag strategy in place.

I know from my work with newsXpress that the issue is top of mind for consumer groups and engaged newsagents. I hope all marketing groups and other sources of plastic bags for newsagents are advanced in preparation. Time is of the essence here. now.

The approach by the supermarkets is helping to change shopper attitudes. It is when they came on board that the most significant shift occurred. The cynic in me says they became engaged once they realised how they could make money from the move. Regardless, every retailer needs a plan and stock ready to implement the plan.

The ban is an opportunity to review your approach to bags and, maybe, recast the image of your business.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: Newsagency management

Pitching cards for religious occasions to drive traffic for the newsagency

Mark Fletcher on June 13, 2018 5:55 AM

Our expanded range of unique Christening, Confirmation and First Communion cards is helping is attract a broader range of shoppers for these occasions. However, like all special interest cards, you only maximise success by promoting the cards outside the business. That is what we are doing with an integrated online and physical campaign where we help people connect with the religious life occasions through the sharing of a greeting card, and maybe a gift.

The range in the photo is a small part of a bigger range that is not part of the usual everyday range you see in a newsagency. This point of difference is proving to be useful.

Greeting cards is a valuable category through which to pitch the newsagency. The return form a small investment can be considerable and valuable beyond a single sale. Too often this category is left by newsagents with the expectation that cards will sell themselves or that others will attract shoppers. I think it falls to us to do this work for our own businesses. Rewards are there to earn.

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Pitching cards for impulse purchase

Mark Fletcher on June 13, 2018 5:45 AM

Cards work at the newsagency counter, as I have mentioned here plenty of time previously. If you are not pitching cards at the counter for impulse purchase you are missing out on certain sales.

The key to success is product choice. The cards need to look unique, be easily understood and be of a type people will purchase without an immediate use in mind. Here is an example of a card that works well:

I place no more than three cards, in a purpose made stand. I don’t distract from the placement with signage. I find it is better for the cards to speak for themselves.

We have to do anything possible to get more people buying cards and people buying more cards. It is an excellent margins category that can be more valuable for us. But it needs work, by us in-store.

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Campaign against The Sun in the UK continues

Mark Fletcher on June 12, 2018 8:05 PM

There has been a long campaign against The Sun newspaper in the UK. Some newsagents refuse to stock it while some customers buy up all copies…

And burn them…

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→ 4 CommentsCategory: Newspapers

Fairfax publishes an ill-informed crack at newsagents

Mark Fletcher on June 12, 2018 8:45 AM

Check out this piece published by Fairfax:

Cardigan brigade

It is pretty tough for any bricks and mortar retailer at the moment as wave after wave of online players hit our shores.

And it is not just big department stores like Myer which are losing the commercial plot.

Our newsagents are also wringing their hands at the thought of losing their own lotto bonanza to online players like Lottoland, as well as the slow migration of Tatt’s lottery to online.

Luckily for our newsagents they’ve got the hilarious Australian Newsagency Blog to help ward off the online threat.

The blog, which appears to be backed by the  Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association (ALNA), has some sage advice for newsagents on “ways lottery retailers could, through their actions, push back on Lottoland”.

This includes “always have the youngest person working at the lottery counter.” Make sure you provide free breath mints at the counter for staff, and “blokes should not wear cardigans or jumpers”.

CBD would like to pass on this advice to the new bosses at Myer and David Jones, they need all the advice they can get.

Here is my response, send by email to the journalist responsible:

Whither journalism?

Basic principles of journalism were ignored in the article, Cardigan Brigade, published by Fairfax yesterday.

The Australian Newsagency Blog was established by and is written solely by me. I have no affiliation with ALNA. That would be obvious from the About page on the blog and from a phone call to me, on my mobile phone number published on the blog.

In the article, Cardigan Brigade, your correspondent claims newsagents have a lotto bonanza. What is the basis for this claim? Where is the evidence? Had basic enquiries been undertaken about the income and required business costs your journalist would not have included the claim.

The blog post to which your correspondent refers includes vital context to my advice, context which you have ignored as it did not suit the narrative of your piece.

Shame on Fairfax for sloppy reporting, for misrepresenting my blog and for publishing false and misleading information about small business newsagents.

I have a question for you: what or who brought this blog post to your attention?

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→ 13 CommentsCategory: Ethics · Newspapers · Social responsibility

Leveraging the World Cup

Mark Fletcher on June 11, 2018 7:43 AM

We are embracing the World Cup opportunities in the Herald Sun as part of a broader World Cup engagement. The dual value of this promotion is good for us and for newspaper sales.l Since we compete with two Coles supermarkets each 100 metres from the newsagency, our engagement is an opportunity to reinforce our business as the newspaper destination.

Through a range of products we serve the World Cup fans too. Cards at the counter are especially popular as they are easily added to an existing purchase. Careful buying of World Cup merch has helped us differentiate our businesses.

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Teacher gift inspiration

Mark Fletcher on June 10, 2018 5:15 AM

Check out this teacher gift display that I saw at a stationery / gift shop in the US a couple of days ago. Click on the image to see a larger version for detailed inspiration.

I like the display because of the variety of product and that it was placed to interrupt traffic flow.

I saw this display at the end of the season. The initial display, setup a month ago, was four times the size of what is in the photo.

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A well signed magazine display

Mark Fletcher on June 10, 2018 5:12 AM

Check out the compact, well sign-posted, magazine display at a US transit convenience outlet with magazines earlier this week. Notice the magazine title sponsored sign-posts.

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