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How to do a magazine relay in your newsagency business

Mark Fletcher
February 3rd, 2012 · 41 Comments

First up I should note that there is no right way to do a magazine relay. What I am publishing here is my opinion. It’s worked for me in several of my newsagencies. It may not work for all.

Next I need to say that this is not an end game. The relay you do will not be your last. A good magazine department is like a field in a farm – It needs tending and each a year it needs replanting. (Sorry to the farmers if my analogy is off.)

Finally I would acknowledge that I obsess about magazines. (You should too.) Some might say I am obsessive compulsive. Magazines, or rather the range of magazines we have, represent the single most important point of difference we have over any other retailer in Australia. For the medium term – maybe three years out – we can leverage that for traffic and sales growth.

Okay, that said, on to the relay…

PLANNING

Before doing anything think about your customers and how they shop.  Watch them, where in the magazine department they head first, where they congregate and how they interact with what you sell.

While you do this over a few days, print off a report looking at your magazine sales, preferably by MPA category – comparing that last three months with the same three months a year earlier.

Look at the percentage of sales delivered by each category and look at sales trends for the categories.  Tote up broad groups. For example the percentage of sales for women’s weeklies, women’s interests, crafts & hobbies, crosswords, home & lifestyle and food & wine.  If your newsagency is like mike, this grouping will account for more than 50% of your magazine sales.

If you then add up motoring, men’s lifestyle, sports & leisure, music & entertainment (possibly) and buying & selling and you have your men’s titles – probably around 30% of sales.

Think about the data you have collected and what you have observed in the business.  Talk about this with your staff. Discuss ideas for better placement of magazines.

WHAT TO CONSIDER IN A MAGAZINE RELAY

The goal of the relay has to be an increase in sales. It’s business after all. The  easiest way to drive sales is to give shoppers what they want and to make it easy for them to find, interact with and purchase what they want.

Forget everything about your current magazine layout. Yu really need to start with a clean slate.

Think about what people are likely to purchase with other titles.  This often leads to debate. Go into this knowing that what you think people buy with other titles is often not reflected in your sales data.

I like to create zones which reflect the genders and interests.  I start by creating a women’s shopping zone, an or a location aisle they own, where they are comfortable.  This is in the best position in the magazine department, easy to access, easy to shop.

Thinking about the magazine department in terms of zones makes approaching the relay easier I have found.

I see the women’s zone as having women’s weeklies, women’s interests, home & lifestyle, crafts & hobbies (not all hobbies but certainly cross-stich, card making, knitting etc), gardening, crosswords, bridal, hair, pregnancy and women’s health and fitness.  Now this depends on the space you have available.

The men’s zone has the men’s title categories noted above.

You also need a zone for tech titles for computer, gadget and gamer magazines.  This should be next to a zone for photography titles.

I tend to prefer to see the ACP cookbooks in a zone of their own where you can show off the range and appropriately support new titles which come out monthly.

I try and find a separate location for current affairs, business and allied titles. This often is next to hobbies like railway or air titles.

There is bound to be internal debate for you or external debate with others about what you put into your zones. Don’t worry too much since this is not an end game and it would not take long to make changes as you go.

NOW, THE MAGAZINE RELAY

My preference is to do this alone as it allows me to make changes as I go based on what I see.

Take every magazine off the shelves. That’s right. If you are going to do this you have to commit and taking every magazine off the shelves is a commitment.  Also, take down all magazine posters.

Clean the shelves. What an opportunity.

Now start building the women’s zone. From the busiest section in.  If it is an aisle, start with women’s weeklies on one side and fashion (marie claire, Cleo, Cosmo, Vogue) on the other.  But concentrate on one side first, the weeklies.  Respect your top sellers, give New Idea, Women’s Day, Famous, NW, Who, OK!, That’s Life and Take 5 prime position. Keep a pocket for TV Week. Use between three and five pockets for some Lovatts crossword titles.

Next to the weeklies I’d then place, in order, a waterfall of Australian Women’s Weekly, British women’s magazines (yes, all of them), country living titles, Better Homes and Gardens in a waterfall, home and living titles, food, wedding with a waterfall of the major title currently in and hair.  For me that sees out one side of the aisle.  This is where you need to think it through in terms of the space you have.

On the opposite side, directly across from and facing women’s weeklies, I have fashion young, fashion older and I end this with a waterfall of Frankie.  Next is women’s health starting with younger target titles and blending to older ones. Next is pregnancy and baby followed by crosswords. This usually rounds out that side.

This is my women’s aisle.

You can see that I am using key titles as borders and features at the same time.

I look for one space on each side for an in-location display, where I take between four and six pockets for a poster supporting a title.  This can help ease the visual conflict of a mass of titles and drive incremental business for a good title to boot.

I hope that people understand my approach.  What I do in women’s is the same for the other zones I create.  I do each zone separately and try and get into the head space of the shopper of the zone – using the most popular titles to act as beacons, or signposts, for the zone.

I also take note of covers and give really good covers, eye catching covers, time in the spotlight.

I am careful what I place next to top selling titles. This is a prime spot, next to the popular titles. Choose wisely. Choose titles that naturally fit next to the big titles, titles shoppers are likely to browse and purchase on impulse.

If I am not sure about where to put a title I put it aside and move on.

I take extra time with special interest and hobby titles.  For example, I put railways and model railroad titles near each other but I am careful to ensure that they are separated as they appeal to two shoppers and only occasionally do you see titles from both segments in the same basket.

Within the zones I look for and respect specialisation. For example, within men’s lifestyle and sports I create a clean space for the quality serious fitness titles like Coach, Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness.  I am sure to separate these from Maxim and some other the other similar titles which can be in this section.

While I could go on and list all titles adjacencies I run with, I hope that the explanation above is sufficient to set you off on what is right for your business.

By the end of a relay you will be exhausted but in a good way.  You will have something new and fresh for your customers to explore, something you created for yourself and your business. Something of which you can be proud. What you have will be your IP, your magazine specialist knowledge encoded in your magazine department.  Your point of difference will be on show … how good is that?!

REVIEW, FEEDBACK, FOLLOW UP

You’re not done when you think you are done. Track your sales, listen to your team and your customers. Tweak where you feel it is necessary.

Bring new issues to the fore. Continue to be engaged in how your magazine department looks.

I did my last complete relay in one of my newsagencies in September and have moved three zones since then. Every week I spend considerable time in the magazine department, looking for opportunities with which I can reflect our point of difference better.

Continue to look at your sales data.  If there is no lift them be open to having made choices which are not right for your business. Be prepared to do it all again.

FINAL WORDS

Doing a magazine relay can be like doing one of those kid’s puzzles – you move them around and around until you have the completed image. That image can look and feel like a work of art once you are done.

I can’t stress enough the importance and value of a magazine relay to your business and you personally. This is you placing your stamp on the business.  It is you breaking free from being a conveyer belt newsagent. It is you taking ownership of your business.

If you have made it this far, thanks for reading.  Magazines really are a point of difference which we need to work harder at embracing – despite the challenges of the distribution system.

I’d be happy to answer questions or discuss magazine relays with anyone: mark@towersystems.com.au or 0418 321 338.

Over to you…

Click here to download this blog post as a document.

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Category: magazines · Newsagency management

41 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Wendy // Feb 3, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    Thanks for taking the time to prepare and share that, Mark. I have only just completed a relay of 2 sections in the last few weeks and this gave me ideas for more.

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  • 2 Derek // Feb 3, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    Looking Forward to this Mark.

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  • 3 h // Feb 3, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    Thank you very much Mark.

    I tend to relay just by section,
    constantly, and I like to see the
    new stock when it comes in because
    covers sometimes suggest good co-locations, even if temporary.

    This will go into my advice book
    for all staff too (and new owners
    for when the 5 yr plan eventuates !)

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  • 4 Narelle // Feb 3, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    Many thanks Mark, great advice!

    Do you have a preference for what is placed near the newspapers? Ours are on the flat at the base of the mags & we have put mens titles (cars, bikes, 4WD etc) here as it helps the men to browse. This is our main centre aisle.

    We have our womens title on the aisle facing the cards – mainly because women tend to know what they want & will ask if they can’t find, plus it seemed more appropriate as women tend to be the card buyers.

    Would you agree or change?

    Now to just get in and DO IT!

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  • 5 Derek // Feb 3, 2012 at 5:18 PM

    Thanks Mark – Greatly appreciated.

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  • 6 Mark // Feb 4, 2012 at 2:31 AM

    Narelle, I look at a few things: what will sell TODAY with newspapers, the cover and titles I want to support which will not be sought out.

    At a basic level I put Better Homes and gardens with newspapers Thursday through Sunday. The rest is dependent of the titles and what I know my customers will purchase on impulse.

    I agree with your logic of women’s magazines with cards. The only challenge is if the space gets very busy. Oh, and that you concentrate women in just this part of the business. Change is GOOD.

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  • 7 Jeff // Feb 4, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    Thanks for sharing so much advice on this Mark. To be honest I’ve been in this game close to 20 years and have never relayed my magazines, not all of them like you say. But with sales falling I have to do something.

    You have explained your process well without talking down to us. I appreciate that.

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  • 8 Narelle // Feb 4, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Thanks Mark – that makes a lot of sense.

    I’m already thinking of how the new layout will look – & it’s going to be great to boost sales!

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  • 9 Keith // Feb 5, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Thanks Mark. Good advice here. You have convinced me to take on magazines. Yes I was guilty of giving it to the cheapest costing person in the business.

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  • 10 Mark // Feb 6, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    Thanks Keith. A magazine department which is a destination will increase shopper traffic and this will increase sales, not just of magazines but of other products too.

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  • 11 Jeff // Feb 8, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    Half completed the relay and am embarrassed at what I am finding.

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  • 12 Mark // Feb 9, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Well done jeff. I hope more do. This is the single most important move many newsagents could make this week in their businesses.

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  • 13 Publisher // Feb 16, 2012 at 6:29 AM

    Very sound advice Mark. Other publishers need to read this to understand more of life on the inside of a newsagency, especially some of the challenges we present with such a diverse range of titles for you. I’d love to watch a relay in action if that could be organised.

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  • 14 Mark // Feb 16, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    Thanks publisher. I am planning some of these for March and will let you know.

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  • 15 helen // Feb 21, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Good advice here. I have done a relay but not like this. Am rethinking my approach now. Anything to lift mag sales.

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  • 16 Mark Fletcher // Feb 22, 2012 at 6:48 AM

    Go for it Helen. Let me know if I can help. This is one of the most important tasks a newsagent can undertake.

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  • 17 Helen // Feb 26, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    Did a complete relay yesterday following this advice. Now I want to expand my range in some areas and shrink it in others. It will be interesting to see what Gotch and Network say.

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  • 18 Katherine // Mar 8, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    A friend told me about this article as I am new to the business, six months. I just want to say that this is the most helpful advice I have ever read about magazines. I have been struggling and could not work out where to start and what to do. I can see ideas now that I could not see before.

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  • 19 Mark Fletcher // Mar 10, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    Katherine getting the magazine offer right is the most important move many newsagents can make in their businesses at the moment. Go for it. Let me know if I can help.

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  • 20 David // Mar 27, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    I am following this advice today and doing my first relay in ten years sorry to day. What a job! I am confused by what I have to decide.

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  • 21 Mark Fletcher // Mar 27, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    Well done David. More newsagents need to do this.

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  • 22 Mark Fletcher // May 6, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    Met a newsagent yesterday who did the relay following this a dice in February. Great result – better looking magazine department. Sales are up close to double digit.

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  • 23 Vicki // Jun 1, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    Okay, not a magazine relay, but going to attempt to reorganize my stationery section next week.
    Mark, any advice on the best way to layout stationery?
    Or anyone else have ideas they’d like to share??

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  • 24 Brendan // Jun 1, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    Vicki, like products with like products and set out in an order that makes browsing easy. We walk ourselves through the department and look at it from the customers point of view and try to make stock easy to find. Think of how Bunnings and so on lead you through products in a way that encourages add on sales within a category and try to emulate that. We will be relaying stationery too in the next few week and by way of example with pens etc are looking at throwing branded areas out the window and sorting stock according to its purpose. This should result in an easier shopping experience for customers and also highlight duplications is stock between suppliers to ourselves and hopefully will result in a leaner, meaner range of stock that still satisfies all the customers needs. Saved space will be turned over to new products and should in turn increase sales for the department. I hope I’ve made some sense.

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  • 25 Brendan // Jun 1, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    Vicki, GNS are currently providing a monthly article and information on a stationery relay by category. If you are a GNS customer this will also prove helpful.

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  • 26 Vicki // Jun 7, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Thanks Brendan for the ideas.

    I’m about a third of the way through the relay now, just chipping away at it a few hours at a time. Finding lots of dead stock and have been marking it down to get rid of it.

    Which led me to ask myself, what are others opinions / ideas on dead stock? What is the best, in your opinion, way to off-load it, and at what point do you just bin it or donate it to a local community group etc??

    My policy is to try keeping it at full price but shifting it around, then mark it down about 30% and feature it in the area near the front of shop. If this doesn’t work its marked down to less than half price and put in the bargain bin. The next step is the real bin, or donating it to the local community groups.

    Usually the first two steps get it sold. But I’m finding stuff that is positively ancient and I think it drags the rest of the stock down.

    What does everyone else do?

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  • 27 Brendan // Jun 7, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    In our experience most stock eventually sells at the right price but stationery is often purpose purchased so if there is no demand it will be a waste of space and become a cost rather than an asset to disposal is the way to go. Don’t bin anything, you’d be surprised what local schools, kinders and the like will appreciate being given. Let them be the ones to eventually throw it out if they have no use for an item given. This can only build goodwill for your store. If they turn their nose up at stock offered then bin it.
    Vicki, were just starting the same process for the third time since we purchased the business 9 years ago. We should do it more often.

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  • 28 Vicki // Jun 7, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Thanks Brendan, now I don’t feel so bad as this is the first time in the 3 years we’ve been here that I’ve completely re-vamped the stationery!
    I think a large part of the problem is as you said, obselete items that no one uses anymore. Looks like the local play group / kindergarten and day care will be benefiting!!

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  • 29 Mark Fletcher // Jun 7, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    Vicki thanks for sharing details of your journey here. Well done on the progress. I support Brendan’s advice.

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  • 30 Melissa // Jun 7, 2012 at 9:25 PM

    Mark, I am thinking of doing our first magazine relay ever. Is this best done after hours as would shifting things around during the day cause too much confusion? Currently the magazines overlap quite a bit. What if I run out of room once the magazines are laid out properly?

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  • 31 Mark Fletcher // Jun 7, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    Melissa,

    I’d do it during the day as this keeps you focussed on getting it done.

    Depending on the software you use – do a cull first if you area overstocked.

    It is okay to overlap in areas where customers will look for titles. Not the high volume titles but certainly others.

    Where are you located?

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  • 32 Melissa // Jun 8, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    Mark, we are located in Koroit and have a family newsagency. I have just recently come across your website and think there are some great ideas suggested by yourself and others. I am trying to slowly change things around in the shop, which desperately needs a refit and thought that the magazine relay would be a good start.

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  • 33 Melissa // Jun 13, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Well, I have completed the magazine relay in the women’s section. It does look better and we have had a few positive comments so far. I was going to do a before and after photo but I had a camera with me that had no memory card in it!
    I will now get myself organised for the men’s section.

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  • 34 Mark Fletcher // Jun 14, 2012 at 5:09 AM

    Melissa great stuff. What you are creating here is ownership of your magazine department, a vital point of difference for your business.

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  • 35 Jeff // Jul 1, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    You learn something every day. My magazine sales are up for the last three months and the only change is the relay I did thanks to this blog.

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  • 36 wally // Jul 2, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Jeff,
    How much has it been worth. Dont leave us in suspense

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  • 37 Michael // Jul 2, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Just curious to get some advice. We waterfall our weeklies upfront of the magazine display and this location seems to work well. However have you all put next to this weekly hub? I currently have the soapies/british publications (peoples friend) then fashion. We try to mix a few of the crosswords into the weeklies where space permits.
    Just hoping to get a little bit of feedback.Thanks!

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  • 38 Mark Fletcher // Jul 2, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Michael this makes sense. But change it up and see if sales are affected. Different shoppers react differently.

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  • 39 Jeff // Jul 3, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    7.3% comparing to the same period last year. My sales were down a couple of percent. The growth is in areas where I am the only place in the area to get the titles. Since I did the relay I find myself spending more times on magazines because I control them more.

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  • 40 h // Jul 3, 2012 at 8:21 AM

    Great start Jeff. It really works for me to get to know the customers who buy certain mags. If you stock something unusual they tell their friends. It builds up and up. And rarely someone will come in ans sweep through a whole section and spend up big. Last Sat in the middle of the lotto rush I had a tradie buy $160 worth of huntin shootin fishin mags. He said he hadn’t been in in a while, needed a fix, knew where to come to get it ! Glad he chose MY shop !

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  • 41 wally // Jul 3, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Thanks Jeff. This the positive stuff we all need. I have done my own relay and can say i am holding my own in an area that is going backwards. I try to refine and move and experiment. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnt. I have had most success in kids mags. Our area is changing from retirement into new families as the oldies move on. Kids books have also been good.

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