Australian Newsagency Blog

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

My advice if you think closing and walking away from your newsagency business is the only option available to you

Mark Fletcher
September 30th, 2015 · 13 Comments

Taylor Square newsagency in Sydney closed Friday last week after decades of service to Darlinghurst locals, many who partied in the area and many more who travelled there for their unparalleled range of magazines. The Piggott family were passionate about magazines.

The report cites the NSW government lockout laws as a major cause of the closure.

While I understand the impact of the lockout laws on overnight traffic, they would have less effect on the main part of the trading day from 7am to 6pm when most business is done.

While I am sure the lockout laws played a role as did the messy and drawn out changes to Oxford Street, I think other factors played a role – magazine sales, newspaper sales, the positioning of the business in a changing retail environment and out of store engagement by the business.

The biggest challenge faced by Mark and John Piggott is the same faced by many newsagents – how to drive the relevance of the newsagency in a rapidly changing world. We talked about this in the context of the business many times over the years. Our discussions were based on an assessment of their own business data, evident trends forecast in their data, trends that lead to the closure Friday of the business.

I wish this business had not closed. I wish John and Mark were running a reinvigorated and reinvented business today. I wish they were running a new Taylor Square Newsagency that was known for innovation as well as maintaining a stunning range of magazines.

Several times over the years I pitched structural changes to Mark and John including:

  1. Reducing opening hours by carving out the late night hours that are not profitable.
  2. Replacing underperforming legacy categories and introducing specific new traffic generating lines.
  3. Cutting magazine space to drive a better return on space.
  4. Out of store marketing to reach new traffic – people not currently aware of the business.

I appreciate these four points are not as simple as they look. Embedded in each is fundamental structural change to the business to make it relevant to today. Take the second item, several times I looked at this business point two alone should have resulted in more than 50% floorspace change by bringing in completely new product categories to open the appeal of the business beyond those who still remember what a newsagency was from the 1950s and 1960s. Those customers are dying, we need businesses that are relevant to the those spending money today. They don’t care about the newsagency of yesteryear, they care about what they like today – regardless of the shingle under which they purchase it.

It is not my intent with this post to come across as someone dancing on the fresh grave of Taylor Square Newsagency. Rather, I want newsagents to use news of the closure to shake themselves into realising that it is not too late to change and that change does not mean ignoring key categories at the core of a successful newsagency, categories we need such as magazines, newspapers, greeting cards and stationery.

It takes guts to embrace and chase change. The sooner you engage with this the better. From where I stand, the best encouragement you will get will not come from traditional sources of newsagency management advice such as your industry association of the National Newsagent magazine – they are rooted in the past.

My inspiration comes from looking far outside the channel at trade shows for other channels, at other retailers and at trends online. We have to have the guts to play outside the limitations of our shingle. We have to have the foresight to see a business beyond the traditional. We have to chase customers never thought we could attract.

But most of all we have to do something.

Complaining is not a management activity.

Here is my top-level practical advice for any newsagent contemplating closing:

  1. Dig depict your data and look for green shoots of good news onto which you can attach growth.
  2. Stop doing what is not profitable.
  3. Be a retailer and not an agent.
  4. Find products that will generate traffic in your location.
  5. Refuse to be restricted by the shingle under which you trade
  6. Change, change and change your business.
  7. Join a marketing group or at least partner with an outside force that will challenge you and open you to opportunities you don’t see today.

There are plenty of newsagents enjoying good results and feeling optimistic. I think anyone can.

36 likes

Category: Newsagency management · newsagency of the future · Newsagency opportunities · Newsagent representation

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter // Sep 30, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    These are all valid points Mark. But what if there is no passion for change. Most likely these owners are burnt out. They don’t have the luxury to step back from the business, travel around the country or the world for that matter, getting new ideas or perspectives. They don’t have other sources of income to subsidise these costs and maybe they don’t want to be gift shop owners. There is a time, when in the interests of health and family that you need to call it a day

    16 likes

  • 2 eric // Sep 30, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    Back in the hay day ,I used to admire how much mags they sold,they sold massive amount of mags,but time has change,the area has transformed badly instead

    0 likes

  • 3 eric // Sep 30, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    We sold about 100 blue and black & white mags ,they sold massive of them.

    0 likes

  • 4 Ken Burgin // Sep 30, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    Been there many times and wondered at the need for such massive space. Lots of very competitive rentals in that area now. Also seemed like an easy space for shoplifters…

    0 likes

  • 5 Mark Fletcher // Oct 1, 2015 at 1:24 PM

    Peter your cynicism shines through. People don’t need to step outside their businesses. They can partner with others to do it for them as plenty are now. In only rare cases should closure be an option. As for your comment about being a gift shop, that’s ignorant. My advice to you is to choose optimism – you will enjoy it more.

    16 likes

  • 6 Peter // Oct 1, 2015 at 1:55 PM

    Call me pessimistic if you want Mark. I have no vested interest in whether a newsagency closes or continues trading. I would just be reluctant to throw good money after bad and I totally relate to newsagents who signed on to and enjoyed being “newsagents” not wanting to be a part of the “bright future” you keep talking about. In all the years this blog has been going I’m still yet to see any long term sustainable products to replace newspapers and magazines

    6 likes

  • 7 Mark Fletcher // Oct 1, 2015 at 2:01 PM

    Peter you are not looking hard enough. As a reader here you would know that I don’t have lotteries and don’t have a direct newspaper account. I am in a centre with flat traffic yet the growth is terrific. I am not alone with this story. I guess it depends on your definition of sustainability.

    I think you are missing a key point.

    I can sell an item for $200 and make $100 to $120 GP on it. Do this enough and you become insulated against the decline of print media product sales. Then, there is the benefit of the other items the purchaser of the $200 item purchases.

    I get that you are cynical about a bright future. The only way to test it is to try it. There is little to lose beyond what you have at risk today.

    6 likes

  • 8 Peter // Oct 1, 2015 at 2:24 PM

    Mark, you are not the average newsagent, for a number of reasons that go well beyond location, product range, presentation etc.. All I’m saying is that there is nothing wrong with walking away, it may be the best outcome both financially and health wise. I also think it’s pretty cheap and lazy to throw around tags like ” cynic and pessimist. For the majority of newsagents,who have everything riding on the performance of that business alone the future looks bleak. Every major product category is in decline or under threat. This is the “reality” and if that makes me a cynic or pessimist, so be it

    3 likes

  • 9 Mark Fletcher // Oct 1, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    Peter I called you a cynic. You called yourself a pessimist. You have on idea what I have riding where. Your assumptions are certain to be way off.

    You are wrong to make this about me. As I have noted many times, there is evidence of plenty of newsagents in high street, regional, rural and shopping centre situations growing and finding a sustainable future.

    It all comes down to whether you want it.

    As for your comment that every major product category is in decline or under threat, is say: so? Nothing new there. The only constant in business is change. The challenge is how you deal with it.

    I get that many newsagents signed up to be newsagents and not retailers. They are the ones who are most at risk. Yet the opportunities they have are the same as those opportunities embraced by the many newsagents I speak to who who are enjoying success.

    I’ve offered to help. Call out if you would like it.

    3 likes

  • 10 Peter // Oct 1, 2015 at 2:57 PM

    Mark, wait 12 months and then ask the owners of Taylors Square Newsagency if they’re still happy with their decision to close. I’d be very surprised if they say no. I’m off to the movies- regards

    1 likes

  • 11 Mark Fletcher // Oct 1, 2015 at 3:03 PM

    Peter you are deflecting the issue and the question. The question for the owners of Taylor Square was from three years ago when they were looking at their future. We know how that went. Stand still and your future is decided for you.

    3 likes

  • 12 John // Oct 2, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    Oxford Street News Agency to Close after 80 Years

    A personal note from Stephan Gyory (president DBP).

    It’s with a heavy heart and a belly full of anger that I bear this news to you (should you not have already heard).

    The Piggot family have been trading on Oxford Street for 80 years – 3 GENERATIONS. John’s dad started in the 30’s with a news paper cart out the front of what is now the Oxford Hotel. The family has explicitly linked their closing with the lockout laws.

    Some glib observers have suggested that the dead-tree publishing business model is over. But figures from around the world show that printed media is a viable, if niche, market – IF you have customers in your area. And that’s the point.

    Australia has a problem with a virulent strand of toxic masculinity. The same Alpha Male ‘every man’s a rival & every woman’s a sexual target’ drives violence by a minority of younger men socially just as as it does the older men in the own homes against their wives and partners.

    But our leaders, unable or unwilling to tackle the deeply rooted social issue, decided it was more expedient to throw Darlinghurst under a bus. Perhaps they like their footy role-models too much to want to temper the latent aggression that seems to form the basis of the Aussie Alpha Male identity.

    In a rapidly evolving retail environment, the last this Darlinghurst needed was a government telling people to stay away. Tragi-comically, the City of Sydney’s OPEN nigh-time strategy was starting to bear fruit just as the lockouts were introduced. After years of bad raps people were returning to Oxford Street day and night, in fact violence in the whole area had been dropping for years. Not that you’d know that from the shrill tabloid reporting of the tragic deaths of two young men.

    Those two deaths changed everything. Two deaths committed by and against people not from Darlinghurst scared the government into action. But instead of tackling the problem, they nuked the local economy and culture to keep people away; after all people can’t fight if they are not here – and don’t those stats look great. But people continue to punch on where ever they end up. And hey, the gambling revenue can pay for that violence. It seems that fine grain culture is too nuanced a concept for the BOOM-obsessed politicians to quantify and thus value.

    It’ll probably take 10 years of brain drain and unintended consequences on our economy and then the sad death of some poor young soul at an unsupervised house party in the burbs for the parents to start screaming for supervised venues, and they’ll all probably be closed by then and we’ll all be in bed by midnight like the current authorities want. The prejudice against Darlinghurst’s progressive culture and the ageism against the youth of today by their elders is astounding.

    Apparently it’s fine for the older generation to have a nice drop of wine served at dinner, presumably by a younger person. But stuff that young person if they want to go out for a drink after work. Perhaps we should lockout government because ICAC shown has that some politicians have proven themselves to be untrustworthy so we should just consider them all untrustworthy. Then again, slippery slope logic also seems too nuanced an idea for the current ‘builders of our state’.

    Call the lockouts whatever you want, they are a curfew. And if the growing reports of the targeted harassment of venues by the licensing authorities are anything to go by, it’s a police state curfew. After all, it was only the president of the Police Association who suggested that shutting the city at midnight would make their jobs easier. Perhaps we should just confine people to their homes 24/7 and then the streets would be 100% safe.

    But then we would have to ban relationships to tackle the domestic violence … anyone else feel the slipperiness of the slope we’re currently writhing down?

    But I should not be so glib about such a heinous social problem. Looking forward.

    The DBP is working on an East Sydney strategy to bring people back to Darlo. We are also working on a tech solution to weigh and measure our economy so we can quantify future impacts either positive or negative and that’s beginning to roll out.

    Finally, more immediately, we are about to send out a Business/Employee survey to try and get some numbers around the broader economic impacts of the lockout laws. (FYI your State government is not actually doing this).

    None of this will change the reality for the Pigotts. They will go, their history will be lost, eventually someone else will open or “even better”, develop that property and life will go on. And that’s the problem. Because while the government acknowledges that Small Business is vital to the economy, they haven’t seemed to grasp that behind every small business is a person or family and when a small business goes, that’s someone losing their shirt, or house or marriage or livelihood. Where that leads … more social harm?

    4 likes

  • 13 Mark Fletcher // Oct 2, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    John while I disagree with the lockout, I think it is wrong to blame the closure of this business on the lockout. Chance, such as the lockout, is inevitable. Retail businesses best navigate change by changing themselves to attract more customers. This takes time and advanced planning. Leaving it util too late can kill a business.

    2 likes

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