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

Author: Mark Fletcher

Covid lockdown To-Do list for newsagents and other local small business retailers

Here in Melbourne we are in our fifth Covid lockdown. As well as owning POS software company and working with local small business retailers every day, I also own three retail businesses and several online businesses.

This Covid lockdown To-Do list for local small business retailers is practical advice you can action without cost, to make the most of the lockdown opportunity.

Whether your shop is closed or open but with less traffic, now is an ideal time to work on your business.

  • List what’s not sold. Run a report listing all inventory in the business that has not sold at all this year. This list gives you a starting point for action. We did this last week for one customer and identified $15,000 worth of dead stock, stock the owner to that point was not focussed on.
  • Act on what’s not sold. Dead stock is dead weight. If you have long since paid for it, cents in the dollar for it is better than nothing.
  • Look at what’s been selling with what. Often the items in the same basket are not seen by retailers as items you can put together. This list, which you should be able to get from your POS software, can guide shop floor placement changes.
  • Front to back clean. Literally, start at the front of the shop and work your want to the back. Clean every single product. We often find that the act of holding every product leads to decisions about some products, decisions we might otherwise not have made. We have just done this at one of our own Westfield shops and the decisions we made along the way have been liberating.
  • Work on your roster. Look at what usually sells by day of week and by time. Your POS software should be able to help with this. Take time to review your roster to ensure it is set appropriately. Labour is usually the top or second highest cost in a retail business outside of inventory.
  • Reset the front third of the store. Look carefully at that front third of your store. Make bold changes simply by moving things, so that when shoppers return they see things they’ve not noticed before.
  • Prepare social media content that leverages you. Using your phone, film short videos of you or a team member talking about products. Prepare these to load over time on Facebook, Instagram and more. Have fun.
  • If you have a website for the business, write blog posts as they are absolutely the single best thing you can do to attract traffic to the website. A blog post should be single topic, pitch a consistent keyword at least five times and be over 350 words. We have a lot of experience with this and note, again, this is the single most effective online marketing for a website. The only investment is your time – don’t outsource this.
  • Learn something new. Ask your POS software company for the best report in the software to reveal what you are unlikely to know about your business. Run that report. Read it. Make a list of things you could do. Act on it.
  • Be a shopfitter. Shopfitters are expensive. Look at an area of your shop that you want to change that you would usually hire a shoplifter to handle. Think through how you can do it yourself. I know many retailers who have done this and vowed to not use shopfitters for such changes in the future.
  • If you are online, undertake a data driven review of your website. Look at your traffic and the traffic of your competitors. Review your site and theirs. Look for opportunities to attract more shoppers to your site based on the data. Whoever developed your website should be able to collate this data for you.
  • Personally: refresh. If you can take a break from business, even for an hour a day, read fiction, listen to music you love, go for a walk outside. These nourishing things can help reset mood and that could help you discover new opportunities for your business.

My POS software company, Tower Systems, is a local Aussie POS software company serving 3,500+ local small business retailers, many newsagents, with POS software and beautiful Shopify websites. Beyond this, we also offer retail business management advice and help to our customers every day.

Thanks for reading. have an awesome rest of your weekend …

Mark Fletcher | mark@towersystems.com.au.

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Christmas in July takes on a new meaning for retailers

With uncertainty about product availability out of China, which has in-part been fuelled by some shrill mainstream media reporting over the last week, going out early with Christmas in retail makes sense.

We have gently pitched Christmas through part of July and its worked a treat in our shops. But, it has been different to other years. This year, we have been at full price, offering range as a service. And, it has been selling.

Covid has people purchasing differently, and not only because of the most recent lockdowns. This is something that we saw from mid last year. Planners will buy early, earlier than usual. Non planners are responding to Covid by bringing forward purchases, too.

Outside of Christmas we see the impact of people nervous about supply for when they want items. In greeting cards and gifts, especially, we see people buying now for later giving. It’s interesting, something were first saw in the early months of covid that that has grown as the impact of the pandemic has continued through the calendar.

These are opportunities for retailers, newsagents especially, as in our channel there is likely to be more stock from last year (and before?) stored somewhere, which people may buy now, because of Covid. Also, there are suppliers with some Christmas stock from .last year that you could have in-store in a few days. These are all opportunities to convert to cash otherwise items that today are not delivering value for the business.

Now, if you have not embraced raced Christmas in July, there is nothing stopping you going out now or next week. These people being out of lack of supply in the future fear will appreciate it.

My advice is have a location in–store designated as early Christmas opportunities. Place the product as a service. Don’t discount. Speak to it several times on social media, let people know you have those who want to shop early covered. And, if anyone asks or complains, explain that it’s in response to requests. This is you providing a customer service.

This should not be a fear driven campaign. rather, it’s focus should be customer service.

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Promoting easy access to magazines online

Check out this targeted ad for digital access to magazines I saw on Facebook the other day.

Once I clicked on it (which cost the platform some money), this offer was pitched.

It’s interesting this platform, Readly, with 5,000 titles pitch a local Perth title. My IP address at the time had me in Perth.

Here’s an ad that was in my Facebook feed the next day. They are stalking me.

I don’t begrudge publishers doing this. I’d do it if I were them. However, it is vital that newsagents see the investments by publishers in chasing readers and subscribers elsewhere. This is the future and one of several reasons over the counter purchase of magazines continues to decline.

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Customers angry at newspapers not arriving until 10:30am

I heard from a newsagent in a major regional town in NSW this week who regularly receives newspapers at their shop at around 10:30am. What used to be 6am delivery is so late that customers are stopping purchasing the newspapers.

Part of the problem is the late delivery ion papers top a distribution depot. The main problem, though, is they supplier to the retail newsagent does not prioritise that last step delivery.

Despite calls and emails, publisher representatives appear to have little appetite for resolution. Now, if anyone says speak to an association, this should not be necessary. The publisher is already well aware of the problem. Their care factor is zero.

I feel for newsagents who are trying to serve their local communities and who face disinterest by newspaper publisher reps in getting papers consistently delivered on time.

This is a mental health issue as much as a customer service issue. The mental health of some newsagents is being challenged by late papers and the failure within newspaper pu listing businesses to have a process through which this can be reasonably addressed.

Here’s what I think should happen – newsagents should obtain the direct mobile number for a senior newspaper circulation executive and hand that out to any customer who complains about late papers. This would lead to the problem being resolved.

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People commenting on NSW retail lockdown rules

I’m sharing this because of the mention of newsagents.

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What retail newsagents can learn from how fintechs are taking on the big banks

Fintechs, Finance Technology businesses, are businesses leveraging technology to disrupt banking and banking related businesses.

In an excellent article, Fintechs Are Zeroing in on Everything Big Banks Aren’t,  published at Medium, Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at New York University, explores the challenge of energetic tech-driven start-ups on old, well-established and risk-averse banks.

The article is relevant to small business newsagency outlets in Australia as it deals with the challenge of an old business model, a model too many in the banking channel rely on today, and, in our case, too many newsagents.

Banks built success on location, their branch network, as did our channel. Tech b being leveraged by finch businesses makes location irrelevant. This is true for many of the products and services we sell, even more so than we probably currently imagine.

Another, easier (and more fun) indicator of ripeness is the eighties test. Put yourself smack dab in the center of the store/product/service, close your eyes, spin around three times, open your eyes, and ask if you’d know within 5 seconds that you were not in 1985. Theaters, grocery stores, gas stations, dry cleaners, university classes, doctor’s offices, and banks still feel as if you could run into Ally Sheedy or The Bangles.

The article engaged me because when galloway talks about banks and their old way of doing business today, he could equally be writing about our channel. Now, I am not being crucial about newsagents here. no, my criticism is more focussed on our suppliers. Their business practices and processes, which they demand we follow, are rooted in history, rooted in the past, and rooting out businesses negatively.

As fintechs are disrupting the banks, there are others out there disrupting us. This includes suppliers who are building and promotion their own direct to consumer pathways, Tabcorp, Are Media, News Corp, Nine Media, and more.

Start-ups are all about being lean and not being beholden to doing something a certain way because that is how it has always been done. Our channel has 140+ years of history, making it hard to be lean and energetic in our business practices.

We have to find ways of reinventing ourselves. This takes courage. It also requires us to let go of some things, which is not a popular view in our channel, especially among the old-school and those aligned with suppliers. But, we must, for our future is to be found in being like a finch business disrupting a bank … being nimble, smart, engaged and fast.

Footnote: This post focusses on retail since in the distribution space, the newspaper home delivery space, the publishers have stripped that from us, without fair compensation, and we let them.

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Nine Media increases newspaper cover price 20 cents and given small business retailers only half a cent increase

The Age goes up 20 cents today. There was a time when we’d celebrate a newspaper cover price rise, a time when that 20 cent increase would mean and extra 3 cents margin. Hey, 3 cents is 3 cents, especially for a volume product.

Thanks to margin setting changes by Nine Media, retail newsagents will receive half a cent from the 20 cent cover price increase. The margin from The Age is 8%.

Half a cent. And, with newspapers now low volume product in many newsagencies, the value of this paltry increase is nil.

I wonder if Nine Media has cut the margin small business retail newsagents make from newspapers because they know there is no risk as stocking newspapers makes the business essential.

Regardless of the reason, this move by Nine Media is offensive. Here we have small business newsagents facing a labour cost increase in a few months, the annual rental increase of 5% and other costs going up and they are cutting what newsagents make in real terms.

This is not a socially responsible move by Nine Media. It disrespects small business retailers who have few levers available to enable them to deal with operating cost increases.

But, for the most part, m this move will go unnoticed … because newsagents are used to being treated this way, they put up with it out of fear I guess.

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Telling the gift packaging story

We have moved a range of gift packaging to the front of the shop, sitting on the lease line, as a draw-card offer for the terrific foot traffic out the front. It’s been in place for five days and has worked well at attracting attention.

We have been pitching the range on social media with several videos, including this one, which we released Friday.

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Victorians respond to lockdown

I called around a bunch of retail businesses late yesterday, looked at data for my own shops and visited a Westfield centre and a suburban high street business where I have shops and did so within the rules.

Victorians are responding to the clear lockdown rules.

I saw shops that are not essential are shut.

Foot traffic in shops that are open is way down.

Shoppers are shopping quick, in and out.

In newsagencies, newspapers top the purchases followed by magazines. The gap between those two and cards and gifts is considerable.

While data I have are not enough for a reliable trend, from what I have been told and have seen, shopping centre newsagencies could be down as much as 80% and high street newsagencies down around 50%.

I expect numbers around this level to continue for the duration of the lockdown.

Victorian retailers tell me shoppers are, overall, reacting well, wearing masks, checking in, not loitering. While I’ve read some news stories of poor customer behaviour, no retailers I spoke with has stories.

The other good news from Victorian retailers is that click and collect, local delivery and posting to family services are all working well.

on a personal level, we have cut our hours back to lockdown hours. Opening 9 am and closing any time after two, depending on foot traffic. No trading on Sundays.

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Recommended social media pitch if you are in lockdown

If you are in lockdown I recommend daily social media pitches featuring the front page of newspapers, including foreign language newspapers. This is a reminder that you are open and reinforces the essential nature of your business.

It’s the type of subtle post that could work well for you in the current conditions. It’s you reminding people without being pushy or offending owners of nearby businesses that are closed.

I have done it for my shops through each of the Victorian lockdowns and it has worked well.

I keep the posts simple and leave the newspaper itself as the hero.

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Suppliers of fixed price / margin products to newsagents need to look at our rising labour costs

In a few months, people working in newsagencies get a pay rise following the recent decision by Fair Work to increase labour costs under the Retail Award.

The challenge for newsagents is the product we sell over which we have no price or margin control. The impact of the challenge is intensified in businesses that rely more on low margin products like newspapers, magazines and lottery products.

Every time a supplier of fixed price / fixed margin decides to not increase price or margin percentage, they are saying to local small business newsagents to please take this hit for us, please absorb the higher costs in your businesses so that we can profit. Some suppliers go further – and follow our rules for if you don’t there will be commercial penalties … know your place!

The fixed margin and price situation leaves newsagents looking elsewhere for ways to fund the increased labour costs. While the best situation would be an increase in sales, for most, lowering costs elsewhere will be a focus.

Of course, the best situation would be not relying as much on low margin products in the overall revenue mix in your retail business. This is why, for years, I have written here about the need to range inventory focussed on attracting new shoppers to the business. The more you can grow the average GP% achieved in the business through products over which you have price control the better.

The solution lies in being a retailer in control of the business rather than being an agent.

Magazine publishers, newspaper publishers and lottery companies – yes, I am writing this for you.

Now, to any people at Nine Media patting themselves on their back for the 20 cent price rise to their capital city newspapers next week, stop it. The 20 cent cover price increase will give retail newsagents an extra half a cent, which is offensive.

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Beware the lure of consignment stock in the newsagency

I get that being offered inventory on consignment is appealing. You only pay us for what you sell is a compelling pitch. The thing is, consignment stock takes space, it has to be managed, the products can be stolen and, the cost to the supplier of consignment is, I am sure, built into their price model.

I am not recommending against consignment. rather, I am saying think about it. There may be times the lure of consignment is not worth it. It all depends on where the product fits in your business and whether it advances your overall business objectives. For example, if the consignment stock is on a spinner and your floor is already full, why make it more cramped.

One thing Covid has taught us is that shopability matters. People like space, they want to be able to move around. We’re on a break from stack em high watch em fly.

My biggest consider with consignment stock is that it tends to be ignored by retailers and inventory that is ignored usually does not perform well in-store. My advice is that you manage consignment stock sales as if it is regular stock. Know what’s selling and what is not selling. There is no point in having your space and time take up with items that are not selling, designs you only paying based on sales.

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Promoting the expanded card range in the newsagency

Here’s a video I published Friday last week launching a new. card display on the lease line of one of my shops. The video helped drive card shopper traffic through the weekend and early this week.

I filmed the cards on my iPhone and used a low-cost online edit tool to add text and music.

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Crosswords: the one magazine category you can count on

Crossword magazine sales continue to be strong in newsagencies. They grew last year through the early months of Covid and have performed well since.

The keys to success are range of types and titles, grouped location in the magazine department, plenty of full-face displays and customer service.

Crosswords are efficient in that crossword shoppers are more likely to purchase other items – they have a more efficient basket for the business.

Crossword shoppers are more likely to purchase jigsaws, pens and craft products. I say this based on newsagency shopping basket analysis. Plus, crossword shoppers actively encourage others to join them in their passion for crosswords.

My advice to newsagents is to check in with what you are doing re crosswords, look for an opportunity to do more, do better. The response typically will be a boost in sales, which we’d all like. Oh, and by more I mean: a refreshed display, co-location at the counter of some titles, pitching on social media, being active with what is placed next to crosswords and rewarding loyalty as the crossword shopper is likely to be your most loyal magazine shopper.

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Taking the trade show experience to small business retailers

I am grateful to have participated in a tour of the new showroom display at ISAlbi a few days ago, getting to see hundreds of new products and find out about stories that can be told through the new ranges.

I took more than 400 photos. The next day, I filmed a one hour Zoom where those of us at the showroom walk-through spoke to what we say, commenting on items and exploring how to bring the opportunities to life in-store.

Once the Zoom video was completed I loaded it to a video platform for newsXpress members, so they could see the products in detail, hear the discussion and access the new products and collateral associated with them to drive sales.

This approach of collecting video and photo assets and packaging them in a form that retailers can access from anywhere and at any time, with appropriate security measures in place, is just one way the world is changing in the retail space, one way we, marketing groups and suppliers, are able to work together to bring new product opportunities to life for retailers.

What’s interesting about what we saw is the new product categories available for retailers as it is through these that we can find new shoppers, the lifeblood of retail. From home decor to art to garden to self care to fun to environmentally aware, the ranges are broad enough for a retailer to map out a year of buying, with designated drops, to enable the business to be regularly refreshed all from the one engagement based on what’s in the video.

Plenty of suppliers have found other ways of connecting with their customers and finding new customers. I think the extent of change in this space will challenge trade show businesses into the future.

When I was in the Albi showroom, I saw account managers hosting FaceTime visits with retailers, showing product through their phone camera.

Now, from a newsXpress perspective, it shares with newsXpress members the video we shot and then offers a shopper service for anyone interested, based on what interests retailers. This is underpinned baby budgeting, floorspace and ranging advice. These and related services play into the changes engaged retailers are leveraging. Covid kicked the changes off. Now, plenty of changes have stuck, because people have realised they work better.

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What we learnt from the Victorian Covid lockdowns that could benefit NSW retailers

It was the second Covid lockdown in Victoria that was a defining moment for many small business retailers. Whereas first lockdown was a national experience, the second lockdown was unique to Victoria back then.

While there were many media stories about businesses doing it tough, the reality is that many of us had a good Covid, through all four lockdowns in Victoria. Here’s what worked for us and many of the local small business retailers I have spoken with:

  • Be safe. Have the perspex screens at the counter.  Place your credit card terminal on the customer side.
  • Be frugal. Spend what you must but hang on to as much cash as you can. You don’t know how long this will go on for.
  • Make shopping easier, safer. Bring what people will want the most to the front of the shop, to reduce browsing. In a newsagency where papers have been put to the back of the shop, for example, bring them to the front of the shop.
  • If you’re not online, get online.
  • Be practical. Now is not the time for pretty displays.
  • Preference card payment. The less cash you have to handle, the safer the business.
  • Be flexible. Be available for shoppers where they want to shop: online, on the phone, via social media. Offer delivery or curbsibe pickup.
  • Offer what they want. What people will purchase through a lockdown will be different to other times.
  • Bundle. People who want to send gifts will appreciate you offering bundles ready to be delivered or posted.
  • Co-operate locally. If you are open and a nearby shop is closed, maybe you could sell some of their stock for them.
  • Clean, clean and clean. Showing this being done builds confidence.
  • Be grateful. You will see many good deeds and hear about many too. Share them on social media.
  • Look after your team. Have a good supply of masks and anti-bacterial gel. Given them breaks to refresh and wash their hands.
  • Think about beyond Covid. The experience will help you see your business differently. Lean into that for opportunities on the other side.

Regional, rural and high street newsagents are likely to have a better lockdown than those in shopping centres. many Victorian shopping centres are yet to recover from lockdown 2 and beyond. I mention this as one consequence of extended lockdown for shopping centre businesses is to find opportunities outside the centre.

I have three physical shops in Victoria as well as an office and several online only businesses. What I have suggested in this post we have done in my businesses, and we continue to do them today. For example, as part of the be frugal advice, we made some decisions that we expected to be temporary, decisions we still follow today, decisions that continue to save money.

While things seem grim in NSW right now, at the local small business level you have an opportunity to make your own success, your own good situation out of a bad situation.

If your shop is open and not busy because people are staying at home, use the opportunity to make changes. Be bold, but frugal. Use the time, too, to plan for what’s on the other side – promotions, marketing, re-casting.

Footnote: through my work with newsagents and with the Tower POS software community more broadly, only a very few businesses did not make it through. I think this is because small business retailers are resilient and flexible, doing what is necessary. Good luck everyone!

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Tabcorp ramping up text marketing?

Looking back on text messages from Tabcorp over the last couple of years and it looks like they are texting more now than in the past. And, while the text mentions in-store, of course you can’t be in-store in a click.

Text message marketing is very effective at driving immediate engagement. IOf the target has not bought and if a $20 first division prize is appealing, in a couple of click they can have a ticket and that’s what matters here.

Tabcorp are doing here what any shareholder would want them to do. They are doing what they have to to capture the impulse purchase. It is so much easier to click and purchase than walk or drive to the shops, front up and purchase over the counter. Indeed, much easier to do this today than a couple of years ago, pre Covid.

So, yeah, I understand why Tabcorp is texting people. I’m writing about it today so that lottery retailers understand.

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The keywords of shoppers: who is Frida Kahlo and why does she matter to us?

Frida Kahlo is an artist from Mexico, who lived from 1907 to 1954. Her art consisted mainly of self portraits. She is considered a feminist icon, and rightly so. Interest in her has grown in recent years through careful management of licences associated with her.

We have several suppliers to our channel with Frida Kahlo products. There are cards, journals, calendar, cushions, wrap and more. These are items bought by and for, primarily, women, 25 to 50.

This is why Frida Kahlo matters. But let me add to that. through search data, we can see that every day Aussies are search Frida Kahlo online. Here is current search data:

When I am considering Licenced product for my shops, I look at search data as it is real, current and accurate. It helps me assess the interest in this licence over another licence and that can sway my purchasing.

This research into online searches also helps determine the value of buying products from multiple suppliers for a licence. This is the case with the Frida Kahlo brand. The 12,100 searches for the specific brand are interesting. Expand the consideration to all associated keywords and you have 82,700 searches a month in Australia. That makes it a commercially viable brand. Also, thanks too the search data I can access, I can see the sites people go to for their Frida Kahlo fix, and this can guide how I represent the brand in-store.

All of this speaks to the importance of data in guiding retail business decisions. It also speaks to what we have to do in considering what to sell in ur shops. Retail is different today. We have more data available for decision making. We have more options, too, thanks to more suppliers selling to us.

What people search for online is valuable as we evolve our retail businesses. It reveals more to you than you can know from those walking into or past your shop. It’s powerful data, and accessible data. It is vital that we tap into it, to understand opportunities, especially for Licenced product, like Frida Kahlo, which may have not been on our radar in the past.

Whereas previously we’d worry about the range of pens we had, the six of magazines in a category, our birthday card mix or some sub-$20 gift lines, today brand or licence driven retailers are able to broaden their appeal by sensitively tapping into respected brands that stand for something, by sourcing deeply into the brand across multiple suppliers.

It all starts with accurate search data. tap into that and you can tap into a well of new shopper traffic.

This is what the newsagency of the future needs to do – pursue growth through data.

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