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

Author: Mark Fletcher

Strong February card sales in the newsagency

We have  good results for February in our bigger high street newsagency in Melbourne. It did almost $13,000 in card sales, up 6%. This is good growth in what or proving to be a first quarter of low card sales growth, around 2%.

We also did $1,000 in sales from the cards we direct-imported from the US and UK that we pitch away from our traditional card department and to a younger demographic.

The growth is spread across everyday as well as lifestyle. Valentine’s Day was also good.

Cards remain a vital category for our businesses given the margin and that card shoppers are loyal.

In my experience, the card department delivers good rewards for in-store investment by the business. We work the category on social media as well as in-store with co-location promotion in the window and at the counter as well as the more traditional location.

On February comparison, be sure to look at February 1 through 28, don’t use the extra day as that may provide a rosier picture that is unhelpful for month on month analysis.

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Greeting Cards

Ancol chasing newsagents for stationery sales outside SA

Ancol, the stationery wholesale business owned by SA newsagents, is chasing wholesale business outside of South Australia. My experience is they are pushy for a new account, unhappy if you say no thanks.

Their website home page looks like it’s from the 1990s. The mention of the 2021-22 catalogue is unfortunate.

Between, GNS, Razor, ACCO, Ancol and others the wholesale stationery marketplace is crowded. Most of them seem to have not retreated to an online-model only, which I think is key to get the cost of product as low as possible. Reps are an expensive way to sell these days.

I mention online because we are buying plenty of niche stationery, stationery people want rather than the stationery they need from online without ever seeing a rep. It’s good and easy business, helping us expand range and reach new shoppers.

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Stationery

TheLott advertising on TikTok

Here’s the latest ad from TheLott on TikTok. This is 100% focussed on driving direct digital purchase with no mention of in-store.

While TheLott needs to do what it can to drive sales, and therefore shareholder value, the company places selfish, onerous and restrictive demands on its retailers, denying them the opportunity to maximise opportunities for their retail businesses.

I’d like to see TheLott ease demands and restrictions on its retailers, to allow them to make more profitable use of their retail space. This latest TikTok ad campaign opens an opportunity for this discussion since it is 100% about TheLott’s digital sales.

For those unaware, TheLott imposes tight restrictions on its retailers as to how space is used at, near and leading to the lottery sales counter. These restrictions deny retailers revenue opportunities. One could argue that the rules and restrictions placed on retailers by TheLott are all about branding that, in time, will have played a role in digital migration.

I think TheLott has invested in this TikTok ad because it knows there are shoppers in the TikTok viewer pool they can attract. The restrictions they place on retailers deny them maximising the same opportunity for their businesses.

Lottery purchases will continue to migrate online. It’s convenient for purchase, ticket checking and prize redemption. I am not saying it is over for in-store purchases. Rather, there is more growth opportunity from online I think.

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Lotteries

2023 vs. 2022 newsagency sales benchmark results

Thank you to the 117 newsagents trading under a variety of shingles and in a variety of settings (rural, regional and suburban high street) who provided sales data for this benchmark study. The only connection is that they use newsagency software from my POS software company. Their transparency will help many in our channel.

Print media decline has retail newsagents looking elsewhere.

2023 was a tough year for over the counter newspaper and magazine sales. The majority of newsagents, however, did not let that hurt the bottom line, they replaced the revenue declines with growth from better margin categories.

After comparing data from the businesses in the benchmark dataset here are the averages for business performance measurement points and categories, comparing the whole os 2023 with 2022:

  • Revenue: Up 2%.
  • Sales transaction count: Down 8%.
  • Basket value: Up 9%. This is an incredibly important number.
  • Items per basket: Up 5%. This is an incredibly important number.
  • Average item value: Up 4%. This is an incredibly important number.
  • Greeting card revenue: Up 1.5%.
  • Magazines unit sales: Down 10.5%. This is an unfair measure because of the big difference between businesses, bigger than for any other category.
  • Newspaper unit sales: Down 10%.
  • Toy (incl. plush) revenue: Up 5%. 33% of those in the study have this category
  • Gift revenue: Up 18%. The bigger growth in gift revenue came from businesses doing more than $50,000 a year in gifts.
  • Book revenue: Up 24%. 10% of those in the study have this category.
  • Fashion: 65%. 8% of those in the study have this category.
  • Stationery revenue: Up 9%. This is also an unfair measure because stationery now includes plenty of gifting items as it has changed.

The traditional newsagencies with minimal gift, toy and plush products are the ones facing the existential challenge. Some of these newsagents rely on newspaper publishers and other legacy suppliers for advice. That is proving to be a mistake.

If you want better results it is up to you to act.

There is no one size fits all solution, anyone who says there is is wrong.

The first step is to understand where you are at, from the data evidence in your business. next, you need a plan. Then, you execute with clarity and commitment, and draw on the support of others who have done this.

I own newsXpress, a marketing group supporting newsagents. newsXpress helps with this. If it interests you, please email help@newsxpress.com.au or call Michael Elvey on 0400 331 055 – he’s not a sales person, he’s part of the team encouraging success.

Mark Fletcher
M | 0418 321 338
https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-fletcher-tower/

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Newsagency benchmark

The value of a website for your newsagency

Attracting shoppers from far away is one of the benefits of a website for any retail business. There are plenty of other benefits including being able to sell products when the shop is closed, letting people see what’s in-stock from their home, selling products before you have them in-store and quitting stock that’s not selling in-store to list a few more.

One of the biggest benefits of a website is the opportunity to create a plan b for the business, selling products in a completely different category to provide a fresh income stream, a soft landing should the core retail business find itself in rough waters. The two major websites I have related to my own retail business do this, they sell plenty of products not stocked in the shop with fulfilment from a ‘dark’ store, a space not open to in-store shopping but leveraging retail business resources for efficiency.

There are many benefits of selling online. Having a website today is as important as having a fax machine was twenty years ago. It’s a basic business tool.

Here are some newsagencies with websites. yes, they are all newsXpress businesses because I have their details at hand. Take a look. Some are completed and trading while others are early on that journey.

I have shared this list because showing is better than telling.

Most retailers tend to overthink their first website or two. The best advice is launch early and launch often. In other words, develop an idea and go with it. Learn about being online and evolve the website as you learn more.

The website does not have to reflect your shop, but it can if you want.

Web development is expensive, especially if it is done 100% in Australia like these have been. If you want to reach more shoppers, it is critical. But, a website is a hungry beast. feed it and it is more likely you serve you well. Don’t feed it, and it is likely to not serve you well.

Disclosure: my newsagency software company, Tower Systems, has made many websites for newsagents. newsXpress, the newsagency marketing group I own, offers members half price beautiful websites from Tower.

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Newsagency management

Has the beloved Ty brand lost its way in Australia?

For years, Ty products were hero products in toy shops and newsagents in Australia. Built around collecting Ty Beanie Boos and other products, sales were excellent and shoppers were loyal.

At the end of 2022 that changed with the decision by Ty in the US to make different arrangements for distribution in many international markets, including Australia.

While the products are the same adorable and loved products, from what I can tell they now appear to be targeting impulse shoppers. There was no product on offer for Valentine’s Day 2024, despite it being available overseas. I’ve been told that nothing is planned for Australia for Easter 2024 yet I have seen the Easter 2024 product overseas. I hope these products do make it to Australia.

Gone are opportunities offered retailers like us to nurture collector relationships. The focus does appear to be on pitching Beanie Boos as a low-cost impulse line. And while the company has its reasons for this, it appears the successful approach of us and other retailers serving collectors is of no interest.

Here’s an announcement they made on LinkedIn a couple of months ago:

Last year, Ty Australia set a maximum retail price at $1 lower than what had been traditional for Beanie Boos. They said sales would increase as a result. That has not been my experience. It’s unfortunate there was no consultation prior to their pricing decision, no consideration of past experience that showed it did not boost sales and that other tactics were far more successful at boosting sales.

Time change, trends come and go, I understand that. What has happened here is not that. Collector interest was as strong as ever. The decline has been driven by the company for reasons only it understands.

Communication from Ty Australia has been non-existent. This has not been helped by a succession of senior staffing changes. I’m not sure why people with good experience in the field are not staying with the company that long.

Maybe what is happening with Ty in Australia is the same as we see happening with some other overseas suppliers: disconnecting with previously successful local retailers in pursuit of change for reasons not explained. It will be interesting to see how that plays out for them. In the meantime, I’ve found other uses for the freed space and new customers to attract as a result.

We had an excellent and profitable run with Beanie Boos and other Ty products in my shops for many years, and maybe we will at some point in the future. For now, though, the company is more interested elsewhere. Good luck to them.

Has Ty lost its way in Australia? Time will tell.

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Newsagent suppliers

UK Spring Fair offers plenty of inspiration and opportunities

I am grateful for the opportunity to visit the UK Spring fair last week in Birmingham.

Several times the size of Australia’s largest gift fair, we got to see suppliers not currently represented in Australia as well as broader ranges from suppliers already represented. It was also good to meet Aussie suppliers to show what we liked.

It was wonderful seeing how suppliers presented their ranges, like Paper Salad, which is available in Australia via Waterlyn. The stand was stunning and inspiring.

Spring Fair is far more diverse in product categories than we see in Australia. We bought from several suppliers not represented locally. We also picked up some visual merchandising as well as product ranging tips that I think we will be able to use in-store.

A big trend at the fair was British made. This was good to see. While cheaper offshore sourced products from bigger companies tended to have bigger stands, the British made message did stand out. Another noticeable trend was ethically copurced, sustainably sourced. These trends of product source and sustainable supply matter especially to Gen Alpha and Gen Z – important co-horts to our businesses.

I appreciate not everyone can get to overseas trade shows. If you can, go. If you can’t see if your marketing group has people who go and can share their insights.

Retail continues to evolve apace, especially in our channel. What we are and what we can sell continues to change and in this there are many opportunities. Getting offshore to see some ahead of us can be helpful, advantageous.

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Newsagency management

Fujifilm and Scribbler unite to offer card kiosk in Australia

I have been watching the roll out of the Scribbler branded card vending kiosk from Fujifilm in the UK for over a year. I first used the kiosk myself a year ago and I spoke with Fujifilm people at the Spring Fair in Birmingham in 2023.

Now, Fujifilm Australia have confirmed this is coming to Australia.

In the UK, in addition to placement in the popular Scribbler stores, I am told they have these kiosks placed in some university and non retail commercial locations.

The card printed is on bigger paper that is not as thick as a usual card. The selling feature is the range of cards that you may not find in-store.

The hardware costs around $14,000 in Australia and the initial kit of consumables costs around $1,200.

I don’t have visibility of the licence fee or wholesale cost of each card. They are yet to release integrated payment options for Australia.

It will be interesting to see the take up in Australia. In the UK, where I am at the moment, the Scribbler retail network footprint has enabled a broad roll out to educate shoppers. The company does na excellent job promoting the kiosk cards on the front window of its stores.

While time will tell if this is a disruptor in the creating card space, I do think that this is out in the market is good for cards. I also think it especially works with the Scribbler brand because of their 100% humour focus.

There are a few misses in my view:

  • The paper stock is not ideal.
  • The kiosks I have tried have had some cards that are also in the shop and the kiosk version does not feel as good.
  • There is only one size currently from what I can tell.
  • The shop has to be open to make the purchase in the Scribbler versions I have seen.

The plusses are:

  • The kiosk may broaden card appeal.
  • It can make more products available in less space.
  • You can write on the card from a keyboard.

While I have no knowledge of specific plans in Australia and no connection whatsoever with this product, I expect we will start to hear more about it soon. I expect they’ll have a stand at one or more trade shows to launch.

The innovation by Scribbler and Fujifilm encourages those of us with greeting cards in our shops to innovate, to appeal to a broader range of people and to encourage people to buy more cards.

For more on the kiosk roll out, there was a story by Printweek and a launch announcement by Fujufilm.

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Greeting Cards

AFL Record promotes newsagents

While I’d prefer them to list newsagents ahead of the supermarket giants, it is good to see the channel pitched. If only other publishers would do this.

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magazines

Are trade shows less important to retailers and suppliers?

As trade shows kick off in Australia for 2024, it’s a good time to contemplate the value of these events for suppliers and retailers.

I’ve already been to three trade shows overseas this year and several suppliers at two of these shows have told me that the trade shows are not what they used to be, that they have not bounced back post-Covid.

One supplier I spoke to earlier this week told me they were ending their 15-year commitment to the UK Spring Fair trade show. The A$10,000 stand cost and associated costs of A$4,000 plus the 4 days away were not generating sufficient return. This supplier has found plenty of new customers in other places thanks to tech innovation and change in how, where and when retailers purchase inventory.

I think how we discover new products for our shops and how we buy them has fundamentally changed for many of us. Whereas in the past getting to trade shows was the must do thing in the year, it is no longer the case.

For sure, there are some retailers who rely on and will continue to rely on trade shows. I think those less likely to are those chasing newer products, those chasing retail innovation.

As a supplier to several retail channels, I can share that in my own case the percentage of the marketing budget committed to trade shows in 2024 will be barely 10% of what it was in 2019 and new customer business will be considerably more than 2019. We, like so many suppliers, have found other ways to discover and connect with new customers.

From a retailer perspective it means we need to be engaged with other places where we can discover new suppliers. There are new online platforms. Smart marketing groups are pitching products in different ways. We are able to easily source more products from overseas than before.

For the newsagency channel, the value of trade shows has changed in part because of changes to our product mix.

I am not saying that trade shows are dead. Rather, the engagement of some suppliers and retailers with them has changed. No longer, for example, do we need 3 or 4 days at a Gift Fair. It can be a 1 or 2 day thing. Smart suppliers use the trade shows to showcase and back this with tech that enables easy purchasing online.

Trade shows are expensive for suppliers and for retailers. The cost of space has continued to rise while the foot traffic attracted has been flat, in decline or, at the very least, less commercially valuable than in the past.

I think the changes we are seeing here are reflective of changes we are seeing elsewhere in business. Ultimately, the changes are good, healthy, as they help us see changes we can make.

I spent two days at the huge Spring Fair in Birmingham UK and I am grateful to have connected with several new suppliers and to have met some Australian suppliers to talk with them about what they found and what we found. It is in this type of networking that one of the values of trade shows remains.

Are trade shows less important to retailers and suppliers? For some, yes, while for others, no. It’s worth contemplating the return on the investment.

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Newsagency management

Owning and running a newsagency helps Tower Systems make better software for newsagents

I’m the owner of newsagency software company Tower Systems and back in 1996 I bought a newsagency business in Melbourne to gain first-hand experience running a newsagency. We think that has played a key role in our software being used in more newsagencies in Australia than all other software companies combined.

We still own and run newsagency businesses today. This video, shot Jan 13, 2024, features magazines at our newsXpress Malvern shop. It’s a magazine specialist business.

Magazines require unique management tools in software and our Tower Systems newsagency software has those. In addition to linking with magazine distributors, our newsagency management software plays a key role in helping newsagents to transition their businesses to be less reliant on print products.

Using our software, newsagency can also easily sell online through our Shopping, Big Commerce, WooCommerce and Magento integrations. Plus, we like to 3 awesome roster tools and a ton of payments platforms including Tyro, Linkly Cloud and Linkly. Oh, and we link direct to Xero, of course.

Owning and running a newsagency gives is a place where we can play with our software, experiment, innovate. It is part of our research and development experience as we test to see what is possible for newsagency businesses and other retailers. With AI and software more broadly playing a bigger role in evolving retail, being a software company with our own shops is an advantage we are grateful to have.

Newsagents benefit from the Tower Systems newsagency software in plenty of ways, including:

1. Exclusive smart greeting card reporting Embedded in our software is category / segment level reporting that newsagents are using to grow card sales 25% and more. That’s money in the bank.
2. You can bank on loyalty. Our fresh and successful approach to loyalty can help you drive a deeper basket and bring people back sooner.
3. Safe decisions make for a better P&L. From data feeds from suppliers through to Xero, we help you nurture data for the safe decisions.
4. Not every shopper will walk past your door. A seamless connection between your software and a beautiful website can help you sell to people you will never meet. We develop websites for newsagents.
5. Easily accessed personal service. A key reason 4 times more newsagents have chosen Tower than any other software is customer service. We are here for you, with you, every day.
6. Current software. Current technology. Fresh, current design.

Our newsagency software also helps newsagents run businesses that rely less on revenue from lottery product sales, which matters since they are transition more to a direct to consumer model online.

I am grateful for the trust newsagents show in Tower Systems and that this has helped the company to continue to grow and serve newsagents, and to help them navigate change.

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newsagent software

Suppliers: please stop wasting retailer time

Some suppliers really do waste our time with bloated communications and out of date ordering practices. They don’t realise that each out of date practice gives retailers a reason to not order from them.

If suppliers do these things, they will get better attention:

  1. Stop sending bloated communications. Thoughtfully edit. Tell me what I need to know in order to make a decision. Back it with evidence.
  2. Have all ordering done either via digital forms or online – with a copy of each order sent by email back to the retailer for their records. Having to download, print and hand complete a PDF is ridiculous. It’s 2024.
  3. Have all contracts and agreements completed online via DocuSign or similar.
  4. Provide a digital product catalogue from which retailers can order in one-click.
  5. Provide electronic invoices.
  6. Produce easy access to professional product images.
  7. List your retail stockists on your website.
  8. If you use reps, ensure they make appointments first and stick to allotted time.
  9. Stop cold-calling.

Some of our oldest suppliers are the worst at these things. They waste too much time.

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Newsagency management

Looking at Valentine’s Day through different lenses

I’m grateful for the opportunity to look at a variety of retail in Dallas, Atlanta and New York last week on the back of the awesome Atlanta gift fair. While looking at different shops, I noticed a terrific variety of Valentine’s Day offerings:

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newsagency marketing

Buy your Valentine’s Day card at your local newsagency and feel the love you want to give

Okay, you can buy a Valentine’s Day card online, you can even buy one from Hallmark online direct since they are competing with the retailers they supply. But buying a Valentine’s Day card online is not the same as buying in-store.

Giving a card to the one you love is sharing feelings. You want to pick up different cards, feel them, read them, and then you can choose the card that feels right to you.

Doing this, visiting your local newsagency, to find the card that feels right to you says more than a couple of clicks online that all too often send money offshore. Supporting local retailers shows you love local and appreciate local.

Feeling the card you choose matters because there is a big difference between the way cards feel. From the card stock itself (how thick it is, whether it is a smooth finish or rougher, whether it is made from recycled material) to the type of printing to any treatments that enhance the card, feeling different cards can certainly help with your card purchase selection. This is why shopping your local newsagency for a Valentine’s Day card really does matter.

Another choice you may make when buying a Valentine’s Day card is where it is made. Turn the card over and see where it is printed. Some websites make it very hard to do this, to see the back of the card.

If you want to choose a Valentine’s Day card that feels right to you, shopping local, especially at your local newsagency, gives you the best opportunity to compare feelings, to find the Valentine’s Day card that feels right to you.

Now, for the type of shop you buy your card from, please preference local and, especially, locally owned. While supermarkets have Valentine’s Day cards, they are unlikely to be locally owned. Shopping locally owned is a way of loving your local community, especially if you or anyone you know will ask local shops to support local community groups.

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to connect with feelings. Finding the card the feels right is a terrific way to embrace the day and to embrace the relationship – through a tactile Valentine’s Day card.

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Newsagency management

Are we seeing AI generated news stories in Toowoomba, Gold Coast, Townsville, Rockhampton and Mackay?

Tobi Lotus of the ABC posted an excellent thread to Twitter (X) sharing compelling evidence:

Be sure to read the entire thread on Twitter. I think use of AI in news coverage is problematic.

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Ethics

Why aren’t all Australian newsagents the same?

Each newsagency in Australia is locally owned and run. Right there, that is the key reason not all newsagents are the same, and it is a good reason. These are locally owned and run businesses, serving locals, reflecting local needs.

Back in the day you could count on every newsagency to sell stationery, magazines, newspapers, greeting cards, lottery tickets and cigarettes.

Today, there are some newsagents who do not sell magazines, some who do not sell newspapers, some who do not sell stationery, plenty who do not sell lottery products and plenty more ho do not sell cigarettes.

Some newsagents specialise in unique area such as secondhand goods, clothing, haberdashery, firearms, farm supplies, plants and plenty more.

There are no rules about what a newsagency business must sell to be regarded as a newsagency.

Decades ago, we’d be referred to as authorised as that’s what we were, an authorised newsagency. It has some weight to it, and plenty of obligation to the masters of the day, the newspaper publishers. Those days are gone. There are no authorised newsagencies.

Aussie newsagencies are not the same because times have changed. What sells has changed. Good retailers evolve with the changes, ideally ahead of the changes.

Even in the different newsagency banner groups there are considerable differences among businesses, which is odd for a couple that are more franchise like but not run the way plenty of franchises are run – in a cookie cutter way. You only have to walk in the shops to see the differences.

None of this is a bad thing because local retail is, after all, in service of locals and what the folks of Cairns will want is different to what the folks of Devonport will want. This is what local retail is about.

All Aussie newsagents aren’t the same because they are local.

My point is that each newsagency in Australia is different and should be considered that way. There is no common set of products and services we sell, no expectation you should have regarding any newsagency business in Australia, no expectation that products, prices and / or service would be the same in each. The difference between newsagency businesses is something to celebrate, just as every locally owned and run retail business is something to celebrate in the local community.

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Uncategorized