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

Author: Mark Fletcher

Cloud based software for newsagents

When asked if there was cloud based newsagency software available in Australia at a recent supplier run training event, I have been told that the national supplier representative said that there was no cloud based newsagency software currently.

That’s untrue. The Tower Systems newsagency software runs in the cloud has has been available for cloud access for many years.

Plenty of newsagents access it through the cloud today.

It continues to supply me that some supplier representatives make statements about topics on which they have no facts.

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Yes, magazine oversupply is still a thing for Aussie small business newsagents

Here is solid evidence of magazine oversupply by Ovato, through their tech systems and their expert approach to magazine distribution.

Based on the supply / return data, which they have, this store should be getting 3 or 4 copies of this title, and not the 10, 13 or 15 copies it has been getting.

What a waste of time, money and space for this small business retailer.

A failure to supply inventory based on current sell through data is one of many operational issues the folks at Are Media will need to address when they take control of Ovato.

Over the years, many newsagents have given up having this fight with Ovato, because they get nowhere at all.

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NSW Covid health orders confusing

In several online places as well and through direct contact, NSW newsagents have expressed frustration at unclear health orders by the state government in response to the most recent Covid outbreak.

The overarching use your common sense mantra from the Premier and Health Minister along with examples of what people can and cannot do feed into the confusion/

It is clear that retail can be open. I think that is because the government does not want to be accused of shutting retail, down. But, shoppers cannot shop, except for essential items.

Here’s the rub – what is essential? That definition appears to be flexible, subjective.

Working is essential. So, you can leave a locked down area to go to non locked down area to work if required, without quarantine requirement.

From a business owner perspective much of what you do within your business is up to you given the flexibility in the rules.

If my business was in NSW in a non locked down area and I had staff living in a lockdown area, I’d not require them to attend work, for the safety of everyone else in the business. I’d police a no make = no shop rule.

In the business I’d be playing happy music. I’d re-cast products in the shop to make the shop easier to shop, especially the things people are likely to shop for right now.

Online, I’d gently pitch being open and offering safe shopping.

I’d also encourage everyone working in the business to be vaccinated as soon as they can, and provide time off for vaccines to be administered.

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Lottoland still out there pitching

I received a marketing email from Lottoland overnight. While their wording pitches betting, the product appears unchanged.

I took a look at their web traffic using a respected analytics tool I pay to access. They are getting serious traffic to their Australian website, overing around 30,000 visitors a day for the last nine months.

 

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Manual rosters are not worth the risk

With the likelihood of an audit relating to labour record keeping and management arrangements, implementing a software driven approach to roster management is essential in any retail business with more than 3 staff.

We are switched to Deputy. The cost is worth it for the additional features. It’s easy to setup, easy to use and offers good record keeping, which is what really matters.

We have tried a few prior to landing on Deputy for our businesses. I especially like their Xero integration.

I get that the old paper time sheet can be appealing. The thing is, with more management of businesses being done outside the business and with greater risks for poor record keeping, using a structured software solution makes sense in this labour management space.

I don’t have a commercial relationship with them.

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Do you stock golliwogs?

If so, read this story from NITV:

Racist dolls pulled from shelves at Gold Coast store

A Gold Coast store has told NITV News it has made the decision to stop selling golliwog dolls.

Staff at the Broadbeach Oasis News said that they had pulled the dolls from their shelves but declined to comment further.

The ABC reported the store had the dolls for sale alongside teddy bears, on Monday.

Once popular childhood toys, golliwogs have since been widely criticised for their racist depiction of people of colour.

The golliwog first appeared in 1895, depicted in Florence Kate Upton’s children’s book “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls.”

The character of the golliwog was described as “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome.”

The issue has come up several times in recent years, as the dolls continue to be sold in stores around the country.

Earlier this month, a Tasmanian local government politician caused uproar when he posted a supportive comment of golliwogs online, leading to his removal from representing the Mental Health Foundation of Australia.

In 2018, the Royal Adelaide Show removed several golliwog dolls from display in response to social media outcry.

Nagarrindjeri, Kaurna man Dominic Guerrera posted photos of the dolls on Twitter.

At the time, Mr Guerrera said he was shocked the the dolls were on display.

“I think people have been a little bit blinded by the cuteness of the toy,” he said.

“Once you know what these dolls represent you should get rid of them.”

While the dolls have been removed from the shelves at Broadbeach Oasis News, the dolls are still sold in a number of other shops and online.

I accept that golliwogs are offensive and that offering them in a shop or having them on display is disrespectful to many in the community. Their racist origin and their representation of blackface mean, for me, that they have no relevant role to serve. There is nothing playful about them today.

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WA bans helium balloon releases from December 31, 2021

As part of broader action on plastics, the WA state government has banned the release of helium balloons from December 31 this year.

Western Australia’s plan to ban single-use plastics fast-tracked
13/06/2021 12:00 PM

  • Western Australia’s Plan for Plastics fast-tracked by four years
  • Single-use plastic coffee cups and lids now included in the plan and to be phased out by the end of 2022
  • Survey finds 98 per cent of Western Australians support action on single-use plastics
  • Education and behaviour change programs to be implemented to support hospitality, retail and wholesale sectors

The McGowan Labor Government has fast-tracked its Plan for Plastics by four years with single-use plastic bowls, cups, plates, cutlery, stirrers, straws, polystyrene food containers, thick plastic bags and helium balloon releases to be phased out by the end of the year.

The new timeframe will see Western Australia’s Plan for Plastics fully implemented by the end of 2022, four years earlier than originally planned.

Last year, WA was rated the leading jurisdiction in Australia for action on single-use plastics by the WWF Australia. The new timeframes will mean that WA remains a leader in this space.

Western Australia’s Plan for Plastics provides a roadmap towards a more sustainable, plastic-free WA by implementing regulations to ban items in a two-stage approach.

  • Stage One – now to be completed by December 31, 2021 – includes plastic plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, stirrers, straws, thick plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, and helium balloon releases; and
  • Stage Two – now to be completed by the end of 2022 – includes plastic barrier/produce bags, cotton buds with plastic shafts, polystyrene packaging, microbeads and oxo-degradable plastics. Takeaway coffee cups and lids with single-use plastic materials have also been added to the Plan for Plastics and will be phased out in stage two. Consumers and businesses will be able to use alternative environmentally friendly takeaway cups and lids.

Education and support for businesses will be the focus of the first six months after each stage, rather than compliance. The Plastic Free Places Program will help community organisations and businesses to adapt to become single-use plastic free.

Click here to read the full press release.

Sone local government areas have gone further, balling the use of any balloons at city events. Click here to read about the move in Cockburn, WA. Do a Google search to find out more about the moves against balloons by various levels of government around the world.

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Gold Coast gift fair postponed

Citing challenges flowing from the growing Sydney Covid outbreak and the likelihood of more movement restrictions, the organisers of the Gold Coast Gift & Lifestyle trade show have announced they are re-scheduling. Here is an email from the organiser:

A huge kick in the guts !

As you know we have remained committed to run the Gold Coast Gift & Lifestyle Fair, however last night received the biggest kick in the guts delivered at 6pm by the Queensland premier announcing greater Sydney was now not allowed to enter Queensland. This is a total departure from the planned way where people who have visited Hot Spots would not be able to enter various states and the state governments would adhere to. This means 1/3 of the exhibitors confirmed now cannot enter Queensland.

We have spent an enormous amount of money including sending the directory to print as advised this week all which is not covered by any insurance or Government support but more importantly we are genuinely gutted as we just wanted to run the Fair and capture the energy and enthusiasm so many have shared.  We have no alternative than to roll the Fair back to August 14-16.

We have selected these dates as we appreciate the Melbourne Fair is late July/early August and there are still challenges around occupancy levels they are grappling with and our feedback is Queenslanders will likely not risk travelling to Melbourne. We also know the New Zealand Gift Fair  is held in late August, however the venue this week was placed into Liquidation so we unsure how that may affect that Show.  So August 14-16 seems to fit best into the cycle.

We urge you to stick with us, we as a small family business, love the sector and just want to do right by you and the gift community generally, and whilst devasted by the news will bounce back and dig deeper to do an even a better job for you.  We are still proceeding with the Town Hall zoom call today.

Gary

I feel for the organisers and all trade show organisers and the challenges the Sydney clusters are presenting.

UPDATE: 11:27AM. The Mid-Year Toy Preview in Sydney has been cancelled:

After much deliberation and given the ongoing developments in NSW, the ATA has unfortunately decided to cancel the 2021 Sydney Mid-Year Preview.

We believe there is far too much of a risk for exhibitors and attendees and it is the responsibility of the ATA to ensure a safe and effective event for all.

We will however be releasing a digital Directory which connects retailers with those members who registered to exhibit, and this will provide the opportunity to conduct meetings via the exhibitors/buyers own online channel. The directory will be sent to registered retailers and published on ATA social media early next week.

To encourage meetings between retailers and exhibitors to still occur, we are also conducting a remote raffle where retailers can win from a prize pool worth over $2,400!

It’s not too late to get involved – if you are interested in participating please reply to this email to have your details passed on to exhibitors.

Please do not hesitate to contact the team via toyfair@austoy.com.au or 03 9320 2600 if you have any queries at all.

And then, a few minutes later, the Fishing and Outdoors trade show for the Gold Coast has been cancelled:

The AFTA Board announces with regret,

that the 2021 AFTA Trade Show has now been cancelled.

The border restrictions put in place by the Queensland Government to Sydney and Greater Sydney meant that too many of our exhibitors would be unable to attend, with no exhibitors, there’s no show.

All monies paid to AFTA for stand space and tickets will be refunded in the coming weeks.

Stay safe and keep an eye on your inbox for details of the show in 2022.

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Talking about the future of newsagents

I have just recorded a podcast interview with a business advisory group in which the future of Australian newsagency businesses was a key topic.

It started off with dealing with some of the assumptions held by people, bankers, landlords, suppliers and shoppers, about newsagency businesses, that our day has past, our shops are out of date, that our businesses are dying and that the future is bleak. I appreciate the opportunity to put some evidence in front of those assumptions, to explain that not every newsagency is the same, that ma ny businesses in our channel are thriving.

It was interesting hearing the questions about the history of our channel and how that plays a role in decisions being made in newsagency businesses and some newsagency supplier businesses.

There is a broad understanding out there that Covid has been good for our channel and that as a result we have opportunities now mid 2021 that we may not have otherwise had. Indeed, the Covid pivot embraced by plenty in our channel was another key topic that we covered.

It was encouraging that they moved on from talking about old retail that is out of date and often with lights off. Plenty of time was spent on new categories and new opportunities newsagents are embracing.

My takeaway from the discussion is that there are plenty on the periphery of our channel, landlords, would-be suppliers and others who are interested in the evolution occurring in retail newsagency businesses. To me, this encourages confidence for the channel in that if others out there observing us are confident then we have even more reasons ourselves to be confident.

The best indicator, though, is the number of people keen to buy newsagencies. In my experience it is more today than for years now. It’s a good time for newsagents keen to sell in most locations.

This was my third such long-form discussion about the channel with professionals looking at the channel. The interest in what we are doing has increased. I see this fro newsagency business sales, landlord approaches, new supplier interest and some interesting major suppliers keen to engage in a fresh way. The next few years look to be very interesting for newsagents and those associated with them.

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The stress of being audited by Ovato

Has your newsagency ever been audited by Ovato? If it has, you may recall a period of stress as you dealt with their information requests while feeling like you have done something wrong, feeling criminal.

The thing is, Ovato controls what newsagents are sent. They receive sales data daily. They receive returns data weekly.

If there is an issue, they would see it in the data.

Scanned based trading, newsagents paying for what they sell, would fix any data issue. Establishing scanned based trading with approved ‘locked’ software packages could provide a time saver for all involved in the compliance side of magazine sales in newsagencies.

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Understanding the challenge of Covid variants

Given what is happening in Sydney at the moment and given the politically charged and too often inaccurate reporting by News Corp. and Nine Media outlets, take a moment to read this thread from Prof. Christina Pagel of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London. This is a sober reflection from the UK on the challenge of Covid variants, something the NSW government is now becoming familiar with, despite insights from Victoria weeks ago.

I am sharing this as it reminds us retailers to be vigilant: wear masks even when not required by government, run clean businesses, ensure staff are clean and safe and to embrace QR code check in tech asap.

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Bluey cards a hit at the newsagency counter

We are grateful to have had Bluey cards in-store for a few days now. Customers are loving them.

The brand is instantly recognised. We can tell based on the comments in-store as well as the comments on social media.

The launch of Bluey cards is an excellent opportunity for an off-location pitch of cards. That is, pitching cards away from their usual location in the card department. Because of the Bluey brand, shoppers are more likely to purchase multiple cards at once we think.

Now, if you are wondering why the big deal about Bluey, here is some data this morning from a commercial online search data platform I pay to access. This speaks to the extraordinary popularity of the Bluey brand in Australia, and the world, right now.

Our decision to stock Bluey and engage with the brand online was based on this evidence. Once again, data is a key driver of business decisions.

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36% year-on-year card revenue growth

A small high street suburban newsagency for which I have seen comprehensive live data has had a good Corona. 2020 was way up over 2019. Better still is the growth in 2021 over 2020.

Working with this business, the card offer has been re-cast in terms of range, placement and in-store engagement. The sales results speak for themselves.

This data is for January through March only. The data for the two and a half months since show even better results.

I think any newsagency business in any situation can easily achieve double-digit growth in card sales. The foundation to achieving this is in your business data, not supplier data, your data. It will show you what is possible, what to do.

For the newsagency mentioned above, there has been no capital expenditure on fixtures and a reduction in capital expenditure in inventory.

The biggest barrier I see in our newsagency channel to any business and the channel overall achieving more growth from cards is lack of active engagement with the category in-store.

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Product manufacture and shipping hit several newsagency suppliers

New Covid outbreaks in China are impacting product production. Container shortages are impacting shipping. A shortage of capacity on ships is impacting shipping. Port capacity challenges are impacting shipping.

All in all, many suppliers sourcing from China are confronting significant delays. Unfortunately, not all suppliers impacted are being as transparent as they could be.

The Nine Media papers covered this in a story published online yesterday:

‘String of disasters’: China’s shipping delays set to widen trade chaos
The global shipping industry, already exhausted by pandemic shocks that are adding to inflation pressures and delivery delays, faces the biggest test of its stamina yet.

When one of China’s busiest ports announced it wouldn’t accept new export containers in late-May because of a Covid-19 outbreak, it was supposed to be up and running again in a few days. But as the partial shutdown drags on, it’s further snarling trade routes and lifting record freight prices even higher.

Yantian Port now says it will be back to normal by the end of June, but just as it took several weeks for ship schedules and supply chains to recover from the vessel blocking the Suez Canal in March, it may take months for the cargo backlog in southern China to clear while the fallout ripples to ports worldwide.

The port problems are expected to continue for another 6 to 8 weeks, which could play into Christmas plans.

GNS most recently wrote about Chins sourced supply yesterday:

Increasing congestion across shipping ports in southern China is worsening due to a recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases. The Guangdong province, which is a key manufacturing and exporting hub in southern China, is experiencing its biggest backlog since at least 2019. As a result, we are facing ongoing challenges from our overall supplier base with stock availability due to Global manufacturing constraints, continued freighting challenges and pressures on raw material availability. We are seeing an increase in the length of supplier lead times of up to six months in some cases.

Rest assured, GNS is working closely with our suppliers to improve forecasts and stock availability. Our suppliers in some instances are airfreighting stock where they can to help ease the pressure, however we will still continue to have ongoing out of stocks impacting immediate stock availability.

If you require any updates please do not hesitate to contact your GNS Sales representative or your local GNS Customer Service team.

Good for them for being transparent.

GNS is not alone in experiencing an impact.

If you are a supplier and have been impacted or expect to be impacted, please let retailers know now.

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Melbourne Gift Fair at risk?

Two suppliers today have suggested that the Melbourne Gift Fair scheduled for just over a month from now may not proceed. Both are scheduled to be they. One is certain it will not proceed while the other says it looks doubtful.

I mention it in case anyone have something more concrete.

UPDATE: 10 minutes after publishing this, I received an email:

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Amazon opens a hair salon in the UK

Amazon continues to dominate evolution in retail. The company’s latest move, a hair salon in the UK, is attracting plenty of interest, which is what the company wants.

Click here for a report from the Evening Standard newspaper.

Click here for a Forbes article on the move by Amazon.

Click here for analysis from The Motley Fool.

Here’s a user experience video:

Here’s a more tech level preview:

It’s easy to ignore this move as not relevant to non hair related retail or to dismiss it as hype. I think the move is another relevant and sticky shift by the company that will lead to more changes in retail.

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Hmm … the ATO benchmarks lag

I checked out the current ATO benchmark for newsagency businesses this morning and, as is usual, they are lagging behind reality.

From the description …

Businesses in this industry sell newspapers, magazines and similar publications, greeting cards, stationery and lottery products, and provide a delivery service for newspapers and magazines. They may also sell confectionery, drinks, phone cards, transport tickets, toys and gifts. Services provided may include photocopying, fax and other similar services.

to the data, the ATO needs to update this.

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Newsagents: file your contracts

I was part of a discussion with several suppliers to newsagents this week and each complained about poor record keeping by newsagents.

This usually comes up because pop a breach of an agreement or a desire by a newsagent to switch suppliers. The contract gets raised and the newsagent says they don’t have a copy of it, often saying they were never given a copy of it.

Two of the suppliers mentioned that they keep records of when contracts are signed and when a copy was sent to their retailer customers.

I was helping one newsagent a few years ago with cards and they said they did not have a card contract. I checked with their then supplier, a card company I’d never dealt with. Sure enough, there was a contract and it had two years remaining.

All of this is easily resolved.

Any time you sign a contract or agreement, keep a copy, file it for easy access. Not doing this wastes time down the track.

This is pretty basic business stuff. It’s frustrating that among some suppliers the channel is known for poor record keeping.

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Minimum wage increase

While media outlets have covered the story, business owners are best served going to the source. Click here to go to the Fair Work website page with all the details. For our channel, it includes this:

Most awards will increase from 1 July 2021. Wages in the Retail Award will increase from 1 September 2021 and the rates in 21 other awards where the FWC deemed there were exceptional circumstances will increase from 1 November 2021.

The best way to stay fully informed is by subscribing to their emails. Click here to do this.

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Displaying remainder books with pride in the newsagency

Remainder books in newsagencies are often placed flat on a trestle table or in a dump bin. That is what we did for ages. Then, we tried treating them with pride, by displaying them in a way similar to what you may see in a bookshop.

This simple change boosted good sales to excellent sales.

Better still, customers commented, complimenting the display.

The photo shows part of the display. It’s located mid-store and is working better than the dump bins we had at the front of the store.

This particular store is not a bookshop, not even close. We are limited by the lease as to the percentage of floorspace we have give over to books. This display is us at capacity.

The change is display from something that looked cheap and somewhat apologetic to this display that is classy and proud lifts the shop and sees the return on investment from books growing beyond already good sales. It took a few minutes to create. The initiate was by a new team member who thought they could do better … and they did, for which I am grateful.

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Is News Corp considering print changes in Queensland?

The frustration with late newspapers is being expressed by customers and newsagents in Queensland. So frustrated are some newsagents that they are actively discussing quitting the category as the grief of late papers is not worth it.

Newsagents getting newspapers from News Corp. after 10am each day makes for a tough day in the shop, understandably.

I’ve been told that News Corp. execs have were meeting last week to discuss making further changes to fix the late newspaper problem.

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ICYMI: WH Smith has 120 stores in Australia

UK newsagent retail group WH Smith now has 120 stores in Australia, across 8 consumer-facing shingles.

In 2011, WH Smith was early in their Australian journey. In 10 years they have come a long way. Their Australian retail group is diverse, and I think that is a strength.

The number of corporate stores in the group is an important strength, as central decisions applied to a group of stores is efficient for their focus on travel convenience.

I like the clarity of their published goal:

OUR GOAL IS TO BE THE LEADING RETAILER IN CONVENIENCE, BOOKS AND NEWS FOR THE WORLD’S TRAVELLING CUSTOMER.

Convenience is a competitive space, especially convenience in the travel setting. Locally owned indie businesses struggle in terms of buying power, marketing spend and in-store consistency.

Kudos to the folks at WH Smith for what they have done in Australia over the last 10 years. I did not expect them to be where they are today.

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