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

Author: Mark Fletcher

Time for an EOFY sale

The next few weeks provide an excellent opportunity to bring out everything you want to quit to the front of the store under the banner of EOFY SALE.

Let it go as the song says, quit the stock with prices that will see that achieved in days, not weeks.

EOFY is the one time when copying big retailers makes sense. You can ride the noise of their ad campaigns re EOFY.

Keep it simple: no pretty displays, this is all about a price offer, front of store, to attract people who are walking past.

Newsagency opportunities

Learning from Officeworks product placement

That space as you head toward the counter is premium in any retail business. So, too, is the counter itself … but today I want to focus on the space close to the counter, as the customer approaches it.

Officeworks have been getting this space right for a while now, placing impulse lines there that are easy to pick up. It is their product adjacencies that are particularly smart.

Take this example of art supplies. They have a bunch of items together that could see a parent or other relative pick up several items to make for a nice gift for a kid.

This photo shows items three or four steps from the counter. No need to shop the shop, move between different locations, all you need is there.

There were more items than I caught in this photo.

I like this mix of products as it shows what’s possible at or near the counter. For too long in our channel we focused on low price, convenience lines. While some in our channel are having success with more expensive items at the counter, most continue to play in a more traditional way in this space.

Taking a look in-store at an Officeworks store and their counter related pitch could be useful.

Newsagency opportunities

The important role of small business retail front line team members during the Covid lockdown

Thanks to a failure in hotel quarantine in South Australia, a failure of the federal government in terms of quarantine and a failure of the federal government on the Covid vaccine roll out, Victoria is in the middle of a 7-day lockdown, to try and suppress transmission of a particularly virulent strain of Covid.

Okay, blaming aside, this lockdown has shown, again, the important role small business retail front line team members play in our communities. This is especially true in newsagencies.

For people living alone or caring for someone at home, the interaction at the counter is important. Over the last few days there have been several examples I have witnessed of this, where shoppers talk for a bit longer, soaking up the interaction. Our shops are hubs for this warmth.

Good retail team members spot the need and provide interaction that is encouraging and helps the customers feel better than when they arrived.

What’s been happening in newsagencies in Victoria over the last few days is a reminder of the importance of local small business retail in communities, the role we play, the support we provide.

I am writing about local small business retail as it is in that setting that shoppers are more likely to have a personal and nurturing experience. Our local small businesses are less focussed on KPIs, interactions are more authentic than the corporate national retailer dictate of the five rules of every customer contact or whatever corporate rules the staff are told they must follow.

The warmth and genuineness of the interaction in a local high street newsagency setting is helping plenty of Victorians through this latest lockdown. Our channel can be proud of the role we play on the front line, the role we play in the mental health of so many who visit our shops.

If only politicians would take a moment to see first-hand the role local small business retail plays in the community in situations like this. There are retailers in our channel who do more good in a week of customer interactions than a year of words press releases, announcements and doorstops from any politician, especially federal politicians who love a big announcement but fail at the action.

Kudos to all newsagents in Victoria who have been open through the lockdown and who have provided extra care at the counter to customers keen for personal contact and support.

Social responsibility

Late newspapers … ouch


Like Christmas

Trading in my own shops in Victoria yesterday had a Christmas-like feel to it, because of the lockdown coming into effect from late yesterday here in Victoria.

Shoppers brought forward purchases of cards a gifts. Jigsaws, candles, crosswords and other nesting items sold well, too.

It was busy, right up to the later close.

Even though we will remain open through the lockdown, most of the other shops around us will be closed and, as happened previously in indoor shopping centres, traffic is way down.

So, yes, yesterday was a good day, a really good day, and for that I am grateful.

Newsagency opportunities

Magazines moved to the back of Coles

A popular and successful Coles supermarket in Melbourne has moved magazines and cards to the back of the shop. Whereas previously they were at the entrance to a busy aisle, near the entrance to the self checkout area, they are now located at the quieter end of an aisle.

I am not sure if the moves reflects a store specific decision of a Coles supermarket fleet decision. It will be interesting to see. This Coles also has no representation of magazines at any checkout lane.

Where newsagents place magazines is an on-going discussion within our channel. Flat and falling sales, low cover prices and a meagre margin mean we have to take other steps to try and reach a form of viability.


Customers say the funniest things …

newsXpress stores were offered access to two limited mintage coins celebrating the Queen’s 95th birthday. The available allocation was taken up quickly. Then, a few days ago, the coin was withdrawn. It never left the mint, not only for newsXpress but for all retailers. We don’t know why. But, we had to communicate its unavailability to retail customers, coin collector customers.

Here is a terrific story from one newsXpress member and their interaction with a customer …

Was talking to one of our regular coin collectors today when the subject of the Queen’s coin recall came up. Innocently I said ”I wonder why”. Well, you hear it hear first folks – ”It’s because the Queen has been dead for 10 months!” AND he also informed me that Prince Philip has been dead for 5 months (that one I couldn’t dispute because he looked like death warmed up for quite some time). But it all has to do with the economy you see. I did not hear much more of what he said because all I could think of was ‘A Weekend at Bernie’s’. You’ve gotta love retail 😂

I agree, you’ve gotta love retail!


Newsagencies are good businesses to buy right now, popular, too

Newsagency businesses are selling quickly in today’s business market. They are popular in part because they had a good Covid, in part because of the relative certainty of revenue and in part because of the opportunities of change.

Newsagencies are seen as being a safe investment, because of the multiple options and opportunities for driving value from the investment.

I’ve seen businesses sell within a few days of going on the market – city and country.

This is great news for those in our channel keen to sell their businesses. It is also great news for people looking to invest in our channel.

We are in the midst of a kind of renewal in the channel. New capital, fresh energy, fresh ideas. This is all good for the channel.

What we are also seeing is more change in the channel, less cohesion as to what a newsagency is, and that’s okay.

There’s the core of papers, magazines, cards, and lotteries for most but not all. Outside the core we are seeing more engagement in more recent categories like homewares, niche gifts – not the usual low cost imported gifts but higher price point, locally made and less likely to be in mass retail.

So, it’s good news for newsagents selling their businesses and good news for people joining our channel by buying a newsagency business.

Like any business investment, you get out of it what you put in outside of the money itself, the strategies, energy, mood and embrace of change. It’s terrific seeing some of the fresh ideas coming with new business owners.

Yes, now is a good time to buy a newsagency business. There are good businesses for sale and plenty of opportunities for leveraging growth through them, and therefore a good return on your investment.

Now, before people get in a lather and say the old newsagency is dying, I agree. That purely old newsagency model that relies on legacy products is significantly challenged. But, plenty of older style newsagencies are doing well. These businesses present opportunities to evolve into new traffic and revenue models.

I have written the above because of some who comment here who have sold or closed their newsagency businesses and talk down the channel of which they are neo longer part.

buying a newsagency

Henderson Greetings wins Bluey card contract

It’s good to see the primary licence for the design, printing and distribution of Bluey greeting cards go to an Australian company.

The folks at Henderson have every right to be proud. This is a big endorsement for the company with the Bluey licence a prize I am sure many chased.

The range of cards and gift packaging are an excellent representation of the Bluey brand.

I am grateful to have seen the Bluey cards first-hand, under embargo a week ago. From the design to the production, these are good cards, really good cards. Excellent quality. Wonderful and engaging design. Themed envelopes. And, a counter unit perfect for impulse purchases.

I am sure those receiving the Bluey cards will want to keep them. I also expect some cards will be bought by collectors – not even to give.

With the cards being available in-store from mid next month, newsagents have an excellent opportunity for in-store engagement, including a launch not only of the cards but of kids items that could sell to Bluey card companies. That’s what we are planning in my own shops – an in-store event around the release of the cards.

This is an excellent mid year in-store promotion opportunity presented by the release by Henderson Greetings of the Bluey licence cards.

Greeting Cards

Regional / rural newspapers far from dead

The Conversion recently published a terrific report on the results of a comprehensive survey of 4,200 country newspaper readers.

Newspaper readers in rural and regional Australia are five times more likely to go directly to their local newspaper website than Google or Facebook for local information, and almost 10 times as likely to go to their local news website over a council website for news and information.

Nearly two-thirds of local newspaper readers also indicate policies affecting the future of rural and regional media would influence the way they vote at the next federal election.

These are some of the key findings of a national survey of almost 4,200 Australian country newspaper readers we recently conducted as part of a project to drive greater innovation in the rural and regional media landscape.

The report is worth reading, especially if your business is in regional / rural Australia as to reflect the value association with newspapers in these locations, value documented in the evidence of this professional and thorough research. The results are especially supportive of print:

Many respondents expressed resistance to their newspaper being made available in digital format only. They offered comments such as:

There is always room for improvement, but if this newspaper went digital, I would not be interested.

And this from another:

The day it goes digital only will be the day I stop reading it.

Our survey also found that respondents overwhelmingly (86%) view a printed copy of their newspaper as an essential service for their community.

Newsagents already know the value of local independent newspapers. They see it in their shops.

I guess what’s interesting to me is the growth in this space on the back of News Corp. closing so many of their local papers last year.


Promoting throw rugs online

Further to my post from a few days ago about success with throw rugs versus magazines, here is an example of what we are doing on social media to pitch the rugs. This is one of a range of posts. The posts work because we have customers coming into the shop and asking to see the rugs.

newsagency marketing

Focussing on self care in the newsagency

We have been pitching self care on the lease line in one of our Westfield centre businesses. It’s working a treat.

This multi-category pitch is attracting shoppers and purchases. Coming out of Mother’s Day with this has worked a treat as it appeals to a comfort people have sought through Covid and a comfort that is familiar in Winter.

You know a pitch is working when you have to refresh the products on offer regularly.

marketing tip

What is the new normal?

It seems we have been asking this since Covid really kicked off early last year.

The thing is, the question what’s the new normal (or similar words) keeps evolving.

In early 2020 it was about a world dealing with Covid. Then, as 2020 progressed, it was about Australia doing pretty well. Then it was about a vaccinated world. Now it is about a vaccine challenged world and the realisation that it will be years for the world’s population to be vaccinated.

It’s on my mind today as this week I have had a number of meetings with business people who have been asking the question. In big businesses, it is the question being asked and explored.

Thinking about the discussions with people this week from banking, national product suppliers, national retail landlords, insurance and business strategy consultants, the collective view is that big employers of office workers have reset their view of work – where it needs to be undertaken, when it needs to be undertaken and even by whom.

I know I have written about this topic before. Today it’s a bit different in that today I am reflecting on what people from major businesses have told me. Whereas six months ago most were expecting a return to what was, not all of the ones I have spoken with expect that now.

A senior person in a national retail tenancy business they are recalibrating their tenancy mix because of what they see as a long-term shift.

The insurance person said that in their case hundreds if city based employees they expected to return to the office will now permanently work from home. Less than six months ago this was not their expectation.

This is good for regional, rural and high street businesses as it keeps more people closer to those situations.

Yes, there is a huge challenge for CBDs and office tower reliant businesses. But, that’s for the. to consider.

Smart small business owners and local councils are embracing opportunities for the shift. I am seeing employees, too, embrace the shift. One of my businesses has run a couple of ads recently for new roles and the mix of people applying has changed since the roles are offered for remote engagement with more flexible hours because of this. We have a deeper and more interesting pool from which to choose and many who applied have themselves transitioned from office based work to home based, often more regional, work.

It’s this core sustained economic shift that is interesting to me and it is in this space that I think businesses, like local newsagencies, can better play.

The slow vaccine uptake in Australia coupled with the realisation that vaccinating the world’s population has big challenges and what this means for the level of international tourism we are used to and the impacts, too, on immigration all play into economic growth on which businesses big and small rely.

I know many in our channel are seeing and leveraging the shift now. My suggestion is do even more, really lean into the opportunity and be a retail leader into the opportunity … because the opportunity, I think, is bigger and more sustained than you currently think. That’s my take away from. discussions this week.

Newsagency management

Looking at Father’s Day 2022 cards and beyond

I am grateful for the opportunity to see seasonal cards well ahead of release. It was terrific seeing Father’s Day mid-development like I did this week.

The Father’s Day 2022 range I saw was fresh and innovative. The locally made story provides another shopper engagement reason.

What I saw for Father’s Day 2022 is on the back of similar insight opportunities for Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day 2022. In each case it’s terrific to see seasons in development and to be able to discuss opportunities at this relatively early stage.

Small business retailers have historically been told what will happen by suppliers long after decisions are made. Thankfully, some suppliers are more engaged with indie retailers. This will benefit their sales results.

With card sales up this year, fresh designs are more important than ever, so we can all maximise the opportunities from renewed interest in the category.

FYI I have flipped and otherwise modified the image to make details less obvious to any card company competitors.

Greeting Cards

Magazine sales decline 9.5% in Q1 2021 compared to 2019

I am close to completing the January – March 2021 versus 2019 newsagency sales benchmark study and am surprised by the extent of decline for magazines.

Magazine unit sales are down, on average, 9.5%. The surprise that only 2 of the 150+ businesses that submitted data reported an increase in magazine sales. What highlights that for me is that 78% of the respondent businesses reported an increase in overall revenue. This is the surprise – the extent of business revenue growth in businesses reporting significant decline in magazine sales.

The trajectory for magazines pre Covid continues.

Note: I am comparing 2021 with 2019 as 2020 for many businesses was an aberration because of lockdown and our channel being open while plenty of competitors were closed.


The throw rug sale that’s worth 60 magazine sales in the newsagency

The story of the sale of this woollen throw is one magazine publishers could benefit reading as it speaks to the common margin opportunity for gift and homewares items that so many of us are selling in our businesses now. It also speaks to stock turn and the broader business narrative opportunity for us … as opposed to the challenged narrative for print magazines.

We received the throw rug in-store Tuesday afternoon. We sold it Thursday lunch time. The price was $180.00 with a cost price of $90.00. The $90 in gross profit translates to what we would make from 60 magazines based on overage cover price.

Selling items of this value and more is easy from the high street newsagency. The key is to buy well. For the rug, the keys were product quality, colour and the cold weather in Melbourne.

The throw rug was space efficient. It didn’t have any time-consuming data management requirements. We chose it. It expanded the reach of the business. These are all factors that don’t play when it comes to magazines.

I could just as easily write about a lamp shade, an ottoman, a work of art or a beautiful hand made vase. Many newsagents are diversifying into mid to higher price point items and having success with quite short stock-turn cycles. With GP sitting at 50% and more and with many of these items helping to attract new shoppers, it’s natural we compare their performance to newspapers, imagines and other legacy agency lines.

I mention magazines in this post as our channel continues to be a vital channel for magazine publishers. However, as more newsagents do well from a more diverse and GP valuable mix of products, the more we will look across at magazines and wonder.


Emailing and then calling … ugh!

It happened again today. Someone emailed about a matter and called a couple of minutes later. They started the call saying I just emailed you. They then proceeded to cover each point in the email.

What a waste of time duplicating communication.


Advice on reducing visual noise in your newsagency

If you give your customers too many things to look at inside or outside your business, they will notice less.  Your choices show them what you want them to look at

Less is more. Have less visual noise, less visual pollution, and more will be noticed.

Show your customers what you want them to notice by giving that product, range or display fresh air (visually) around it.

Stand at the door of your business and scan around counting the signs you can read and displays you can see. How many are there? More messages, more signs = less noticing them. yes, less is more.

Here is advice for less visual noise in your business:

  1. Edit. Every few days stand at the front of the shop and review your signage and edit the mix.
  2. Posters. Do not put up magazine or newspaper posters. There is no evidence doing so increases sales.
  3. Housekeeping notices. Have all customer notices, such as your exchange policy, discount voucher policy, minimum eftpos charge etc, all in the one unobtrusive place.
  4. Call to action signs. If you have items on sale or discounted, place them all in the one location, a designated sale location in your business, with simple and professional signage.
  5. Product signs. For product signage in-store, be consistent in style and look. Smaller signs next to products will work better than big signs from the ceiling – how often do your shoppers walk in looking up anyway?
  6. Colour block. Colour blocked product is more appealing to the eye, it looks less messy, less noisy.
  7. The counter. Again, edit for clarity, edit for focus on the messages that really matter.

Reducing visual noise will improve the experience for your shoppers and for those who work in the business. It will focus everyone on what you decide matters the most right now.

This is part of an extensive package of business management advice newsXpress provides its members.

Management tip