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

Newsagents: check out Officeworks

With non-essential retail back open in Victoria I got out to Officeworks earlier this week to see what changes they had made given their proximity to a couple of my businesses.

It is fascinating the shift in focus in Officeworks. While stationery and office related products remain at their core, they have products that speak to other purchase reasons, and through which they can expand the appeal of their business.

Their gifting, for example, has expanded from what I can see, especially indigenous inspired gifting, which is on trend right now.

Their 2022 diary story is fresh and forward-leaning, quite unique actually – but expensive.

Their calendar range comprehensive.

If you have an Officeworks nearby, I urge you to check it out, so you understand what you are competing with, even if you don’t think of them as a competitor to a newsagency. They are, of course.

I think Officeworks has come out of lockdown with renewed focus in terms of range and in terms of the shop floor experience. Each staff member I interacted with was happy, keen to help and happy to be serving customers.

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Competition

Click and collect remains popular after lockdown lifted

Click and collect continues to be popular in Sydney and Melbourne businesses after lockdowns in each city has been lifted.

From what I can see it is stronger in these two locations than elsewhere in Australia. Maybe that has something to do with the two recent long lockdowns. I’m not sure.

I mention it today to remind retailers that having an easily accessible click and collect solution for ordering and pickup is critical even post lockdown as it looks like it will be here for some time.

Click and collect can open your business to shoppers you don’t usually see in-store.

It can also make it easier for people to shop with you while you are closed.

Click and collect makes it easier for family living elsewhere purchase for loved-ones near the shop.

And, it can offer you management options for staff in-store depending on the volumes you can achieve.

Now, thinking about newsagency businesses, what are shoppers purchasing through click and collect? This list is a sample, but certainly not everything: Cards. Gifts. Magazines.Newspapers. Stationery. Toys. This is based on what I have seen over the last month.

Right now, of course, there is a higher indexing of Christmas gifts in click and collect – because of the lack of trust in Australia Post and others to deliver on time.

My advice? Make sure you ave a click and collect option, make it easy for customers and for the business.

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Newsagency management

As retailers we have a trust obligation to our customers

There is a newsagent who has access to limited edition product sold to them on the basis that they place it in-store for customers to purchase but who, instead, places the product almost immediately in eBay, selling for two and three times the retail price.

I understand the appeal of making two or three times the gross profit, yes it really is that much. I do not understand the breach of supplier terms and the breach of trust with shoppers.

We will find out soon enough if their behaviour negatively impacts their own businesses or other newsagents who also purchase from the supplier. Yes, that is the risk here, that all newsagents are lumped together and judged based on the actions of one.

The value of limited edition product is the foot traffic it can attract and the joy of shoppers able to purchase it from you. This is more valuable long term than the repyutational damage that will come if you keep the product and sell it yourself for two or three times retail.

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Ethics

The scent of Christmas encourages Christmas purchases

For several weeks we have had a Christmas range of candles, soaps, scent sticks and more near the entrance to the shop, places so as to tease but not overwhelm.

It is terrific hearing customers comment. It’s always positive, and often leads to a purchase either of one off the scented products or other Christmas products nearby.

It’s an easy move placing gently scented products near the entrance and near other Christmas products.

In areas recently out of Covid lockdown, shoppers are keen for the Christmas experience. There is a curiosity about what has changed in retail. They are looking for a difference. It’s an opportunity for us to try things out and this is why I suggest to retailers who have not engaged with scents in their stores to consider doing so this Christmas.

We are loving the shopper reactions, and their purchases.

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retail

The Great Resignation could be a thing, something we need to consider

The Great Resignation is more than a glib phrase, it reflects a movement unfolding and being discussed worldwide in businesses, governments and elsewhere.

It’s a Covid thing in that people have had the work from home experience of flexible hours, no commute, enjoying the local community more and a closer family embrace.

A Great Resignation trigger is when a business asks / demands employees return to the office. It gives plenty, apparently, pause for thought about other employment options.

If this plays out as some think it could, local businesses that have benefited from more people working locally could continue to flourish as businesses call people back in.

Here’s a scene-setting story from CNBC:

Here is a news.com.au story:

Click here to access an ABC story about this from a few days ago.

I don’t know if The Great Resignation will be a big thing here in Australia or not. But I do think it is interesting to read about and consider how it could play out in the context of our local businesses. I kind of think it could be welcome disruption.

Now, thinking about this in the context of the newsagency software company I own. Mid last year we made it clear that we would not be requiring people to return of the office. Indeed, we have hired several new team members located interstate because they were perfect candidates and they wanted to work from home. These personal experiences make me think The Great resignation may not be great. It may be a thing, but not great … because workplaces will be flexible, especially small business workplaces if they can.

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Social responsibility

Covid rapid antigen tests banned in Western Australia

With newsagency stationery supplier GNS providing access to an approved Covid rapid antigen test product for sale in newsagencies, it’s no surprise there is strong interest from newsagents. But, there has been surprise, from myself included, in news that the use of rapid antigen tests is banned in Western Australia by direction of their Chief Health Officer.

I mention it here following contact today from several newsagents in Western Australia.

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Social responsibility

Great to see another local, independent, regional newspaper: Eyre Peninsula Advocate

Check out the terrific story about the launch of the Eyre Peninsular Advocate, a new local and independent newspaper to rise in the wake of a corporate rural newspaper closure.

Another SA regional newspaper is reborn
1 min read

The new weekly Eyre Peninsula Advocate hit the newsstands last week, heralding the return of print news to eastern and western Eyre Peninsula.

Papers and Publications Managing Director Andrew Manuel said the reception from communities from Cleve to Ceduna had been amazing.

“Regional newspapers are so important to people living in the country,” Andrew said.

“When local newspapers close, it hits communities hard.

“Newspapers keep people connected to their communities and each other through sharing the stories that locals care about.

Check out the online version of the Eyre Peninsular Advocate too. Their subscriptions options are modest:

Just as our parliament, and democracy, would benefit from more genuinely independent representation, so do local communities benefit from more independent media outlets. I hope we see more indie papers start up, and thrive.

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Media disruption

How newsXpress uses data to help make newsagencies more successful, enjoyable and valuable

newsXpress provides its members a range of educational and motivational material. Here is a recent example, a video in which we explore extraordinary Halloween sales success in a business not known for Halloween.

Note: this video is not about Halloween. Rather, it is about how thoughtful, fact-driven decisions can add thousands on gross profit.

What makes the success more valuable is the bonus margin exclusive to newsXpress members.

Here is the video I and a colleague made over a week ago for newsXpress members about this.

In sharing this I am sharing information anyone could use. Yes, there is a risk to this. However, it is tiresome seeing marketing emails to newsagents promising the world but offering no facts, no evidence, no actionable items they can trial.

What is outlined in the video can work for Christmas and at other times of the year.

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Newsagency management

Banks really don’t want over the counter business

I went to the bank at 11am Monday for an over the counter transaction onto to discover that they were closed Monday and Tuesday. I went at 11am because they had started closing at 1pm. Now, it seems, closing Mondays and Tuesdays is a thing.

The only reason I go to this brand is because our local branch closed as did the next branch we went to.

Anyway, I got there yesterday, waited in line for 30 minutes only to be told that type of transaction needs to be done in the city. It’s not a complex transaction, but it does require a branch authorisation,  which they, apparently, can no longer do.

At one of my shops, we deposit cash every few days using the cash deposit ATM – when the machine is working. Currently, because we have been keeping records – the ATM has a downtime of more than 50%. When we approach people in they branch they say it’s nothing to do with us.

These are my recent local branch banking experiences. I have heard of worse from plenty of others in local small business retail.

The local bank branch network in Australia was unique, a point of difference for our country. I think it’s now lost forever.

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Social responsibility

Indigenous art popular for gifts, especially Christmas gifts

2021 has seen terrific growth in sales of products featuring indigenous art. From bags to purses, wallets to folders, cards to Christmas baubles, indigenous art has been a real feature of sales in our newsagency this year.

I love it.

I am especially grateful for the clear acknowledgement by suppliers of the artists involved.

We have been fortunate to source a good range of products across multiple categories and from several suppliers to serve this growing area of shopper interest.

We first noticed growth in interest on social media last year when we posted about a product. we leveraged those insights and continue, well over a year later, to see interest and sales growth continue.

Sure, this is commercially good for us. It is good, too, for the artists with their work on products we sell.

Products featuring indigenous art speak to those keen to support shop local.

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Gifts

Fascinating read: Apple as a cult

From a retail brand and experience perspective, this Twitter thread by Chris Hladczuk is fascinating:

Even on a local small business single store level, there are point of application here.

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retail

Featuring The Saturday Paper

I love this placement of The Saturday Paper in the front window of a bookshop in Melbourne, which I saw over the weekend.

With over the counter purchases of newspapers continuing to decline in our channel, promotion of a full front page in the window every few days could be a way to stem the decline.

Many of us ripped out our front of store newspaper stands and gave that space over to more profitable lines, believing that newspaper customers will go to wherever they are in-store. Those moves made sense, and the make sense today for newsagents yet to make the move. But, such moves see newspaper front pages being seen by fewer eyeballs.

Looking at the photo in the bookshop window, I was reminded to treat a newspaper as a product rather than as a service or utility. This means looking at the front cover and leveraging it if you think it could attract impulse purchases in your area.

I am not suggesting a significant change to the treatment of newspapers. Rather, I am suggesting a more considered approach. If you think a front cover could attract impulse purchases, give it a moment in the spotlight.

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Newspapers

The shop early for Christmas message has cut through

Looking at Christmas related sales for a range of newsagencies and some other retailers and it is obvious that the news stories about supply chain challenges have cut through.

Across all Christmas related categories, sales are up compared to the same time in 2019. Yes, I compare with 2019 for a more authentic comparison since 2020 was Covid impacted.

Christmas single cards and Christmas boxed cards are a good indicator for our channel and both are doing very well, which is not good news for suppliers yet to deliver Christmas singles.

Gifts and toys, too, are performing very well, calendars, too. Toy shops I have spoken with say that October for them has been like the first couple of weeks of December for an average year – extraordinary sales.

The approach of shoppers appears to be if it could work as a gift, buy it now because who knows what the situation will be like next week.

Smart retailers are embracing the opportunity with easily shopped, practical placement or products people will want to give adjacent to cards, bags and wrap.

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Newsagency opportunities

The obsession with supporting jobs impacted by economic changes in pursuit of reducing carbon emissions is ignorant and selfish

It frustrates me seeing some in the National Party and some in the media raving on about necessary support for jobs that will be lost if Australia pursues reasonable carbon emission targets.

They bleat and moan that we have to support the miners and others who will have to re-train.

It’s pathetic really.

Here in the Australian newsagency channel we have been going through and dealing with extraordinary structural change, loss of core income, loss of core shopper traffic, all in plain sight and all without a cent of government support.

While more recent changes have come about because of worldwide disruption to the print media model, the bigger changes began in the late 1990s when the Howard federal government took away protection for local small business newsagents, protection put in place by the federal government, in support of big business mates in supermarkets and a national convenience store chain.

Yes, the federal government took away protection, sliced off a ton of business newsagents relied on and they did this without any compensation to newsagents whatsoever.

The miners have seen the mess of climate change worsening for decades. Smart people in that industry prepared. It’s only the laggards complaining now, wanting government cash to protect them, when they should have been better prepared themselves.

It appalls me that the government may chuck billions at helping a relatively small number people / businesses adjust to a world chasing reductions in carbon emissions considering the history of the federal government forcing structural change on our newsagency channel and offering absolutely no support whatsoever.

I guess the situation speaks to how the Liberal and National politicians see small businesses compared to big businesses. The thing is, through their actions and inactions, we know they do not see us.

I have been writing about the failure of the Liberal / National Party coalition federal government to appropriately support local small business newsagents on whom they imposed deregulation and took away considerable business value. This, for example, from 2005, offers some background:

Newsagents and pharmacists are two forever-protected species as far as the coalition is concerned. 

This is a quote attributed to Joe Hockey, the former Minister for Small Business in the Howard Government.  It’s on Page 12 of the Perspective insert in the Australian Financial Review (Dec 30 – Jan 4).

Joe Hockey and his colleagues demonstrated their commitment to newsagents through their years in office by:

  1. Facilitating the elimination of exclusive newspaper and magazine distribution territories without compensation for taking away from newsagents this century-old right.
  2. Driving newsagents to enter into new contracts with publishers and permitting this to be done by newsagents negotiating on their own behalf and not using professional negotiators.
  3. Allowing poor leadership of newsagents at the time to wipe off more than $100 million dollars of value of newsagent businesses without compensation.
  4. Permitting a contract relationship for newspapers and magazines which deregulated one side of the transaction and left newsagents with an expensive and inefficient system which was designed for a regulated marketplace.
  5. Permitting the 865 Government owned Australia Post retail outlets to become more and more like newsagents, moving into areas traditionally serviced well by newsagents.
  6. Refusing to intervene in 2004 when Australia Post was engaged in what I’d consider grossly unconscionable practices when newsagents tried to establish an alternative bill payment network.
  7. Refusing to respond to newsagent representations in 2004 about an unfair magazine distribution system which operates at a loss for many newsagents.

Joe Hockey is wrong about newsagents.  The Coalition has not demonstrated any concern for newsagents other than hollow words.

My point is that it looks like people in dinosaur climate-impacting sectors are about to be showered with cash by the federal government for reasons that were as relevant to the small business newsagency channel a few years ago. If it happens it speaks to government support for big business mates over small business retailers.

In fact, the situation newsagents had to deal with were bigger in that they were government created. Newsagents played no role in the changes coming about.

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Newsagent representation

Halloween plush a massive success in the newsagency

Both in-store and online, we have been selling truckloads of Halloween plush. The Pokemon range has been a stellar success as has the entire Halloween Beanie Boo range.

In one store alone, $12,000 in four weeks. While Covid has played a role in this, social media engagement, online opportunities and tactical placement in-store have combined to really drive success.

Looking at stores specific data, the store is up 22% and the plush sales are up 100% – demonstrating the success of this category even ahead of excellent store growth.

I mention it this afternoon because a newsagent told me yesterday that plush was over as a category. I see no evidence of that in this data, nor in data from a bunch of stores experiencing similar results.

Data doesn’t lie. It feeds our success.

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Newsagency management

The late newspaper problem in Brisbane that has customers and newsagents frustrated

For all their talk about a better customer experience with changes they have made to newspaper distribution in Brisbane, News Corp. is yet to deliver (excuse the pun).

It’s now more than 3 weeks into the new arrangements and newsagents and customers alike are frustrated, upset, disappointed and angry at the continued failure of News Corp, Fairfax and their distribution partners to deliver the newspapers on time.

The newspaper delivery failure costs sales and damages customer service.

It’s like the newspaper publishers don’t care about newspapers any more, a newsagent wrote to me yesterday.

They took a system that was working and f*&%ed it up royally, another newsagent said.

I’ve ditched my print newspaper forever, said one long-standing home delivery customer.

The emotion aside, this is a dreadful situation that has come about solely because of decisions by the publishers. It is their failure to own.

What amplifies the situation is the poor communication from the publishers and their appointees about it.

Late newspapers are a problem in Brisbane. But, please, don’t blame your local newsagent.

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Newspaper distribution

‘Being a newsagent is addictive’ what a wonderful story

This article from the Irish Times is a good read, heartwarming, encouraging and inspiring for many.

End of an era as the Last Corner Shop closes: ‘I’m going to cry’
John Hyland’s devotion to his customers has made him a much-loved shopkeeper

“Everything changes,” says John Hyland. At 69, the newsagent is retiring after 35 years in his well-known shop on the corner of George’s Street Upper and Clarinda Park West in Dún Laoghaire, in south Co Dublin.

The crowded shelves and stacks and racks of newspapers and magazines have been gradually depleting, and over the weekend and into Monday a steady stream of regulars, of all ages, have been coming in for their papers and to wish Hyland well.

As he courteously thanks people for their custom, he seems quietly surprised at the reaction to his departure. “Some I wouldn’t even know by sight. I have lovely customers. When I do a little thing, get something they’re looking for, they’re so grateful.”

John Hyland may have been both the worst shopkeeper in Ireland and one of the best. Whether some customers had the money to buy what they wanted didn’t seem to bother Hyland too much: he always put them first

The sign over the shop reads Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop: A Service Newsagent. His wares have been spread on to the footpath, on makeshift tables and racks, since well before Covid made it a popular approach. He has stocked an astonishing range of publications: regional papers from every county in Ireland, Le Monde, the New York Review of Books. If you couldn’t find it at Eason you could probably find it at John’s (as locals call the shop), from 5am until 2.30am every day of the year. As well as sweets and cigarettes, there’s a small range of other goods, from cornflakes to condoms to cat food.

It’s worth reading the whole article and watching this video from Ronan Kelly:

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Customer loyalty

Crossword sales benchmark opportunity for local small business newsagents

Crossword magazine unit sales should be at least 5% of your magazine sales in any newsagency. It’s a reasonable benchmark to target.

I say this based on data from hundreds of newsagencies: city, country, high street, shopping centre.

While there are plenty where crossword unit sales are 8% and more of all magazine unit sales, equally there are plenty at 3% or less.

Based on everything I have seen, 5% is a reasonable benchmark that anyone can attain. Businesses I have worked with have been able to list crossword sales by:

  • Installing a single column of good titles next to women’s weeklies.
  • Featuring a crossword at the counter.
  • Placing one or two crossword titles with newspapers.
  • Where possible, full face displaying crossword titles.
  • Relaying the crossword section to tell a better story.
  • Reviewing your range and expanding to serve more shoppers.
  • Mentioning crosswords from time to time on social media.

Of all the magazine segments, crosswords responds well to some love from the business. This has been the case for decades.

Check our your percentage and if you’re above 5% well done. If you’re below, take some easy steps and expect to see the segment respond positively.

Now, if you think why bother? because of the paltry margin or some other reason, I’d note for you that crosswords are the most broadly efficient magazine category in a newsagency. By efficient, I mean their value beyond the sales of the titles.

  • Crossword buyers are more likely to have other products in their basket. Products like jigsaws, cards, stationery and craft products regularly feature in baskets with crossword magazines.
  • Crossword customers are more loyal, returning for their next fix, often because you have range. This loyalty is something a smart retailer can leverage into purchases from other product categories.
  • Careful placement on the shelves can easily result in purchases of more than one title from a sub-category in a basket.
  • Crossword lovers talk to each other, they are a good word of mouth army.
  • Crossword customers love words and tend to love books, too.

While there are problems with the magazine distribution model and it is difficult for newsagents to actively manage range, the crossword segment provides an opportunity for benefits beyond the sale of crosswords themselves. We have an opportunity to engage and achieve greater value for our businesses, despite the magazine supply arrangement impediments.

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crosswords

Pet Circle targets local petfood shop with Google ad campaign

The big Pet Circle business has been targeting local small business The Petfood Warehouse with ads that specifically name The Petfood Warehouse.

Google permits this, a business naming a competitor in an ad. This is what one of the Pet Circle ads targeting The Petfood Warehouse looks like:

 The headline of one Pet Circle ad says: The Petfood Warehouse – Fast Delivery + Free Shipping.

 The headline of another Pet Circle ad says: Petfood Warehouse | Low-Priced Pet Food Online

If you click on either ad it takes you to the Pet Circle website.

I can understand how a shopper may think they are shopping at The Petfood Warehouse when they click on the link. The headline suggests that it is an ad for The Petfood Warehouse and the ad presents when you do a Google search for The Petfood Warehouse. But this is an ad for Pet Circle.

Why does this matter, why am I writing about it at the Newsagency Blog? fair question. The Petfood Warehouse is a customer of the POS software company I own, Tower Systems. I feel for their situation as I went through the same thing last year. The Google keyword Tower Systems was targeted by a company that used it in their ad heading promoting POS software. No, it was not a newsagency software company. People searching for us were presented their ad with our name in the ad headline text – which is exactly what has been happening with The Petfood Warehouse.

This all matters here because it can happen to you. Beware. keep your eyes open. I know of one business it happened to and their online sales dropped from 25 a day to 5 a day when this happened.

Pet Circle is not the local small business serving the Illawarra like The Petfood Warehouse.

I’m not saying Pet Circle is a bad business. But, I am raising a concern that they are paying to use the name of a competitor of theirs in a apparent move to see people looking for that business to shop at Pet Circle.

In my opinion, it sucks that Google permits this type of advertising, where a competitor uses the name of another business in a headline for an add to effectively pass the ad off as being for the other business.

I am all for competition, fair competition. Local small businesses do not have the marketing budget for expensive Google campaigns. I think any Google ad that uses the name of a competitor to divert eyeballs and clicks is unfair, inappropriate.

Maybe the best way to deal with businesses that squat on a competitor’s business name like this is to click on their ads. A higher ad spend for no revenue will soon get the attention of those in control of their ad budget.

Being a local small business is challenging, in the physical world as well as online, as this issue shows.

Hopefully, the folks at Pet Circle will change their approach. I have lobbied them to do this, in support of the family that owns The Petfood Warehouse.

Footnote: LegalVision makes some interesting comments about this type of advertising.

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Ethics

Newsagency / LPO may close due to vaccine status

The Guardian has a story about Merrigum newsagency / LPO and their position in relation to the vaccine for Covid.

The tiny town of Merrigum in regional Victoria may lose its only post office because its operator has refused to be vaccinated for Covid-19, citing her “freedom of choice”.

Angela Spedding has operated the Merrigum post office and newsagent for more than six years.

On Tuesday, in a post on social media, Spedding said she had been told by Australia Post that the post office would have to close if she had not booked in to receive a vaccine by the end of the working week, and she would also have to cease delivering mail.

Australia Post denied Spedding had been told to close the office, but said she had advised them it would close from Thursday after discussions about her compliance with state health orders.

Reads like crazy stuff. But the Facebook page for the business supports the story.

I have been told by Australia Post that if I haven’t booked in by Friday 15th the Post Office will close. As it is my choice to not get vaccinated the mail will be transferred to Somewhere. As for your street mail they have another contractor but where it will go I have no idea. I apologise for the inconvenience this will cause for you all but it’s my freedom of choice.

It’s not an Australia Post thing. No, the Department of Health has ordered that everyone working in an essential business has to have had had their first vaccine dose by October 22.

If it was up to me, vaccination would be mandatory for all except those with a legitimate medical exemption. The risk posed by the unvaccinated because they want the right to choose not to be vaccinated is too big for their ignorant stupidity to put those too young or those who cannot be vaccinated at risk.

This is not the first business in this situation and it will not be the last. Unfortunately, each story is fuel to the bonfire setup by ignorant anti-vaxxers.

UPDATE: The business owner has advised Australia Post that they have booked their vaccination appointment.

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Social responsibility