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

Herald Sun cartoon turns off customers

A couple of Herald Sun readers contacted me yesterday saying they will no longer purchase the paper following its publication of the cartoon featuring a naked, pixelated but naked, Premier of Victoria, Jacinta Allen.

I’d been on the road all day and was not across the story. I checked out coverage at the ABC, Nine Media and The Guardian.

The readers contacted me because they wanted to speak to someone. I couldn’t;t help them, of course. But I listened to their anger.

Having looked at the cartoon and read reports in other outlets, I like this from The Guardian:

Victoria’s inaugural Public Sector Gender Equality commissioner, Niki Vincent, said she found the cartoon tiresome and suggested it used sexism.

“Often we see women leaders with their bodies focused on, their clothing focused on,” Vincent told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“So this is another example of how to make fun of a woman leader using their body.”

It seems to me that News Corp courts anger, not only in its shrill headlines but also in deliberately provocative cartoon content. It’s moved a long way from being a trustworthy newspaper and a platform of enjoyable content.


Online selling can have its challenges

In part because they are not in front of you, online customers can be challenge. Take this example:

Our 5 year old son has ordered them from your website without telling us using our credit card. We would like a refund please.

Now, how a 5 year old could do this as a. first time customer, ticking the right box, entering in the address as it was not auto filled. The challenge with a transaction like this is that the bank would side with the shopper and issue a refund.

Then, there are those who attack. This email is from someone who thought we were another business and was not happy when I told them they had the wrong organisation and suggested they contact the other business, which has no connection whatsoever with us.

You cxxt. I hope you fall over and die. You are an idiot. You know nothing about customer service.

One of the best (worst) tho was this one.

You need to refund me for this parcel because this is how it was delivered. It can’t have been my dogs because they were locked up all day. This is your fault.

Here’s the photo of the parcel they sent through.

And, here’s the photo of proof of delivery by Australia Post:

The extent of wild claims and scams are such that it’s important to factor a financial buffer into your prices online, so you can fund the scams that you cannot fight back on.

Big businesses deal with this by negotiating supply prices that have coverage built into the price model for this sort of behaviour.

Newsagency challenges

Top reasons local retailers like newsagents benefit from a POS software connected website

It’s easy to say no to a website if you don’t have one because you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s also easy if you had one in the past and it didn’t work.

Too many POS software connected websites for local retailers don’t work. Smart people use a failure to do better next time.

At the core of success of a website is filling needs and wants. While needs and wants are quite different, they compel good online business.

Here are the top reasons why we think every retail business needs a website:

Capture sales when you are closed. Typically, more than 50% of online purchases are then the brick and mortar business is closed.

Engage browsers when you are closed. You can have chat turned on and answer questions from your phone, or you could really geek-out and have an AI chatbot do this for you.

Reach people not currently shopping with you. Typically, 75% of sales are from people located nowhere near your shop.

Have a second outlet for quitting stock.

Have a place where you can experiment.

Playing with a plan B in case your shop finds itself in choppy waters.
To learn. A website, especially your first website, teaches you so much, and this is especially. What does it teach you you ask? What people want. What they could pay. Haw awful some people are. How to earn income when you are asleep.

To get you out of a rut. If you’ve been in your shop for ages and are mailing it in each day, a website could put a spring in your step.

To make your shop more valuable. Having a website, even if it is not fully realised or successful, could make your shop more appealing when you decide to sell.

To leverage a secondary brand. This could be the first step in a shop rebrand.

To drive traffic to the shop. People will find products on your website and visit as a result, for sure.

To give you another source of revenue that is completely unrelated to anything you do in your shop.

To harvest email addresses you can market to. Email marketing from Shopify is a breeze.

Now, in case you think I am writing this to get you to use Tower to make your website, I am not. I don’t care who makes your website.

Newsagency management

The Editor of People’s Friend magazine explains the importance of newsagents to them

In a recent issue of RN magazine in the UK, the editor of The People’s Friend magazine explained the importance of newsagents to their success when talking about their 8,000th issue. While written for UK readers of the news and convenience retailing magazine, The People’s Friend is a vital weekly title for many Aussie newsagents. It outsells other weeklies in some local shops. The People’s Friend shoppers are regular, loyal, and valuable.

The People’s Friend is a title we regularly pitch on social media as people love reading about it and being reminded about it. It’s a magazine that has stayed true to itself.

Reading this terrific coverage from RN, I wish Aussie magazine publishers felt the same way about our channel and we as focussed as folks at The People’s Friend are.

In practical terms, I use The People’s Friend as a beacon brand in my shops. By beacon brand, I mean a title to put in prime position at the top of a column, to draw eyeballs to a section. It fills the first 2 or 3 pockets, as a beacon. This encourages purchases of other titles with it.

I am grateful to Steve Denham for sharing this.


5 common attributes of growing newsagencies

Looking at newsagency businesses that are growing, I can see several common interesting attributes, including:

  • Minimal or no backroom office. Product pricing and related work is done on the shop floor.
  • Good use of tech with accurate, up to date and meaningful business data.
  • Regular introduction of products from new suppliers. Typically, between 5 and 10 each year.
  • The owners have a personal goal and a clear purpose for the business.
  • They are retailers, not agents.

Now, there are plenty of other common attributes, but these are the most interesting to me in that they reflect active engagement in the business. Each attribute reflects a conscious decision by the business owner(s), the last point especially.

I know of plenty of long-term newsagents who have pivoted form the agent approach that was required when they entered the business to be the retailers they need to be today. It’s a thrill to see this, and the success that so often flows.

All of us who own newsagencies make our own choices, we are responsible for our success or otherwise. No one can do this for you, force you, or make your bed for you each morning. It’s up to you.

There are many who support newsagents who can help. It begins with you reaching out.

Newsagency management

5 things any newsagent could do to reduce the risk of closure

Appeal to more shoppers. This starts with offering products beyond what have been traditional, products people will seek out, and return for again and again. It is important when choosing products to not be bound by the shingle of the business.

Offering cards that sell. Assess card performance pocket by pocket, design by design. You need at least 2 pocket turns a year. In a typical newsagency, 75% of card pockets are not achieving 2 turns a year. Cards are your most profitable department. Work on it. Nurture it. Make your business more valuable as a result.

Quit what’s not working. be ruthless. Act on your data. If products are not paying their way, quit them. It’s black and white.

Getting online. This dramatically broadens the geographic reach of your business, even more so if you do wit with products you’d never sell in your shop.

Manage your costs, including your own time. Business overheads and labour costs need to be tightly managed. I mention your own time here because in plenty of failed retail businesses I have looked at have high owner labour costs for minimal measurable return.

Of course, there are plenty more areas you can and should work on than these five. They are a good start though, low hanging fruit I see them as, easy wins based on my experience helping newsagents.

I recommend these 5 as a good starting point.

If you are struggling in your newsagency, finding it tough, not getting the return you want or need, start here.

If I can help in any way, reach out.

0418 321 338

Newsagency management

Why are newsagencies closing?

Newsagency closures are on the rise. Not at a concerning level, but a rise nevertheless. We are likely to round out 2023 with around 250 closures, a not insignificant number.

While the owners will have their own narrative around the reason or reasons for closure, there is a common, often unspoken, reason for many newsagency closures.

They have not evolved far enough away from the traditional newsagency model of decades ago, they have done done en ought to make their business more appealing to more people.

Many newsagents have thriving profitable businesses. Typically, these successful businesses have evolved, and continue to evolve. They understand the shingle stands for less now than ever before. They know that what they stock matters most as that sits at the heart of the appeal of their business.

Newsagencies are closing because you can rely on papers, magazines, lotteries and stationery to deliver the traffic you need. Change is vital. And, hundreds of newsagents have shown that change delivers excellent results.

There will be some who will wish I had not written this, that talk of closures is best left for private discussion. The thing is, it’s happening, people see it on the street. It’s something we can stop, if we want.

Newsagency management

at all leading newsagents ignorance

Magazine publishers seem to think we are leading if we stock their title. They seem to think we have control over the titles we stock.

magazine distribution

Are Aussie card companies missing a Halloween opportunity

Engagement with Halloween has grown in Australia for sure over the years. we can see that on the streets, in sales of masks, costumes and home decor and in local events.

The one part that has not grown in Australia is greeting cards.

I am in the US at the moment and every card shop (large and small) has a big range of Halloween cards. All fun and spooky. Looking carefully at the ranges here, I am sure we are missing an opportunity in Australia.

Halloween is a good party season. It’s family friendly, and something we can lean into beyond greeting card sales.

It’s also a good season to push us into Christmas.

I’d love to see Aussie card companies play in this space.

Greeting Cards

Terrific New York Toy Fair

Toy Fair in New York this past week was excellent. So many new products from large and small brands and so many insights from individual retailers to key partner brands.

This really is an important show for any retailer relying on toys for a key portion of revenue. I say this for a few reasons: you’ll see products well ahead of Australian release, you’ll get context that does not often travel, you can see broader trends beyond single brands.

While seeing new products is a delight, it’s the insights I appreciate the most, and sometimes it is not the most obvious insights that land the best. These can be small insights through to bigger.

Booth to booth and talking in the aisles, this trade show was terrific. US retailers are open to talking to folks from out of the country. They share terrific insights.

I have been for a few years and found this years Toy fair particularly useful.

It was good seeing more Australians there than I’ve seen in the past.

One frustration is arrogant brands that don’t let you in if you are not an existing customer and have not made an appointment. While there aren’t many of these, there were enough to annoy me.

There were a few small makers at the trade show, which was interesting. A family making child products because of personal experience, a couple of game makers trying to pitch their games, and some slime . dough type products made in small batches with interesting stories.

While my key insights will be for newsXpress members, I’d note that there is a trend for indie retailers for small batch more locally made products, to differentiate from the mega brands that love big retailers so much.

Newsagency management

Your local newsagency is not a child care centre

A mum a child, around 6 or 7, entered the newsagency the other day. Mum took the kid to our toys area, said something and left. We saw mum walk towards a nearby supermarket. We told the kid to go after their mum.

Mum came back with the kid and ripped into us telling us that we should not have told their kid to follow them, that it was none of our business. The admonishment went on for a bit.

We explained that we are not a child care service and that unattended children are reported to centre security, who will attend and remove them for their safety and our safety. The mum responded with even more choice words and admonishment.

This happens every could have weeks in the newsagency in a large shopping centre. Parents seem to think it is okay to leave their young kids with us while they shop elsewhere.

Our position is no, we’re not a child care service. Any child found in the shop alone is reported to security, for their own safety.

All that would need to happen is that a kid left alone trips or otherwise injures themselves in the shop without a parent present and we would be in a legal minefield.

Or, what if someone noticed a parent leaving a kid and the kid was taken by them? What then?

Parents leaving their kids don’t seem to have thought through the consequences of something going wrong in the shop while their kid is left without supervision.

It is frustrating that we have had to say on social media that our newsagency is not a childcare centre.

There may be some reading this who think it’s okay. We all have to made decisions on matters like this in the context of our own situation. The shop I am writing abut today is in a large Melbourne suburban centre. We are near two exist. Abduction would be easy. The kid drifting off to other shops would be easy, too, as would getting lost in a crowd.

The risk for the child and for us and those who work in the shop is too great. hence our zero tolerance policy.

Back to the kid who was left, given how the mum spoke to us, we feel for how life might be at home for the kid.

Customer Service

More challenges for vape retailers

I don’t know why any retailer sells vape products. They are a questionable product surrounded by controversy and, from a health perspective, leading to harm. I certainly have no interest in sticking vape products enemy shops.

But, since plenty of newsagents do …

A letter from the NSW Chief health Officer recently has raised alarm among vape retailers.

These statements are what really concern the retailers:

“You cannot rely on the labelling of e-cigarette products to know whether products contain nicotine.”

“It is your responsibility to ensure that any e-cigarette or e-liquid products your business sells do not contain nicotine (for example, by having them independently tested by an authorised facility)”.

Retailers and some who represent them say it is unfair that they, the retailers, have the obligation to determine if what they sell is legal. They say that governments, federal, state, should stop inadequately labelled and mislabelled products from getting into Australia.

The Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association has written about this issue.

“Directing retailers to verify and certify the contents of products that they did not manufacture is far from reasonable and appears legally invalid. By default, it is an admission that Australian Governments are failing to properly enforcing labelling standards for vape products”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.

“Like their customers, retailers must be able to rely on the information provided on product labels and therefore all Australian governments have an absolute responsibility to ensure that manufacturers’ meet their legislative obligations in respect of product labelling – regardless of whether that relates to tobacco content, alcohol content, sugar content, fat content and so on”, added Mark.

While I get that product labelling is important and that retailers should be able to rely on labels. We know that right now with some vape products that is not possible. All of us in retail have an obligation to know what we are selling. If we cannot be sure, don’t sell it.

Let me finish by noting again that I have no interest in selling vape products in my newsagencies. I got out of tobacco in 1996. At that time my view was that the category had no place in a family friendly business.


What’s SEN doing with the AFL Record and why is it so hard to buy in Melbourne?

This week should have been a bumper week for Melbourne newsagents with a terrific traffic bounce from shoppers buying the AFL Record.

Plenty didn’t get stock Monday.

Then, yesterday, some did not get what they would usually sell, let alone what they could sell with Collingwood in the Grand Final.

Emails and other attempts to contact the publisher have resulted in silence, bet they passed me email onto Are Direct and I did get a helpful response from them for which I am grateful. But they are only the distributor and can only deal with what they are given.

It’s as if SEN don’t care about the frontline retailers getting asked questions by people wanting to buy their Grand Final AFL Record early in the week.

Who knows what SEN thinks, because they don’t respond.


Shoplifting is theft and should be dealt with as such

Shoplifting is on the rise, not only in Australia but around the world according to published news reports from the UK, UK and plenty of other countries.

Businesses that do not have structured processes in place are more likely to be targeted. Businesses that do not know the cost of this theft until long after it has occurred are likely to be hit the most.

A newsagent I was talking to the other days told me when they caught it as long as they got the items back they punished by banning the shopper from the store.

In my view, the only way to deal with shoplifting, retail theft, is to bring in the police. Every time. No matter the value of the theft.

The more all newsagents in our channel do this the more it is discussed and the less of a target we will be.

Why, and when I say every time, I even mean in the situation where a spouse was found to be the person stealing from the business, to feed a gambling addiction.

There are some good shoplifting prevention / response resources online:

  1. Crime Stoppers South Australia.
  2. Victoria Police.
  3. Tasmania Police.
  4. Crime Prevention NSW.
  5. National Retail Association.

There are plenty more resources than these. Doing nothing is a mistake, which will cost businesses and communities plenty.


Tobacco shop fires in Melbourne concern newsagents

Newsagents with shops next to or near tobacco shops are concerned for their own businesses in the event of an attack.

With so many attacks in recent months, I suspect all retailers near tobacco shops are concerned. An insurance broker I spoke with said it has to play out in terms of policy cost.

Just when we thought the culprits had been caught, more attacks came.

With most newsagents out of selling tobacco, many of us for more than 10 and 15 years, it’s nearby shops that are the concern, as they are potential targets. Illegal tobacco appears to be at the heart of the crime wave.

One of my shops has had a new tobacco shop open next door. It’s an odd looking business. Very open. dark. Inviting people deep in to purchase.

We have checked our preparedness, security and insurance. I think it makes sense for all Victorian newsagency businesses located next to or near a tobacco shop to do the same.

I know that what’s happening in Melbourne is causing worry for some local retailers. It’s best we focus our attention on that over which we do have control.

Newsagency challenges

Tower Systems offers newsagents half price websites

A beautiful POS software connected Shopify website for a newsagency costs $7,995.00 (inc. GST).

Right now, my software company, Tower Systems, is offering this full service website development package for $4,000.

Shopify is an excellent choice for newsagents and other local retailers because maintaining the website is easy. It does to require specialist technical skills. Plus, it comes with excellent marketing tools and an easy to have products listed on Google.

Tower has made hundreds of Shopify websites already.

Here is what is included in the half price offer for newsagents.

For ease of reference and clarity, below is a numbered list of all work and tasks included in the above quote and work you will have to do. This is the complete list.

  1. Shopify account. We would use our development account until such time, as we deliver the live site to you. Once this has occurred you will need your own Shopify account and we will transfer the site to you.  We can help with this.
  2. Theme selection. We will guide you through theme selection options. Themes determine the in-built features and layouts throughout your site. You will have a free choice of ONE available at themes.shopify.com. Choose carefully as once we begin the personalisation and customisation process, changing themes will incur additional fees.
  3. Overall design to be applied to the theme selected to customise the look and feel of the site. While there is back and forth involved, the design process is not priced to be an extended back and forth process. It is critical you are clear as to your requirements. Some adjustments can be made within the quote but any major diversion from the original theme may add to the cost.
  4. The site we create will have the following elements:
  5. Including text and images (which you are to provide), and site navigation. We would also recommend including a business location map as this is important so local people can find your store (Google account needed).
  6. Creation of the menus that drive your site.This is as important as the look and feel and should be carefully considered.
  7. Social media links to your: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
  8. About page. Your text, describing you and your business: 150 – 350 words. Well written, clear as to what you and your business are about.
  9. Shipping, returns and other policies. We can use yours or you can edit ours and use it.
  10. Contact us page showing your contact details as well as an enquiry form.
  11. Configured Product Pages. Creation of up to 2 different product template pages, these pages show the images and details about products.  If additional product templates are required, then these are charge at $440 per page.
  12. Shopify Inbox setup, if you want chat turned on.
  13. Blog feed. A blog allows you to publish your own news.
  14. Flat Rate shipping based on Shopify’s inbuilt shipping profiles.
  15. The setup of loading of products into the site via a live link to the Retailer software. We would need you to have this data in Retailer ready for export.
  16. Interfacing to standard gateways: Shopify Payments and Paypal. In addition to credit card payments, Shopify Payments can also connect to Shop Pay, Apple Pay and Google Pay. Please note that depending on required site functionality it may not be possible to use the express checkout options. We will advise if this is the case.
  17. EXTRA COST OPTION: Interfacing to Humm, Zip and Afterpay and other Shopify supported payment methods incur an additional fee of $220 per payment method.
  18. Training: over the phone and usually around two hours. We’d like 2 people from the business there as we have found this helps the business get the most from it.

While this post is a promotion for the newsagency website offer from Tower Systems, it also outlines what’s involved in detail enough for newsagents to be more informed when shopping around for a website.

Newsagency management

Strong boxed card sales auger well for Christmas

For years now I have tracked early boxed Christmas card sales and followed through Christmas season sales and see in data over years a clear indicator for Christmas in early boxed Christmas card sales.

This year, I am seeing boxed Christmas card sales up on last year.

To me, this suggests a strong Christmas in our space.

We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary to pitch boxed Christmas cards. They are out on the shop floor, front of store, and online. No discounting. No deals.

The average early in the season boxed card shopper buys three packs. They often purchase other things at the same time. They are a good customer. Half the time a regular and half the time not.

Charity range is key to sales I have found. Indeed, it’s something customers comment on.

We’ve had boxed Christmas cards out for just over a month,. It’s been well worth it and have already received our first top-up order in a couple of locations.

Greeting Cards