Australian Newsagency Blog

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

This back to school season, please shop your local newsagency

Mark Fletcher on January 8, 2021 6:09 AM

If you are shopping for back to school supplies, please shop your local newsagency, yes your local newsagency.

Your local newsagency will be most likely locally owned and locally connected and supportive of local community groups.

Sure some overseas companies and big national retailers will claim their products are cheaper. Sometimes, price does not make something cheaper. One shopper told me recently about a stationery item they bought a while from a national retailer than was 10% cheaper than our price. The item broke after a few days. They then bought from us and the replaced item is still going strong, months later.

Oh, and if you think the local newsagency is some old and out of date shop from the past, think again. Many local Aussie newsagencies have changed, offering brand name stationery you can trust, on-trend gifts you will love to give and the most amazing range of cards you will see.

Yes, the local Australian newsagency has changed. Well, most have changed. They are fun places to shop, fresh, current and relevant to the needs of 2021.

For back to school stationery needs, start at your local newsagency. Supporting them helps them support your local school community. You see that every day through local newsagent support for school students, school groups. Every day newsagents are asked for support and donations for local community groups, including school groups. They can only do this if there is robust local support for their businesses.

Please don’t be duped by the truckloads of cash poured into advertising by competitors chasing your back to school spend. They have the cash to do this, to make it look like they have good products and good prices. Often, when they say they will price match, they don’t sell the same brands, often selling cheap imported products only available through them.

Your local newsagent is a perfect place to shop for back to school for quality, service and community connection.

Now, if you are preparing to comment to say that the local newsagency is dead, out of date, expensive or in some other way failed, please don’t. Too often, former newsagents and failed newsagents hop on here to try and bring down the channel they left.

Your local Australian newsagency is most likely offering a fresh retail experience to the one you remember. If you are looking for back to school products, start there, start local, at your local Aussie newsagency.

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State border closures crippling border communities

Mark Fletcher on January 7, 2021 6:36 AM

A colleague shared this with me yesterday …

BORDER CLOSURES ARE CRIPPLING BORDER COMMUNITIES.

BORDER COMMUNITIES EITHER CLOSED, SERIOUSLY DISRUPTED OR RESTRICTED FOR 38 WEEKS

I call on all State and Federal Governments to have a nationwide plan of action to deal with small COVID outbreaks in the future other than to just close borders with neighbouring states, the biggest impact of closing borders is to once again negatively impact small regional communities who are bearing the brunt of these decisions unnecessarily.

Border communities have just become punching bags caught in the political crossfire of city centric politicians. Politicians on both sides of our river are making decisions with no consideration of the economic and social impact that this is having on our communities whilst hiding behind the rhetoric of protecting the majority, who happen to live in our larger cities.

Depression and anxiety are being exacerbated by the ongoing uncertainty of Border closures. Our families and communities are now experiencing extreme hardship and there is no end in sight. Our community has faced too many barriers over 38 weeks, and we are not getting the support or attention we need.

On the 31st December 2020 at 3pm, the Victorian Government announced a hard border closure to NSW. More than 3,000 tourists had to pack up and flee our small town to make it over the Border before midnight. Millions of dollars in revenue were lost from our community overnight and not least of all many families annual holiday was stripped from them with very little consideration of the impact this will have on these families who have had significant imposts placed on their freedoms for the majority of this 2020.

We are only 6 days into 2021 and already our business has suffered a 55% reduction in sales for the same period last year, whilst much resilience has been shown by many businesses in 2020 the most frustrating part of this latest situation is that it has been created by a poorly considered  government decision.

Local communities and businesses have been extremely resilient and creative to ensure their survival, it is now time for all levels of state and federal Governments to step up and show some real leadership on this matter, not just play popularity politics.

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February Reed and AGHA gift fairs in Sydney face challenges with growing Covid infections

Mark Fletcher on January 6, 2021 7:06 AM

With interstate travel restricted and visitor traffic limited, It is no wonder some suppliers are cancelling or re-thinking plans to participate in the trade shows next month.

I’d normally attend with 30 or 40 colleagues. None are attending. In my own case, the prospect of a 14 day quarantine requirement being lifted by then are slim, certainly good doubtful to risk making all of the necessary arrangements.

Smart suppliers have virtual plans in place. Some have already engaged and are pitching what they would otherwise have launched in February. Those without a contingency plan will miss out on business.

Even if you can get to the show, the value for supplies looks likely to be compromised with reduced numbers allowed on each stand. Several suppliers have raised this with me this week – saying the restrictions make attending uneconomic for them.

These are not unique challenges for Australia. It is major trade show season for toys, gifts, gave and related products in the US, UK, Hong Kong and China. Almost every trade show event is focussed on virtual engagement.

It is kinda surprising that Reed and AGHA proceed as they did. Some other major Aussie trade shows in this first quarter decided to go virtual.

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Anti-maskers disrupt small business retail and distress frontline staff

Mark Fletcher on January 5, 2021 8:07 AM

Anti-maskers tend to be loud and rude in retail, on to of being ignorant.

I’ll shop where I want. You can’t make me wear a mask, said the thirty-something shopper who was asked to leave for not wearing a mask. Go fuck yourself loser, they said as they stormed out.

I shouldn’t have to wear a mask, they are uncomfortable, said the sixty or seventy-something shopper. When asked leave, they retorted, this is the last time I shop here. This was in Victoria yesterday, where masks in shops are mandated by law.

It’s a hoax, it’s all a hoax, masks are a joke, they want you to choke. The person shouting this at the entrance to the shop was wearing a bandage as if to hide their identity but not and a mask. They were going from shop to shop shouting this.

Don’t shop here. It’s run by a Nazi who demands we wear masks. Freedom! This is a sign stick on the front window os a small local shop.

Every attack hurts the business and those who work in the business.

During the second wave in Victoria I heard of some attacks. I have heard of many more in the last week, from Sydney and from Melbourne situations.

The worst situations are the attacks at the counter on retail staff. In one of my own shops this happened yesterday. It was loud and nasty. It impacted the team member it was directed at.

Anti-maskers are selfish in my view and either out to cause trouble or they are ignorant.

Masks have been proven to work. They keep us safe and those we are in contact with safe. In retail especially they are critical is reducing the opportunity for infection, and that is key in Melbourne and Sydney right now.

Anti-maskers are making working in retail more stressful right now. The harm they are causing is significant. I suspect this is what they want.

Retailers in shopping centres can call security, but they often arrive too late.

I’d kinda like to spray them with a bright dye that tags them as an ignorant anti-masker, but I know I can’t. Doing so would be irrational and I kinda want to match their irrational approach to masks with an irrational response. At least the dye would not harm them physically.

Here in Victoria in my own shops we have regularly posted positive mask related messages on social media, appreciating the commitment of customers. However, it only takes 1 in 500 to be a dickhead and cause disruption and hurt in the shop for that to be remembered ahead of plenty of good experiences.

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A cautionary tale re online advertising

Mark Fletcher on January 5, 2021 6:40 AM

Marketing Today host Alan Hart interviews Kevin Frisch, who was recently the CMO of Wag and before that the head of performance marketing, and CRM for Uber.  In this interview they discuss a Ange of topics related to online advertising and, in particular, fraud occurring with online advertising as experienced by Uber.

It is a stunning expose of a scam that cost Uber millions. In online advertising is interesting to you, I think you will find this interview fascinating.

The discussion at around 15 minutes about how they acquire customers is fascinating as is the realisation about how much money Uber spend on pointless advertising.

Online ad platforms accessed through third parties make fraud as described easier.

In my own businesses we rarely advertise online now. We have never used third party platforms to place ads for us, thankfully.

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Advice on back to school shopping for the 2021 school year if you care about your local community and local jobs

Mark Fletcher on January 4, 2021 6:45 AM

Parents, schools and others, if you are shopping for back to school stationery items this year, please shop thoughtfully.

  • Shop locally, from an Australian owned business. P{preferably, from a business in your local community.
  • Support the local businesses local community groups are likely to call on.
  • If you have a choice, choose locally made items.
  • Buy what you need, don’t be tricked by a volume price deal that may see you buy items you will later waste.
  • See price guarantees for what they are – lazy marketing from businesses that don’t put in the hard work.
  • Quality is more important than price.

A price difference may not be what it seems. It could be due to lesser quality, or the supplier not supporting your community groups or the supplier sourcing products made in a cheap labour country, which does not help local Aussie jobs.

Newsagents are usually in the first businesses to be asked by community groups and schools for donations. It is unreasonable to do this unless you help them win business. This is just one reason your shopping local for back to school products matters.

Beware claims of big savings. One major stationery business is currently claiming that parents are saving on average more than 25% by shopping with them. This is a business that makes genuine price comparison difficult because of the volume of house brand product. I know of several newsagents who have price checked for local families and found the difference to be less than 5%.

Back to school is, for sure, an expensive time for families. Saving money is appealing. However, it is critical to be sure that the savings are real and that money you are spending benefits the economy on which you rely.

A small higher price could be for better quality product, local community group support, school support or for supporting local jobs, thereby putting money in the local economy, which helps fund, maybe local jobs on which school parents themselves rely.

Yes, the economy is that circular.

I guess my key message to parents re back to school is to take your time, do your research, understand the bigger picture, beside you know how your decision may impact yourself and those close to you.

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It all started in 1981

Mark Fletcher on January 3, 2021 7:29 AM

Here’s a video I made for my newsagency software company, a business I started in 1981.

I am grateful to the software development team, the designers, the UI experts, the testers and the help desk heroes who help, every day, ensure that the Tower newsagency software today is fresh and relevant to newsagents today and for tomorrow.

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Suppliers benefiting from being open when usually closed

Mark Fletcher on January 2, 2021 8:31 AM

I know of several family small, niche, gift related wholesalers / makers who opened last week and benefited as a result.

In each case they run a small warehouse out of their own office and are able to pack and ship without a large staff infrastructure.

Them being open and communicating this meant that plenty of retailers ordered top-up stock from them. The retailers may not have done this, or not noticed the opportunity, had more suppliers been open.

One of the lessons from Covid is to be opportunistic, to act deliberately to leverage opportunities you feel may be there. This goes back to what I wrote on December 21 about January plans.

One of my own shops would usually close between Christmas and New Year. This year we opened. The result was well worthwhile. We compete in our high street situation with several other stores selling gifts and cards. They were open. We all had the same idea. I suspect they did as well as us.

January will be different this year. Holiday patterns and arrangements have changed.

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New newsagency sales benchmark study launched

Mark Fletcher on January 1, 2021 10:17 AM

I sent an email to newsagents earlier this morning calling for data for a new newsagency sales benchmark study.

This is an important study as it will provide a glimpse into an important quarter, which is likely to provide an insight into early 2021.

Here is the full text of the call for participation.

Q4 2020 NEWSAGENCY SALES BENCHMARK STUDY.
I am collating data for a new benchmark study, looking at sales October through December 2020 versus 2019.

How to participate.

  1. Please run a Monthly Sales Comparison Report for 01/10/2020 – 31/12/2020 compared to 01/10/2019 – 31/12/2019.
  2. Tick the category box. IMPORTANT.
  3. Tick to exclude home delivery and sub agent data.
  4. DO NOT tick the supplier box.
  5. Preview the report on the screen. Save as a PDF.
  6. Email these reports direct to me at mark@towersystems.com.au.
  7. Read the report yourself and see what it shows you about your business.

I will email the results to all participating newsagents and publish the results on theAustralian Newsagency Blog as a service for all newsagents.

I own and run three newsagencies. Over the years I have had three others. I own newsXpress, the newsagency marketing group.

I am grateful that Tower Systems has added 35 newsagents as customers in the last year as customers of our newsagency software,

As I have done rolling smaller dataset studies monthly for the back half of 2020, I think I have an idea of that this bigger study will reveal. But, who knows?!

Oh, and … happy new year!

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When 2020 began

Mark Fletcher on December 31, 2020 6:36 AM

When 2020 began, we were in the dark about what was coming for us, for all of us. We had our resolutions, plans and hopes. We had our cherished dreams.

We were unprepared for how 2020 would play out.

The hopes and dreams we started the year with were soon forgotten as the pandemic took over the news, our businesses, our home life and our focus.

2020 sure has been a year.

Looking back, we see heartbreaking human loss and economic challenges, which, sadly for too many, continue today.

Looking back, we also see many wonderful achievements.

There are the big pieces like the 1,000s of scientists working together to create vaccines in record time, people and businesses fundamentally changing how they work and politicians, for a moment, setting aside traditional differences to actually do good.

There is the good news of whole communities working together to ensure people remain safe and to get the numbers down.

In small business, where we spend much of our time, we have seen wonderful acts of kindness, extraordinary local shopper support, greater resilience and deeper community connections. It has been a joy to hear stories of locals consciously shopping locally and genuinely being interested in product sourcing.

We have all learnt so much about ourselves this year, what we can do, the differences we can make, new friends we can serve.

As the sun sets on 2020, we are grateful for this year, for the opportunity to be part of it and to be here, at the end, stronger and grateful for what 2021 will offer.

Happy New Year. May your 2021 be healthy, happy and filled with gratitude.

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Lottoland still pitching to shift lottery revenue offshore

Mark Fletcher on December 30, 2020 1:08 PM

Here is an email they sent out this morning:

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Tip: don’t discount calendars

Mark Fletcher on December 30, 2020 6:45 AM

Calendar Club has done its best to teach Australians that calendars need to be discount to sell. While their business has been successful, grabbing plenty of calendar revenue in shopping centres, they have not ‘educated’ everyone that the only way to sell calendars is to discount them.

We don’t discount calendars and can get full price through to early in the second half of the year.

The key is to purchase so that you sell out before then. Also, the more niche the title, the less price pressure.

So, we are not discounting calendars and so far this year we are up more than 50% on last year’s good base.

Calendars remain a strong category, nicely complimentary to diaries, which are strong, too.

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Excellent newspaper sales in December in the newsagency

Mark Fletcher on December 29, 2020 6:35 AM

In our high street newsagency we are tracking excellent year on year results for newspapers with dailies up 12% and foreign language newspapers up 25% – based on unit sales.

I’d be interested to hear how newspapers have gone for others through December.

I expect high street, regional and rural businesses will have similar results to the above. I think the Covid bump will be here for some time, hopefully long term. And, by bump, I mean – more people shopping any from malls and more people buying papers, especially foreign language papers.

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A very different Boxing Day

Mark Fletcher on December 28, 2020 9:18 AM

If the small dataset I have seen plays out nationally, Boxing Day 2020 will be down on 2019 in over the counter purchases while online will be well up, resulting is numbers close to last year.

Of course, the results vary by location. In Victoria, for example, shopping centre traffic was down Boxing Day 2020.

The strength of online on Boxing Day, even for sites without deals, speaks to a strong future for trading online.

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Commercial tenancy relief scheme for Victorian small business retailers

Mark Fletcher on December 27, 2020 7:47 AM

The Victorian Government is facilitating more proactive help for Covid impacted small business retailers through its Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme.

Critically, small business retailers can apply for free mediation with the Victorian Small Business Commissioner to resolve a rent dispute. This could be a good way to bring forward the resolution of any dispute re rent relief arrangements.

I know of several retailers who could benefit from this.

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All set for Boxing Day

Mark Fletcher on December 26, 2020 6:16 AM

It’s all set to start, the annual Boxing Day Sale. In our shopping centre locations, this is a key sale event for the year. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this year.

We have old stock to move and plenty off stock brought in for the event. Christmas has been taken down and the shop reset for a sale feel.

If you are running a Boxing Day Sale this year, happy trading!

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A Christmas message from Quirkes Newsagents in Ireland

Mark Fletcher on December 25, 2020 8:57 AM

This is a terrific business that has engaged in 2020 in an innovative and entertaining way.

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Merry Christmas …

Mark Fletcher on December 24, 2020 5:46 PM

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Magazine sales good in newsagencies for Christmas

Mark Fletcher on December 24, 2020 7:21 AM

Magazines are selling well in newsagencies in recent weeks. Home and living, crossword, crafts, special interest and food magazines are all doing well.

Comparing 2020 to 2019 and then 2019 to 2018 for the category for a few newsagencies, in this dataset, 2020 is performing very well. The average unit sales growth I am seeing is 7%.

Of course, the growth could be at the cost of other retail outlets, such as those in shopping centres, or even outside the newsagency channel. The growth could actually be net growth for magazines overall, which would be appreciated by retailers and publishers.

Talking with some retailers, there is anecdotal evidence of magazines being bought as Christmas gifts. While this is not unusual, it does feel, to some, that it is more the case this year than in the past.

I hope that what I am seeing from the small dataset is a trend for the channel more widely. It would be encouraging to see magazines end 2020 on a high note after the wild ride that 2020 has been.

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Nice tweet from Vic. Premier Dan Andrews supporting front line retail staff this Christmas rush

Mark Fletcher on December 24, 2020 7:04 AM

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The easy counter impulse line – Racing Babies

Mark Fletcher on December 23, 2020 1:44 PM

Racing Babies is a simple product, fun and almost disposable … a perfect impulse line at the counter. Purchased easily by people of all ages, this is an example of an easy, fad-like, product with which to drive basket value.

Racing Babies has worked for us this Christmas – yet another non-traditional product line working in a newsagency.

These counter lines change every few weeks. Get in, sell through, replace with something fresh.

Here’s a video from the maker, which has helped attract shoppers for the product.

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Retail sales in Australia up 7% in November

Mark Fletcher on December 23, 2020 7:16 AM

The ABS yesterday released preliminary results for retail sales in Australia for November.

The seasonally adjusted estimate rose 7.0% ($2,071.6m) from October 2020 to November 2020.

In seasonally adjusted terms, Australian turnover rose 13.2% in November 2020 compared with November 2019.

As I have noted in this place already, plenty of newsagency businesses for which I am fortunate to have seen data delivered even better results, 20% and more growth in November 2020 compared to November 2019.

I’ve talked to other retailers too, jewellers, toy shops, bike shops, garden centres and more, almost all were up in November. Those doing best are those playing beyond what has been traditional for their channels.

That said, I am not in the retail is back camp. No, my view is that retail has fundamentally changed. It will not go back to where it was. The future is the future and not a re-visit to the past.

What we sell, how we sell, when we sell and to whom we sell has changed and will change further. Covid has sped-up changes that were occurring already.

This is all good stuff for retailers who embrace change.

The ABS preliminary figures are good for the whole economy as the growth they report encourage optimism for 2021.

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The easy $145.00 Christmas gift for guys

Mark Fletcher on December 23, 2020 6:24 AM

While it is cliché, plenty of guys love car racing, they love Supercars. This $145.00 set from the Royal Australian Mint has been a terrific hit for Christmas in the newsagency. Better still, people buying this are buying other coin sets, too, driving excellent basked value. Plus, they usually buy a gift bag and a card or two.

The coins are an easy social media pitch and that’s key to helping to bring shoppers in who might otherwise not have shopped with us. People don’t know what they don’t know. Hence the importance of social media posts like this.

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Legacy newsagency suppliers are wrong: traffic from one successful product category does not always drive success for another product category

Mark Fletcher on December 22, 2020 8:17 AM

Looking deeper at data from a bunch of regional newsagencies for November / December this year compared to last year, it is obvious that traffic from low-margin legacy products is not key to the health of a business.

In each case, local newspapers closed, slicing hundreds of transactions from each business each week. There was no negative financial impact. Transaction count was down, but not revenue.

Even though I have commented here for many years about the inefficiency of newspapers for retail newsagencies, plenty of newsagents are discovering it for themselves. The newspaper shopper is likely to purchase a newspaper and nothing else around 80% of the time – less so in regional Australia, far more so in capital city shopping centre newsagencies.

Plenty of local newspaper closures are not adversely affecting the performance of newsagencies.

For decades, newspaper publishers, and other low-margin legacy suppliers, said yes our products are low margin but they drive traffic and you make money from that.

No, most low-margin legacy products are inefficient for newsagents. They may sell in volume. however, rarely does that shopper purchase higher margin items. No, the new higher margin items newsagents source often drive net new traffic.

While the closure of local newspapers is disappointing for the reach of local news, retail newsagents can have a bright future regardless.

I get that retailers like foot traffic. The key, however, is that foot traffic has to be commercially valuable. Single item purchase of low margin product is not as commercially valuable as it once was.

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A terrific Christmas message from a newsagent in Manchester

Mark Fletcher on December 22, 2020 6:56 AM

Lomas News in Manchester in the UK posted this on social media overnight.

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