Australian Newsagency Blog

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

Hallmark Keepsake ornaments popular in the newsagency

Mark Fletcher on September 29, 2018 7:13 AM

The Hallmark Keepsake Christmas ornaments are working a treat this year. They are driving in-store traffic as well as excellent online sales for the Hallmark Keepsake ornaments web site we created. What is interesting about online sales is that not one is from a local to the store. Indeed, 75% of sales have been out of the state.

We were able to get stock ahead of Target and this has helped drive terrific results over the last few weeks.

We leveraged the opportunity by engaging on social media, through a range of pages and groups. This was key to attracting shoppers outside the newsagency, shoppers who probably would never consider shopping for these sought-after ornaments in a newsagency.

While the online sales are excellent for driving efficiency for labour, inventory and space in the shop, they also raise the profile of the shop and play a role in general shop sales growth. And we can leverage the website interaction and transactions to drive other online engagement down the track.

The average basket depth of purchases online is close to $80.00. In-store is a little less.

What we are doing here is not rocket science. It is opportunistic though, tapping into a respected brand in a timely way to be first or close to first to market for the season and to do so with no additional labour cost, thereby maximising profitability for the business.

As I have written here plenty of times in the past, licenced products are particularly valuable in driving traffic. There are three Harry Potter Hallmark Keepsake ornaments that are working well as well as a several from the Batman franchise.  Here are short videos of two of the ornaments with sound. Sound drives popularity.

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→ 2 CommentsCategory: newsagency marketing · Newsagency opportunities

Are partworks set to be a thing of the past in Australia?

Mark Fletcher on September 28, 2018 6:09 AM

With the unexpected liquidation of partworks importer and distributor Bissett Magazines, the question is: do partworks have a future in Australia?

The closure of Bissett came as a shock to magazine professionals. Bissett had what was effectively a monopoly on partworks in Australia. They had been in this position for many years, supplying newsagents through distributors as well as fulfilling subscriptions to the public directly.

I and others I have spoken with in our channel were shocked by news of the closure and still can’t understand how or why it happened. One guess is that they wanted out and could not sell the business. Who knows!

How Bissett operated with partworks regularly frustrated newsagents as they provided their direct customers what looked like better service and greater benefits than were available to customers who purchased partworks through newsagencies.

Subscribers usually got bonus gifts or items we could not access.

There were stories of newsagency customers calling Bissett’s offices with a query and being told to switch to a subscription from them rather than buying through a newsagency.

Then, there was the problem of not being able to get sufficient stock to satisfy cutaway requests. While newsagents often blamed the distributor for supply issues, it was the supply to the distributor that setup supply challenges from the outset. It became unclear if the supply issue to distributors was an Australian issue or a UK publisher issue.

I appreciate there are plenty in the channel who would be happy for partworks to disappear. My view is not as straightforward. A good partworks title launched with a solid TV campaign is good for our channel. It generates traffic and can set people on a path of return business, more deeply connecting them with our businesses.

On top of the closure of the Bissett business in Australia is news of challenges in some partworks businesses overseas. I hope those issues settle and a new model is determined to make partworks successful in Australia.

Financially, the opportunity is considerable. However, for it to work requires a reset around the processes, more certainty for newsagents to encourage their engagement, greater efficiency in the supply model and a tech-backed solution to better connect retailers and customers to retain more in the pool supporting a partworks title.

Unless partworks publishers work with people here in Australia to provide a more relevant to today route to market I do fear partworks will fade and eventually disappear from Australia. I’d prefer the challenges to be confronted and addressed.

What happens over the next few months depends on what the UK publishers want to do in our small market. We are a small market and that is part of the challenge. However, we have been viable for the UK publishers for many years. That can continue. The ball is in their court.

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→ No CommentsCategory: magazine distribution · magazines · partworks

AFL Grand Final lunch

Mark Fletcher on September 27, 2018 12:05 PM

We’re celebrating in the office today ahead of the public holiday in Victoria tomorrow for the Grand Final parade.

You’ve got to love a state with a public holiday for a horse race and a foot game parade.

Anyway, we have cake and that’s a good thing.

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Lotterywest conference highlights

Mark Fletcher on September 27, 2018 6:11 AM

Here is a video released by Lotterywest featuring highlights of their recent conference in Perth:

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VALE JIM CASSIMATIS.

Mark Fletcher on September 26, 2018 9:34 PM

Jim Cassimatis, the owner of newsXpress Caboolture and newsXpress North Lakes, passed away yesterday afternoon surrounded by his children and family. It was very peaceful. He was calm and just drifted away with no struggle. Jim suffered a brain aneurysm on Sunday and had been in hospital since.

Jim served the newsagency channel for many years, including time as president of the QNF (Queensland Newsagents Federation). It was during this time that I first met him when I was representing the ANF in unity discussions.

Jim was a knowledgable and fierce advocate for newsagents and for Queensland. He served newsagents in the state well and selflessly.

Jim, and his late wife Barb, joined newsXpress many years ago. newsXpress Caboolture was an early member in Queensland, where the group began. He joined his North Lakes store when that opened some years later.

Jim was at the newsXpress conference on the Gold Coast just ten days ago may remember Jim, making a contribution as he always did.  He was keen to learn and understand.

My thoughts, and I am sure the thoughts of many in the channel are with Nick and his sisters, their extended family and with the team members at the newsXpress Caboolture and newsXpress North Lakes stores.

This is very sad news.

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→ 1 CommentCategory: Social responsibility

Are licensed post office businesses set to take action against Australia Post for fair pay?

Mark Fletcher on September 26, 2018 5:13 AM

Yesterday, I heard a radio interview with the head of an association representing Licensed Post Office (LPO) businesses in which they canvassed taking action against Australia Post for fair pay. They outlined the current model and, in particular, a decline in gross profit because of constraints in their agreement with Australia Post and because of the way they are compensated for selling stamps.

The association made a submission to a recent Senate inquiry and say they were promised a resolution by Australia Post. This has not been forthcoming. Hence their engagement with the media advocating their position.

One example was given that a $800.00 lift in revenue resulted in around $150.00 in gross profit. They said that is not acceptable given the labour model required under the Australia Post contract.

The core argument I heard was that they earned less than an award wage for doing work covered by an award.

While this is an LPO fight, newsagents may find it interesting, especially if they do take legal action.

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→ 8 CommentsCategory: Australia Post

New lottery outlets impact the value of an existing businesses

Mark Fletcher on September 25, 2018 6:59 AM

Imagine the impact on your newsagency with lotteries if a new outlet opens a few minutes walk away.

Imagine you’ve worked hard for years to build up your business, traded through tough economic times and here you are experiencing nice growth and, finally, feeling that your head is above water.

And then you discover a new competitor, a business just like yours, with lotteries is to open and, for sure, take some of your customers.

In these weeks or months when you know a competitor is coming it can do  your head in as you worry abut revenue leaking from your business, growth you have achieved being wiped off. It can be distressing and can have you looking at the situation in an unhealthy way.

Once the competitor opens you have a new target, the new business. Even though they are new, and maybe new at business, it can play on your mind and have you acting irrationally.

I have never seen support from Tatts for this situation, where they have approved (encouraged?) a competitor to open close and take business from you.

This scenario of Tatts approving a new outlet close to a existing outlet is not new. It’s happened before. It’s happening now. It’s set to happen again.

I get that Tatts has the right to appoint new outlets and needs to do so as part of its business plan. However, from what I have seen, their process of deciding on new outlets, especially those close to existing outlets, is not transparent and can harm small family businesses.

There is no reasonable and independent path of review or appeal. Tatts is investigator, judge and jury. The small business negatively affected by a plan by Tatts to approve a competitor outlet is weak compared to Tatts in the process.

While I am no lawyer, from what I can tell it is a state or territory issue if a business owner wanted to agitate on this. Points of compliant and agitation could include tribunals such as QCAT, VCAT and the CTTT, small business ombundsmen, small business commissioners and, maybe but it is a long shot, state / territory gaming commissions.

I would like to see Tatts agree a code of conduct that offers structured measurable criteria for Tatts assessing and approving new outlets and that respect the position off any existing nearby outlet within a reasonable distance of any proposed new outlet. This process needs to respect existing small businesses ahead of any benefit perceived buy people at Tatts.

If I’m wrong in what I have written here, if Tatts does have processes I suggest they establish, please outline them in comments below.

Footnote: I don ‘t have lotteries in businesses I own for several reasons including this one. I don’t want a business that is easily impacted by decisions by a core supplier. A newsagency without lotteries can thrive.

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→ 5 CommentsCategory: Ethics · Lotteries · Social responsibility

Helping newsagents see beyond the traditional

Mark Fletcher on September 24, 2018 6:09 AM

My newsagency software company has launched a campaign that, in part, helps newsagents look beyond the traditional view of their business. here is the front of the first post and in that campaign:

I see newsagency businesses evolving every day. The diversity resulting from the evolution is wonderful, inspiring. For the future of retail businesses in the channel we need to see more diversification.

In my own shops we have been diversified for years. From experience I say, once you start on that path you gain momentum and pursue more and more change.

The newsagency software itself has diversified, to support newsagents and their businesses through change, embracing opportunities beyond traditional. While the staples of support for newspapers, magazines, sub agents home delivery and more remain, new facilities for attracting new shoppers and serving new product categories are vital for a brighter future.

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→ No CommentsCategory: Newsagency management · newsagency of the future · Newsagency opportunities

Sunday retail management tip: on competing with big businesses

Mark Fletcher on September 23, 2018 7:00 AM

Small business retailers often express frustration at big business competitors: they have more money for marketing, get better supplier deals and often have lower overheads per dollar of revenue.

In my experience, there is little to be gained from worrying about these things, which we cannot change. There is more to gain from focussing on points of difference we can leverage.

For example, we can bundle items to make price comparison difficult or impossible, we can offer a loyalty pitch big businesses will not offer, we can be flexible in how and where we pitch producers while bug retail businesses are structured and, usually, inflexible.

Bundling is particularly useful as you can create a bundle unique to your business, which feels like it is a value proposition unlike anything they have seen to that point. While this is a product by product task, it is in these small steps that you can find success, by changing shopper perspective and winning business more direct competition may have denied.

Bundles can work in gift, stationery, cards, toys and more. It is easy to use tech to manage and track this.

I am yet to see a business that cannot more creatively compete with big business competitors in ways they have not leveraged up to that point. It is about being flexible, relative and locally engaged.

Big business competitors are not going away, they are not fading in size, they are not spending less. This means we have to be smart and engaged to compete.

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→ No CommentsCategory: Management tip · marketing tip · Newsagency management

Zumbo: cashless

Mark Fletcher on September 22, 2018 3:58 PM

Further to my recent post about cashless retail, I noticed Zumbo at QVB in Sydney is cashless.

While not without challenges, I expect more retail businesses will move to cashless as the benefits are considerable.

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→ 2 CommentsCategory: Newsagency management

Pitching boxed Christmas cards in the newsagency

Mark Fletcher on September 22, 2018 7:08 AM

We started with a small selection of boxed Christmas cards near the entrance to the business, to introduce their availability.

Already, we are seeing hero designs emerge. As is often the case, the religious themed cards sell well early in the boxed card season.

The connection with Make A Wish is valuable as boxed card customers love the charity connection.

Our plan for boxed cards involved moving the offer every two weeks in-store and supporting this with social media promotion regularly to attract people to the shop.

While there have been some who said having Christmas cards out in August was too soon, others were relieved to find them early. Christmas cards are different to hot cross buns in that they take time to write and prepare – hence the people who appreciate accessing them early.

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→ 2 CommentsCategory: Greeting Cards

The first ever newsagent’s choir sets up discussion about teamwork and strategy

Mark Fletcher on September 21, 2018 5:53 AM

The newsXpress national conference on the Gold Coast this week opened with Pub Choir leading a 90 minute workshop that created a choir of newsagents and suppliers.

The 200 voices, who had never sung together before, singing Better Be Home Soon by Crowded House created a beautiful sound. The experience spoke to confronting challenges, breaking down barriers, working together and looking over the horizon at what could be.

The choir workshop was the surprise opening to the conference. newsXpress members had no idea ti was coming. The feedback since has been wonderful and inspiring for what it is leading to.

Over two days at the conference there was exploration of new traffic supplier opportunities, including suppliers who have not previously supplied newsagencies who spoke in depth about their traditional shoppers and how to find and serve them.

In one case, conference attendees learnt about a completely new product category that offers excellent margin and which has a strong following in Australia. Discovering how to engage with this with context of existing newsXpress product categories exposed another way to leverage opportunities for the business.

Everything presented and discussed at the conference was optional, as is the case with newsXpress.

On Tuesday, in a deliberately more intimate setting, seventy newsXpress members sat in an open circle and talked business in a personal way that was emotional and transformational. Many who participated have provided feedback about the profound impact of this three-hour session. Here is one message:

The introduction of #Pub Choir  set the scene for a conference that was going to be different…….and that it was.

Most enjoyable, entertaining and educational.

This morning’s round table discussion certainly was the most powerful and understanding I’ve been to. It was a ‘reality episode’ that really drove the point home that, as retailers, we cannot take our eye off ‘the ball’ for one second.

Here is a comment from another participant.

I have been a newsagent for close to thirty years and been to hundreds of meetings and sat on committees and been to many conferences. I have not in all that time experienced anything close to the inspiration, care, closeness and optimism as I have witnessed here. I mean this sincerely, the experience has changed my life.

I appreciate there are some here who will either through comments or privately mock this post or put it down. It’s okay. Think whatever you like. I have not written this to get your agreement. Those who were there know first-and what it was like and what it will mean for their businesses.

For me, it was a wonderful three days: inspiring, insightful and memorable. But overall, it was practical from a business next steps perspective.

In creating this newsXpress conference, I sought to put something together that was appropriate for our times, that focussed on next steps. I think too often planning conferences look too far ahead. In our channel today, the horizon is much closer.

On the choir experience, those who participated cheered loudly at the end of singing Better Be Home Soon as a performance. Then, at the end of the conference, we showed the video of the performance, and the cheered again. It’s a joyous memory.

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→ 2 CommentsCategory: newsagency marketing · Newsagency marketing group · newsagency of the future · Newsagent representation

Newsagents feature in Take 5, on sale now.

Mark Fletcher on September 20, 2018 11:35 AM

While I’m not sure about the headline, it is terrific to see newsagents feature in the latest issue of Take 5 magazine. This is an issue to promote on social media as it humanises newsagents, makes us human and fun, if not wild! All good stuff!

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→ No CommentsCategory: Fun · magazines

The challenge of the convenience model for newsagents

Mark Fletcher on September 20, 2018 6:05 AM

In addition to my post on this topic earlier this year, here is a video I shot a last week where I talk more about the challenges I see in a convenience model for newsagents:

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→ 5 CommentsCategory: Convenience retail · Newsagency challenges

Look carefully at revenue at the start and end of the day

Mark Fletcher on September 19, 2018 5:30 AM

Talking with a newsagent recently about labour costs in their business and reviewing their data we could see that between 5am and 7am on the six days they were open they lost close to $200.00 a week.

They had two staff on for security reasons. The nature of the business, its location and management practices meant the early morning retail staff did not have much of value to do. This meant we could only judge the value of being open against revenue.

Digging deeper, we reached a first-step conclusion that the opening of the shop should be pushed back to 6am. This will more than  halve the loss given the revenue in that first hour.

What was interesting to me was the reason they continued to open early despite clear losses.

They were worried about upsetting the few customers who came in early. These were low margin value customers, customers buying products with low margin products and not shopping the rest of the shop then or at any other time.

They were worried about the negative comments in the community.

This had been the case for several years. Combined losses through the period of concern and inaction had mounted to in excess of $43,000 from these two hours of the day. My question to the owners was: has it been worth $43,000 to not act because of worry about what a few customers might say? Of course, the wander was no.

Only you can know if you opening and closing hours should be adjusted in your business. My advice is to first-up look at it as a purely commercial decision, so that you are sure of the numbers and what the financial decision should be.

The most common discovery in looking at businesses that are challenged is in labour management. Either the labour cost is too high for the business or wrong people are in some roles.

Data can be valuable in making changes. the key is to not over think the changes. Make a step, measure, assess and adjust if necessary. The alternative is you think, worry, think, worry and not do anything until you discover the inaction has cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

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→ 2 CommentsCategory: Newsagency management

Fake licence products hurt ethical retailers

Mark Fletcher on September 18, 2018 6:08 AM

A competitor of one of my shops sells fake licence product for considerably less than the authentic licence products we sell. They have done it for some years.

While the landlord was unconcerned about fake products being sold in the centre, the licence holder was more engaged. However, they did not proceed with legal action because of the cost. The challenge was determining the source.

For licence holders it is a border force issue. Since the majority of containers coming into the country it is easy to get fake licence product into stores without the provenance being easily untangled.

At a recent gift trade show I saw the problem first-hand. There were a couple of suppliers with mid-tier licence products that were fake. By mid-tier, I mean not a popular licences as anything from Disney or similar. For sure the licences were strong and valuable, but not at a level or of a volume that the local licence representative would take action. and I think that is what they gamble on.

The challenge for retailers is being sure that what you stock is the real deal. Price is one way of checking. Branding and packaging are other ways. Another check you could do, if you have time, is at local indecent discount variety stores and independent tobacco shops. I have seen fake products in both types of stores.

in our marketing we pitch authenticity and we educate shoppers on how ton spot fakes in some product categories. In our experience, taking the high stand like this builds trust. This is important to return customers, those building collections within the licence.

Stocking licenced products can be a challenge because of unscrupulous retailers and importers. However, it can be worth it if you go in with your eyes open and have strong processes to counter fakes.

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→ 5 CommentsCategory: Ethics · Newsagency management

Questions for newsagents from uni students

Mark Fletcher on September 17, 2018 6:11 AM

I have been interviewed by four uni students in this week for papers each is preparing for assessment. Two are writing papers for business studies, one for journalism and one for media studies.

In each case they were interested in where our channel sits in this period of disruption to print media. They came at the questions from the perspective of a print is dead world.

We talked about the habit based shopper for newspapers, their typical age and what else they buy. We also talked about regular magazine shoppers, =especially special interest title shoppers. They had not considered looking nat magazines beyond titled in the top ten.

Two students were shocked that some newsagents are growing their businesses outside of print media products, that some have been doing this for years.

The journalism student was really interesting to talk with because we discussed what constitutes journalism today and explored how local businesses, like newsagencies, might play a role in that evolving world.

One business student had not considered newsagency businesses trading outside their traditional shingle. The discussion led them to reconsider the position they were taking in their paper, that our channel would become extinct.

What I liked most about the discussions was the two-way discussion. They challenged me and I challenged them. I learnt plenty about a valuable demographic as these students will graduate, they will, hopefully, get jobs and they could become our customers.

I was surprised to learn that all four thought of our businesses as newsagencies =would have been in the 1990s. None could remember visiting a newsagency business that they would consider purchasing from beyond lottery, magazine, newspaper and some stationery products. None could name a newsagency they’d visit for gifts.

We newsagents have to change this. We have to preach loud and long about our relevance today, about our pitch away from what has been traditional for the channel. Those who are growing are growing in these new and fringe product category areas.

No one else will make this we are relevant today pitch for us. We have to do it relentlessly, entertainingly and with a voice that is relevant. Were need to do this so uni students don’t look at our channel only as one that is in a death roll.

I say this because each of the uni students I spoke with is open to a newsagency channel that is relevant to them, even if only a few times a year.

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→ 6 CommentsCategory: Newsagency management · newsagency marketing · newsagency of the future · Newsagency opportunities

A teacher appreciation video from newsXpress

Mark Fletcher on September 16, 2018 6:51 AM

Here is a video newsXpress has just released to its members for use on social media, recognising the teachers in our community.

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→ 10 CommentsCategory: marketing · Social responsibility

A marketing video any small business retailer can use

Mark Fletcher on September 16, 2018 6:42 AM

My POS software company produced this un-branded marketing video for its small business retail customers to use if they wish on social media and elsewhere.

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Leveraging Peppa Pig for the newsagency

Mark Fletcher on September 15, 2018 7:06 AM

Peppa Pig is one of the top licences in Australia with 200,000 searches a month. What’s terrific is that newsagents can access plenty of Peppa Pig products from greeting cards to stationery to toys to plush. The thing is, however, you need to display Peppa Pig products together to tell a strong and noticeable Peppa Pig story. Do that and you are more likely to more items in the basket and thereby maximise margin dollars from the purchase.

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→ No CommentsCategory: Basket building · Newsagency management · newsagency marketing · Newsagency opportunities

Smart placement of puzzles and pens

Mark Fletcher on September 15, 2018 7:03 AM

Check out this placement of a small format puzzle book and pens at a news outlet at Sydney airport. This is situated with fashion titles, close to the front. Where retail space is expensive, it pays to be smart and maximise every shopping visit opportunity.

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→ No CommentsCategory: crosswords

Growth in higher price-point toy revenue in Australia

Mark Fletcher on September 14, 2018 1:00 PM

Good news: Independent industry driven analysis of toy purchases at retail in Australia in the last financial year reveals significant growth in $10+ product purchase points.

All price point bands above $10 show growth in the research results. Even at the $50+ point, which accounts for 25% of revenue, we see 3% year on year growth.

Elsewhere in the report is evidence that the toys category is strong. I see this also in the benchmark data I access and from my own stores at a local business level.

What is most interesting is the insights as to licence and key brand opportunities. With toys being a fickle category and prone to quick growth and quick decline, having good data can be key to driving success.

I think any newsagency in any location could offer a consistent toy range and use this to attract new shoppers to the business.

While I am still working on a benchmark ratio, I am leaning toward to suggesting a reasonable goal could be toy revenue equal to at least 50% of card revenue While I know stores significantly above this, most the of the newsagency channel is below so I think a modest benchmark revenue goal is more useful at this time.  In considering this, toys means toys plus puzzles, plush and collectibles as that is how the analysts assess it.

And to be clear, the toys I am talking about here are those from major suppliers, not cheap generic brand toys you might put on a spinner on consignment.

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→ 4 CommentsCategory: Newsagency opportunities · Trends

Fresh tips on using Facebook to promote your newsagency

Mark Fletcher on September 14, 2018 6:03 AM

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→ No CommentsCategory: marketing · marketing tip · newsagency marketing

If you think closing your newsagency is the only option

Mark Fletcher on September 13, 2018 7:26 AM

I video I shot this morning.

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→ 4 CommentsCategory: Newsagency management · newsagency of the future · Newsagency opportunities

Why banks will not lend against newsagency businesses

Mark Fletcher on September 12, 2018 6:09 AM

Years ago, people purchasing a newsagency business could borrow against the value of the business without supporting brick and mortar property. It was considered a bankable asset.

That changes with deregulation in 1999. While people could still borrow against a newsagency business without other security, they could not borrow to the same level.

Today, the banks will not lend against a newsagency business. rather, they lend against property and permit those finds to be used to purchase and run a newsagency business.

The banks consider the business itself to not be an asset. The same is true for most independent retail businesses.

Talking to a banker last week at a business conference, they said their risk assessment people saw the increase in independent retail business collapses as a key reason. The situation of today is, in part, due to the collapse of others, their business failure has made it hard for those in business today.

There are lenders of last resort who will lend without the property asset. however, they do so at a cost and risk that is, in my opinion, not worth it. The banks have hurdles for good reason. I encourage anyone buying a retail business to be happy with them, to accept them and not seek to go around them.

The decision of the banks is not isolated to our channel. Further, it does not mean newsagency businesses are not a good investment. rather, the decision reflects on the nature of independent retail and the position of the banks towards risk assessment today. It reflects their natural conservatism and that money is their prime product.

Buying a business is like buying a house. You need the appropriate amount of capital before you can begin. The right amount of capital needs to also include funds for contingencies, costs you have not expected. Plus, it needs to reflect factors outside your control, which we see more in retail today.

Even with property backing a loan, banks will look automatically at a small retail business as an asset in itself. This is why the business needs to be prepared, to look like a good investment, to look like it will succeed. It supports the case to the bank.

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→ No CommentsCategory: Newsagency management