Monday, 11 May 2009 - Ideas don't belong in a box

This will be the last post on News 4 Newsagents. The blog is changing its name and moving to

The new unBoxed Blog will include a new look, Twitter updates and more of my ramblings.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

On The Move

You will notice that it has been a while since I last posted anything here - and to regular readers I apologise for this. But over the next week I'll be moving to a new blog on a new domain. The new site isn't quite ready for release just yet, so I won't announce where I'll be moving until it actually happens. Keep watching over the next week for the update.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Suppliers that engage

I'm loving the new software ideas feature from our POS software provider, Tower Systems. There are always changes you would like to see made to software and having a path through which you can suggest those changes and provide input into others' suggestions is a welcome initiative.

We have already submitted four ideas with plans to submit more over the coming weeks. The team are on the lookout for changes that would make their jobs easier and its great that they too can play a part in guiding change in the software they use.

Software ideas makes me wonder why other suppliers aren't developing systems that give their clients the opportunity to participate in suggesting and guiding change. Retailers often spout ideas amongst themselves and that is, unfortunately, where they most often stay. Suppliers that not only encourage intuitive ideas but establish platforms that are driven by retailer input are in a position to expand the pool from which their creative thoughts come from and enhance their ability to capitalise on ideas before their competitors.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Cross Merchandising AWW Cookbooks

After removing the AWW cookbook range from our product mix, we have agreed to try and cross merchandise a selected range of the titles within the supermarket area of the store. ACP have organised a supermarket-specific range of the cookbooks for us to trial.

We will monitor sales of the cookbooks over a four week period. If they fail to meet our KPI we will cut them once again. If the trial succeeds we will look at developing a cross merchandising strategy that extends to a much larger range of magazines.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Inside Retailing: Why did some big retailers fail?

Retailers, especially newsagents, should take a look at the article by Kevin Moore, CEO of Crossmark Asia Pacific. Too many newsagents are lying stagnant in a time of significant change in both the industry and the retail sector at large. Those who refuse to innovate in the reflection of a changing, more demanding, marketplace are set to face the same failure as the big name retailers that Moore mentions. For those that are innovating, a clearing of the industry's 'dead wood' is not such a bad thing. It will open up the marketplace for and provide smart newsagents with opportunity.

Thursday, 12 March 2009


This is the new display that greets our customers as they enter the store. It's bold, bright and unmissable. We found this BabyBoo plush at the Reed Gift Fair only a few weeks ago. Since being instore for only a few days it has gained more attention than any other display we have ever created.

Customers LOVE this product. They just can't help but touch and feel. Kids, parents, grandparents, teenagers and everyone in between. While the range is predominantly targeted at babies, it appears to be appealing to a slightly wider market.

If the range continue along it's current lines of success it may well be our best 'find' from the gift fair.

The introduction of the BabyBoo range marks our next step in the giftware category. Having played in the category for a year we are taking our learning's and diving in harder.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Telstra Bigpond Wireless Broadband

Almost every day we get new customers looking to purchase credit for their prepaid Telstra Wireless Broadband for the first time. And almost every day those customers are unaware that it is not Telstra Bigpond credit they require, but standard mobile phone credit.

Since Telstra's release of the Next G Wireless Broadband they have failed to communicate to their customers what prepaid credit they are required to purchase. Subsequently, we have had customer after customer return to the store, asking to exchange their Bigpond voucher.

While we are happy to refund the voucher, a process that can take up to 20 minutes each time, the lack of effort by Telstra to inform their customers about an issue they are well aware exists is frustrating.

Removing AWW Cookbooks

We made the decision this week to remove all the AWW cookbooks from our product mix. Not one of the books meets our KPI and while we were willing to overlook this to a certain extent, the sales have not improved to a point where stocking the range is profitable.

Over the past 12 months we have given the range a number of opportunities to increase sales. None proved universally effective.

Being books, the price point is high and the content stagnant in comparison to magazines. This doesn't appeal to our local market nor does it fit with our 'constant change' merchandising concept.

We will now hand pick a select few titles during the year to place in high traffic locations for no more than one week. I would not expect this to be any more than 4 or 5. The titles will be those which can attract impulse shoppers.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Valentines Day looking strong

Even one week out from Valentines Day sales of both cards and giftware was looking promising. We are seeing sharp increases on last year's sales and expect this to continue though until February 14. Tomorrow we will further transform the front of store with a plethora of balloons and on Friday flowers will be introduced.

Having essentially run out of cards last year, we have around double the stock for Valentines Day 09. It is our second largest card season, only marginally beaten by Mothers Day.

With the $14M Saturday Lotto draw schedules for Valentines Day and the expected last minute rush, we have increased our staffing levels for the day. It will be interesting to see if the economic situation will have any effect on the season. From what we have seen over the last few days, it would not appear to.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Network wrong on 'best practice'

Network Services has released a information sheet for newsagents, detailing the benefits of weekly returns.

While I am incredibly glad to see Network move to weekly returns, some of their advice leaves much to be desired.

Best practice retailers are using Netonline to perform their Supplementary

Best practice retailers are NOT using Netonline. Best practice retailers are using the far more efficient EDI Returns via XchangeIT.

Network continues to push their Netonline platform, to both the detriment of publishers and newsagents. As long as network continue down this path the industry's progress in its use of technology will be slowed. Network's focus should be on complete integration of their website into newsagent software. The potential efficiency the could be gained by embracing such technology is mouth-wateringly lucrative for newsagents.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Home and Away Souvenir Edition

The Home and Away magazine released this week has been an overwhelming success. With such high demand from customers many newsagents have sold out of the title. Getting additional supply has been a problem for some agents, but with such unexpected demand it's an issue that is unavoidable.

The magazine has been heavily promoted in prime time television slots and the reaction from fans demonstrates the loyalty such programmes command.

Given the success of the title I, and I suspect most other newsagents, would strongly support similar promotions by popular television shows.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Natural talent and customer service

Its no too often we find new team members with a natural flair for customer service. Someone with truly natural customer service skills is a gem in retail and one retailers work especially hard to retain. While good training is essential, it can rarely match natural talent.

I find it strange to see some retailers position people with exceptional customer service skills in areas where that resource is wasted. I've seen retailers, newsagents included, with incredibly poor customer service skills, insist on working at the POS themselves, banishing more skilled team members to the back of store or inventory tasks. It's a crime for that talent to go to waste.

I've been thinking about the power of customer service the last few weeks after the introduction of a new team member. Her customer service skills have been incredible from the very beginning - maybe the best we've seen. What makes it all the more incredible is that this is her first job. Presuming that she will be with us for a number of years (our retention rate for junior staff is relatively good) I've been trying to find ways we can make further use of her talent. If we can not only use her talent, but nurture and develop it, there are potential benefits not only for ourselves but for her as well.

We take the same approach to managing the placement of all team members. Utilising natural talent in any area not only makes us more efficient, it gives us an edge that contributes in our strive to be better than the competition.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Back to school fashion

In line with our overall merchandising direction, this years back to school offer is all about 'fashion'. We're hitting hard with fashion-savvy brands such as SBG, Maped, Foohy, Crayola, Pental, 3M Post-it and Diddle.

At some point during the back to school season every one of these brands will feature a display in a high traffic impulse area - most getting premium front of store positioning.

Pelikan Artline have provided us with a Maped branded stand that will be used for the entire season. We are giving the stand front of store positioning and have expended our normal range to position ourselves as the destination for Maped product. We introduced Maped product for the first time last back to school season and it justifies its such premium space having quickly become our second most popular stationery brand.

SBG is without question our stand-out point of difference this season. Featured on the inside cover of the newsXpress back to school brochure, this is one of the best ranges of stationery we have seen. Besides being incredibly quality, the SBG range is all about style - it simply screams BUY ME. We absolutely love this range and judging by our customers reaction, so do they. If this range performs as well as we expect, we plan to incorporate a selection into our stationery department on a permanent basis.

Back to school is a BIG season for us. It presents us with the perfect opportunities to experiment with new products as well as position ourselves in the stationery space. What we offer at back to school will be representative of how we want our customers to perceive us. We see back to school as the season to establish ourselves as the destination store for fashion stationery

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Growth continues

Further to the growth we reported for the first half of 2008, we have again produced significant growth for the second half of the year. Below are our comparative growth figures for the second half of 2008.

Jul-Dec 2008 compared to Jul-Dec 2007
Cards & Gift Packaging Up 139%
Magazines Up 28%
Newspapers Up 6%
Stationery Up 43%
Prepaid Vouchers Up 49%
Diaries & Calendars Up 68%
Post Point Up 37%
NSW Lotteries Up8%

* Giftware and Ink are not included here because these categories were only introduced at the beginning of 2008

July-Dec 2008 compared to Jan-Jun 2008
Cards & Gift Packaging Up 60%
Giftware Up 115%
Ink Up 43%
Magazines Up 14%
Newspapers Up 2%
Stationery Up 1%
Prepaid Vouchers Up 27%
NSW Lotteries Down 1%

Our most notable areas of growth are in cards & gift packaging and giftware. Taking greater control of cards and packaging con tines to see us perform well. Our success in giftware is in part due to the offers made though newsXpress, the other is our commitment to keeping the offer fresh. It is certainly not a difficult category to manage (much easier than magazines for instance) and the return is certainly well worth the effort. We have more changes planned for both categories in 2009.

Prepaid vouchers are another great area of growth for us. Integrating the electronic vouchers into our POS has made processing these transactions faster and this has been received well by customers. It is also worth noting that our LCD screens at each POS promote the availability of phone cards and other electronic voucher products. Promoting this at the POS has certainly increased customer awareness of these product's availability and creates an impulse/reminder situation for those who are already aware.

Ink again continues to show good growth and we plan to stimulate this further with increasingly aggressive marketing in 2009. Without newsXpress and HOT ink! we would not have the means to manage and promote this category so effectively. The time it takes to manage borders on nil.

Magazines continue to show double digit growth even after reducing both the the category's allocated space and depth of range at the start of 2008. A consolidated rage has meant significant growth of fewer titles, making the category more efficient to manage. Our putaways have also grown significantly over the past 12 months and we plan to increase this even further with a more aggressive partworks pitch in 2009.

Stationery is up in the 2007/2008 comparison and we attribute the lack of growth in the 2008 half year comparison to our large Back To School season in January. The first comparison is more reflective of the category's growth. We have more changes planned for stationery this year as well as a much bolder BTS pitch.

That our newspaper sales are not declining is positive. I would note that we actually reduced our range of niche titles in this category, improved space efficiency with a non-traditional fixture and moved the product further into the store and away from the door.

We have not yet looked into our lotteries sales. The significant variation between the two comparisons may be reflective of jackpots and seasonal trends or it may not.

While some businesses might sit back and become complacent after seeing strong growth, content to keep doing things the same way, we will continue to chop, change and hack at our business. Change is the key to our success.

Way too much Way2go

Way2go is a new travel story and advice magazine and just another example of oversupply in the category.

Our range of travel magazines is tiny. Only 3 titles. Our customer demand for these is evidently low with the most popular of the 3 averaging sales of less than 5 copies per month.

The 19 allocated copies of Way2go is blatant oversupply. Data from other titles in the category clearly show we won't sell anywhere close to 19 copies. There is no excuse for a distributor to not use the data available.

Diary sales skyrocket

Our diary sales are currently up some 68% on last year. As it is, we are just about out of stock. While we anticipated some strong growth when ordering for the category, it wasn't enough to meet this huge increase.

Last year was the first time we had ventured from the basic range of blue and black diaries you see just about everywhere. We entered the fashion diary space and it connected with our market perfectly. This year we went even further with a much larger range, more stock and a major focus on fashion. Apparently, STILL NOT ENOUGH.

So even before the season is close to being over we are having to place another significant order. Next year will see us go even harder in the diary space. We'll expand our range even further and work on sourcing a better way of displaying it. We're finding the harder we pitch our seasonal and promotional offerings the greater their success.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Last Minute Christmas Trade

While I am yet to crunch the numbers on sales for the entire pre Christmas period, last minute sales are a good indication of our growth during this year's 'silly season'. Christmas eve sales are up over 30% on last year. It appears as if yesterday was our biggest day of trade ever.

Basket size is up significantly, as are customer numbers. Christmas presented us with the opportunity to show customers that normally wouldn't shop with us, the changes we've made over the past 12 months. With relatively few hiccups (besides a slight POS problem where we couldn't send price changes to each terminal - thanks to SSA for fixing it late afternoon Christmas Eve the quick response was much appreciated) the day ran smoothly and from what we could tell, most customers left enjoying the experience.

We will take on board the large number of queries we received from customers this year. Whether it be someone looking for an unusual product or a not-so-kitchen-savvy husband wondering what kind of flour to purchase the questions came thick and fast. We'll look at placing an additional staff member on the floor next year to focus mainly on delivering this kind of customer service. At a time when many stores are too busy to offer their normal customer service we need to shine as the one that makes it a priority.

My only gripe is the lack of innovation from NSW Lotteries. From what I understand the pitch coming from Victoria makes the NSW offer look uninnovative and lazy. Free scratchies are great - but it doesn't scream BUY ME!

I hope everyone has seen a great Christmas trade this year and I wish you all a very merry Christmas. Enjoy the day off.

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Most newsagents in NSW would have yesterday noticed the same tragic story on the cover of both The Daily Telegraph and The Herald.

A significant number of our junior team members attended school with Simone, many were in the same grade. Needless to say the last few days have been hard on them. To loose a friend at such a young age must be incredibly heart breaking.

All our juniors who knew Simone have of course been told not to worry about work and that they should return whenever they are ready. Death affects everyone differently and we need to let them grieve in their own time.

Even for those of us who did not know Simone, the tragedy has made for a solemn few days. In a relatively small town it is had to escape the impact of such a devastating event. Our thoughts are with our team who have lost a friend and her family, our customers, who have lost a loved one.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Setting Department Targets

In addition to our ongoing merchandising program I previously blogged about, we are now in the process of setting growth targets for each department. While we are still achieving strong overall growth, we don't want to risk becoming complacent. Having defined targets means we have something clear to work towards.

We'll set just two targets for each department; sustained growth and one off record. Sustained growth targets will be measured over longer periods while one off records will be a weekly target.

Once we define each target we'll post them permanently on one of our two communications boards. Promoting our targets to the team helps get everyone working towards the same goal. Letting them know when we achieve those targets also allows us to share the feeling of success. Building this kind of "open book" culture can help create a more enjoyable and inclusive workplace.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Canson Creative Christmas

The impact of the newsXpress "Canson Creative Christmas" promotion is unmissable in-store. The promotion is one of the best I have seen from newsXpress to date. Quality bright product that targets its demographic well, loud marketing collateral and strong retailer margins. Its this kind of mix that not only makes a promotion successful, but profitable at the same time.
With extremely competitive price points we are well positioned to capture a slice of the pre-Christmas market.
The accompanying brochure is the third we have sent out in the past six weeks. This continual external marketing is helping increase local brand awareness of both newsXpress and Canson. With the success of recent brochures we are also planning on expanding our brochure distribution area.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Another promotion, another disappointment

News Limited is running yet again another National Geographic DVD promotion. It seems however that this time around they have fixed one problem, but not another. We received enough DVDs, which is fantastic ... unfortunately we didn't have enough newspapers. News Limited did not increase our allocation.

It seems strange that a promotion seemingly designed to increase sales would include only the regular number of newspapers. How are sales to increase if there is no additional stock to sell?

There will likely be generic tokens in the Telegraph after the duration of the promotion, allowing customers to collect any DVDs they may have missed - but this simply isn't good enough. Customers want the DVD right then and there. That News Limited doesn't promote this even to retailers makes explaining the situation to customers difficult.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Mini Cleo

The miniature Cleo that went on sale today is a best described as a giant publishing mistake. With half our allocation normal sized and the other half a mini almost-Cleo, displaying the combination is a challenge. At only 25% GP it doesn't deserve counter space, and being height-challenged means it will be lost in traditional magazine fixtures.

Being an almost exact copy of its larger counterpart, the mini Cleo can't even be pitched alongside the normal issue as an upsell. Having two sizes of the same magazine does nothing but confuse customers. The different sizes are not self explanatory and customers will undoubtedly be wondering why they are being presented with the option. Hell, I'm wondering why they're being presented with the option ... ?

It is likely the title will become lost in our fixtures. We lose, the publishers lose and customers become confused. No one benefits.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Visual merchandising

We're in the process of implementing an ongoing merchandising program. The program will aim to create a systematic ongoing approach to merchandising. It will include a number of visual merchandising guides that set out how products should be positioned and grouped.

The program will also set out our approach to brands, range, depth of range, generic products, private label products and KPIs. Having these written into a strategy makes it easier to be consistent when making decisions.

A schedule will also accompany the guides, defining how often each department should be re-merchandised. This will be integrated into our daily operations, reinforcing our approach to merchandising as an ongoing and integral aspect of the business - not a once off activity considered second in priority to day-to-day tasks.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Calendars and diaries track strong growth

Our sales data tells us that calendars and diaries are currently tracking huge growth on last year. Calendars are showing growth of 119% and diaries 75%. Together the categories are presenting sales almost double that of the same period last year.

We continue to perform well in these categories thanks to the calendarXpress strategies offered though newsXpress. Going out a little earlier, refining our range and using the knowledge of both newsXpress category managers and business development managers is being reflected strongly in our sales data. In a time of economic uncertainty growth such as this is extremely welcome and highlights, more than ever, the need for newsagents to be part of a strong marketing group.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Keeping up with demand for tattoo magazines

Tattoo magazines are our new hot category. We are selling them as quickly as we get them. Magazines that have a month, and sometimes three or more, on-sale period are selling within days. The entire Tattoo section is looking extremely bare while we wait for extra stock.

Tattoo magazines are not the 'unsightly' category they may have been years ago. They shouldn't be shoved up the back of a store in some dark, dingy corner. The target demographic is wide ranging from teenagers to parents, guys and girls. We locate them next to our Men's Lifestyle category, near titles such as Ralph, FHM and Men's Health. These popularity of these titles draws people to the space and highlights our range (when we actually have stock).

If we continue to push the category by allocating display space and locating it near highly browsed categories we're confident that we can achieve between a 50% and 100% increase.