How do you celebrate your organisation’s centenary and fit it for a strong future? Through business development events and parliamentary and industry lobbying says the NFRN’s incoming national president. Marcello Perricone reports

In its centenary year, the NFRN is about to see a familiar face back at the helm. Charged with helping to secure the organisation’s future, Mike Mitchelson is preparing to take over as its national president for a second time – one of only two figures to do so.

As a newsagent, sub-postmaster and former national president, Mr Mitchelson has decades of experience he can put into the job.

“It’s quite an honour to be the president for the centenary,” he tells RN. “During this year, we have to make sure the federation is in the right position to succeed well into the future.”

This sense of duty is typical – Mr Mitchelson and his wife, Anne, have been helping customers in their Cumbrian store with bank services through the Post Office since bank branches in his town have closed.  

Starting with the 2018 annual conference theme, ‘putting members first’, Mr Mitchelson will focus on engaging and growing the NFRN’s membership and relationship building within the industry and in parliament. 

“The membership is the backbone of the federation and we need to tailor how we operate to help them. The retail sector is under so much pressure, with many retailers struggling. I don’t think it’s ever been this tough,” he says. “Members need to know the federation is there to help them when they need it.”

To achieve this, Mr Mitchelson will build on work started by his predecessors – engaging with NFRN members, raising awareness of what the organisation offers and attracting younger retailers via trade events and forums.

“Young people don’t want to go to branch meetings – they want to know how to develop their businesses. We need to provide events where they know they will get help with that,” he says. 

With many trade shows around the country having already proved popular, more events are already planned in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland this year.

Mr Mitchelson is also keen to make members aware of the range of services available to them, with legal advice, news management and the NFRN’s new buying group some of most valuable offerings he is keen to promote. 

As he works to future-proof the NFRN, Mike Mitchelson also knows that many newsagents’ concerns for the future centre around the news supply chain.

With national and local newspapers and more than 500 magazines in his own store, Mr Mitchelson is all too familiar with the frustration of accessing the quantity of titles needed, at the right time, and suffering cut allocation of key titles or those on promotion.

Engagement with supply chain managers, he believes, is the only way to improve services for stores.

“We have a lot of regional meetings, but we have to increase the number of news summits in London. There is a great danger of the whole network collapsing if publishers, retailers and wholesalers don’t work together. Menzies is already up for sale, and we’ve got to make sure each sector is thought of when decisions are made.”

Key to this is a recognition by publishers of the impact that carriage charges, late deliveries and dropped margins have, he says. 

“We provide the backbone of circulation through news and delivery. If independent retailers don’t get their papers in time to service their customers on more than two occasions, they lose those customers. Getting newspapers to our members’ shops on time and in the right quantity is very important.”

Retail crime is another focus area, and well-attended parliamentary receptions in Westminster
and Scotland have already taken place this year where the issue has been raised. Mr Mitchelson
is keen to extend this by working with the police.

“We’re getting so many stories coming in about armed robberies, threats with knives and guns.
Retailers have a right to feel safe in their own shops and we want better police response time to those members. We have evidence that,in some areas, the big multiples get a better response than independents, so we have to make sure we meet with and get through to the police constables and commissioners,” he says.

The NFRN’s parliamentary work will also allow it to influence incoming legislation, Mr Mitchelson believes. The federation contributed to discussions on Scottish laws including the deposit return scheme and minimum unit pricing, for example, and early involvement in upcoming legislation UK-wide is crucial to protect members, he says.

“The main thing is getting involv-ed as policies are being developed, because we need to make sure the concerns of independent stores are included in any decisions. Take the plastic bag levy – we’ve lobbied on this for two years because smaller independent stores were missed out and now we’re getting them included.”

With success comes the chance to celebrate and centenary plans include a national council meeting in the federation’s hometown of Leicester and a gala dinner in London in February.

And through the hard work and celebrations, Mr Mitchelson is clear that running the federation successfully is a team effort – a fact true now and into the future.

“Nothing is done in isolation. Linda has been a strong president and has worked tirelessly. There
have been a lot of challenges in the trade and internally – it’s been a partnership. The key now
is taking the whole organisation into the next century.”