There are two schools of thoughts about magazines and newspaper sales in the 21st century and how they fit with a local convenience store. The one that is winning appears to be to stock a limited range of top sellers and get on with the day job.
For a great many independent retailers, this makes good business sense. But in the rush to convenience, does this mean some retailers are missing a brilliant business opportunity?
The answer is yes, according to Colin Mullins. Mr Mullins, who today heads the retail consultancy Fore, has a track record of building profitability for retailers through news sales. His current clients include Tesco, M&S, Asda, Spar and Nisa.
He set up Fore in 2007 and sold to Menzies Distribution last year. One of the tasks he has been given is to breathe life into Superleague, the news sales club that Menzies set up in 1999 to get a piece of the “pay for display” action pioneered by WHSmith in its high street and travel outlets.
The launch of Superleague Elite is to provide to local retailers the sort of channel disciplines that the multiple retailers already buy from Fore.
On the one hand, Mr Mullins says he is not in the numbers game. On the other, he projects that within three years he will have 3,000 strong independents in Superleague. But they have to be the right shops: the ones with the potential for newspaper and magazine sales.
At a strategic level the move makes sense. The numbers show that independents as a block underperform the market for magazine sales, losing share and retail sales value faster than the sector as a whole. This may be driven by the attitude of independents who are seeking to strip out any magazine that sells less than 50,000 copies an issue. Or it may not.
However, if you unpeel the independent market you find some remarkable things; such as the top 10 per cent are performing as strongly as Tesco and WHSmith. The challenge for the news industry is that they cannot reach these shops effectively. Mr Mullins believes his club can help. He believes that news in particular and CTN in general is far more important to local shops than the champions of convenience argue. It is 22 years since he was first told that convenience is the future.
There is an opportunity for independents if wholesalers can improve the way the news industry manufactures sales. By bolting on Fore, Menzies may be able to improve the performance of up to 40 per cent of its independent estate in a way that will help their bottom line and its own.
The challenge for local retailers is to understand the potential their shop has. Having a conversation with Superleague Elite about getting involved may be a useful step forwards.
If you are not a Menzies customer, there are other options for you including the NFRN’s NewsPro category management intiative, which reports strong results for members. The bottom line is think before you ditch your news sales!