Over the past 27 years, Peter Wagg’s News on the Wharf stores have developed and flourished alongside their Canary Wharf home. It’s all thanks to hard work and constant evolution, he tells Ed Chadwick 

It would be easy to see the CTN-only range in Peter Wagg’s store and assume he has been standing still while the world of retail has evolved around him – nothing could be further from the truth.

Since his first News on the Wharf store opened in Canary Wharf in 1991, the area has become a city within a city and is home five days a week to a huge part of the capital’s financial services sector. His traditional confectionery, tobacco and news format has been the perfect fit throughout.

Yet eye-watering rents and rates mean Peter needs to tirelessly innovate, tailoring and presenting his range in a way that squeezes every penny possible from the area’s 120,000 office workers.

Take the newsstand, for instance: Peter plays on a major USP by stocking 1,500 titles across his stores and delivers 192 different newspapers and magazines to offices in Canary Wharf. Despite the fact its contribution to turnover has halved in the past 15 years, it is responsible for 20% of overall income, and Peter continues to invest.

Bespoke promotions are advertised on digital screens, which also highlight the availability of specialist financial titles. News on the Wharf’s website acts as a portal for customers to check what’s in stock or make an order for hard-to-find titles.

“I have to make sure it’s as easy for my customers to access magazines from me as it is to buy an online subscription,” he says. “I want my customers to know that I have an obscure American business magazine that costs £17 or that they can ask me to deliver 11 copies of The Economist.”

The confectionery range at Peter’s five stores has become almost as specialised as his newsstand. In 2014, News on the Wharf began selling ‘candy’ imported from America, when a customer inquired whether he could source peanut butter-flavoured M&M’s. Now one third of all confectionery sold in the stores is sourced from overseas, while the category contributes 30% of all of News on the Wharf’s turnover. The latest arrival is limited-edition green tea-flavoured KitKats imported from Japan.

Peter says: “Our confectionery is concentrated in Jubilee Place, which is where all the restaurants are based. Each of the five stores has a very different customer base.”

Tobacco is the biggest driver of revenue overall however, delivering just under 50% of the company’s turnover, excluding Lottery and services. Peter is working with Philip Morris on its IQOS system, bringing in-store merchandisers and marketing staff to Canary Wharf to help raise awareness and drive demand.

“Canary Wharf is often the centre of the ripple effect for new products,” he says. “If something is going to be big or is in any way seen as an aspirational product, this will be one of the first places it takes off.”

One emerging income stream to take off in recent years has been parcel collection. Across UPS, Collect+ and Smiths News’ Pass My Parcel service, News on the Wharf stores handle 1,000 packages a week, bringing in revenue and extra footfall. Parcels pose a storage and logistics test for smaller stores like Peter’s. He says his staff have risen to the challenge and devised their own “filing system”, thanks, in part, to their many years of experience: a third of the 37 employees have been with the business for 15 years or more.

The News on the Wharf portfolio will grow by the end of 2018 when the company takes up the lease on a 650sq ft store at the entrance of Canary Wharf station on the new Elizabeth Line.

And its future as a family business appears secure too. Daughter Janet Donegan-Wagg, is already working as operations director, and grandson Adam Donegan-Wagg joined in 2016.

So whatever they need, the workers of Canary Wharf can rely on the Wagg family for generations to come. 

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