With a successful HND operation and stable news bill, Martin Ward is already a successful newsagent.

It’s his thirst for finding new ways to attract customers and turn a profit that makes his business fit for the future, however. Chris Rolfe reports.

In the 11 years Martin Ward has owned Cowpen Lane News in Cleveland, he has faced a challenge: how to appeal to regular and new customers of all ages with just 441sq ft of floor space to work with.

To meet it, he has focused on a regularly-updated range of products and services tailored to local council estate residents and industrial estate workers.

Doing so, he says, has resulted in sales growth in several core categories, but also the maintenance of a steady newsbill and HND business for the past decade.

Martin WardMartin’s first opportunity to develop his in-store services came two years after he bought the business, when his post office counter was removed.

“I thought that would be the end of my business, but the shop has gone from strength to strength because we made sure we didn’t lose out when the post office went,” Martin says.

The day the counter was removed, he arranged for PayPoint and an ATM to be installed and began selling stamps. He also made helping elderly people, who most relied on his post office adapt to the change a priority.

“We taught pensioners who had never used an ATM before how to do this so they could still draw their pensions here. They trust us, and continue to shop here,” he says.

Since then, Martin has added other services such as parcel collection with UPS and, last month, a full National Lottery terminal.

The loss of the post office also gave Martin the chance to expand into convenience and attract lunchtime sales from workers on the nearby industrial estate. With space for a larger chiller, he trebled his chilled range, adding soft drinks, sandwiches and pies.

More recently, he has built on this by introducing an off-licence. With space at a premium, and acting on customer requests for a simple range to shop from after work, he has focused on a basic selection backed by strong promotions.

“They want basic wines and beers, so we stick to a tight range of Foster’s, Carling, John Smith’s and Stella, along with white, red and rosé wine,” says Martin. “Booker’s Shop Locally deals are brilliant, so we base some of the range on them. Bottles of Echo Falls for £5.50 are really popular at the moment.”

These promotions have spurred Martin to modernise core ranges too.

“We had small packets of crisps before, but we ran a deal on larger packs of Doritos for £1. They went so well we now have a full £1 range of things like Quavers, Walkers Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar. Our crisps sales are up around 30%,” he says.

What we’re doing is working, but we’re always looking for new ideas

Key to the success of new ranges like these and their ability to attract younger customers is Martin’s Facebook page, which he uses to flag up new additions in-store.

“When loom bands were huge a couple of years ago, we advertised them on Facebook. We had a delivery of 100 starter kits one Friday night, posted about it and had sold out by 10am on the Saturday morning,” he says. “It’s about getting the message out that we’re more than a traditional newsagent.”

That said, while Martin has expanded his offering, newspapers and magazines remain core to his business. Here, while he has reduced magazines sales space from 3.5 metres to one metre and a spinner, his shop-save service attracts regular weekly sales.

Martin Ward“I save a high proportion of the magazines I sell – around 35 titles a week. Some of these are specialist titles like Ships Monthly, which costs £4.20, so it’s worth it.”

Home news delivery is another lucrative area, not least because Martin added 60 new customers when a nearby retailer closed five years ago, taking his base to 130.

“I’ve worked hard to maintain newspaper and magazine sales and doing so means my Menzies bill has stayed constant over the past 10 years. What we’re doing is working, but we’re always looking for new ideas,” he says.

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