I was fortunate this week to be at the House of Commons for the launch of Shop Health, a project sponsored by wholesaler Palmer and Harvey to champion local shops in general and newsagents, or CTNs, in particular.  The report, being made available to retailers by P&H, mixes several strands: promoting the strengths of the small shop and providing research that helps to define the opportunities and challenges you face.

News remains a highly lucrative category when done well, the report says. But can you rely on it? No, says Bill Grimsey, the former boss of Iceland and author of Sold Out. Newspapers will not last, he says, so you have to do something else.

A starting point has to be the report’s highlights of a 1,000 strong consumer survey asking what people really think about their newsagent.  The good news is that 53 per cent know your name. The bad news is that only 52 per cent are greeted with a smile! On second thoughts, is the fact that they know your name a positive? We all know George Osborne’s name!  Your strategy to be a success as a retailer must address three areas:

  • Your value proposition, which is what you sell and how much of it and also how you tell the story about this to shoppers,
  • Your operational abilities, which is how you organise your shop,
  • Your ability to make money, by stocking the correct products and charging the correct prices.

As a small local shop you should be thinking of having a shallow range of a few product categories so that it is easy for shoppers to find what they want quickly. That is the theory.  However, many local retailers increase the number of products they stock in a category as shoppers ask for obscure brands and/or increase the range of products and services they offer.
But what is the point if you don’t smile and welcome shoppers? (At Booker cash and carry there is a mirror just by the door for staff to look into as they enter the customer part of the depot. Next to it is a sign reminding them to smile.)

A second point to take from the report and which was emphasised by Martyn Ward, sales and commercial director of Palmer & Harvey, is that shoppers like to feel they are getting a good deal and you need to give them promotions. Promotions are about communication.

Your value proposition and your operational skills intertwine at the level of smiling at customers and offering promotions. They are two important things you can do to grow your sales and profits. Do these before you worry about the future of newspapers and magazines!  The encouraging thing is 89 per cent of consumers think having a local newsagent is important. That is some goodwill that you can build on.