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At the sharp end

As publishers, an enormous amount of our product is sold through independent newsagents. Yet, apart from dumping our product on them, our interaction with retailers is often woeful. We don’t meet them, we don’t talk to them and we certainly don’t listen to them! Wiltshire retailer Kim Harrild gives us his view on the industry he has worked in for over twenty years.

By Kim Harrild

In 1972 at the tender age of 15 I can remember my parents sitting me down one evening and telling me we were going to up sticks and move from the middle of Reading to buy a village shop in rural Wiltshire. I thought they were mad! Since then we have purchased (and then closed) the other newsagent in the village, taken on the HND rounds for the three adjacent villages (where the building of a new Tesco superstore had forced out the local newsagents) and built a purpose built convenience store. Oh, and I have taken over the reigns.

Our shop is 1200 sq ft and whilst technically a "convenience store", in my heart I am a newsagent. I have 25 rounds covering five villages and about 750 customers. Instore I stock around 250 magazines in waterfall shelving all with full facing. I also stock 14 different soups and four sizes of nappies and my best seller at 1pm on a Sunday is horseradish!

Stocking decision

My magazine display is broken down into four sections (men’s, women’s, computer / TV / children’s / teenage, hobbies / pastimes), and as I am a village shop as well as being on a main road I have to cater for all tastes. It’s quite easy to decide on the titles to stock in the above sections because Retail Newsagent regularly carries top seller lists so I can keep up to date with current trends. The hobbies / pastimes section is the most difficult to manage. I don’t have an elastic shop so do I stock Boxing News, Cat World or Practical Caravan?

Lumped together

I am totally independent, I do not belong to any multiple and here lies the problem. In our industry independents are lumped together. Neither wholesalers nor publishers have any idea which are good, bad or indifferent. I have spent years trying to convince my wholesaler that I’m good, I want to improve my business, I want to sell more product, please leave me alone to do it but no. I have a constant battle to stop the rubbish being sent to me but am crying out for newspapers and magazines I can sell. Surely the time has come when independent newsagents could be graded so that publishers would have a database to work from. Where to send POS, e-mail details of new launches, get details of supply problems etc.

Home news delivery

I may be in a minority of one here but I believe that newsagents are to blame for the lack of profit on HND. In today’s market place when you will pay up to £1.40 for a single paper and a magazine at £2.80 is the norm we should be charging a realistic price for a good reliable service. However wholesalers and publishers should also remember that HND is needed (it’s a guaranteed sale) and do all they can to assist the HND retailer. A recent promotion with the Daily Mail is a classic example when they provided letters for HND customers to say that their book could be collected at the shop.

I have a real concern that as retailers we are not treated as customers. With all the other sections of my business I feel valued. I have cigarette reps in my shop monthly showing me new products, Camelot come in once a fortnight with new POS, my confectionery wholesaler comes every two weeks (you can set your watch by her) enticing me to spend more, ice cream reps, Mars, Cadbury, Rowntree, Wrigley, Pepsi, Coke, Lucozade, even beer companies, the list goes on. What do I get from the news industry, you’ve guessed it zilch. I have a call from the Mail rep maybe once a year, the Telegraph came in last year and in 20 years I’ve never seen a magazine rep apart from someone from an agency working on behalf of Auto-trader who came in, gave me a shelf-talker and asked me what my supply figure was.


I will try a promotion on any new product. I have no loyalty to any manufacturer, I will only sell something if it sells. If Mars come into my shop asking me to trial a new product, fine as long as I can return it if it doesn’t sell. If, however, they want a better display of their products so they can sell more than Cadbury, they pay, normally in the form of free stock. The same rules would apply for magazines, but as I don’t see anyone from magazine companies I haven’t been able to use it yet. I would be very interested to find out what a publisher means by the phrase "magazine promotion". A promotion in my shop is "buy one Tango get one free" or "4 Mars for 99p". A promotion is something extra for the customer. Cover mounts are now seen by the pubic as the norm and just giving a better display is not a promotion.

Bulk breaker?

I have a colleague who has a £10,000 per week newsbill with no rounds. He has never been to his wholesale house, has never met his house manager, and really thought I was joking when I told him they had a retail development manager. Think how he could grow his business with a little help. Is the term wholesaler correct in the news industry? Isn’t a wholesaler a middleman who orders products that he wants from a manufacturer at a price and then decides on his selling price to supply the demand that he has for his retail customers? In other words he is totally free to order what he wants to fulfil his customers’ needs. In our industry the "wholesaler" has virtually no say in what is sent to him, he breaks it down and sends it out to retail in what ever quantities he feels fit. Is he not just a distributor, a breaker of bulk?

In our hobbies / pastimes section I tend to rotate the mix and this is where I have the biggest battle with my wholesaler; their allocation system is pants! Recently Blockbuster did a promotion on Essential Water Garden; I had five copies. I sold two in September and one in October. Like all other trials I will now try and convert that one sale to a shop save so that I can free up the space on the magazine run for another new title. However my wholesaler has now allocated me TEN for November! Here I am not only trying to sell more product but reduce waste and my wholesaler seems to be hell bent on doing the opposite, bunging up my magazine display with nine copies I won’t sell. Another problem is when you order a new title, say Safebreaker And Lock Picker Weekly, you will get every other similar or associated title. On the other side of the coin, with the popular titles, getting enough copy is the problem. Writing this article has prompted me to check a few titles and I have found one that has slipped through the net. I have sold out of TV Quick for six consecutive weeks and the wholesaler hasn’t added a single copy. These are by no means isolated incidents. Ask any newsagent - these are daily occurrences.

Hassle value

The newspaper and magazine section in my shop is the most profitable, however if you take into account the amount of time my staff and I spend on it, and costed it on an hourly rate then I’m not so sure. All my other products are organized by EPOS. An order takes a few seconds to do and is sent to my wholesaler automatically, 24/7. Because he packs using barcodes there are seldom errors; I haven’t had a mistake in maybe the last six months. With the news side, it has to be done manually, sort out all the wholesaler interference, check shortages, list returns not credited and then have to phone up. Ring a couple of times as the first call is invariably not answered, spend minutes on the phone as she sometimes has to write it all down, get passed to someone else to deal with the credits, and make sure you only ring between 9am & 4pm Monday to Friday. When are we going to be able to do the whole thing electronically?

Carriage charges

A lot of newsagents claim that the news part of their business is the only part in which they pay carriage charges - not true. If I have products delivered to my shop they all carry an element of carriage charge within the purchase price, the only way I can reduce it is to use a cash & carry. However with all other products I sell I can adjust the retail price to recover the "carriage" so that the consumer pays for the route to market. The day that publishers increase the margin to wholesalers, so that they can abolish carriage charges and pass the cost onto the reader is the day that I will believe that we have an equal partnership in our industry.

The independent newsagent is terminally ill. The smaller shops are being forced out of business and the larger ones are being bought up. HND will soon be history. Eventually news retail will be controlled by a handful of companies and, very much like the farm chain today, they will dictate to the supplier (publisher) what they want at what price. If we want this unique industry to survive we must work together and understand each other’s problems and needs.