Being an independent retailer is not easy. Readers employed by wholesalers, multiples or suppliers will have specialist departments dealing with all sorts of necessities such as health & safety, employment issues, food safety, licensing, marketing etc. Independents have to take such matters in their stride while doing the ‘day job’ well too.
I sympathise with all retailers, but particularly newsagents. It can’t be much fun getting to work at 5am with the prospect of being open for the next 13 hours, seven days a week. Add to that the headaches of home delivery, the challenges of new technology (and its impact on publishing), the tobacco display ban and probable plain packaging, and the mountain looks even steeper.
Yet they must face two further challenges. Firstly, the dysfunctional wholesale supply of news. The obvious degree of antipathy, distrust and dissatisfaction with news wholesalers is surely unprecedented - how difficult must it be to work with a supplier imposed upon you with whom the relationship is one of constant conflict?
” Brand owners seem hell bent on bypassing newsagents”
Last June, for the umpteenth time, my wife did not receive the weekly magazine she subscribes to. There was considerable doubt about whether she would receive it at all. Our newsagent was told that the wholesaler had been let down, but local branches of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and The Co-op all had copies when she called.
In sympathy with the retailer, she rang the contact number for its wholesaler and after waiting ages for an answer was told they could not talk to consumers and was hung up on. She researched the supplier and read its Press Distribution Charter and e-mailed the two most senior people she could identify to ask in a polite, reasonable way why the service was so poor and inconsistent across outlets. No reply has been received to date.
One has to ask if the current monopolistic supply arrangements are fit for purpose and whether the two major suppliers (equally complained about) understand or care about service?
Secondly, brand owners in the most important category, news and periodicals, seem hell bent on bypassing the very newsagents that have supported and grown their business for many years. Hugely attractive incentives are offered for direct subscription to cut out the newsagent - a disloyal, even immoral business practice - but the challenge posed by new technology to print media will not be solved by destroying the distribution network, which should always have a significant place in the market.
Who would be a newsagent? Not me, but I have huge admiration for those who persevere in this difficult trading environment.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons