Dee Sedani doesn't like to leave things to chance. It was his flair for planning and attention to detail which impressed the Convenience Retail Awards judges enough to earn the title of News Trader of the Year, but what really swayed the decision was his process for preparing newspapers for home news delivery which allows one person to despatch 500 copies to the delivery team in half-an-hour.
It's trainee assistant manager Sam Nye who's in first in the morning at Dee's Londis News'R'Us in Etwall, Derbyshire. On this Tuesday morning, with no inserts to contend with, Sam's in at the comparatively relaxed hour of 6am, with the delivery team, who cover a 12-mile rural area, due in at 7am.
His job for the morning is made considerably easier by Dee's insistence on finely tuned processes for every task. As a former computer programmer, he brings a background in logical processes, diagrams and flow charts to retail. So the first job of the day is to collate the rounds from printed lists made up the day before, each with the deliverer's name on it and details of any suspended accounts. The team check their bags against these before leaving, and use them as reference on the round.
"When I took over here the store had three rounds," Dee explains. "We have 26 now, including evenings - that's 800 papers a day during the week and up to 900 just in the morning at weekends. It makes a huge contribution to turnover - about 40% - but it takes some managing and that's why I have tried and tested ways of operating. I've built a process which staff can understand and which provides a solution to every single 'what if...?' that might occur along the way."
These include coping with delivery staff not turning up, having temporary paper boys and girls on standby during holidays, and various contingencies for late arrival of papers. There's a rule for everything and nothing is left to chance.
Dee makes life slightly easier for himself by running magazines 24 hours late. "I don't know why more retailers don't do it," he says. "It gives us the chance to make up the rounds later in the day, which reduces the chaos first thing, and customers don't seem to mind."
Given his background it's perhaps not surprising that Dee is big on electronic systems, and uses a Torex CTN program to log all magazines as they come in. This alerts him to price rises, and tells Sam exactly how many copies he needs for the rounds. The technology only fails in one area - navigating around the touchscreen is too fiddly to make alterations to customers' accounts as they come in, so these are written in a book and updated once a day by a member of staff away from the tills. The systems will also record what's selling, of course, but Dee says he tends to rely on good old retailer instinct and experience for that.
Sam has the rounds ready to go well before 6.30am, on time to open the store and half-an-hour before the delivery team arrives. It's a different story at weekends, where Dee meets the driver at midnight to help unload, then grabs three hours' sleep before starting on the enormous volume of papers, supplements and inserts.
Other than the investment of time, the downside of the delivery service is the amount of cash it ties up. "Newspapers suck up capital," Dee says. "I can have up to £20,000 tied up in bills. We cover a rural area and people aren't always popping in to settle up - they pay when they choose. You can cut supply, I suppose, but that only hurts you in the long run, so I feel I have to be quite relaxed about payment." He's currently working on a new scheme to take advantage of having a van going around the neighbouring villages twice a day. A home ordering catalogue is on trial and going through the rigorous de-bugging that characterises Dee's approach. "I won't launch it until I've anticipated every eventuality and made provision for it," he says.
Newspapers come from independent wholesaler Bussells, for whom Dee has nothing but praise. "They're a fantastic family run business and the service I get from them is such a contrast to my magazine supplier, Smiths News. I get on well with the Smiths branch manager, but they don't help with merchandising, they don't offer enough support for new retailers and they don't seem to have the time to respond to issues. The depot's in Nottingham, too, which means that if there are re-runs they can be an hour-and-a-half late - I might as well send them out with the evening rounds."
Boxouts are a particular annoyance. "I tell Smiths, you're just transporting paper back and forth - I'm not going to put things I don't want on the shelf. I can set my allocations to nil and three weeks later the title's back again. When Bussells did my magazines I'd tell them once and never see the title again.
"You wouldn't believe how much time I have to spend organising Smiths," sighs Dee, who is the local National Federation of Retail Newsagents president. "To some extent it's the publishers' fault - they need to understand that newsagents make their business. I'd like to see what would happen if we all agreed to stop HND for one week - it would cripple the publishers. I'd be prepared to compensate my customers for that period, just to show the publishers how important we are."
Dee's got a system for partworks, as well: after the first SOR issues he'll take a £20 deposit from the customer and tell them that when that's gone, he'll stop supply. He's found that publishers offer extra incentives within the magazines to lure readers into direct subscriptions, leaving him with unsold copies.
He also has a chuckle at the irony of that day's Daily Mail, which carries an offer inviting his customers in large front-page letters to go to Tesco or WH Smith to pick up their free DVD.
But despite its trials, news trade is worth the effort, and as his awards for excellence suggest, it's something of a passion for Dee. "HND is worthwhile from a business point of view and, of course, there's huge footfall benefits from stocking papers and magazines. One thing I'd like to see is retailers sharing ideas and experience of the category more. It's not like we're in direct competition. I'd be delighted to show other retailers my operation here and listen to their suggestions. You're very welcome - the coffee's always on."