"I was thinking this morning maybe I should wear a tie, to look more presidential," laughs Naresh Purohit as he greets C-Store outside his store in Dartford, Kent. "But then I thought, no, I'm a retailer, this is what I wear to work."
As if to rub the point in, the new national president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) breaks off to have a short but animated conversation with a soft drinks supplier's rep about a new chiller he's been expecting for weeks, before sitting down in his office-cum-storeroom to discuss his plans for his year in office.
Naresh grew up in a retailing family and says that as a result of "going to too many branch meetings and asking too many questions" he found himself involved in the Federation's hierachy, and began the journey which saw him put on the president's chain a few weeks ago.
"I ran for president because I thought I could do the job," he says simply. "I had ideas which I thought we could develop, and I saw things which I believed we could do differently. The problem we've had in the past is that we haven't always worked together. Bringing the disparate views within the Federation together will be the whole ethos of my time in office. There's been a lot of talk about our structure but I think it's sound and we have to work within it, with elected officers and our managers at head office
all working in the same direction."
That cohesion is something the NFRN hasn't always publicly demonstrated, as its recent split over cover prices showed. While some members called for the Federation to support a move to take prices off newspapers, others - led by their then vice-president, Naresh - were just as passionately opposed. So how did he square that circle?
Here's where Naresh utters the four words you rarely hear from anyone in high office: "I changed my mind," he grins. "Since we had those discussions I haven't seen anything to convince me that the alternative view isn't correct and I seriously think I got it wrong. Where we go next is something we'll be discussing at the next executive committee meeting."
Other schisms may be harder to repair. Naresh has a message for certain members who use their notoriety and the broad brush of the internet to push their own agenda: you're not helping. One attack, questioning his abilities and his appointments and accusing him of spending his time at champagne receptions (he was invited to represent the NFRN at an evening event, a common duty for the president), particularly hurt. "It's not helpful, when we're in negotiations on behalf of the membership, to have these things thrown at you," he says.
After touring the NFRN's 16 districts, often spending 3-4 days a week away
from his own business, Naresh is turning his attention to the issue which is currently galvanising the membership - carriage charges.
"Why is it that monopoly wholesalers automatically turn to their captive retail customers when they are short of cash, rather than go to the publishers? Publishers can inject extra revenue into the supply chain by increasing the cover price of their titles - if they don't, the alternative would be for retailers to seize control over cover prices and momentum for this is gathering. Actions that were unthinkable five years ago may well become reality."
Behind that dark threat lies a difficult position for the Federation. In common with other trade associations, it is forbidden by law from encouraging collective action among its members. "What we can do is make a lot of noise, rally people round an idea, and convince them it's the way forward," says Naresh.
He insists the NFRN has a lot to offer its members. He lists insurance, commercial deals, preferred terms and the buying group NFRN Direct, as well as the free legal helpline and, as he puts it: "The sense of belonging you get as part of the NFRN family. Don't underestimate that.
We look after our own.
"We'll fight your corner," Naresh concludes. "People sometimes forget what the Federation has done for its members, but the truth is that if not for the NFRN, the publishers would have run roughshod over this sector years ago. We're doing a valuable job and it's a privilege for me to be able to contribute to it."
John Lennon, Association of News Retailers
The news industry's supply chain remains protected from the competitive challenges that allow other industries to thrive through innovation and efficiency.
Could this be why despite investing over £600m on new printing presses in order to create a better and more up-to-date product, News International is in danger of alienating thousands of retailers?
Whether we like it or not, News International should be applauded for
its innovative approach to product development. Getting this improved product to market should not be restricted by the existing supply chain.
Monopolies breed complacency and inefficiency; it is this that allows news wholesalers to levy an unacceptable carriage service charge that does not reflect the work that they do. If it did, then wholesalers who have lost around a third of their newspaper business would reduce their carriage charges accordingly - but as there is no alternative to their monopoly they will not.
Retailers should not have to take margin reductions to pay more of the cost of distribution. We will be monitoring this situation very closely and we will make sure that the competition authorities are made fully aware of anti-competitive practices which threaten the very survival of the news industry.