It's a common joke among us mainlanders that crossing The Solent to the Isle of Wight is like going back in time to the 1970s. That's just not fair, the islanders will tell you. It's more like the 1950s.

People are nicer. They look out for each other. They appreciate that they're all part of a tight community, bound together by that mile of sea that separates them from the rest of us.

They live in a world where the shops still close on Wednesday afternoons, people like to pay their bills on time, pipe tobacco still sells well and everyone reads newspapers and magazines.

'We call it Island-ness," says Lu Farnsworth, who runs Farnsworth News in Newport, with her husband Nick and her son Sam. "It's a lovely place to live and work."

The pressures of the modern world still apply, however, and Nick who's been in the business for 35 years has seen all the specialist newsagents in the town give up until his is the only one standing. As each closed Nick bought up their news rounds and, proving that there's plenty of life yet in home news delivery (HND), built up a service which distributes some 11,000 papers a week with 17 delivery routes and 18 staff.

With an 11 metre magazine display in the high street store which houses a truly impressive 2,500 titles, news and mags produces a turnover of £7,000 a week not bad for a category which takes up less than half the 675sq ft floorspace, and achieves double the take from the next biggest category, tobacco.

Among his 600 HND customers Nick can count the local council, schools and colleges including the college shop and the library. The island's three prisons provide a captive readership, while the summer brings hordes of visitors with rather more freedom to roam.

There's also a remarkable number of retirement homes, many of which have residents who rarely stray as far as a newsagent. "We have help in some of them old boys who like to get up early, collect our papers from the door and distribute them, then collect the money once a week and bring it in to us," Nick says. These invaluable helpers don't expect payment.

As well as the delivery team, there's an 18th member of staff to prepare the rounds and fill in for any absentees, and a rural roundsman who takes the van out to the corporate customers and the more remote regulars.

They must all be doing something right, as the letters from customers on the staff notice board reveal. During January's arctic weather the team only missed one day of deliveries.

Running this mammoth operation requires the operational support of a helpful wholesaler and a decent epos system. Nick certainly has the first; Menzies' depot in Ryde is technically a subsidiary of the Portsmouth branch, but over the years he's established a great working relationship with the manager there.

Newspapers arrive at the store at 5am earlier than many mainland stores see theirs which is quite an achievement given the ferry journey involved. If the boat is delayed by weather or refuelling, Nick or Sam can pick up the stock from the depot to save time. They always make a point of ringing round customers to tell them if their delivery is going to be late.

The epos system is a bit of a headache at present it's been due an upgrade for as long as anyone can remember and that's a problem because both stock and cash control are absolutely crucial in a business which handles so many titles and accounts.

"We scan everything," Nick says. "First we compare against the delivery note, then scan everything and make up the rounds. The remainder is scanned again to give us the out-of-stock report. And every four weeks we scan everything on the shelves to make sure we don't lose credit by missing return dates."

His tip to retailers is not to keep overstocks get them back on the van straight away. Having a good relationship with the wholesaler keeps the boxouts down, he adds.

More than 2,000 titles tie up a good deal of cash, and then there's the customer accounts. "We've got about 120 customers on monthly accounts, for which we make a small charge," Nick says. "We don't penalise them for late payment, but we do add a little bit to the delivery charge for a while!" The standard weekly delivery charge is £1.30, and a bit more for the corporate customers. Epos, when it's working, turns out the invoices, statements and account histories.

Magazines fill the wall to the left of the door, with a smaller display of newspapers away to the right and dump bins for the County Press, the local paper that contributes some 900 sales a week. Full-faced top selling magazines near the entrance give way to a central wave unit which provides the perfect spot for displaying specialist titles. A wide selection of adult titles (popular in the prisons, apparently) is kept on a high top shelf and sensibly unlit.

As well as a couple of Hot Spot markers picking out top titles, Nick and the team have added a few related products to the display a price promotion on chocolate bars nestles among the women's weeklies, and energy shots jump out from the lads' mags.

It's the devotion to providing special interest issues that really lifts the store above the norm. Customers come from all over for their favourites and the variety attracts a steady stream of browsers the trick, of course, is turning them into buyers.

Customers are encouraged to make sure a copy of their favourite is put by, and the Shop Save area plastic drawers behind the counter labelled from A-Z is larger than some stores' entire displays.

Nick is clearly an enthusiast. He's president of the Isle's National Federation of Retail Newsagents group and fights to keep margins, as well as terms and conditions, favourable to retailers. "We are getting increasingly squeezed and more retailers need to stand up for themselves," he says, adding the NFRN meetings are poorly attended because members get bogged down in the day-to-day when they should be looking a year or two ahead.

On the other hand, when a publisher offers readers a good deal, such as the Mail's recent offer of a £50 M&S voucher and free delivery, he makes sure to explain its benefits to the customers.

"It's all about relationships," he reveals, "with the customer, the wholesaler and the publishers. Maybe we're fortunate here that we have such strong ties with all these, but that's the island for you we're just used to getting on well. We provide a great service and we're proud to be part of this community."

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