Five of our C-Store Champions talk us through the challenges they face within the newspapers and magazines category. Sarah Britton reports

Our C-Store Champions

Lionel Cashin
The News Shop, Market Weighton, Yorkshire
Lionel spent 26 years working for Mars, but knows the importance of a good work/life balance. Impressively, he has taken part in both the London and New York marathons.

Chris Pollard
Barlby Village Stores, Selby, Yorkshire
Having recently refitted his store under its new Nisa banner, Chris is living proof that it is vital to adapt and invest in your premises, even during times of economic hardship.

Dee Sedani
News R Us, Etwall, Derbyshire
Technology wizard Dee is always introducing innovative pieces of kit into his store to improve its efficiency. His new coin-counter has been the talk of the sector.

David Smith
Smith's Corner Store, Grimoldby, Lincolnshire
David and wife Kathryn do everything possible to ensure their store lies at the heart of the community. One way of achieving this is their admirable dedication to local sourcing.

Dan Cock
Whitstone Stores, Holsworthy, Devon
Communication with other retailers is one of the keys to Dan's success. He regularly meets with other local businesses in order to exchange ideas and advice.

How many metres of news & mags do you stock and how many different titles do you have?

Lionel: We have 11m of news & mags and stock over 1,000 titles on our files.

Chris: Our news & mags display is 4m long and we stock around 450 titles.

Dee: I have 6m of news & mags and just over 400 titles.

David: We stock 6m of mags and 1m of news. On an ongoing basis we stock 350400 titles, plus saves.

Dan: We have 5m of news and mags and about 400 titles.

How much time do you dedicate to news & mags?

Lionel: The store manager, Peter Redford, spends three hours a day Monday to Saturday and two hours on Sunday working on news & mags.

Chris: Staff spend at least two hours on news & mags in the morning and another half hour in the evening. I also have a lady who comes in for two hours a week to manage returns.

Dee: My staff spend about four hours a day dealing with them.

David: We set aside an hour a day for sorting and then an hour for admin checks and returns.

Dan: Quite a bit. I've put a member of staff in charge of the category. They spend about an hour a day checking through it all and a half an hour rotating stock and managing returns.

What percentage of your business' turnover do news & mags make up?

Lionel: The category makes up 49.4% of our turnover (not including services), and is holding steady.

Chris: I'd say the news & mags make up about 8% of our turnover.

Dee: About 65%, but it's decreased over the years.

David: Quite a small amount 56%. When we first bought the store it didn't supply news & mags, so we've built it up from nothing.

Dan: I'd say about 10% of turnover is made up of news & mags. It's quite a seasonal category. Sales tend to increase in the summer months as people like to treat themselves to magazines when they're off work, and then it steadies out again in winter.

Do you struggle to get the numbers of magazines you ordered and do you receive titles you didn't ask for?

Lionel: Yes and yes! We have no control over the allocation of news & mags. For example, last year Menzies sent us over £1,000 worth of football cards that we hadn't ordered and we had no choice but to pay for them and then wait for the credit.

Chris: We have the odd query, but generally we don't have shortages. I definitely get extra titles though. The problem is that if you order one copy of International Golf, you'll get sent Universal Golf, European Golf and any number of related titles that you haven't ordered.

Dee: I usually get the magazines I've ordered, but I definitely get sent additional titles. It ties up my money and takes up a great deal of staff time.

David: We keep a fairly tight rein on it and do all our order adjustments online, rather than on the phone.

Dan: The wholesalers don't like too many unsold copies so they take it upon themselves to cut back on newspaper orders. With magazines, on the other hand, if they think something might sell in your store, then they load it on you.

How do you manage returns and overstocks?

"You really have to keep an eye on suppliers to make sure they refund returns. I've hired someone to come in and manage it for two hours a week"
Lionel: We apply to get credits, which is time-consuming and constantly being charged for products you don't need affects the store's cash flow.

Chris: As I explained, I hire someone specifically to manage this area for me, but I only took her on four months ago. I reckon I've been losing about £6,000 a year for the last nine years because I haven't been checking that my returns were credited.

Dee: If a product doesn't scan on my system, then we don't put it out on shelf we just send it straight back to Smiths.

David: We receive titles we didn't order all the time. We try to stop it online if we see something is being sent through that we don't need, but even then the cancellation sometimes gets ignored.

Dan: When we get magazines we haven't ordered we ruthlessly send them back if we don't think they'll sell. A million different suduko books just aren't necessary! 

Do you offer a home delivery service? Why/why not?

Lionel: Yes. It gives us a real edge over competition, as many of our rivals don't offer this service. It brings people into the shop as they come in weekly to pay for their newspapers and then they'll buy more products while they're in the store.

Chris: We don't. The previous owner of the store did home delivery and he had a lot of people ducking and diving their payments. When he sold me the shop he had £5,000 owing to him!

Dee: News & mags is my background and it's a good profit maker, so that's why we offer home delivery.

David: Thirty years ago my wife and I had the largest newsround in Sheffield and employed 32 paperboys and girls. But these days we don't bother it's just not worth the hassle. It's better to have people come into the store and buy their papers.

Dan: We do a very small delivery round ¬ one big hit at the local old people's home and then about a dozen or so households. In my shop we're better off spending our time improving the store, rather than dealing with massive deliveries. I also think there's something to be said for increasing footfall by having people come to the store every day to buy their papers.

How do you deal with debt collection?

Lionel: Generally we don't have a problem. If a publication is sold through canvassing, then often the publisher will guarantee a debt for about four weeks if someone fails to pay.

Chris: I avoid the risk by not doing deliveries.

Dee: We send out what customers refer to as 'begging letters'! Our epos system is so out of date that we don't manage debt collection as well as we could.

David: We had to bring in strict rules with partworks. If a customer doesn't turn up to collect two copies then we cancel the order. If a partwork is more than £5 an issue then we require one issue's deposit.

Dan: We only have to deal with the occasional issue in terms of partworks not being collected. It's just a case of if someone doesn't collect their copy then we cancel their order. This rarely happens though, as we tend to find that people who collect partworks tend to be really keen on them. The last thing they want is their order cancelled.

How would you describe your relationship with your news & mags wholesaler? 

Delivery times could be improved. Today Menzies delivered at 6.30am rather than 5.30am. It means that we end up with a shop full of paperboys and it's only because they're kind enough to wait around that the papers even get delivered. Menzies head office says the delay is because they receive the papers late from their own suppliers, but the drivers say it's because they're short-staffed. Wholesalers really need to prioritise stores that deliver newspapers. 

Chris: It would be fine apart from the issue of returns. You really have to keep an eye on suppliers to make sure they refund returns. I can't spend all my time on it, so I've hired someone to come in and manage it for two hours a week. For the sake of £12, I'm saving £120 on average a week. I was wondering why my margins were suffering and now I realise. 

Dee: It's not as good as with the independent supplier we used to have, but I'd give them a seven out of 10. I just ring the depot direct so I don't have to deal with sales people. 

Calling it a 'relationship' is putting it a bit strong! Successive governments have failed to tackle the monopoly of wholesalers, which means they can dictate to us. There needs to be competition. 

It's as good as can be expected. We're with Smiths, but we have a separate wholesaler for News International. We don't really have any control over what happens. I guess that would improve if there was an open market, but that probably isn't practical. 

What’s your biggest challenge within the news & mags category? 

Making sufficient profit is a really big issue. Wholesalers need to abolish carriage charges, increase the price of titles by a penny or two and let us have a decent profit margin of around 25%. Also, getting back copies of magazines has become a challenge. Menzies used to order them in for you on request, but now they just turn you down, which leaves customers disappointed.And of course, overstocks are another major problem. 

Getting the money back from returns has without doubt been the biggest challenge. 

Dee: There are problems, but I'm so used to them that it doesn't really bother me. My staff get really annoyed sometimes, but there's nothing I can do about the situation that's just the way things are. 

David: The biggest challenge is to make sure that we return products at the right time. You only have a short period in which to return them, so you really have to keep an eye on it. 

Dan: Our biggest challenge is maintaining sufficient supplies, but we're overcoming that by using Smiths' Connect2U website, which is brilliant as it enables us to cater for uplifts in sales and adjust the order when the wholesaler's automated system gets it wrong. At the end of the day, news & mags is a valuable part of the business. You can make a good income from it and it drives footfall.