Jon Ellis combines efficient newspaper delivery with a tailored magazine range to great effect. Robin Mannering reports

Those who think the news and magazine category has seen better days should pay a visit to an unassuming corner of Dorset. Here, Jon Ellis, of Town Common News in Christchurch, successfully balances old-style news delivery with cutting-edge technology to remain competitive, fostering loyalty through admirable community involvement and a keen understanding of his local market.

store profile

Town Common News Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 6am-6pm, Sunday 6am-1pm 
Size: 500sq ft 
Services: home news delivery, Shop Save, Payzone 
Staff: three part-time

Jon bought the unit, on a precinct in the south coast town, seven years ago after deciding to become a store owner. Having worked in retail since 1980, including a stint as a Londis manager, he knew what he wanted, and to start with that didn’t include a home news delivery service (HND) and the early starts that come with it. But despite the fact that a HND commitment was part of the package, Jon couldn’t resist the draw of Town Common News.

But he soon saw the benefits. News and magazines make up 50% of the store’s sales, with HND a crucial part of Jon’s business. And sales show no sign of waning. He claims this is partly because Christchurch does not have a young population, but is largely because the value of newspapers cannot be replicated on the internet. “My brother has The Telegraph and The Times on his iPad, but I don’t believe anyone will enjoy that as much as picking up the paper.”

He delivers seven days a week to 350 customers, including residents of two care homes who do not pay a delivery charge. Bill payments can be made over the phone or in the shop, but Jon’s wife, Sue, goes out once a week to collect money from elderly housebound customers. “I visit six elderly customers in their homes and will stay for a chat,” she says. “It’s a wonderful feeling, a win-win service.”

Jon also delivers to the Friends of Christchurch Hospital, who get 10% profit from the 60 or so newspapers and mags they sell daily adding about £1,000 to their funds a year.

Jon is unequivocal about the benefits of HND, and dismisses arguments about reduced footfall caused by customers not needing to enter the shop to buy their papers. “HND is critical to me as it’s a guaranteed sale. Otherwise are customers going to come in and buy the paper, or buy it in Tesco when they do their food shop?”

Jon promotes HND with leaflet drops within a defined area to maintain a manageable service, and doesn’t rule out expanding it if there’s demand for it.

News and mags are also vital inside the store. An impressive range of 550 magazines and prominently-displayed newspapers dominate one side of the 500sq ft space. A stand promoting his Shop Save service also advertised externally encourages more shoppers to save their favourite magazines and newspapers. “Our Shop Save service aims to obtain any publication possible,” he says. Window stands also flag up local and national events to promote specific titles. Recently, these have included the Olympics, the Six Nations rugby tournament, Bournemouth Airshow and National Magazine Week.

Jon also has a talent of being able to astutely tailor his titles to the local market. In addition to a range of fishing and cycling magazines, he specialises in gun magazines to cater for the clientele of the gun shop at the other end of the precinct. “It’s an example of looking around the local area to see what you need,” he says. Other specialist magazines which do well are hair and food titles, the latter probably due to the large number of food programmes on TV, Jon says. 

News Trader of the Year 2011 Judges at the 2011 Convenience Retail Awards applauded the combination of up-to-date technology, innovation and good old-fashioned customer service which Jon employs to maximise his news and mag sales. 

“Jon does a fantastic job,” said Julian Davies, retail customer director at award sponsor News International. 

“He is a great example to other news retailers. He has recognised that a well-run news offering, including HND, is a vital part of any store as it can maximise footfall and increase general sales, not just news.”

 Jon keeps a beady eye on magazine covers and will rearrange them accordingly. “I’ve been known to leave Private Eye on the counter; it gets people riled and talking!” he says. But he keeps an even closer eye on sales and analyses the figures of the top 100 sellers every day. “I change numbers weekly, through a combination of Reposs and personal instinct, but getting quantities right is an ongoing challenge. It’s something you have to accept.” He has developed checklists which allow him to monitor news and magazine availability throughout the day.

Another challenge is the plethora of titles now on the market. “It used to be so much simpler when there were only about six women’s titles now there are dozens.”

He manages his sizeable range through Reposs and orders from Smiths News via the Connect 2 U website. “This allows us to adjust orders quickly and efficiently.” He says he has been fortunate that he hasn’t had problems with suppliers “except when Smiths delivered Your Chicken magazine which didn’t sell one copy!”

Jon is currently focusing on giving more prominence to magazines “they’re people’s passions” and has asked Smiths to redesign the shelves to provide a more streamlined layout and give prominence to more front pages. “We aim to maintain our modern high standard image and become even better at being a specialist provider of news and magazines,” he says.