Things Placed In Front Of The Magazine Rack: The Clerk Edition

So how does this deal sound?

  • You’ll get a generous discount.
  • We’ll give you Scan Based Trading so you don’t have any inventory to concern your accountants.
  • We’ll pay you a Retail Display Allowance. Heck, we’ll make it “Advanced RDA”. Will that work for you?
  • Your suppliers trucks will drop off new deliveries, merchandise the product and return those pesky unsolds that will never disgrace your accountants’ ledgers.
  • Representatives of your suppliers will advise you on product mix, placement and keep you apprised of all the latest new launches, manage, market and sell your promotional programs.

Sounds good? Great! Thank you for being a magazine retailer! Now, where will you display our merchandise in your stores?

Oh, I don’t know. How about in the “dead” lane?

Lots of traffic here...
Lots of traffic here…

Jim Sturdivant, one of the founders of mediaShepherd sent me the above photo from his local drugstore. This is the aisle that leads to the cashier station. The swinging door in front of the rack is, as you can see, open. Clearly this does not invite the customer to browse the magazine rack.

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual scenario.

Not so inviting a space, is it?

Anyone who has traveled the country on behalf of magazine publishers, wholesalers or national distributors can regale you with tales of how they walked the aisles of a major national or regional retailer only to find the magazine rack located at the back corner of the store in a “dead” aisle. I’ve even seen the mainline placed on the exit aisle on the other side of the check outs (If you wanted to buy a magazine, you’d have to go back to the cashier to pay for it – or steal it).

A national chain store near my office has the magazine rack in the last aisle of the least busy section of the store. The magazines face the wall. It’s this way in at least four other stores I’ve visited in other parts of the country. This position is clearly something I take into consideration every time one of my clients wants to purchase their “Mainline Feature Pocket Program.” On the other hand, when I check sales in these stores, copies are being purchased. I know they aren’t being “stolen”. It’s an SBT chain.

So how do we fix this? We’re currently in a fight to maintain the space we have. How do we get a better position?

Editor’s Note: Please keep the flow of pictures coming. It’s great to see what is going on out in the world. They also don’t have to be of display disasters. Good stuff happens everyday.

A Fellow ‘Rep’ Chimes In…

A buddy and I were marveling at the changes here in the Chicago marketplace over the past year or two. Like me, my friend spent many years working in the Midwest and recalls calling on many of the former wholesalers discussed in a post last month.

The changes out here in the central Midwest are significant. Source and News Group had reached what felt like holding pattern in the last decade. The acquisition of all Kroger banners by News Group last year did not significantly impact this market. TheNews Group already serviced the Michigan, Cincinnati and Columbus banners. When Source took over CVS and Rite Aid Drugs last fall, that too was not a big change. These had been Source accounts since the fall of UniMag in the late 1990’s. The only big changes we had seen in metro Chicago was the transition of the airports and Meijer’s Discount to News Group. But in 2014, this is old news.

But now in the first and second quarter of this year we will really see the impact of the closing of the Dominick’s Supermarket chain on newsstand sales. The venerable Jewel/Osco supermarket chain has moved suppliers from the Source McCook, IL facility to the Jackson, MI News Group DC. In late Spring, the Roundy’s chain of supermarkets, which  includes the fast growing upscale upscale Mariano’s  stores in Chicago, will move to News Group service. The rest of the Roundy’s banners in Wisconsin and Minnesota also move to News Group.

Let’s be clear: No one can fault either of these wholesale distributors for trying to make a profit, expand their business horizons, or increase their market share by taking on national or regional chains. The issue, as some magazine publishers have expressed to me is that no matter how hard they work (and they do work hard), how hard they try (and they do try hard), there no longer appears to be any marginal benefit for a publisher when a retailer shifts from one wholesale supplier to another. In fact, the disruption to the distribution can significantly hurt sales.

With a promise to remain anonymous and only a little light editing, I wanted to share with you what my friend had to say. I could feel the frustration coming from the monitor in waves:

            “I have a client who has lost significant sales in CVS and Rite Aid out on the east coast due to the CVS and Rite Aid transitions. This benefited the publisher how? They get to explain this to their advertisers (especially the ones  based in Manhattan) how? Will TNG tie product in Central Michigan for delivery to the Chicago and Wisconsin market. I have a local publisher in Chicago. How does this improve things for them?

You know who newsstand consolidation really benefited? Right from start of this big mess right up until the beginning of 2008? It’s got to be the accountants and the Wall Street guys. All of this must have made their books look better. Maybe it added some cash to their bottom line. SBT has to make the bottom line look real pretty too. The inventory gets stuck with the wholesaler.

So we “modernize” and “fix an ancient and creaky distribution system” (Remember those awful UniMag Power Points?) we’ve blown up something that worked kind of OK and replaced it with something that does not work all that well for any of the suppliers in the chain, the wholesalers and national distributors, or the producers – the publishers. But it has to have worked out OK for the retailers.

That buyer from Wal-Mart Canada who was in Harrington’s a few months ago that BoSacks blasted all over the place? She is right to want to see publishers step up. She is right to want to see publishers take some ownership for the newsstand and the sub offers and the high newsstand prices.

But I want to see these retailers take some ownership for the changes and challenges they put on us. I hear a lot of complaints but we didn’t make the system this way. They did. (Emphasis mine)”

It went on this vein for some more but you get the gist. And it’s an interesting point. In all the writing you see about the “broken” newsstand system, you see call out after call out after call out for the publishers, the national distributor, the wholesalers, someone, anyone, to do something. But this started with something the retailers wanted.

Personally, I wonder if the supply side of the distribution chain has the will or ability to “fix” what is broken. There are too many disparate needs and viewpoints. The true leaders of the industry, the larger publishers, are focusing their talents, money and attention elsewhere. The small and medium sized publishers don’t have the cash, the experience or the clout to make changes.

The real advances that we will see in marketing, display and call outs to readers to come into bricks and mortar stores to buy magazines will take place on an ad hoc, piece by piece basis. We’ve seen much of this in the past few years from advances in electronic covers to social media campaigns like the Miley Cyrus cover from last year. The question is: Will we reach a critical mass in time to save the system?

In light of all these things, I still find it endlessly fascinating that once again, in the dawn of what looks to be another down year, I am working with publishers who are willing to launch new product into this “ancient and creaky” system. Heck, beyond my personal experience in the launch venue, in the past two months, Mr. Magazine ™  has ID’d another 32 regular frequency launches and 103 specials. Does that mean the world is crazy? Or hopeful?

I’m always “cautiously hopeful.” After all, I’m on the Titanic. But I’m also on the foredeck. If you recall, it’s easier to get off the ship from here.

Edit Thyself! Some Advice for Kelly Blazek from a Former First Grade Teacher

The very first research paper I ever wrote was in seventh grade for Mr. Mackler’s Social Studies class.  We were studying colonial America and I chose to write about the lost colony of Roanoke Island. I sweated for a long hot Indian Summer week writing up note cards and then typing up the first draft on my portable Smith-Corona. When I was done, I proudly showed it to my mother, a first grade teacher and former editor of her high school newspaper.  After carefully reading it she gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.

“This is good, but who are you writing it for?”

I probably did some sort of early adolescent shrug because her question was clearly too subtle for me.

She then said something like this:

“Don’t ever forget about who you are writing for. This paper is for Mr. Mackler. He’s your teacher, not your pen pal. Write like you are a scholar just like him. When you write for your school paper, you write the news like you are a  newspaper reporter because that is who you are.  When you write your short stories, think about who you readers will be. Who is going to buy your books? Always remember who your audience is.”

Kelly Blazek forgot who her audience was.

Ms. Blazek is a Cleveland based marketer who in her spare time, runs a job bank for marketers in north eastern Ohio. Apparently she is very picky about who she adds to her email list. That’s certainly her prerogative.

But when the 26-year-old Diana Merkota broke the rules about how to approach Ms. Blazek, the job board founder unloaded on Merkota  with a passionate and brutal take down that clearly included some “Baby Boomer” ire pointed at the younger “Millennial” generation.

“I love the sense of entitlement of your generation” she wrote, “And therefore I enjoy Denying your invite, and giving you the dreaded “I Don’t Know” … because it’s the truth.”

You can read more about this marvelous blow up by clicking on the highlighted links.

Careful now! You don't want your face all over Twitter, do you? Source:
Careful now! You don’t want your face all over Twitter, do you? Source:

This is an easy trick bag to get caught up in, especially for those of us who came up in a time when inter office communication was created on an IBM Selectric and then transferred from office to office a yellow envelope that slowly moved from desk to desk. We tend to forget  how easy it is for our recipient to forward what we wrote to the entire world. And if you don’t think carefully about what you say, it can be a career killer.

Like the Justine Saco blow up late last year, the Blazek-Merkota internet kerfuffle has a life of it’s own with parody twitter accounts, and some pretty brutal memes. None of us would know anything about this, of course, if the receiver of the poison email hadn’t been a twenty-something millennial with easy access to Twitter, Imgur and Reddit. It also didn’t help that this wasn’t a one-off experience. Other victims of Ms. Blazek’s steel tipped email responses chimed have chimed in with their own stories.

I don’t think it’s fair for me to try to guess Ms. Blazek’s reason for writing this type of message or why she apparently has a tendancy to do so. In my own world, I often have to stop, think and consider who it is I am writing to and why. It’s a hard thing to remember to do. Especially when you also want to try to edit your work and there’s thirty other things you need to complete that afternoon.

But the message is simple, and sadly easy to forget. Don’t forget who you’re writing to. Write it out once, read it out loud, edit, edit, edit.

In the great state of Texas, they advise people to “Drive Friendly.” Clearly out on the internet we should be advising people to “Write Friendly.”

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