Delivering the early morning papers through sun, rail, hail and snow to earn a few pennies while at school is something many have done, myself included. But what if, further down the line, you were able to expand on that idea and actually buy and run your own newsagent business?
Well it is possible. Newsagents are currently one of the most popular businesses to buy alongside post offices. This is partly due to the fact that the choice of revenue streams – whether it is newspapers, groceries or the National Lottery – has never been greater.
What is it?
Millions of us buy newspapers and magazines, lottery tickets, confectionery, and other necessities from newsagents. This is why newsagents and ‘corner shops’ have become something of an institution in the UK. What would happen without that Sunday morning stroll to pick up the paper, a carton of milk and some eggs for your soldiers? Newsagents are always nearby, open when you want them and often the heart of small communities.
These factors and others are a great pull for the many thousands of newsagents that exist in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Around 20,000 of these belong to the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN). It lobbies Parliament on various issues, offers convalescence benefits, free workshops and trade show entrances, legal fees, regular updates as well as other services to its members.
The NFRN is a very useful and well-established organisation that represents small independent newsagents. It has the ability to deal with large corporations such as newspaper and magazine wholesalers. Newsagents are almost always tied to a particular wholesaler and have little choice over terms and conditions imposed on them, and this is something that the NFRN is trying to redress. Membership costs only a few pounds per week, so it is worth joining up to have someone fight important battles for you.
Having said that, as a newsagent you are independent. You look after your own deliveries and orders, stock levels, wage bills, rental agreement if you own a leasehold property, and must find new ways of promoting your goods.
Running a newsagent is a people and community-orientated business. It takes a great deal of hard work to build up and maintain a steady profit. You can sell newspapers and magazines, sweets, cigarettes, snacks, fresh produce, toiletries and bathroom products, lottery tickets, rail cards and bus passes in some shops, as well as batteries and medical products. You can also expand it to create a convenience store and include a small post office.
One drawback is the hours you may have to work. This is a factor that all the newsagents we spoke to warned about. Your day starts at the crack of dawn with newspaper and fresh produce deliveries, and customers can arrive from around 5am until late at night (depending on your opening hours).
Who is it suited to?
Unsociable hours, hard work and the drive to make the business work can all take their toll on a business owner, particularly if you buy and run a newsagent as a couple. In the words of Charles Fleckney, field operations manager at the NFRN, “being a newsagent is not just a job; it is a way of life”. So who does it suit?
Chris Barker of Sutherbies business agents in Yorkshire believes a newsagent’s work is never done. And, if you’re not ready for it, it can quickly become a strain on new owners. “You have to be prepared to start work at four or five in the morning and work throughout the day until at least late afternoon, have some business sense and be able to cope with all the pressures involved.”
However, don’t let the hours put you off. They often vary depending on whether you run a newsagent in a town or a more rural area, the amount of competition you have, whether the business needs a lot of improvement and added promotion as well as to how much you wish to push your sales.
Barker continues: “The job is well suited to a family or even a couple as they can all work together. This depends on the size of the business but the children can often chip in with the paper rounds, for example. The majority of people who come to us looking to buy a newsagent tend to be older people who have perhaps worked in a shop before or who fancy taking on a hassle-free business.”
But the business is only hassle-free once everything is in place. Kevin Ball, a director at Dowling Kerr business agents as well as an ex-newsagent himself, believes the key to running a newsagent is organisation and commitment. “Being behind a counter and waiting for customers to come in can test your patience and become a hard life in some cases. Plus if you don’t know how to organise your staff (13 year old boys can be a pain at six in the morning) and the key aspects to the job such as the newspaper delivery, then I would frankly say don’t bother.”