The Retail Interview: Peter Wagg of NEWS on the WHARF
Peter Wagg, owner of the award-winning NEWS on the WHARF, tells PPA Retail why more positivity is needed in the magazine category, and how retailers and publishers can seize opportunities to grow sales.
What was the first magazine you bought?
Aged 12 I was a paperboy for WHSmith on Kings Lynn railway station and therefore read all the comics – Beano, Dandy, Hotspur, Eagle – as they arrived on the trains. But the first magazine I actually paid for was Knowledge, a partwork junior encyclopedia.
What was it like to be a paperboy?
It was my first job, and I eventually became the manager’s early-morning assistant, arriving extra early to meet the 'newspaper train'. The manager and I unpacked and sorted the bundles to make up the delivery rounds, often (when time allowed) sitting down together to read a magazine with a cup of tea – good times that I remember well and are probably the root of my life-long relationship with magazines.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been many - this is my 40th year owning newsagent shops, and last November we celebrated 25 years at Canary Wharf. Highlights are the numerous awards our shops have won over the years, PPA lifetime achievement and multiple magazine retailer awards, being NFRN President and Chairman of JIG, and generally being recognised by my peers within the industry.
In 1991 when we opened NEWS on the WHARF we were the first shop at Canary Wharf. Almost everyone thought I must be mad and doomed to failure as it was generally considered to be a 'white elephant' development. Indeed, there have been difficult times. In 1993 the developer went bust and we lost almost all our customers for nearly three years, and then in 2008 we lost 5,000 customers in one day when Lehman Bros went bust. So I suppose the one highlight of my career is that I am still here and still looking for opportunities to sell more magazines.
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
My early inspiration was undoubtedly the WHSmith manager all those years ago, but my family has always been at the core of my business. For the first 25 years it was my wife Anita and I. She had the natural ability to make every customer feel special, and was a big factor in the success of our first shop in Kentish Town in London. My daughter Janet joined the business 20 years ago and is now my Partner and Operations Director, and runs the business along with my son-in-law Paul and grandson Adam. Without my family there would be no NEWS on the WHARF.
"There is no one successful magazine promotion: what has worked for one title or retailer often fails with another"
What do you think makes NEWS on the WHARF different?
NEWS on the WHARF is no different to any other 'community retailer', it’s our community that’s different. We endeavour to understand and tailor our offering to our unique customer base, including our different magazine ranges for each store.
What would be the biggest change you would like to see in the magazine category?
More positive attitude. While I fully understand that the decline in retail sales presents challenges, it is still a very big market presenting opportunities, especially with targeted promoting and joined up thinking combining retail and digital offers. While in the heyday of mass circulation one size could fit all, today's market demands a more radical approach.
What would a successful magazine promotion look like?
There is no one successful magazine promotion: what has worked for one title or retailer often fails with another. We work closely with Marketforce, COMAG, and many individual publishers to tailor their promotions to our unique customer base. We have six digital display screens seen daily by over 140,000 people, in-store branding for some titles, and complete window displays for others. We even arranged a pop-up shop for Panini stickers during the World Cup and sold over 4,000 packets in one day. We encourage publishers to come and talk to us so that we can arrange a promotion that best suits their title and our customers. Our approach must work as most who have tried promoting with us have asked for repeats and many with annual agreements. With promoting, as with all other aspects of our category, one size no longer fits all.
Which magazines do you read regularly?
Retail Newsagent and other trade magazines aside, I have a very eclectic taste. The Economist is a regular read but I read any magazine that has articles of interest as I flick through them.
How do you spend your time when you’re not driving magazine sales?
When I am not working at NEWS on the WHARF I devote much of my time to the NFRN, of which I am a past President and current executive member, the NFRN Mutual insurance company, of which I am the Executive Chairman, and many other industry-related groups and committees. Now I think of it, I have no hobbies, sports, or interests other than work and family.
As the winner of the MagSell Independent Magazine Retailer of the Year for two years running, what would be the top piece of advice you would give to independent magazine retailers?
With independent retailers working so hard and such long hours it is very easy for them to get into a rut and not see what needs to be done to their store to attract customers. I am very fortunate that being at Canary Wharf I could never get into that rut; we have always had to maintain very high standards – it’s even written into our leases. Whenever you visit one of our stores you will never see out of date posters on dirty windows or the marks where they have been, untidy magazine racks, empty shelves, dirty floors, or light bulbs not working.
I would encourage every retailer to stand across the road and look at their store through the eyes of their customers, then honestly assess whether it is clean, tidy, attractive, and welcoming. Every community needs, and can sustain, a full range news and magazine retailer, a specialist, but once you have built that reputation you still have to work at keeping the loyalty of your customers by maintaining an attractive, well presented, and welcoming store.