News Junkie

7-Eleven franchisee Lane extends love of print to his store.

By
Samantha Strong Murphey, Freelance writer

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When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in June, the press ate it up. And Dennis Lane, a born-and-raised Bostonian, took a good-sized bite of the profits. In one week, the hockey team’s first championship since the ’70s added $1,000 in sales to Lane’s bottom line.

“How many opportunities do you get to make $1,000 in incidental sales?” Lane says. “That doesn’t happen every week in our channel.” That week, Lane had customers queuing up at his 7-Eleven to fork over $7.99 for the Boston Bruins special edition of Sports Illustrated. Lane modestly says the magazines sold themselves, but they couldn’t have stacked themselves on the shelves or hustled themselves into the store with the Bruins fans, whose goosebumps were still fresh. That was all Lane.

Where print news sales are concerned, Lane, franchisee and self-proclaimed newspaper man, just “gets it” when others don’t.

While single-copy magazine sales continue to decline nationally—falling 7.3% in the second half of 2010 alone—most people in the convenience industry are heading for the electronic hills, leaving many of their customers with no alternative but to buy their morning paper and get their Cosmo or SI fix in more “convenient” convenience stores.

 Lane thinks otherwise. Magazines can create great opportunities for incidental sales, with special editions on topics such as the Bruins, the royal wedding, the Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor deaths, the Mavericks’ upset of the Los Angeles Lakers, etc. The $5, $8 or even $10 ring many of these special-edition and tribute magazines bring are price points reached only by cigarettes or a complete meal transaction in the convenience industry. But that’s just a perk. What Lane understands, and many may not, is that carrying a full selection of newspapers and magazines isn’t as much about dramatic profit surges as it is about creating a culture that yields consistent profits. Lane works hard to make his store a regular destination for customers. As far as he’s concerned, magazines are strategy.

“My overall store strategy is the ‘market basket’ strategy,” Lane says. “Treat every category in the store as if it were the most important. Manage it well and give it a great presentation and you will increase your market basket with incidental sales and minimize lost opportunities.”

Paper Passion

When you learn that Lane’s first job was a paper route in Cambridge, Mass., you might be tempted to think it was destiny.

“My dad was a huge reader,” says Lane, now 60. “He always picked up a morning paper on the way to work and an evening paper on the way home.”

Lane picked up the habit. “I read both the Boston newspapers and The Patriot Ledger, a smaller community paper in Quincy where my store’s located,” he says.

After graduating in business from Northeastern University in Boston, Lane bought his 7-Eleven store at age 24. Since then, he’s been working to make it a vital part of the Quincy community. Step one? Carry what customers care about. “It’s a matter of having the right titles for your customers,” Lane says. “There’s a huge Irish-American population south of Boston, so we carry niche Irish-American community papers. We’ve paid close attention to our scan data and seen that we sell a tremendous number of car, truck and cycling titles, so that’s what we carry.”

The 20 feet of print in Lane’s store includes classic titles, such as Time and Newsweek, but it’s distinctly customized to its audience.

The most important thing you can do is work with your distributor to build a perfect title mix, Lane says. “Don’t just ask for the top 100 list,” he says. “Ask for the top 100 titles for metro Boston or Chicago or Houston or wherever you are. Ask, ‘What are the best selling magazines for my demographic?’ ”

Start with the 100 to 150 they suggest and hone your selection from there based on your own experience, he advises. Part of keeping people interested, Lane says, is keeping your selection mixed and fresh. His store always has a “Brand New” section focused in the middle of the rack to experiment with sales of different titles. “I suggest having one staff member designated to handle the rack,” Lane says, “someone who understands it, who can keep it full and keep the presentation professional looking.”

 In a sense, it’s Lane’s newspaper equivalent of a coffee barista. And the attention to the rack is clearly drawing attention from the customers.

ADDING IT UP

In an industry where print barely registers, Lane moves roughly 1,000 newspapers a week and 1,000 magazines a month, representing about 2% of his total sales. And the traffic-drawing effect of his mixed, fresh and customized wall of print is significant. According to Lane, 70% of his customers picking up a paper or magazine purchase at least one additional item.

“The pattern we see in the a.m. is that people commuting to work are usually looking for a paper, but when they grab one, they also pick up a coffee, doughnut or breakfast sandwich,” he says. “In the evening, it’s a paper, but also a gallon of milk.”

Jennifer Shaughnessy has been Lane’s print inventory go-to girl for the past 13 years. With her detail-oriented management and the institutional knowledge that comes with experience, Shaughnessy knows how to get the right items in front of the right eyes. Everything about Lane’s store is designed to get print to the register and add-on items in temptingly close reach.

Remember those Irish-American publications Lane carries? He’s got a smattering of specialty Irish drinks and candies right by the register ready to become add-ons. And although he doesn’t know the exact add-on purchase figure for magazines, Lane is sure it’s even higher than newspapers. “Most of the time, magazines are an incidental purchase,” he says, “and people who come in and see our amazing display can’t help themselves.”

In addition to the incidentals, Lane has a large following of weekly customers who know, for example, that Sports Illustrated comes in on Thursday, and they plan their visits accordingly. The traffic he draws is full of regulars.

“There are 35 magazines sold every second [in this country],” Lane says. “If you support and manage that category, magazines and newspapers can have a huge impact on your bottom line.”

In June, Lane sung the praises of print at the Association of Magazine Media’s Retail Marketplace Conference in Baltimore. For three years he has attended, talking front pages and bottom lines to a convenience industry that has steadily decreased the amount of store space devoted to print titles. A huge piece of Lane’s overall goal is to show retailers that digital media isn’t necessarily print’s enemy.

“There’s a tremendous amount of fear about the impact of digital media: reading on Kindles, PCs, etc.,” he says. “The reality is that people who read digitally also purchase print.”

 He’s right. And Lane isn’t about to lose those readers to somebody else.

“If you don’t carry print, print purchasers will move on,” he says. “It’s that simple.”

Community and History

Lane’s longstanding habit of reading the local paper has reaped incalculable benefits, most notably a kindred spirit with his fellow residents.

“It’s amazing what you learn about your customers from reading local papers,” he says. “People come into the store and we can chat about their lives. ‘Hey! We saw your daughter’s soccer team won the league championship!’ and things like that.”

After 37 years manning his store, the kids he saw catch the school bus on the corner outside his store are coming in with their own kids. And beyond the local chitchat, there’s something else that earns newspapers a certain reverence from Lane.

“Our daily history is recorded in newspapers, recorded in headlines— earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, triumphs,” he says. “It’s always been a part of the convenience-store landscape, and it should stay that way.”

If Lane’s store were a headline, it might read this way: Print is not dead. 

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