ANC Exec Shares Magazine Distributor's Point of View During COVID-19 Crisis
Last week, circulation and marketing consultant Joe Berger reached out to see if I wanted to join him and a few other publishing people in sharing success stories and solutions from publishers and channel partners during the COVID-19 crisis. I reached out to Ingrid Jakabcsin, ANC’s EVP of Publishing and Distribution, for the distributor’s point of view. Below is our correspondence:
What are the middle and long term prognoses for our business?
It’s difficult to prognosticate on the middle and long term when the current state is so very fluid. The good news is that our category has been deemed essential and all of our facilities are still running. And for those classes of trade that remain open, our retailers have embraced our category, particularly the lines that are showing higher sales (detailed further below). Our retailers are very engaged and are looking to help their customers by supplying the products that they are seeking. Once the airports, bookstores and specialty accounts are back in business, we believe we will maintain that presence at retail. We are not predicting any major space reductions. In fact, we are seeing space improvement at major chains, including a major specialty chain indicating space will be enhanced when they open back up.
Is ANC considering new ways to approach merchandising?
Yes. We have added a second merchandising touch to those accounts that we have pinpointed as having higher foot traffic and sales over the past few weeks versus the average of the first 8 weeks of the year (removing Kobe Bryant sales). This has just begun so results are not yet available. Many of our retail customers are limiting their hours to give them time to clean their stores. We have succeeded in getting permission from many chains in allowing us to service stores during the closed hours. This keeps our merchandisers out of the stores while people are shopping (and the appropriate social distance). Scan Based Trading (SBT) has again given us a competitive advantage. It’s a huge advantage to our category that the retailer does not need to check the product in or check out, and that we supply the labor in putting the product up. A higher and higher percentage of our visits are occurring after hours. We are hopeful that we will be able to continue after hours services permanently. It is much easier to service a store when it is not open to the public.
How is ANC reaching out to publishers to try and come up with new ideas?
Our collective companies have calls with most major publishers each week. I know that I personally always ask publishers for their suggestions and insights. The second touch merchandising idea outlined above actually originated from a consultant. Since people are shopping more online and picking up their groceries curbside, we are working on a plan to get magazines onto these shopping sites. Again, an idea that has come to us from many publishers willing to partner with us in getting this as a reality at retail. It’s not an easy process on the systems side at retail, but well worth the time spent.
Are there any categories that are performing well during this COVID-19 crisis?
Yes, puzzles (including adult coloring) are trending considerably higher during this time period. Our retailers are asking for more of this product. We have secured additional product, displays are being produced quickly to quench demand and we are also moving allocations from closed stores to those that are open. Also, food, home and health are performing well. People are cooking more than ever and those publications that give them recipes a home chef can easily understand, are the ones trending up. SIPs that are tied to facts about the virus are doing well too, particularly from trustworthy brands. Retailers are seeing educational product selling, mostly on the book side. Many publishers are now jumping into that market to give the retailers the home schooling product that they are seeking.
Is there anything you would like to say to publishers while this is going on?
Please weather this storm. It is a difficult period but there are a lot of opportunities waiting for us on the other side. Please keep the line of communication open with us. If a publisher is hearing something that concerns them within the market, please let us know. I have had publishers call that were afraid of product being banned by stores, since it happened very locally to them or they heard it from another wholesaler. That was not the case nationally.
Also, if production schedules are changing, please be transparent so we can allocate accordingly. We know issues are being skipped or delayed, double issues considered, editorial not being available for future issues, etc. It’s good to fully understand the scope of what is happening at the publisher level. Also, please be aware we are the biggest proponents of the category at retail, constantly engaging our retailers to drive home the importance of magazines. We recently sent them why our category is “essential” so they can push back on any local government policy that may deem us otherwise. This has been a true success: we have overcome a few small pockets where magazines/books were outcast.
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.