GUIDE HOPES TO SIMPLIFY SINGLE-COPY SALES PROCESS AT RETAIL

ATLANTA -- Retailers voiced enthusiasm that they could eventually break out of an antiquated system of doing business with the publishing industry when presented with a best practice retail guide designed to streamline single-copy magazine distribution through the point of purchase.Richard Alleger, chairman of the Magazine Retail Advisory Council, an alliance of retailers, wholesalers, distributors

ATLANTA -- Retailers voiced enthusiasm that they could eventually break out of an antiquated system of doing business with the publishing industry when presented with a best practice retail guide designed to streamline single-copy magazine distribution through the point of purchase.

Richard Alleger, chairman of the Magazine Retail Advisory Council, an alliance of retailers, wholesalers, distributors and publishers established in 1997, unveiled the 18-page "Retail Guide: Improving Sales and Efficiencies of Single Copy Magazines" at the fourth annual Magazine Publishers of America Retail Conference held here last month.

The guide represents a shift in the council's focus over the past year away from UPC coding. Alleger said this is due to the complexities involved with issue-specific coding and the ability of retailers' systems to read those codes. Instead, through the Retail Guide, the council concentrated on order regulation and inventory control. The guide outlines five "microprocesses": distribution formulas, logistics, product assortment, merchandising and analysis.

"By addressing these five microprocesses that interlock the magazine industry," Alleger said, "order regulation and inventory control can be improved, which will improve sales efficiency. Each one is a segment of a continuous cycle from the first analysis of the category to post analysis." MPA executives acknowledged that streamlining the distribution chain is an ongoing process and that category management itself is maturing.

A five-member retailer panel commented on the guide and its best practices. Panelists included three supermarket executives -- Jim Ryan, vice president, Super Market Service Corp, the nonfood division of Montvale, N.J.-based A&P; Jerry Lynch, business group manager, Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y.; and Bill Mansfield, vice president of general merchandise, Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis.

Commenting on the distribution/replenishment cycle of single-copy magazines, Lynch of Wegmans said, "It's just so complex and I really believe if we look back 20 to 30 years, a lot of this complexity is based on how business used to be. We've built up a series of paradigms that are keeping us from making change. It's really incumbent upon us not to let that happen and change the system if we've going to simplify the trip from (magazine) creation to the customer."

Of the five microprocesses, Ryan focused on "logistics," which encompasses product delivery, check-in and returns. Acknowledging that as a whole, the guide can be overwhelming, he said, "Keep it simple.

"You have to recognize that where this all comes together is in the store," he said. "And for the retailers -- magazines is not their favorite category. So if we can get the receiving and the merchandising and the returns to be simple and friendly to the store manager, then we'll have a step toward success."

Presentation of the guide also prompted questions from the audience as to just how effective it can be.

Asked if the will to implement ideas in the guide existed, Mansfield volunteered: "I would say that most of the retailers here and in the audience probably have already used many of the principals and processes in the guide." Nevertheless, he suggested exposing a larger audience to the guide. "Perhaps we should take it to a bigger venue -- FMI certainly, GMDC [or] NACDS."

Retailers surveyed at the conference seemed pleased with the guide. "It gave a lot of information," said an executive with a major food chain in the Northeast. "You take out four or five points in it and work on them. You don't try to do everything in it."

Said a Barnes & Noble executive, "It provides a solid framework that retailers can use as a touchstone. The [supply chain] is sloppy now; we just don't efficiently meet consumer demand. The Retail Guide provides concepts and infuses skill. It takes a clumsy process and makes it skillful."

The guide goes into detail regarding each of the microprocesses. It cites one or two case studies under each of the five in which numerous initiatives achieved positive results for participants. These results included sales gains and reduced returns processing time, among other things. Notable is the fact that one program -- a title-reduction initiative based on demographics and sales histories -- became permanent.

Said Alleger, "These are real results from committed retailers, publishers, wholesalers and national distributors. MRAC's prediction is if you just pick one or several of the points in the guide to follow up [on], you'll be rewarded."