In this interview Ben talks to us about his association, how newsagents are effective mixed retailers, advocacy wins relating to unfair contract terms and synthetic lotteries, the impact of COVID-19, and more.
What does the Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association do for small businesses?
The Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association (ALNA) is a not-for-profit industry body representing a range of small business types including Newsagents, Lottery Kiosks and other mixed businesses with lotteries. Primarily we’re advocates but we also focus on our members’ long-term sustainability and how we can coordinate with suppliers to plan for the future of our industry. Our goal is to make our members’ lives easier every day by minimising complexity and helping them understand what they need to do to run their businesses efficiently and effectively.
How did you get involved with ALNA?
I had my own small businesses for a dozen years in hospitality and tourism. I did a lot of advocacy in the media and to government as the president of the tourism association in our region of Tasmania. When I sold my businesses, I decided to look for a career in advocacy. An opportunity came up with ALNA to look after its Tasmanian members. From there I developed an interest in small business policy and completed a Masters in business as well as a graduate certificate in public policy. At ALNA it was an organic progression from regional manager to policy manager to CEO.
What is a small business advocacy topic you’re passionate about?
One is the cost of accepting card payments. Nearly a decade ago I was having arguments with payment providers about the fairness of policy settings for payments. There’s been a consistent lack of equity around the basic level of infrastructure and costs to accept payments and it’s only gotten worse with contactless payments and the decline in cash.
Another one is unfair contract terms – we’ve put a lot of work into getting some protections from unfair contract terms, working closely with Bruce Billson when he was the Shadow Minister for Small Business.
We’ve also put a lot of effort into combatting synthetic lotteries. International companies were selling bets on the outcome of underlying lotteries in Australia and overseas. It was very misleading for consumers and undermined trust in public lotteries. We managed to get a federal legislative amendment to ban synthetic lotteries.
What’s a misconception that people have about newsagenices?
A lot of politicians I speak to still see newsagents as a place where you buy newspapers and maybe that means that they have no future, but in reality, they’re quite effective mixed retail businesses. There’s maybe a negative perception around their attachment to newspapers, but newspapers don’t actually pay the rent; gifts, home wares, toys, collectibles, stationery, and lotteries are all much higher margin contribution products now. Most good newsagents are out-competing the local gift store and local toy store.
We certainly won’t let go of newspapers as that means letting go of some of the valuable history of newsagents, but newsagents are now very diversified businesses and changing all of the time to meet the needs of their communities.
How have newsagenices and lottery kiosks been affected by COVID-19?
I was hoping that COVID-19 was over, but we seem to be getting a fair amount of impact now in the early part of 2022.
Overall, COVID-19 has been very challenging, but I look at it as a positive. A small subset of our members suffered massive impacts, but the majority of our members have had very strong trading over the past two years. Before the pandemic there was a bit of apathy to change – small businesses weren’t keen to digitise, diversify their products, improve staff training – but COVID-19 shook that up and helped people get some energy to make those decisions.
Finally, what do you love most about working in advocacy?
I love working with the members and working with people who are authentic. Like all small business owners, they’re doing it because they want to have a level of control over their life and their destiny. Sometimes they have suppliers or government who get in the way of that dream of being their own boss. If we as an association can help them keep the dream alive, that’s a really empowering thing.