How we launched a newspaper on franchisee model.
The story of Launch of the Launches I’m going to share today is before Internet happened. But this is a very Interesting Story. Imagine, you are yet to launch a newspaper but have 450 dealers ready who paid a deposit of 50000 each and 38000 sold copies for a year without printing a single copy.This was done for the first time ever in India. Where conventional distribution system was bypassed and a new system was created for newspaper delivery. Never happened before and never happened again. One Innovative business model, which created and used an exclusive network of dealers & manpower for Newspaper distribution. It Not only could beat the current No 1 Newspaper but could successfully distribute the newspaper also on Day 1 which again is a difficult task.
Whose idea was it? Basically, it was a mixture of ideas. Launch method was taken from a different newspaper. The FMCG distribution pattern was rumored to be an invention of Ashish Kulkarni, who had incubated this idea for an Atta Brand, Param from Nagpur. And Above all, the quick and fast decision making of Director, Nimesh Maheshwari who believed that this team can make it happen. All the marketing was mentored by Sanjay Singh who ensured that the newspaper had enough standing on day 1. Today’s, Nagpur’s few prominent Journalists, started their careers here.
Navrashtra, the launch was of epic proportions for Nagpur. It was the launch of the launches. The scale was mammoth for those days. We believed in the Prepaid method, you buy a subscription and we will give you a free gift worth same rupee value on the spot with the subscription voucher. We had 4 schemes 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and one year’s prepaid subscription. For Circulation, 4 50000 to 6 lakh households were targeted in Nagpur alone. 850 boys were deployed for the door to door campaigns in 17 different clusters market geographically in 123 wards of Nagpur. I was heading Cluster 3 with 55 boys.
123 wards of Nagpur were divided into 17 Clusters. Each Cluster had a Manager and a team. I was heading cluster 3, which brought some 25% + franchise in the fold. Cluster no 1, 2 were west Nagpur and were considered hi potential ones. My Teams working was exemplary and we shared every meal together throughout the launch. For dealerships, a team of 5 – 7 executives worked simultaneously to appoint a 3-4 franchise in one ward based on its population. For 123 wards we expected 450 franchises would come. Our offer was simple, you deposit an interest-free 50000/- with us and you will be appointed as a franchise for a particular area of that ward. Our team would do the door to door survey and sell prepaid newspaper subscriptions in your area. A franchisee will then be responsible for distributing the newspapers designated in his area. We had given a minimum business guarantee also, till a fixed number of copies. Any franchise was supposed to earn a fixed amount, in case he doesn’t, we had promised to pay the difference.
Initially, everyone was involved in franchise making, till the actual campaign in the area of The franchise started. We Had our 3 storied office at Wardha Road. The major hurdle was that the newspaper was not yet printed. We were not using the name of our parent publication and thirdly we had promised a number of services like courier, Milk, Grocery, and other essentials to the franchise to keep the business model afloat. We were so confident that we had given a minimum business guarantee, which brought in some unsuitable crowd of franchisee who were not ready to work.
We started our marketing campaign after 350 franchisees, In the process, we had to postpone the launch also for some time. Due to the extension, a lot of franchisees wanted their money back thinking if the paper would come or not. A mega meeting of all 400 franchises was arranged at a Marriage hall and dashing Sanjay Singh, our General Manager faced the angry crowd of 400 people with such grace and conviction that he could actually convince them all. Believe me, He did what he set out to achieve. I’m a fond witness of that day’s entire process. We were worried about a lot of possibilities. We ourselves could not digest the delay as it was making us look untrustable. But Sanjay Singh replied to each and every query and stood there in front of them.All, when the franchise were against us. He won hearts that day with his efforts.
How we started our circulation campaign:
We had to rent a marriage hall to manage the campaign & gifts. We started with the training of the boys and girls. We showed them products which we had planned against subscriptions and showed them how to sell them. Each Cluster In-charge was given a Tata Sumo and we carried our daily stock in that. Each Morning team would reach a campaign location and work thoroughly in that area. End of the day, receipt books were given back and money was deposited. We used to work in 2 shifts, Morning & evening.
My cluster 3 was special, we were a family. We had achievers and people who were never defeated. Our sales figures were always highest on any given day. Hardly 2 – 3 boys quit our group in the entire campaign. One of our campaigners then went on to become Most successful RJ and today heads a radio Station in India. Such was the extraordinary crowd. One Guy committed suicide and that was the loss which I could never forget till date.
We walked through Nagpur and realized that Nagpur is bigger than what we thought it to be. It was spreading fast and we will be successful eventually. When the campaign ended, we were the top cluster and again the top team end to end. This team and working with them made me a man I’m today.
It is unbelievable but true, but the gifts distributed at Navrashtra launch can still be seen at some places
We had inflatable balloons, which were huge. We had them placed at Strategic locations. 850 boys + franchise teams, Branded caps, the whole city and everyone knew that Navrashtra was being launched. All locations needed monitoring as inflatables were unique. Those days, It was difficult to go to a normal restaurant, because we were mobbed by people or franchise who would talk Navrashtra plans and wouldn’t let us pay a single rupee. Entire city was branded Navrashtra. Our team mate, Ravi Joshi did an excellent job with Navrashtra launch branding.
Cluster 3 was on top because of the Highest number of Franchisee and Copies we brought. I was called to the office and was asked to take charge of Franchisee operations as the current DGM Mr. Pancholi had quit midway. That was the turning point of my Life. In the new role, Each day we used to attend aspiring franchisee, their queries and try to solve them. It was one of the most difficult jobs at that time because of delay. But we learned fast and delivered results faster.
In the night we had deployed some 23 route vehicles who would do dry runs from the printing press to the Franchisee homes just to ensure and train people in their new business. Imagine ringing the bell at 4.30 in morning and taking the signature of that franchise on a piece of paper as a part of training. But we did it. And we loved it.
We created a fantastic logistic arrangement which could deliver our newspaper before 6.30 am to the reader. Existing hawker never delivered before 7 am of 7. 30, so it was important for us to maintain the deadline to stay ahead in the game. All vehicles were under me and I am proud to tell you that the newspaper reached all franchise & their customers on day one. Why is this important? It is important because, if we would have gone by the conventional distribution system, then these many copies would not have reached the customer. Our competitors would have beaten us by purchasing these copies out of the market on the launch day only. This is normal in the field of newspapers. We could bypass it with our own distribution system. A lot of mystery was there regarding logistics of Navrashtra until launch.
Such was the situation that one extra vehicle was deployed with one newspaper vehicle on launch day. we had more than 46 vehicles just to ensure that the newspaper reaches homes of our readers. We had plugged each loophole very carefully for this. Some minor incidence or burning of our newspaper happened though on day one but was settled immediately.
A huge team of data entry operators was in place to punch every address we got. By the end of the campaign, we had exclusive data of more than 32000 customers who were our customers all very precious and true because the newspaper was delivered there. Shekhar Chahandale did a terrific job on this system.
Restrictions and limitations:
- 1) We had sold a subscription to the customers and gave them a gift in return of equal value. Now newspaper was launched at a later date, which made customers little restless, though he had equivalent amount gift in hand.
- 2) Product forms an important part of any marketing campaign, and somehow we always felt that a better product could have supported the franchise system.
- 3) only 100 – 120 franchisee of total franchise worked very well and rest all could not participate well, which resulted in customer complaints. We had to go personally and deliver the newspapers. And believe me even 10 -20 complaints can ruin your day.
- 4) We could add only Milk and Grocery to our franchise network. Imagine, this was before Big Bazaar. We could not tackle the multiple choice of sizes and brands for say a category like a tooth paste or washing powder, simply because customers wanted a particular one and replacement was not a viable option.
- 5) The earning had increased but some franchise would deliver the newspapers late making us struggle against the 6.30 am’s a delivery promise.
- 6) The Minimum Business guarantee cause meant huge payouts, whereas the expenses remained constant.
- 7) The product never actually took off, resulting in a huge drop in our circulation after 3 months’ subscription ended. People continue with the paper.
Later the whole franchisee system was scrapped and the newspaper was shunted in the conventional distribution system. The most surprising thing out of the whole transition was, it was the 100 -120 franchisee only who sold the newspaper in the conventional distribution system also. They had strong base of customers and their own distribution which they retained in both the systems.
It was clearly established that a franchisee distribution model can be established for a newspaper and it can be grown. Provided you select those 100- 120 people in first go. If we would not have added the minimum business guarantee clause, then maybe we would have had a better chance. Imagine we had Grocery & milk distribution, what if this would have succeeded? We would have been a trendsetter. May be this and may be that
One of the most satisfying moment of my life, Cluster 3 and its boys live in my heart, because they earned respect.
Some respected team members: Nimishji Maheshwari leads the flagship Nagpur Navabharat and are expanding their presence aggressively, Sanjay Singh now works for Hindustan Times, Aasman Seth is AGM Lokmat, Shirish Shingarey is still a circulation guy and works in Mumbai, Jitendra Solanki is Regional Manager Mother Dairy, Rajesh Salway is an entrepreneur, Vaibhav Deshkar, Shekhar Chahandale , Lot of old team members like Vishal Bhandakkar, kaka Deshmukh, Dharmendra Pawar, Susheel Somkuwar are Still with Navabharat, Deepak Karnale is with Bhaskar, Our team members of Cluster 3, Milind Patil rose to became a celebrity RJ of Nagpur , today is Creative head for Radio Orange, RJ Rajan from Radio Mirchi, Nagpur was in Cluster 2, I work for Confidence petroleum India Limited as a Sr. manager Communication, Entire Cluster 3 team is well placed today. And the unforgettable Naidu & Sadanand Kulkarni from the NB circulation team. Sadu works with Times and Naidu passed away long time back.
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