Mak­ing news

Mags and Fags finds new niche amid re­brand­ing

Ottawa Business Journal - - Front Page - BY JA­COB SEREBRIN Spe­cial to OBJ

El­gin Street news­stand’s re­brand­ing lat­est sign of in­dus­try ‘evo­lu­tion’

For 35 years, El­gin Street news­stand Mags and Fags had a mem­o­rable name that de­scribed ex­actly what the store sold.

But after the store stopped sell­ing cig­a­rettes in Fe­bru­ary, own­ers Charlene and Christa Blaszczyk say the busi­ness went through an “ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis.”

This week they an­nounced they’d be chang­ing its name to The Gifted Type, branding that they say bet­ter re­flects what their store sells and the di­rec­tion they want to take it.

When the two sis­ters took over the store 10 years ago, cig­a­rettes and other to­bacco prod­ucts ac­counted for about 50 per cent of sales, says Charlene Blaszczyk. News­pa­pers and mag­a­zines made up the rest since, at that point, the store didn’t sell much else. That has changed. “The cig­a­rettes were slid­ing, year after year, and we had to fill the void in sales with some­thing else and we thought cards and gifts were a great com­ple­ment to the ex­ist­ing mag­a­zine busi­ness,” Ms. Blaszczyk says.

Even though read­ers are con­sum­ing more and more con­tent on­line, the re­tail­ers say the other half of their busi­ness hasn’t been hit as hard.

“Mag­a­zines are still our largest cat­e­gory, and that’s why we re­main com­mit­ted to print,” Ms. Blaszczyk says.

She says hard-to-find mag­a­zines and im­ported ti­tles, in par­tic­u­lar, have re­mained big sell­ers.

That niche fo­cus is some­thing the store has had from the be­gin­ning.

“Even in our to­bacco busi­ness, in its hey­day, we would have premium prod­uct and hard-to-find prod­uct, so there was al­ways a rea­son to come to us,” she says. “We’re try­ing to do that with our cards and gifts as well.”

Cards and gifts ap­peal to a wider au­di­ence than mag­a­zines and cig­a­rettes, Ms. Blaszczyk says. They also have a higher mar­gin than mag­a­zines, though she says she can’t re­veal per­cent­ages due to con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments with sup­pli­ers.

Ms. Blaszczyk says she and her sis­ter want to move more of their busi­ness on­line, a step that’s been hin­dered by the word “fags” in the store’s name. While many peo­ple rec­og­nize it as Bri­tish slang for cig­a­rettes, it has caused the name to be blocked by spam fil­ters.

“If we want to be around for the next 35 years, we have to make the leap,” she says of the name change.

The fo­cus on hard-to-find and im­ported mag­a­zines has cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity to sell mag­a­zines over the in­ter­net. Ms. Blaszczyk says the store has cus­tomers from as far away as Bri­tish Columbia who are look­ing for sin­gle copies of mag­a­zines that are ex­pen­sive to im­port one at a time.

“If you’re try­ing to im­port them your­self, you might end up spend­ing $40 per mag­a­zine, but we might be able to send it to you for $20 all in,” she says.

With the de­cline of news­stands, Ms. Blaszczyk says it’s a grow­ing op­por­tu­nity. In par­tic­u­lar, there’s grow­ing in­ter­est in a new wave of mag­a­zines that are printed

“We didn’t make this de­ci­sion lightly, that’s for sure. It’s been a process of adapt­ing and evolv­ing to the changes in the in­dus­try – both to­bacco and print – and we re­ally feel like it’s not the death of an­other news­stand, it is the evo­lu­tion of one.” – CHARLENE BLASZCZYK, CO-OWNER OF MAGS AND FAGS, WHICH HAS REBRANDED IT­SELF AS THE GIFTED TYPE

on higher-qual­ity pa­per and have fewer ads.

“We’re see­ing a lot of younger peo­ple com­ing in and pick­ing up mag­a­zines,” she says. “There’s a lot of in­ter­est­ing con­tent and su­per high qual­ity and it’s more of a col­lectable.”

For the sis­ters, who started work­ing at the store as stu­dents be­fore tak­ing it over, chang­ing the name wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion.

“We didn’t make this de­ci­sion lightly, that’s for sure,” Ms. Blaszczyk says. “It’s been a process of adapt­ing and evolv­ing to the changes in the in­dus­try – both to­bacco and print – and we re­ally feel like it’s not the death of an­other news­stand, it is the evo­lu­tion of one.”

PHOTO BY DAVID SALI

Ven­er­a­ble El­gin Street news­stand Mags and Fags is now The Gifted Type.

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