WH Smith restructures high street arm amid retail gloom

Retailer WH Smith has launched an overhaul of its under-pressure high street business as it revealed sliding sales and profits at the division.

The group said it has kicked off a detailed review of the high street business which will see it close six stores and wind down trials such as its 20-strong Cardmarket chain and franchised convenience store arm WH Smith Local.

WH Smith – which has 839 travel outlets and 610 high street stores in the UK – said the move was designed to “better structure the business for the future”.

It will also see a restructure of some operational activities and a renewed focus on core ranges.

One-off costs of the review sent group pre-tax profits down 4% to £134 million for the year to August 31.

But with these costs stripped out, underlying pre-tax profits rose 4% to £145 million.

WH Smith saw trading profits in its high street stores fall 3% to £60 million, but this was offset by a 7% rise in profits at its travel arm to £103 million.

The group said high street like-for-like sales dropped 3%, although it said the “slime” craze helped drive an “encouraging” performance in the final six months.

Sales rose 3% across its outlets based in airports and train stations.

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive of WH Smith, said: “We had a good year in high street despite the well-documented challenges of the UK high street.

“During an encouraging second half, the business traded well and we quickly identified the latest trend in the market, becoming a one-stop-shop for all slime-related products.

“Despite this good performance, we are not ignoring the broader challenges on the UK high street and, during the second half, we conducted a business review to ensure our high street business is fit for purpose now and for the future.”

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