WH Smith snaps up former Dixons Travel stores to expand InMotion chain in UK

Retailer WH Smith has bought a raft of former Dixons Travel stores in airports as it expands its US InMotion tech and accessories business into the UK.

The group said it bought 18 stores, including 17 Dixons Travel stores, at sites including major UK airports London Heathrow, London Stansted, Manchester, London Luton, Birmingham and East Midlands, which will deliver sales of around £60 million a year.

In April, Dixons Carphone confirmed plans to close its 35-strong airport store business Dixons Travel after it was hammered by the pandemic and the end of tax-free tourist shopping.

WH Smith plans to take on around 200 of the 400 Dixons Travel staff who were affected by the closures.

WH Smith bought US airport-based retail giant InMotion in late 2018 in a deal that doubled the size of its international travel business.

At the time, InMotion was the largest airport-based digital accessories retailer in North America, with 750 staff and 114 stores across 43 airports in the US.

WH Smith said at the time it hoped to use the deal to expand its retail base further across the US, while also looking to grow the InMotion format outside of America.

Details of the UK expansion plans came as WH Smith said sales remained under pressure, with high street trading at 86% of 2019 levels in the 18 weeks to July 3, but this is up from 84% in the second quarter.

Its hard-hit travel chain continues to be impacted by global restrictions, with UK sales at 32% of 2019 levels and global sales at 48% of 2019 levels.

Total group revenues stood at 62% of 2019 levels in the 18 weeks to July 3.

But it said it was “encouraged” by the improving trends and that it expects a “small improvement” on its full-year expectations thanks to a better-than-forecast performance across North America.

Its US business saw total sales improve to 88% of 2019 levels in June, with the division’s trading boosted by the removal of all Covid-19 restrictions in Las Vegas from June 1.

In the UK, travel sales have improved to 38% of 2019 levels in the week to July 3 as restrictions have eased.