WH Smith announces store closures as part of “detailed review” of high street business

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WH Smith on Thursday revealed it will shut six of its high street stores after conducting a “detailed review” into its high street businesses.

The stationery, book and travel retailer this morning announced profits at its travel arm had risen seven per cent to £103 million in the year ending August 31.

Meanwhile profits in its high street arm had fallen three per cent to £60 million.

The group’s operations have long been a tale of two halves as WH Smith’s travel stores have ramped up international expansion, while its high street stores have struggled to turn a profit against numerous challenges in the UK.

Group profits before tax fell four per cent to £134 million for the year, with revenue up eight per cent for travel and down three per cent for high street.

“Travel accounts for over half our sales and two thirds of our profits and continues to perform strongly with revenue growth of eight per cent in the year”, said group chief executive Stephen Clarke.

“This performance has been driven by our ongoing investment in stores and growth in passenger numbers. Profit in Travel is up seven per cent to £103m’”, he added.

WH Smith currently has 286 units open across 27 countries and 50 airports, and has opened 42 new units this year including what the retailer sees as “significant tenders” in South America and Europe.

Looking to the high street, Clarke said it had been a good year, despite the “well documented challenges”.

“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,” he added.

Following its review into its high street stores, WH Smith said it will move to increase its focus on core categories and wind down non-core trial initiatives including its Cardmarket and WH Smith Local efforts.

The six store closures have been prioritised around those “impacted by onerous leases”.

Speaking of the months to come, Clarke added: “While there is some uncertainty in the economic environment, we are pleased with the start to the new year in both businesses, and will continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and new opportunities to profitably invest for the future. We are well positioned for the current year and beyond.” 

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