WH Smith posts profit boost despite a slide in sales on the high street

Kasmira Jefford
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WH Smith chief executive Stephen Clarke
Stationery chain WH Smith reported a four per cent rise in half-year profits even as sales fell on the high street, after winning new contracts to open travel outlets overseas.

The retailer, which has 740 travel outlets and 621 high street stores, reported pre-tax profits of £72m in the six months to the end of February compared with £69m the previous year.

Like-for-like sales across its high street business fell four per cent while trading profits rose two per cent to £50m.

The old dame of the high street, which dates back to 1792, has found ways to eke profits out of the business even as sales continue to decline by keeping a tight lid on costs.

It is making better use of its space in stores but introducing more post office branches and dedicating further space to more lucrative categories such as food and stationary.

WH Smith has launched a number of trials including a franchise partnership with local newsagents, under the WH Smith Local brand. The retailer plans to have 50 open by the end of the year, with 22 opened so far.

In November, it opened 20 trial standalone, value greeting cards stores called Cardmarket.

WH Smith’s travel business saw a three per cent rise in like-for-like sales, while trading profits increased by seven per cent to £32m in the period.

It opened 15 international units in the first six months, including a further four in Sydney International Airport, giving a total of 185 units internationally.

“Looking ahead, we will continue to focus on profitable growth and cash generation while investing in new opportunities in both travel and high street that position us well for the future,” chief executive Stephen Clarke said.

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