New WH Smith boss pledges to keep lid on costs

Kasmira Jefford
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WH SMITH’s new boss Stephen Clarke said yesterday he would continue the cost-cutting strategy laid out by his predecessor Kate Swann and step up growth overseas, as the group posted a rise in profits despite a decline in full-year sales.

The news and stationary retailer, which also announced a further £50m share buyback, said total group sales fell five per cent to £1.2bn in the year to 31 August, with like-for-like sales also down five per cent. But pre-tax profits rose six per cent to £108m as the group protected its top line by cutting costs and improving profit margins.

“Our strategy hasn’t been predicated on driving like-for-like sales growth. It has been predicated on, how do we maximise the return from what is quite expensive space on the high street and how do we generate as much cash as possible,” Clarke told City A.M., adding that it had upped its cost-savings target on the high street to £22m over the next three years.

WH Smith, which has 94 outlets overseas, said it had won contracts for 20 units in countries including Fiji, Russia and Australia. Clarke said he plans to open around 40 stores a year overseas.