Sales at WH Smith travel shops beat high street for first time

Airports, train stations and ‘Five On Brexit Island’ boost British bookseller

Spoof humour books like Five on Brexit Island have become a ‘key driver’ of sales at WH Smith, helping to counter a sharp drop in ‘colour therapy’ titles.

Bookseller and stationer WH Smith has revealed that sales from its shops in train stations and airports have overtaken high street stores for the first time as it posted a 7 per cent hike in annual profits.

The British retailer, which holds the bookshop franchise for both terminals of Dublin Airport, said its burgeoning travel arm is now the largest part of the group by both sales and profit, notching up a 10 per cent surge in annual earnings to £96 million and accounting for nearly two-thirds of group trading profits.

This helped offset ongoing pressure on the high street chain, which saw trading profits remain flat at £62 million and like-for-like sales fall 4 per cent in the year to August 31st, despite a boost from spoof humour books such as Bruno Vincent's Enid Blyton for grown-ups title, Five On Brexit Island.

WH Smith chief executive Stephen Clarke hailed a "good performance" across the group as overall pretax profits rose to £140 million from £131 million.


He said: “The travel business continues to perform well with strong revenue growth, up 9 per cent in the year. For the first time, revenue in travel has overtaken high street, and travel is now the largest part of the group in both revenue and profit.”

He added the “economic environment remains uncertain”, but said WH Smith is well-placed for the year ahead.

Growing overseas

Shares fell 2 per cent despite WH Smith announcing a 10 per cent rise in its final shareholder dividend payout to 48.2 pence. WH Smith has 582 travel stores across the UK, as well as a growing overseas footprint, with 233 international shops. It said the overseas stores contributed £9 million of the £96 million reported for the travel business.

The high street arm continued to benefit from tight cost control to help offset flagging sales, although WH Smith cheered spoof humour books as a “key driver” of revenues, which helped counter a sharp drop in sales of so-called colour therapy titles.

WH Smith has 611 high street stores, having closed three over the financial year. It plans to continue focusing on growth in its fast-growing travel business, with 15 UK units opened in the past financial year.

Mr Clarke said the group aimed to open another 15 travel stores in the UK over the new financial year, while also launching more of the 41 international stores it recently secured in airports overseas.

- (Press Association)