WH Smith in recovery position

For most of us, spending time in airport departure lounges is a pretty unpleasant experience these days (just look at the slating Heathrow has taken this year). However, WH Smith CEO Kate Swann may be one of the few people to view these thinly-disguised shopping malls with considerable affection.

Last Updated: 16 Oct 2014

WH Smith said today that its pre-tax profits for the full year to August were up 29% to £66m – at a time when other retailers are complaining that the miserable British summer has been keeping the customers away.

And the better-than-expected results were largely due to its outlets in airports, railway stations and motorway stops. Perhaps we were all just desperate to escape the rain?

It’s another sign that the retailer is continuing its recovery under the leadership of Swann, who took over in 2003 ahead of the company recording a £135m loss. Its push into the travel market – a key part of her turnaround plan – is certainly delivering, with these outlets showing 2% sales growth and a 16% increase in profits.

But the figures also contained a reminder that the company’s high street revival still has a long way to go. Despite Swann cutting jobs and moving out of low-margin products like DVDs, plus a one-off boost from the last Harry Potter book, high street sales were 6% down on the previous year. Swann thinks it could be 2009 before she can turn this around.

The jury is still out on whether there’s a place on today’s high street for WH Smith. But in the meantime, Swann will be hoping that the UK’s harassed travellers will continue to prop up sales.

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