Sales of spoof humour books helped W H Smith to achieve a “strong” performance over its Christmas trading period, with the company’s chief executive Stephen Clarke saying that group profit growth for the year is now “slightly ahead of plan”.
The WHS group sales were up 1% like-for-like for the 21 weeks to 21st January 2017, with total sales up 2%. Within that, The Bookseller understands that W H Smith book sales were down 3% like-for-like across the group.
Sales in its High Street arm were down 3% like-for-like and down 4% overall, but the company achieved “good sales of spoof humour books” over the period, such as the Famous Five for adults series by Bruno Vincent (Quercus) and the Ladybird Books for Adults series, although these sales were offset by the high sales of adult colouring books over the same period last year.
As usual, the retailer’s Travel arm performed better than its High Street business, aided by a growth in passenger numbers, with like-for-like sales up 5% and total sales up 10%, of which 3% can be attributed to its growing international business. The company recently opened a new format “The Bookshop by W H Smith” in Euston Station, the eighth of its kind, and said it was "ambitious" about rolling the format out further.
In its High Street arm, gross margin was up and its “cost efficiency programme” is on track, the company said. W H Smith has also opened 32 more Post Offices within its high street branches in the period, bringing its total number to 145, with a further 23 scheduled to open by the end of the year.
As a result of the performance in Travel WH Smith expects group profit growth for the year to be slightly ahead of plan.
The company is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year and will invest £48m in stores, a figure “higher than ever before” Clarke has previously revealed.
Today (25th January), Clarke said: "I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our colleagues across the group for their continued hard work and contribution. Without their ongoing support we would not be able to achieve these results.
"Looking ahead, 2017 is a significant year for us as we celebrate the 225th anniversary of our first store opening in 1792. While there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we remain confident that the Group is well positioned for the year ahead as we continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in new opportunities."
The week leading up to Christmas ranked the highest in value for the book trade since 2007, figures from Nielsen BookScan have shown. Altogether £83.3m worth of print books sold were sold in the run up to Christmas - the highest since 2007.