Travel helps W H Smith to 7% Christmas trading rise as High Street sales dip

Travel helps W H Smith to 7% Christmas trading rise as High Street sales dip

W H Smith has reported a "good" Christmas with total revenue up 7%, following a boost from its Travel division and the acquisition of Marshall Retail Group (MRG), as High Street sales fell 5%. 

The group "delivered a good performance" in the 20-week trading period to 18th January 2020 with total revenue up 7% and like-for-like revenue down 1% for the 20 weeks, according to its latest trading statement. 

Total revenue for the High Street business was down 5% with like-for-like revenue also down 5%. W H Smith said it has identified £3m of additional cost savings which will be weighted towards the second half of the current financial year. Details of books performance were not broken out.

In Travel, total revenue was up 19% (up 5% excluding InMotion and MRG) with like-for-like revenue up 3%. The UK Travel business experienced "good sales growth" and the store opening programme in the UK "remains on track" with 15 to 20 new units to open this year, including eight hospital branches. 

W H Smith completed the acquisition of US indie travel retailer MRG on 20th December 2019 and has won eight more US units as the firm eyes growth in the US. Following the acquisition of MRG, W H Smith Travel operates over 600 stores outside the UK (including over 280 stores in North America) and over 590 stores in the UK, making a total of nearly 1,200 Travel stores across 32 countries. 

Carl Cowling, Group chief executive said: "We are pleased with the progress the group has made in the first 20 weeks, with total revenue up 7%.

"During the period, we completed the acquisition of MRG ahead of plan and integration into the group is progressing well. This acquisition is in line with our strategic focus to grow Travel, almost doubles the size of our international travel business and accelerates growth in the US, the world’s largest travel retail market. 

"Our High Street strategy continues to deliver through continued gross margin gains and tight cost control.

"Throughout this busy trading period, it is our colleagues, particularly across our stores, who work tremendously hard and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. Without the continued support of our fantastic team we would not be able to achieve these results.

"Looking ahead, we are on track for the current year and as we continue to grow our share of the global travel retail market, the group is well positioned for the years ahead."

The update comes as news emerged that Pete Selby is to W H Smith after nine months as head of books at the retailer to "pursue other opportunities". Selby's departure is the latest in a series of changes at the chain. In December, Al Aldous, trading director for books, news and impulse, moved across to W H Smith's, with head of news, impulse and gaming Ben Carrington succeding him. Carrington will continue to lead the books team.  Former High Street managing director Cowling took on the role of chief executive officer in November, following Stephen Clarke's decision to step down after 15 years with the firm.