W H Smith will invest £48m in stores this year as the business marks its 225th anniversary, its c.e.o. Steve Clarke has said.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Clarke said the £48m figure was “higher than ever before” and comes after investment of £150m over the past three years, mainly on store refurbishment. The company has been ridiculed for the state of some of its shops on social media under the @WHS_Carpet Twitter handle.
The business now has 612 high street shops and 768 travel shops, with 90% of people in the UK able reach a W H Smith branch within 20 minutes, Clarke said. Its high street shops achieved positive sales results last year for the first time in 16 years.
“Analysts said it was the first time since the Spice Girls had a number one,” said Clarke. “We don’t have a sales driven strategy. From a business point of view you invest your money where you have the best return.”
This year the business will celebrate its 225th birthday with a variety of customer initiatives including reviving the 1970s cube logo and selling retro biscuit tins. It will also raise £2m for three charities, Cancer Research, the National Literacy Trust and Mind.
Clarke said he opted for a mental health charity because of his mother and husband's experiences with mental health issues. "Once you have personal experience of mental health issues, you are aware that it is a lot more common than you might think. You wouldn’t know that my husband has mental health issues but you would definitely know my mother does for sure," he said.
The company has also invested £250,000 in training its stories managers in supporting employees with mental health issues.
Clarke also spoke about the “meritocratic” culture of W H Smith and being an openly gay chief executive.
“People think Smiths is fuddy duddy, but I was one of the first openly-gay c.e.os and Kate Swann was one of the first women to be a FTSE c.e.o. For a company with such longevity, we are very meritocratic,” he said.
Last month, the m.d of W H Smith Travel Carl Cowling told The Bookseller the company planned to roll out its new bookshop format to more locations, following the opening of The Bookshop at Euston station in London.