The UK high street has experienced its fair share of challenges but WHSmith’s travel operation seems to be going strong
Just last week eBay opened a physical pop-up store to breathe new life into the UK high street, which was a significant move given the firm’s e-commerce roots. The move simply underlines the fact traditional retail in Britain has been struggling and that more should be done to turn that around.
That said, WHSmith appears to have found its own growth formula. In October 2018, the firm reported six UK store closures – a decision that could have been perceived negatively but the move made business sense as it was linked to “onerous leases”. And in April 2019, the book and stationery retailer revealed in its interim results that for the six months ended Thursday February 28 2019, it intends to open 20 new stores in the UK this year and then 15 new units per year in the following years.
An international outlook appears to be the real secret weapon in WHSmith’s armoury though. In November 2018, the business announced its Hong Kong-based franchise deal with Asian travel retailer King Power Group. This partnership will now be expanded and allow the business to start scaling in Singapore. The collaboration will comprise of WHSmith openings in rail stations, shopping centres and ferry terminals.
This Singapore announcement comes just days after WHSmith revealed it would build its Middle Eastern presence with two store openings in Bahrain International Airport. It’s easy to see that scaling overseas is a strong part of the retailer’s overall business model. As part of the interim results, WHSmith said revenue from its global travel retail arm grew by 18%, which was supported by the acquisition of American travel retailer InMotion in October.
Commenting on the Singapore partnership, Phil McNally, WHSmith managing director of international, said: “We continue to be ambitious about expanding the WHSmith brand in Asia and, today, we are active and strongly growing in six countries in the region – in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India and China.”
As it stands, Elite Global is currently running a miniseries on Brand Britain and its power overseas. So while a retail giant like WHSmith is working wonders abroad, so too are SMEs – even if it means donning a bowler hat to clinch those country-crossing contracts.