W H Smith and Woolworths: a cautionary tale

Tired stores, confusion over what the shops sell, high prices. No, it’s not Woolworths, its W H Smith’s.

W H Smith currently occupy the position that Woolworths held maybe ten years before its demise. The Smith’s stores desperately need a makeover. Too many of the stores are dirty and untidy, and reminiscent of a jumble sale.

Smith’s actually did quite well from the demise of Woolworths. It likely picked up some of the stationery, toys and confectionery business from its rival. But it’s struggling in the face of intense competition on the high street, online, and from the supermarkets.

The travel concessions are actually pretty good. They offer the traveller all that he or she needs for a journey: books, chocolate, magazines. But I don’t see much reason to visit a high street Smith’s. Waterstones do books better, Amazon do books cheaper. Okay, their magazine range is good. I might consider them for cards if there isn’t a Clinton’s nearby. Their stationery is quite good, but nothing fancy, and is overpriced. And why do I need stationery? People don’t really buy stationery that often, do they? It’s no surprise to read that the travel concessions are keeping the entire business afloat.

http://www.retail-week.com/companies/whsmith/whsmith-trials-franchising-to-expand-its-store-network/5050816.article

Smith’s seem to sell a lot of children’s toys and games these days. It’s just a confusing premise. Why does a newsagents sell toys? I don’t think W H Smith why I need to buy a toy. One gets the impression that they’re just trying to fill some of those massive stores.

The whole situation reminds me of Woolworths. Both are (were) brands with enormous recognition and presence on the high street. But people found fewer and fewer reasons to pop in. Then they got embarrassed to be seen in one. Then Woolworths closed.

I read that Smith’s are trialling franchising their brand to newsagents. Some trialists report a 20 percent rise in sales as a result. Smith’s main problem is their store size. They’d be better off with more small locations that trade on their convenience. Smaller stores would result in lower rents.

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