Stationery specialist WHSmith is trialling a range of new store concepts in key locations as it moves to bolster sales at its high street division.
The retailer kick-started the high street trial by fully refurbishing its store in Holborn, London.
The revamped branch now dedicates more space to stationery and stocks headphones and Apple accessories.
WHSmith chief executive Steve Clarke told Retail Week that the improvements form part of an experiment.
“The store in Holborn is a trial for us to see, if we improve the store environment, radically change the layout and improve the ranges, what sort of a return on that scale of investment we get,” he said.
He added that the 225-year-old retailer would carry out other additional trials “of different types” in the coming months.
“From those we hope to cherry-pick a number of initiatives that are affordable to roll out,” he said.
Far-flung regional stores
Clarke insisted there is ongoing investment into the rest of WHSmith’s 613-store high street estate.
“We do tend to target investment where it matters most to customers”
“We have a rolling improvement programme. Over the last three years we’ve probably replaced or repaired around 300 floors, and have done a lot of work on our storefronts,” he said.
But not every store will receive an immediate or radical facelift.
“We will target the investment where we think we will get the biggest return and where customers respond to it the most,” he explained.
“There will often be stores in far-flung regional high streets where the store could do with a little bit of an upgrade, but they are not desperately out of the context of their environment.
“We do tend to target investment where it matters most to customers. We will eventually get around to all the stores, but in a very sensible, measured way.”
Clarke said that the business was very pleased with its half-year performance on the high street, where profits were flat and like-for-likes were down 3%, as it came off the back of its “best Christmas in 20 years”.
“We had a profit upgrade last year. Given the living wage and everything else, holding flat is a really good outcome,” he said, adding that he expected like-for-likes to decline as the adult colouring book phenomenon died down.
“We’re feeling pretty confident about the year ahead despite the broader uncertainty,” the stationery boss concluded.
By Emily Hardy for www.retail-week.com