Big booksellers’ good news

Overall sales up at Waterstones as WHS launches coffee shop format

 

There’s good news from the big booksellers with a very strong line in greetings and stationery as Waterstones reported increased overall sales, and WHSmith says it’s on track to open 110 new stores this financial year – along with its new coffee shop format for UK hospitals.

Waterstones’ announcement last week of its performance in the year to 30 April, 2023, revealed a signficant uptick in sales, hitting £452.5million from £399.8m the year prior – but profits after tax plunged to £12m from £42.1m.

Above: Waterstones’ managers have a lot of autonomy to give local customers what they want
Above: Waterstones’ managers have a lot of autonomy to give local customers what they want

The retailer – which has its own coffee shops and large gifts and greetings offer alongside the books – told The Bookseller, ahead of full figures being filed at Companies House, that the dip in profits is in part due to the implementation of the Blue Yonder system, where it had faced IT issues which impacted stock availability and operating costs, as well as Waterstone’s acquisition of Blackwell’s in August 2022.

It had continued investment in new shops in 2023, with Blackburn and Petersfield among the stores added to the estate having opened in 13 locations across 2022.

A Waterstones’ spokesperson said of the results: “It is testament to the underlying strength of the companies, and the resilience and commitment of our teams, that the subsequent recovery of the business has been so strong, as demonstrated by the performance throughout the second half of 2023 and into 2024.

“We will build on this growth throughout 2024, as we continue to invest in our teams, our infrastructure and our shops, both within the existing estate and with further new bookshops in the pipeline.”

Above: WHS ceo Carl Cowling is pleased with the performance despite the unpopular trial rebrand (right)
Above: WHS ceo Carl Cowling is pleased with the performance despite the unpopular trial rebrand (right)

At WHSmith the bookseller and convenience retailer has been busy on the expansion front, shaking off the backlash over its unpopular trial rebrand, with ceo Carl Cowling confirming “in total we are on track to open over 110 stores this financial year” in the latest trading update.

The results for the 20 weeks to 20 January, 2024, show overall group revenue up by 8% while the UK High Street division “delivered a good performance, in line with expectations, with store like-for-like revenue up 1% in December”.

The company said it had maintained good stock availability and exited Christmas with a clean stock position, and Carl added: “I’m pleased with the start to the financial year. Our Travel business is growing strongly across all our divisions and we have seen a notably strong performance in the UK, our largest division, with total revenue up 15% and like-for-like revenue up 14%.”

Meanwhile WHS is following the Waterstones’ coffee shop lead with the launch of District Market Coffee at Sheffield Northern General Hospital and a second branch at Sheffield Royal Hallamshire Hospital about to open.

Above & top: District Market Coffee is WHS’ latest format for hospitals
Above & top: District Market Coffee is WHS’ latest format for hospitals

The retailer currently runs over 140 stores and franchises in UK hospitals across formats including WHSmith, Marks & Spencer Simply Food, and Costa Coffee, as one of the fastest-growing areas of its travel arm in the region, and District Market Coffee offers both dine-in and takeaway with a 10% NHS discount across all products.

“This launch is the latest example of WHSmith’s growing experience and expertise in working with Hospital Trusts to deliver relevant, modern and customer focused retail offers and we see further opportunities for growth ahead,” the retailer’s UK travel md Andrew Harrison said.

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