WHS expands Curi-o-city brand

Retailer opens in Dubai plus Hungary amid public thumbs down for trial High Street logo

 

WHSmith picked its own Christmas present with the opening of its first Curi-o-city concept stores outside the UK along with debuting its travel brand in Hungary as a trial new High Street logo sparked controversy.

Just before the festive break the 231-year-old retailer cut the ribbon on two Curi-o-city outlets in Dubai, which are opening alongside a number of in-store concessions across the United Arab Emirates with strategic partner Al Maya Group.

Above: The Dubai Curi-o-city stores echo the GCA’s #Cardmitment campaign
Above: The Dubai Curi-o-city stores echo the GCA’s #Cardmitment campaign

“It’s a really good example of how we are able to adapt, innovate and create a bespoke brand and product offer and then take it outside the UK to different overseas markets. It’s still early days but the opportunities are looking good,” WHS ceo Carl Cowling posted on LinkedIn with the company’s hashtag #ForEveryJourneyTheresAWHSmith.

The company said it was responding to “strong local demand for high-quality stationery and gifts for all ages” by launching the brand under the logo Curi-o-city By WH Smith in Dubai Marina Mall and Mall Of The Emirates, and the stores echo the GCA’s #Cardmitment campaign with a giant Send A Smith banner above the greeting card section.

Around the same time WHS opened its first store in Hungary, a 1,200 sq ft airside outlet at Budapest Airport, taking the retailer into 32 countries, and one of over 100 new travel shops set to open this year.

Above: The first Hungary outlet and Carl pictured (seventh from right) with the 2023 winners of The Smithies colleague-led awards recognising team achievements
Above: The first Hungary outlet and Carl pictured (seventh from right) with the 2023 winners of The Smithies colleague-led awards recognising team achievements

Carl added: “New day, new store, new market! Today marks the opening of the first of six new stores at Budapest Airport. Another great example of how we can localise the store design and provide passengers with a tailored range and offer.”

Meanwhile in the UK the newsagent, greeting card, stationery and convenience retailer has caused controversy with the unveiling of a trial rebranding at 10 High Street stores in England, including in Preston and York, with people comparing the new logo, which truncates the company name, to that of the NHS.

Lewis Middleton’s photo on social media platform X sparked comments such as: “What is so annoying is that it takes just as long to say WHS out loud as WH Smith and so everyone usually calls it Smith’s for short. Which is the bit they’ve taken out of the branding. Terrible decision.”

Other comments included “rank lunacy”, “corporate stupidity”, and “sackings urgently required at the top of the marketing department”, while one said: “It looks like one of those knockoff brand shops that exists for a year in rundown shopping centres.”

Above: Lewis Middleton’s photo of the trial WHS branding in Preston – and a mock-up from X user Happy Toast showing what it could look like in other towns!
Above: Lewis Middleton’s photo of the trial WHS branding in Preston – and a mock-up from X user Happy Toast showing what it could look like in other towns!

While some commentators called for a return to the old cube logo from the 70s, the new signage comes after WHS announced in April 2023 it will be opening a further 120 shops across its brands – but none in UK High Streets.

Nick Bubb, a retailing analyst and consultant, told the Guardian newspaper: “There is some logic in having a different logo for the high street stores compared to the travel stores but the ‘S’ in the WHS logo should be in a different type-face so it does not look like the NHS, so the rebrand has been poorly executed.”

In response to the criticism a WHS spokesperson said: “With some customers telling us they aren’t always aware of the wide range of high quality, great value products we stock in our High Street stores, we are testing new signage at a small number of locations, to localise our offer and highlight the key product categories customers can always find at WHSmith.

“This is a trial and only in 10 locations. There is no plan to roll this out to the rest of the estate.”

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