Patients and visitors are heading to WHSmith’s hospital stores in record numbers, making them more popular than the newsagent’s railway station sites, the company has revealed.
Bosses said hospital stores are now the second largest division in its travel business – after airports – and are helping to keep profits in line with expectations.
In its high street division, the retailer also revealed that strong sales of high-margin stationery have helped, with bosses planning to roll out more ranges and offer up more shop floor space to the pens and pads.
The company also highlighted the strength of its Post Office business, with 202 WHSmith stores now hosting them.
Internationally, the company said its new US travel accessory business – InMotion – continues to grow strongly with 428 stores open outside the UK.
WHSmith bought InMotion last year for £155 million, marking its first foray into the US accessory market. The deal dragged down half-year profits 21% to £65 million in the six months to the end of February, including a £9 million hit from the purchase.
But bosses remain confident, pointing out it now has three InMotion stores outside North America: In Perth, Australia; Alicante, Spain; and Leeds Bradford Airport in the UK.
The company added: “We see further opportunities to grow our news, books and convenience format in the international travel retail market, where we have a small market share.”
In hospitals, WHSmith has had a rocky relationship with customers and the public over its stores in the past. Research in previous years revealed the same products were more expensive in WHSmith hospital stores compared with the same sites on high streets.
It led to WHSmith bowing to public pressure and cutting prices in hospitals after criticism from politicians that it was targeting the most vulnerable with higher prices.
More recently, it was in trouble after a visitor spotted it was charging £7.99 for a tube of toothpaste that cost less than £1 elsewhere.
Bosses said the issue was a pricing error and would be rectified.
Wednesday’s announcement comes ahead of the company’s full-year results, which are due out in October.