RETAILER WH Smith yesterday bought the country's leading hospital shop operator in a move to boost its presence in hospitals.
The company has snapped up Leeds-based United News Shops (UNS) for 19m. The deal adds UNS's 72 stores and eight coffee bars to WH Smith's own portfolio of eight hospital outlets.
UNS employs 600 people and operates in 62 hospitals up and down Britain.
Annual sales are about 35m. UNS was once part of Yorkshire Post's former owner United Newspapers.
A spokeswoman for WH Smith said no decision had yet been made on whether to rebrand the acquired shops under its own name, but said all UNS staff would be retained.
WH Smith chief executive Kate Swann said the deal would let the company grow in the hospital retail sector, which she added was "under-developed".
UNS Group managing director Roger Swift said: "We will continue to operate our head office in Leeds.
"Founded in 1991, UNS Hospitals has become one of the leading players in the hospital retail market. Joining forces with WHSmith gives UNS an opportunity to expand the business."
In a separate move, the retailer also announced it was opening travel units in all 29 RoadChef motorway service areas.
It follows a successful trial at the RoadChef service stations on the M1 at Watford Gap.
Ms Swann said: "The acquisition of UNS Hospitals creates further growth opportunities for our travel business.
"The hospital channel is under developed and the combination of the experienced UNS management team and the WHSmith brand and offer will bring benefits for customers.
"We look forward to working with RoadChef to extend our motor-
way service area offer, bringing WHSmith products and services direct to the motorist."
WHSmith travel division managing director Simon Marinker said yester-
day: "UNS is a well-established and well-run business and we very much look forward to working with the best possible customer offer."
Retail analyst Nick Bubb of Pail International said the combined deals could increase WH Smith's profits by up to three per cent.
The market had been expecting pre-tax profits for the year to August 31 2008 of about 72m before yesterday's deal announcements.
WH Smith also operates 547 high street stores and more than 300 other travel shops at airports, train and service stations.