Resilient WH Smith set to hit targets

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WH Smith boss Kate Swann hailed the retail chain’s resilience yesterday after it withstood a further slide in high street sales.

She said the company was still on track to meet City targets after improvement in its all-important profit margins at both its high street shops and in travel stores for the 21 weeks to January 21.

This was despite a 6 per cent drop in high street sales, where a poor selection of celebrity biographies is likely to have dented trade, and a 3 per cent drop for its portfolio of station, airport and motorway stores.

Ms Swann, who joined the business in 2003, has shifted the company’s focus away from lower-margin CDs and DVDs and looked to reduce the chain’s dependence on the Christmas season.

The former Tesco marketing director said: “Over the past six years both businesses have consistently increased profits and the group is now well balanced between travel and high street.

“As a result of this, the months of November and December now represent less than half of annual group profit compared to over 90 per cent of group profit six years ago.”

The company operates more than 1,100 stores, primarily in the UK, comprising 561 travel outlets and 612 high street stores.

Analysts expressed relief the company remained on track for profits of just under £100m this year.

Ms Swann added: “Looking ahead, we expect the trading environment to be challenging, however we have planned accordingly and continue to be confident in making further progress in the year.”