June 16, 2024

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WHSmith, Marshall Retail Group And InMotion Have A 50-Store Pipeline For Airports

3 min read

Almost half of the 110 stores that convenience-to-fashion retailer WHSmith will open in its current financial year (ending August 31) will be in the North American travel retail market which the company believes is wide open for a retailer like itself and its 100% subsidiary Marshall Retail Group (MRG) to capture.

Group CEO Carl Cowling said: “We continue to make excellent progress in North America, and I am particularly excited by the substantial growth opportunities that exist in this market. We are on track to open over 50 new stores in North America.”

In a trading update for the 20 weeks to January 20, WHSmith saw sales in its travel division rise by 16%, double the growth of the overall business. In FY23, the company had revenue of $2.3 billion.

In North America, where the company competes with other large airport retailers like Avolta’s Hudson Group
and Paradies Lagardère (which is growing its F&B business) the focus will be primarily on the United States where the company says “there is a good pipeline of tenders” referring to the airport channel.

WHSmith’s MRG airport and resort business, acquired in pre-pandemic 2019, now represents approximately 50% of the revenue of its North American division and continues to perform well. The company stated: “We are seeing passenger growth and strong demand for our travel essentials categories.” Also in the North American division is the familiar technology brand, InMotion, which WHSmith introduced to the UK in 2021.

Revenue in North America over the 20-week period was up 14% (at constant currency), slightly below the performance of the UK travel business which remains the company’s largest division. It includes hospitals, and rail locations. WHSmith has fairly saturated coverage of the British airport market, which is one reason why only 15 new stores are planned this year and then annually over the medium term.

Rich pickings and cultural cues

There is more scope in the U.S. Among the 50 planned stores for FY24, the majority are due to open from March to August and thereafter.

The most recent opening was at Chicago O’Hare International Airport where WHSmith North America has collaborated with locally owned clothing brand ChiBoys, and ACDBE partner Pastorelle Marketing Group, to land the fashion concept created by Chicago native DeShawn Murry in Terminal 3.

The brand operates a brick-and-mortar store in Wicker Park, a retail store and café on the Chicago Riverwalk, as well as the city’s first mobile clothing truck. The ChiBoys clothing truck became a staple for summer festivals around the city and allowed Murry to take the brand from neighborhood to neighborhood, building direct connections with consumers.

ChiBoys is the first of several stores planned to open at O’Hare with further convenience, retail, and tech concepts to be announced.

To help move that opening process along, WHSmith North America hired Paul Heflin as its vice president of design and construction in December.

Heflin had a similar role with global travel F&B operator SSP Group, leading its Americas design and construction teams for seven years. In his new role, he is tasked with bringing Marshall Retail Group and InMotion travel convenience and specialty retail concepts to life across the country.

Looking ahead, Cowling was very upbeat. He said: “The group is trading well and is in its strongest ever position as a global travel retailer. We are confident of another year of significant growth in 2024.”

WHSmith will announce its interim results on April 25.


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