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WH Smith boss eyes Dixons Carphone’s airport stores in travel recovery bet

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Signage is seen on the outside of a Currys PC World Carphone Warehouse electronics retail store - TOBY MELVILLE /REUTERS
Signage is seen on the outside of a Currys PC World Carphone Warehouse electronics retail store - TOBY MELVILLE /REUTERS

WH Smith is sizing up Dixons Carphone’s stores in airports following the electrical retailer’s retreat from lockdown travel hubs.

Carl Cowling, WH Smith’s chief executive, said its rival’s exit was “another opportunity for us” as it rolls out its own gadget chain, InMotion.

Mr Cowling added that WH Smith “was already talking to landlords to bring InMotion to more stores” and that the brand would work well at airports. it already has a branch at Leeds Bradford Airport.

WH Smith last week announced it would borrow £325m to open a further 100 stores at airports and train stations in a bet on the recovery of commuting and international travel.

Mr Cowling said: “We’re really confident about the future of our travel business.”

His remarks were in stark contrast to the mood at Dixons Carphone, which said it had made the “difficult decision” to close all of its 35 travel shops, putting 400 jobs at risk, as it became apparent that a steady recovery in passenger numbers was unlikely to offset the loss of tax-free shopping.

The travel division accounted for £20m of Dixons’ profits. It blamed the Treasury for axing VAT relief.

WH Smith acquired InMotion for £155m in 2018 as part of its US expansion push. The retailer now has 1,168 travel shops globally. It also has 561 high street shops and employs 14,000 staff.

Mr Cowling stuck a bullish tone despite the challenges of the pandemic.

WH Smith’s travel arm used to account for two thirds of profits, but it swung into the red with a £31m loss for the six months to February. Sales dropped by 65pc to £150m.

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