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WH Smith could open more pharmacy counters in stores

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WH Smith Stanstead (WH Smith)
WH Smith Stanstead (WH Smith)

WH Smith is looking at a potential roll out of more in-store pharmacies across the UK as its business bounces back from a Covid induced downturn.

CEO Carl Cowling said he was considering opening more branches of Well Pharmacy inside WH Smith shops after a successful trial at London Euston station and Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. The tie-up allows customers to buy pharmacy-only medicines ahead of their travel.

“At the moment we have the [pharmacy] format in Heathrow Terminal 2, we’ve got it in Gatwick, we’ve got it in some regional airports and Euston, which is the really, really exciting one,” Cowling said. “We’ve been surprised by the results, the sales have been really good and customer feedback has been very positive. It’s definitely something to look out for.”

Cowling ruled out “rapid” expansion but said the partnership with Well Pharmacy would continue.

He said the business was “repositioning” itself in the UK, away from selling newspapers and books towards a “one-stop shop for all travel essentials”. He said that the London Euston store that includes the pharmacy concession is a “blueprint” for what the retailer wants to do in rail across the UK.

Today WH Smith reported a bounce back to half-year profit after the en of travel restrictions that impacted its airport stores.

The retailer made a pre-tax profit of £14 million in the six months to February 28, up from a loss of £19 million in the same period a year earlier.

Revenue in the eight week period to April 23 reached 114% of 2019 figures at its travel locations.

WHSmith is now looking at the global roll out of its tech retailer InMotion as travel returns. It currently has 28 stores in the UK and recently opened a location at Heathrow Terminal 5.

Cowling said the company has a “pipeline” of 125 travel stores to open, with 63 in the US and 31 in Spain where the company has just won a “significant’ airport tender that will make it the “biggest news, books and convenience retailer in Spanish airports”.

Other stores in the pipeline are in locations as varied as Australia, Malaysia, Finland and Sweden.

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