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Title: W.H.Smith  
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For other people named William H. Smith, see William H. Smith (disambiguation).

Public ()
Industry Retail
Founded London (1792)
Number of locations 1,264 (621 high street & 643 travel) (As at 28 February 2013)[1]
Key people Walker Boyd (Chairman)
Kate Swann (CEO)
Revenue £1,243 million (2012)[2]
Operating income £102 million (2012)[2]
Profit £84 million (2012)[2]
Employees 16,858 (2010)

WHSmith plc (known colloquially as Smith's) is a British retailer, best known for its chain of high street, railway station, airport, hospital and motorway service station shops selling books, stationery, magazines, newspapers and entertainment products. Its headquarters are in Swindon, Wiltshire, England. Smith's is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. It has been innovative over the course of its history, being the first chain store company in the world and was responsible for the creation of the ISBN book catalogue system.



In 1792, Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna established the business as a news vendor in Little Grosvenor Street, London.[3] After their deaths, the business — valued in 1812 at £1,280 —(about £72185 in 2012, adjusted by inflation) was taken over by their youngest son William Henry Smith, and in 1846 the firm became W H Smith & Son when his only son, also William Henry, became a partner.[4] The firm took advantage of the railway boom by opening newsstands on railway stations, starting with Euston in 1848.[4] In 1850, the firm opened depots in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.[4] It also ran a circulating library service, 1860-1961.[5][6] The younger W H Smith used the success of the firm as a springboard into politics, becoming an MP in 1868[4] and serving as a minister in several Conservative governments.[4]

After the death of W H Smith the younger, his widow was created Viscountess Hambleden in her own right;[4] their son inherited the business from his father and the Viscountcy from his mother. After the death of the second Viscount in 1928, the business was reconstituted as a limited company, in which his son, the third Viscount, owned all the ordinary shares.[7] On the death of the third Viscount in 1948, the death duties were so severe that a public holding company had to be formed and shares sold to W H Smith staff and the public.[7] A younger brother of the third Viscount remained chairman until 1972, but the Smith family's control slipped away, and the last family member left the board in 1996.[8]

ISBN catalogue invention

In 1966, W H Smith originated a 9-digit code for uniquely referencing books, called Standard Book Numbering or SBN. It was adopted as international standard ISO 2108 in 1970, and was used until 1974, when it became the ISBN scheme.

1970s expansion

From the 1970s, W H Smith began to expand into other areas of retail. W H Smith Travel operated from 1973[7] to 1991, The Do It All chain of DIY stores started with a 1979 acquisition,[7] became a joint venture with Boots in 1990[8] and its share was sold in June 1996 to Boots.[8] The bookshop chain Waterstone's, founded by former W H Smith executive Tim Waterstone in 1982, was bought in 1989[7] and sold in 1998.[8]

Ownership of music retailers

In 1986, W H Smith bought a 75% controlling share of the Our Price music chain;[7] in the 1990s it also bought other music retailers including the Virgin Group's smaller (non-Megastore) shops. The 75% share of Virgin Our Price was sold to Virgin Retail Group Ltd in July 1998 for £145m.[8]

Takeover of John Menzies

In March 1998, the company acquired John Menzies' retail outlets for £68m, which for many years were the main rival to the company's railway-station outlets. This purchase also cleared the way for W H Smith's retail expansion into Scotland. Prior to the takeover, Menzies' larger Scottish stores (carrying a very similar range of products to High Street W H Smith stores elsewhere) dominated the market, and the latter's presence was minimal.[9]

Recent developments

For several years, the company's retail side had difficulties competing with specialist book and music chains on one side and large supermarkets on the other: this led to poor financial performance, and a takeover bid in 2004 by Permira, which fell through.[10] The Company reacted to this by disposing of its overseas subsidiaries[11] and its publishing business Hodder Headline, in order to concentrate on reforming its core businesses.[12]

In 2006, the company decided to demerge the retail and news distribution arms of the business into two separate companies: W H Smith plc (retail) and Smiths News plc (newspaper and magazine distribution): the demerger took effect on 30 August 2006.[13]

On 7 September 2010, WH Smith bought The Gadget Shop from The Entertainer.[14]

In April 2011, WHSmith agreed a deal with the legal services provider QualitySolicitors under which QualitySolicitors is to place representatives in up to 500 of its UK branches.[15][16][17]

In October 2013, WH Smith announced that it had bought the ModelZone brand and will sell products under this brand through existing WH Smith stores.[18][19][20]


In 1982, W H Smith bought a significant minority stake in the ITV company Yorkshire Television, following changes in the latter's share structure and ownership.

It also founded one of the UK's earliest cable television channels, Lifestyle through its WHSTV division, which were carried on almost every cable system in the UK and Ireland prior to the start of Sky Television.[7] By Late 1984 the company brought 15% stake in the Screensport From January 1986 took over the operations and management when ABC and R Kennedy pulled out.[21] Both channels moved to the Astra 1A satellite used by Sky in 1989 and later floundered due to the increased cable competition. Screensport merged with Eurosport at its relaunch as part of the TF1 Group, a group, formed after TF1 was privatised in 1987, and Lifestyle was closed down.

Their current television advertising campaign features well known TV personalities doing voice overs for products on sale. The Ads strap line is "Think (e.g. books) ... Think WH Smith".


UK & Ireland

In recent years the establishment of a retail presence in Northern Ireland (from December 2001) and Scotland (former John Menzies stores) has seen the chain spread UK-wide. In Northern Ireland there are three travel locations at Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport and City of Derry Airport, the last of which opened on 9 September 2010. The Belfast city centre shop was taken over by Eason & Son in October 2011.[22] In recent years the company has also focused on opening large out-of-town branches at retail parks.

In 2009, W H Smith opened two stores in Shannon Airport, County Clare, Republic of Ireland. A further three stores are operated in Dublin Airport's Terminal Two, which opened in November 2010. The chain's promise when winning the contract to operate the three stores, to hire a full-time Irish book buyer was fulfilled by employing an Australian, who will be based in London and not in Dublin, drew adverse criticism.[23] On 7 November 2011, W H Smith opened its first high street store in the Republic of Ireland in Arnotts, Dublin. It currently has around 580 High Street Shops and 400 Travel units. W H Smith has announced plans to open three units under the 'Funky Pigeon' Brand.

From November 2013 four more stores will open at Dublin Airport's Terminal 1. Eason's, currently at T1 in Dublin, asked the airport operator to tender for a new contract one year earlier as the retailer blamed a fall in sales on the success of Terminal 2 at Dublin, which carried the majority of long haul traffic and long haul passengers tend to spend more on books.[24]

Inclusion of post offices (High Street)

On 18 April 2007, the Post Office announced that 70 of its branches nationwide are to move into W H Smith stores by autumn 2008.[25] The Post Office says all its services will continue to be available at W H Smith.

Motorway service stations (Travel)

In November 2006, Moto announced that all of its fifty service stations would have W H Smith newsagents. This was followed by 33 Welcome Break service stations in May 2007 and 29 RoadChef service stations in March 2008.

Hospital stores (Travel)

On 19 March 2008, WH Smith announced the takeover of United News, a Yorkshire-based chain of newsagents.[26]


W H Smith has also engaged in business outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Canadian operations began in 1950 and continued until 1989, when they were sold to domestic owners and renamed SmithBooks. SmithBooks later merged with Coles, forming Chapters, which retained the Coles and SmithBooks names and locations while also opening new namesake big-box stores. Many SmithBooks locations were eventually closed or converted to Coles; a few locations still retain the name as of 2013.[27] (All three banners are now operated by Indigo Books and Music.)

W H Smith operated stores in the United States from 1985 until 2003, primarily in airports. The company acquired Australian and New Zealand subsidiaries in 2001 which were subsequently disposed of, along with those in the Hong Kong International Airport (now as Page One) and in Singapore, in 2004.[11] In September 2003, it sold its chain of 180 airport stores in the USA for £41m to the Hudson Group and 280 of its USA hotel stores were sold for £8m.

WH Smith reopened its Australian operation in March 2011 following the collapse of A&R/Borders who held the naming rights in Australia. The first new store was opened at Melbourne International Airport, International Departures Terminal, there are now three outlets at Melbourne Airport, three at Southern Cross Railway Station and one within the Melbourne Central Shopping Mall.[28]

WH Smith has opened stores across the major airports in India.

WH Smith is currently in the process of planning 30 kiosks shops in China.[29]

The company retains one shop in the centre of Paris, France. In October 2008, W H Smith, together with SSP, opened five branches within Copenhagen Airport[30] and in April 2009 opened a branch in Stockholm-Arlanda Airport.[31]

Awards and prizes

W H Smith is the sponsor of the WH Smith Literary Award, which has been running since 1959 and is one of the most wide-ranging of literary prizes, admitting works of all genres from authors of all ages and both sexes from across the world. W H Smith also sponsors the W H Smith Children's Book of the Year prize, which is part of the British Book Awards. In recent years it also ran the People's Choice Book Awards, though these were discontinued as the group slimmed down. The W H Smith Illustration Awards were awarded between 1987 and 1994.


On 19 June 2009, WH Smith apologised after promoting a book on cellar rapist Josef Fritzl as one of the "Top 50 Books for Dad" as a Father's Day gift.[32][33]

In October 2012, WHSmith faced backlash from shooters, after the sale of shooting magazines to children under 14 was banned, despite the fact that it is legal for children under 14 to go shooting. The decision appeared to follow a campaign by animal rights activists. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) campaigned against the ban, including a 12,000+ signature petition. In mid November, it emerged that the restrictions had been removed from all UK shooting magazines.[34][35][36][37]

On 14 October 2013 W H Smith took their Website offline because of "unacceptable titles were appearing on their website" these where books with themes of abuse.

It Showed a statement saying" Last week we were made aware that a number of unacceptable titles were appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours" and "We sincerely apologise for any offence caused. ".

On 18 October 2013 it came back online, there is no message left.


External links

Companies portal
Books portal
  • W H Smith plc - Official site
  • 1903 illustrated article

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