WH Smith buys Benjamin for $19m to expand US presence in US

WH Smith, the magazines and stationery group, yesterday unveiled a $19m (£12m) deal to step up its presence in US airports by acquiring The Benjamin Company, a books, news and gifts retailer with 17 stores.

Richard Handover, the UK company's chief executive, said: "This is another important strategic development for our US business, allowing us to further extend the international recognition of our brand. The combination of this acquisition and our existing business gives us a major presence in eight of the top 10 US airports."

The Benjamin acquisition includes stores based in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Dallas Fort Worth. Before the addition of the new outlets, WH Smith had about 500 shops in US airports and hotels. In January, the group paid $19m for Hazelwood Enterprises, adding 70 hotel stores to its portfolio. It also has a presence in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

A WH Smith spokesman said that the company would use the deal as a springboard to accelerate its internet strategy by converting some of the Benjamin outlets into its WHSmith.books.co format.

The group has a pilot store in Leeds where customers can access the Net for free to order one of the 1.4 million titles in the shop's bank. The spokesman said the Benjamin acquisition would allow books to be dispatched to a customer at their home or office or to a WH Smith shop abroad.

The move follows a string of other internet initiatives from the company, including a joint venture deal with Axon, a computer software group, to build a business-to-business retail platform and partnerships with Carlton Communications and BT.

In 1999, Benjamin recorded a profit before tax and exceptionals of £3.6m on sales of $26.2m. WH Smith is due to report its interim results for the six months to 28 February today.

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