WH Smith is to open 120 new stores in the UK over the next three years as it pushes into new markets. The expansion programme will create 3,000 jobs and see the group expand into Northern Ireland for the first time.
The new shops will be primarily on high streets though they will be spread across a range of formats including factory outlets for the clearance of 'bargain' books, out of town locations and small branches on the London Underground.
Smith's is hoping to try a range of new ideas in the new stores. Its new shop in Fort Kinnaird in Scotland includes a Costa Coffee café and audio visual equipment where customers can test music and DVDs. There is also a gift and postal service.
Beverly Hodson, managing director of WH Smith Retail, says the idea is to encourage "dwell time". She added: "People are spending more on leisure and we need to cater for that experience."
She denied the UK expansion was a reaction to 11 September which has led to a sharp fall in sales at the group's outlets in US airports and hotels. "Absolutely not. This is a long-term strategy and we agreed this plan earlier this year," she said.
In October, Smiths reported a 24 per cent decline in underlying sales at its US stores. UK sales were up 9 per cent on the same basis.
Smiths currently has 539 high street stores, and 189 branches at railway stations and airports. Ms Hodson said the company believes there is scope for more stores in secondary towns where Smiths is currently not represented. The group is also looking to open more stores in major city centres.