The UK’s oldest chain, WHSmith, has almost disappeared from discussion in recent months. All the talk, understandably, is of Waterstone’s and its distribution hub and the job losses. But it’s worth pausing just to look at a couple of interesting facts. In addition to the expected redundancies as a result of its distribution hub, Waterstone’s is continuing with its aim of reducing store space by 10% by 2010, the latest casualty being its Peterborough store which will close on 14 March.
Meanwhile, WHSmith has said that it intends to open 44 new shops by the end of its financial year this August. Let’s just repeat that: 44 new shops in the next seven months. In other words, expansion during a recession. Isn't this something to be celebrated? If Smiths is such a disaster – the line is frequently: ‘if it didn’t exist, why would you invent it?’ – why is it the one opening new shops, rather than the so-called 'cooler' brand, Waterstone's?