WH Smith is close to unveiling a concept store in Guildford, Design Week can exclusively reveal, that will trial fresh approaches to how the stationery-to-books chain presents its brand.
The Nest is thought to be responsible for creative input at the two-storey outlet, with the design work scheduled to appear on 1 August. Work is believed to include in-store communication and promotions, navigation and signage. If successful, the scheme could be rolled out across a significant proportion of the retailer’s 550-strong estate.
The Nest managing director Alex Willcock confirms the group has been working with WH Smith for around 15 months, but would not comment on any specific brief.
A WH Smith spokeswoman also refuses to elaborate on the group’s involvement, but confirms the retailer’s plans ‘to test new approaches to ranging, customer service and merchandising’ in its Guildford store.
The company’s interim results – published in April – showed WH Smith’s UK retail sales down 3 per cent in the six months to February, a like-for-like drop of 2 per cent. Chief executive Richard Handover insisted the business ‘has got legs’ – pledging growth from ‘fashion and lifestyle stationery’, with ‘more effective promotion campaigns [to] drive volumes’.
Independent retail analyst Clive Vaughan believes WH Smith lacks a ‘big [brand] idea’, as well as a product category it can ‘make its own’.
He says, ‘It doesn’t sell anything unique. You can get much of its product range at a local Tesco or Sainsbury’s. The problem won’t go away – it’s a similar one to Boots the Chemists in a sense. Both are strong businesses, but there’s no compelling need to go in there.’