The recent woes of entertainment retailer HMV, coupled with the collapse of camera retailer Jessops, DVD rental chain Blockbuster and the electronics retailer Comet, have all led to much talk of the death of the high street.But, as this article tells us, one chain is surviving (even though the Notting Hill Gate branch had given way to Jamie Oliver's emporium) and that is W. H. Smith.
The Smith collapse has been predicted for years and yet it stubbornly keeps not happening.
Although its Christmas trading statement for the 20 weeks to 20 January 2013 was less than sparkling — total sales down 4%, with like-for-like down 5% — Peter Saville, partner at advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper in London, noted: “These results are disappointing rather than disastrous. In these market conditions, a 5% sales decline combined with gross margin improvement isn’t a crisis — especially for WHSmith, which is heavily exposed to the turbulence of the current retail market.”It seems that the outgoing CEO, Kate Swann got out of recorded music and DVDs in good time and turned back to stationery and books.
The same article gives a brief history of the chain, which can be said to be a fairly typical British success story, which is why, I suppose, one cheers it on. The thought of a large chain that started "as a tiny “newswalk” ie paper round, in 1792 in Little Grosvenor Street in Mayfair, next to Berkeley Square" is rather jolly. The rest of the history is also entertaining.
I am, however, astonished at the article not talking about other details, in particular the lending library and, of course, the career of Mr W. H. Smith II who became an MP in 1868 rising to the position of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1877. This is of particular interest because it has always been assumed that the character of Sir Joseph Porter KCB, "the ruler of the Queen's Navee" in Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore was based on Mr Smith. To be fair, W. S. Gilbert always denied that and there is a theory that it was his predecessor that was the butt of the mockery.
Oh really, we cannot stop there. Here is "When I was a lad ..." performed by Richard Sheldon and the Opera A La Carte. (Yes, it is an American company.)