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Grown-up activity books boost WH Smith profits

Published 13/04/2016

WH Smith saw its first rise in high street sales for 14 years over Christmas, when like-for-likes lifted by 2% in the five weeks to January 2
WH Smith saw its first rise in high street sales for 14 years over Christmas, when like-for-likes lifted by 2% in the five weeks to January 2

The craze for colouring-in and activity books for grown-ups including extreme dot-to-dot and "querkles" has helped retailer WH Smith post an 11% hike in first half profits.

The chain said the " colour therapy" phenomenon boosted its stationery and book sales, which helped halt declining sales at its high street shops.

WH Smith saw its first rise in high street sales for 14 years over Christmas, when like-for-likes lifted by 2% in the five weeks to January 2.

This left comparable store sales flat overall in its first half, which was still its "best performance for many years", according to the group.

Half-year results showed pre-tax profits rose to £80 million in the six months to February 29, up from £72 million a year earlier.

Activity books for adults have captured the imagination of those looking to de-stress and spend time away from looking at mobile phones and screens.

The trend for so-called colour therapy has also extended to "querkles" - or extreme colour by numbers - and dot-to-dot for adults, according to WH Smith.

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive of WH Smith, said: "The group has delivered a strong first half with both our travel and high street businesses performing well."

He added: "Stationery sales were particularly strong, driven by investment in new product ranges and both our stationery and books business continue to benefit from strong sales in adult activity books, such as colour therapy, extreme dot-to-dot and querkles."

Same-store sales across the group rose 2% in the first half, thanks to a 5% rise in travel stores, which are based largely at airports and train stations.

Trading profits at this part of the business rose 9% to £35 million as the company tapped into growing passenger numbers.

It is also increasing the division's international reach and has secured more than 200 stores overseas, including its first airport shops in Spain and Germany.

WH Smith also saw a 6% rise in trading profits at its 618-strong high street chain as higher profit margins continued to offset pressure on sales.

The group separately announced up to 61 more Post Office branches will move into WH Smith stores over the next year.

Shares in WH Smith fell more than 2% despite the robust set of interims, as investors looked to take profits after the stock has surged by almost 25% in the past year.

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