North America’s biggest airport-based digital accessories retailer InMotion will land in the U.K. later this year following its parent company WHSmith winning contracts to run 18 technology stores across some of the biggest airports in the U.K.
The locations include seven stores at Britain’s busiest airport London Heathrow, plus units in London Stansted, Manchester, London Luton, Birmingham, and East Midlands airports. Seventeen of the 18 stores are currently operated by the electronics retailer Dixons Carphone. In April the company said it was pulling out of the airport channel citing the scrapping of VAT-free shopping for visitors to Britain as the reason.
The Dixons departure was the perfect opportunity for convenience and news retailer WHSmith to bring InMotion—a company it bought in November 2018—to the U.K. on a large scale. InMotion currently has one small store at Leeds Bradford Airport.
WHSmith is believed to be in discussions for several more Dixons Travel sites at British airports so the InMotion portfolio could easily rise into the mid-20s by the end of the year.
In a statement, WHSmith noted: “In a fully recovered travel environment, we anticipate these stores—which will sell a combination of premium products from brands like Apple and Samsung as well as tech accessories—will deliver sales of about £60 million ($83 million) per year.” Against that, the retailer is expecting to incur capex and working capital investment of about £15 million in the financial year ending August 2022 to get these new stores up and running.
In the United States, InMotion is well distributed. It has 117 stores in 43 airports, with a presence in nine of the top 10, and 22 of the top 25 busiest air gateways. Part of the attraction for British airports—which faced the sudden possibility of losing Dixons, a trusted name in electronics retail—is that InMotion has strong supplier relationships with leading brands in the category, from premium headphones and earbuds, to portable speakers and action cameras. They include Beats by Dr. Dre, Bose, GoPro, Jaybird, JBL, Moshi, MyTagAlongs, and Skullcandy.
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InMotion’s large-scale entry into Britain will help bolster WHSmith’s Travel division which continues to suffer from a lack of footfall compared to its High Street division. This is reflected in sales levels. In the 18 weeks to July 3, as a percentage of revenue from the same period in 2019, the divisions performed at 48% and 86% respectively.
Globally, WHSmith’s North American business has traded ahead of expectations, as forecasted. Total revenue during the 18-week period was 74% of 2019 levels, versus just 32% in the U.K. In addition, the resorts channel primarily based in Las Vegas has seen a significant improvement in recent weeks. WHSmith’s December 2019 acquisition, Marshall Retail Group, is based there with more than 70 store units divided between the main casinos, malls and McCarran International Airport.
Visitor numbers to Las Vegas continue to recover and in May 2021 were just 22% down on May 2019. With all Covid-related restrictions lifted in the city from June 1, the resort channel is expected to improve further.
Across all its travel locations WHSmith’s strategy to lift revenue is focused on:
The retailer says that its new store opening program remains on track and of the 100 travel stores it has won but yet to open, 16 have been inaugurated to date. Across all divisions the company has a retail estate of more than 1,700 stores in over 30 countries worldwide.