UK retail giant eyes Gulf expansion plan

WH Smith targets growth in Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to offset British slowdown
UK retailer WH Smith has signed a deal to bring its brand of book shops to Qatar
By Andy Sambidge
Sat 21 Apr 2012 09:27 AM

UK retail giant WH Smith has announced expansion plans in the Gulf region as it looks to offset weakness on Britain's high streets.

The newspapers, books and stationery retailer, which operates over 1,100 stores primarily in Britain, said it was targeting growth in Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The announcement came as it said profit before tax rose to £66m in the six months February 29, up from £64m during the same period in 2011.

The retailer said it planned to open a total of 20 new shops in India, Australia, Qatar, Gibraltar, Dubai, Fiji and Saudi Arabia, taking its total number of overseas stores opened or agreed to 80.

It will open two new outlets in each of the Gulf states targeted for expansion.

It runs the international stores through a mixture of franchises, joint-ventures and direct leases.

"We expect the trading environment to be challenging," chief executive Kate Swann said in a statement.

"However we are a resilient business with a consistent record of both profit growth and cash generation and we have opportunities for growth in the UK and internationally."

WH Smith last year appointed Aventus Retail as its local franchisee in the UAE.

In January, Qatar's Al Meera Holding said it had entered into a franchise agreement with WH Smith Travel Ltd to operate book shops in the Gulf state.

Under the agreement, Al Meera Holding has been granted the exclusive rights to establish and operate bookstores under the WH Smith brand in Qatar.

Earlier this year, Tesco, the world’s third biggest retailer, sealed a deal to open 19 of its fashion stores in Saudi Arabia as it also looks to boost its overseas profits amid declining retail sales in the UK.

The UK’s biggest retailer will debut its F&F stores in the kingdom under a franchise deal with local conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Al Hokair & Co, which counts Zara, Marks & Spencer and Gap in its brand portfolio.

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