WHSmith has opened its flagship store in Birmingham airport, the largest UK store in the company’s portfolio.

WHSmith managing director of UK travel Andrew Harrison said the store is a “one stop shop for essentials” as it features a vast range of health and beauty, chilled food and snacks, books and magazines, electricals, vapes as well as souvenirs.

During a tour of the new 6,000 sq ft store, Harrison told Retail Week that the group has evolved from travel stores providing only books, magazines and stationery.

“We didn’t do food 10 years ago. In the last decade, food has gone from nothing to ten million meal deals sold for us,” he said.

“We’ve put a lot of growth into food, as well as health and beauty and consumer electricals, and the growth into different categories has allowed us to see ourselves as an essential retailer.”

Powerful partnerships

WHSmith currently has over 580 stores across rail, airports and hospitals in the UK and partners with businesses such as Marks & Spencer, Costa Coffee and Holland and Barrett.

The new store offers a range of vitamins and products from Holland and Barrett, as well as a Costa Coffee machine for coffee on the go. 

Harrison said it’s the experience of having these partnerships and opening in various travel destinations that has helped the new Birmingham airport flagship stand out and offer the company’s widest range yet.

“We’re more confident about the fact that we know customers will shop with us in categories such as health and beauty. We’re not trying to prove that to ourselves anymore,” he said.

“We know how customers shop across the categories and we know that when they pick up a beauty item, the next thing they pick up could be a book, and this creates a halo effect.”

“This store is all about providing essentials and what the customer needs now.”

Localised curiosities

WHSmith recently opened its Curi.o.city concept store at Gatwick airport and London St Pancras. It also features at the new Birmingham store with a mix of local and UK-related gifts and souvenirs.

“Curi.o.city is something we’re really quite excited about and it will continue to evolve, with products being slightly different in different locations,” Harrison said.

“We’re working with Birmingham-based suppliers to come up with Birmingham-related products.

“So far, the fastest-selling product is a Peaky Blinders cap and the second fastest is a fridge magnet depicting the Birmingham skyline.”

Green cross plans

The next move is to open a pharmacy – the first in the whole of Birmingham airport.

“Within the next 12-months, the plan is to put a pharmacy in here,” said Harrison.

“There are clearly licensing things and stuff to sort out, but this will allow us to put the green cross outside our store like we have at our stores in Euston and Heathrow Terminal Two.”

Looking forward, Harrison said WHSmith will continue to adapt and add categories whenever there is a demand from customers. 

It also plans to keep investing in its existing travel stores, as well as focus on opening new stores in hospitals, airports and railway hubs.