The W H Smith way to do business

WHSmiths, a store here in Britain we’ve all been in and we all know the simple idea of the store, in which they sell media (magazines, books, DVD’s and CD’s), stationary, as well as the normal “counter goods” of sweets and drinks. However as it’s fair to assume we are all to knowledgeable of, they sell them at a price that seems uncompetitive and highly over the odds in fact many wonder how the company makes any profit at all.

Well for those like myself who will pick up a book or two a week, charities shops often seem the best place to get a book from, or even online, often undercutting Smith’s price by at least 30%. This, it turns out often occurs with DVD’s and CD’s just because Smiths’ seems to not only over price things, but they also fail to realise their over pricing things in a market that has exploded since they were founded. The company dates back to to the late 1700’s originally as a new vendor, in the 1800’s with the steam evolution they took advantage and started to market themselves at the newly erected stations, something they still have to this day.
The company grew through the 1900’s and with the death of one of the Smith family in 1928 the company became a LTD, after the death of the Smith that took the shares then, the duty on his death almost so the foreclosure of the company until the shares were offered to the staff making it a private company. The company as of 1996 is no longer run in the Smith family, after a reign of over 200 years.

Now your asking yourself why you got that brisk history lesson, well it was the growth (especially in the latter 1900’s) that has seen Smiths go from a small news vendor to full blown mainstream media shop of sorts. In fact they extended their proverbial business arms into such things as DIY. As well as acquiring it’s rivals such as John Menzies and some smaller Virgin stores. It could be said that the company tried to outgrow it’s self, but whether that’s true or not, the fact the pricing is oddly high on things like CD’s and DVD’s which lets be honest have other outlets is bizarre.

In the UK there’s over 900 W H Smiths stores, employing more than 17,000, who (one of the best bits about the shop) are always nice and often trained well (though not always on this point). Personal experience has never seen them being rude or shouting at customers, despite my very own cheekiness of reading full magazines in the stores in my poorer days, where waiting for trains was tedious.

The magazines reach in the movies, music and book market is often deep enough to keep the casual reader happy, but someone who’s major interests are things like Boxing may find it more difficult to get some of the obscure books or magazines. Though being fair to W H Smiths, it’s catalogue of books in that area often match Waterstones, however don’t expect to be able to pick up that little obscure odyssey that you’re after because they will, more than likely, not stock it. The CD’s are always your plain bog standard popular stuff of the day, none of the avant garde jazz music that some people love, or the obscurely crude rock of some of Zappa’s work. The DVD ditto, don’t expect to find Our Lady Peace’s live DVD in there as they only deal with (it seems) modern day movies, Bond films and TV shows.
Despite the high pricing the clearance sales do provide some value (something that does) when some popular DVD are available for £5 or less each, which are often good enough to spend out on, though Blockbusters can provide better value for money on pre-owned DVD’s.

The magazine selection is quite deep but misses the occasional one which I’d choose to read, the local one, doesn’t seem to sell Ring Magazine (though the one in Glasgow station does), whilst the prices here are national as opposed to beign set by Smiths themselves. This is another of the few good things.

Whilst “counter goods” as I’ve called them are extortionate and you wonder how the shop can get away with the pricing, it becomes apparent that newsagents also charge over the odds for things like sweets, crisps and drinks. The offers on drinks can be worth looking into, but with a local B M and Home bargains the actual temptation to look at the offers is minimal.

Sadly the store looks like it’s on the way down as the pricing won’t allow the company to survive forever (despite making a multimillion profit last year). Hopefully a change in management will again revive the company to being about it’s customers, not it’s share holders.

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