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New C&M analysis: Personal Accessories (United Kingdom) WH Smith Plc Company Profile
WH Smith Plc in Personal Accessories (United Kingdom) - a new company profile report on 2014-03-18 23:55:03
WHSmith plc (known colloquially as Smith´s) is a British retailer, best known for its chain of high street, railway station, airport, hospital and motorway service station shops selling books, stationery, magazines, newspapers and entertainment products. Its headquarters are in Swindon, Wiltshire, England. Smith´s is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. It has been innovative over the course of its history, being the first chain store company in the world and was responsible for the creation of the ISBN book catalogue system. In March 1998, the company acquired John Menzies´ retail outlets for £68m, which for many years were the main rival to the company´s railway-station outlets. This purchase also cleared the way for W H Smith´s retail expansion into Scotland. Prior to the takeover, Menzies´ larger Scottish stores (carrying a very similar range of products to High Street W H Smith stores elsewhere) dominated the market, and the latter´s presence was minimal. On 7 September 2010, WH Smith bought The Gadget Shop from The Entertainer. In April 2011, WHSmith agreed a deal with the legal services provider QualitySolicitors under which QualitySolicitors is to place representatives in up to 500 of its UK branches. In October 2013, WH Smith announced that it had bought the ModelZone brand and will sell products under this brand through existing WH Smith stores. In a tough retail environment, and with it not being such a dynamic market in general, it is perhaps no surprise that personal accessories continued to decline in volume terms for the sixth consecutive year, and increased at a slower rate in current value terms in 2013 than in 2012. This indicates that unit prices are generally increasing, largely thanks to the strong performance of the luxury segment and rising commodity prices. Bags and luggage saw by far the strongest performance, being the only one of the four categories in personal accessories to record volume growth in 2013.

A recurrent trend across all four categories was the polarisation of the market, as the top-end, particularly fuelled by luxury and designer goods, continued to be almost unaffected by the general economic circumstances, whilst at the bottom-end, consumers were looking for ever cheaper and purely functional goods, with little attention paid to design or quality. This was true in pens, watches, costume jewellery and bags, and throughout there was a serious knock-on effect on the leaders, which generally occupy the middle ground, and on the middle-market retailers, normally concentrated on the high street. The luxury segment was a stand-out performer, which meant that unit prices generally continued rising.

The personal accessories market is too diverse and specialised to have any leaders across the board. The major players in personal accessories which have overlying brands tend to be in the luxury segment, where there is significant crossover between watches, jewellery, bags and fountain pens, for example. These companies, although not the leaders in personal accessories overall, generally performed strongly in the review period, as the luxury segment in the UK was not particularly badly affected by the recession. In the middle, the polarisation of the market led to significant declines for some of the more traditional players who were stuck in the middle, unable to compete with luxury products, but unwilling to compromise their brands by cutting prices too drastically.

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