As much of the independent channel makes the shift towards convenience, many want to remain entirely focused on news and magazines. Until now, there has been little scope to remain a true specialist and yet become a symbol group member.

The franchise trial being run by WH Smith looks as though it might change that. Shailesh Patel didn’t want to become a c-store because of the Sainsbury’s that had opened next door, but at the same time recognised the obvious benefits of a branded fascia.

WHSmith's new Local franchise
Shailesh Patel’s store in Clapham, south London, is the UK’s first independent to adopt the famous WHSmith fascia

So when WH Smith suits came knocking, it was a no-brainer. The detailed mechanics are still being tested, but it’s clear there are pros and cons. However, for those who are news and magazine focused, it seems certain to deliver benefits.

It’s hardly a secret that the multiples’ stores get better magazine allocations and enhanced access to products. There’s a growing market for premium-priced bookazines, but distribution doesn’t favour indies because of concerns about levels of early returns and wastage.

It’s the sort of opportunity that Mr Patel is perfectly placed to take advantage of thanks to his location in well-heeled Clapham, south London. A single copy can sell for up to £15 and delivers a healthy profit.

The tight compliance conditions will put some retailers off, but Mr Patel will remain in control of his own news and magazine supplies. With his 25 years of experience, that will be crucial to him keeping the category profitable and means he will stand apart from WH Smith’s own stores.

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