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Two-hundred-year-old high street giant WH Smith has followed Tesco by testing a franchise model with independent retailers.

The trial was launched over the weekend with a newsagent in Clapham, south London. Two further shops in Purley, south London, and Headington, Oxford, are planned for July.

The stores will trade under the banner WH Smith Local and all three are NFRN members.

The Clapham store is owned by Shailesh Patel, who told RN: “It is very exciting. Menzies has been asked to treat us like a WH Smith store and it has already been in touch about our magazine allocation.

“The deal gives us access to all WH Smith branded goods including toys and stationery that we can now obtain at cost price.”

It is understood that franchisees will be supplied with bookazines – a new sales opportunity for independents – and delivery of non-news products including tobacco and stationery is free.

“Not everybody wants to become a convenience store,” said Mr Patel. “With the franchise we now have a major range of stationery. Footfall is up after just two days.”

WH Smith confirmed the trial on Monday. A spokesperson said: “We will be working directly with the newsagents. It is very early days and just a small trial at this stage.”

She refused to outline the fee structure and revenue projections of the franchise model, but said: “By purchasing core products through WH Smith, franchisees will be able to benefit from lower cost prices.

“This would include exclusive products and a much larger range of stationery, greetings cards, seasonal and promotional product ranges.”

Verdict retail analyst Andrew Stevens said: “This is WH Smith finding a way of maintaining a presence on the high street and really cutting back on costs. It’s a very interesting move.”

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