WH Smith has set a target of signing up 500 independent stores to its franchise model as a director said it was the best option for non-affiliated newsagents who did not want to join a symbol group.

Speaking at the NFRN annual conference in Bournemouth this week, Ian Sanders, WH Smith’s business development director, said shops where trials of the franchise had taken place had achieved sales increases of between 15% and 40%, and a significant uplift in profits.

This had resulted from stripping out low-margin products and introducing more profitable lines of greeting cards and WH Smith own-label stationery, with margins of up to 70%.

[pull_quote_right]We are offering a ‘light’ franchise, and want to work with the retailer[/pull_quote_right]

More independents would join the trials later this year, and WH Smith had plans to add up to a hundred franchise stores a year over the next five years, Mr Sanders said. “We are offering a ‘light’ franchise, and want to work with the retailer”, he said, with franchisees having access to the full WH Smith product range. “As an independent retailer we will treat you in the same way as we treat our own stores,” he added.

Opening the conference, George Thomson, general secretary of the National Federation of SubPostmasters, said the decline of out-of-town supermarkets and the return of shoppers to high streets provided new opportunities for independent newsagents.

Meanwhile, as RN was going to press, delegates voted to allow non-news sellers to become federation members for the first time in the organisation’s history. Sub-retailers, retailers who stop selling news and independents in the convenience, greetings or stationery trades are now eligible to join the federation. These members will be entitled to full federation benefits, but may only take part in federation affairs up to district level.

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