This summer, Bargain Booze, under the guise of Conviviality Retail, floated on AIM.

With the off-licence sector in terminal decline, the move raised more than a few eyebrows. But it’s proved everyone wrong with shares soaring since.

“It’s hard to see why an indie would choose a WH Smith Local franchise”

Beth Brooks, 
deputy news editor

So are there any other apparent lost causes that warrant reexamination? The CTN sector is also in terminal decline, but CTN and c-store chain McColl’s is rumoured to be eyeing a float (with The Grocer recently performing the role of sales prospectus). And WH Smith has been quietly trialling a franchise Local format with independent retailers since the summer, and next week will be holding an event to recruit more.

It’s hard to see why an indie would choose a WH Smith Local franchise. Profits may be up, but WH Smith’s own store sales have been heading south for years– dropping 5% in the year to 31 August and a further 3% in the 10 weeks to 1 November. And it is regularly lambasted by shoppers for its high prices and tired stores.

Compare that to the symbols. Booker’s Premier, for example, reported sales growth of 8% in the six months to 13 September.

Although indies in the trial are claiming early sales success, it will need more than a new carpet to make WH Smith stores attractive. Cheaper prices, better customer service, an improved range, and a USP to other retailers on the high street, are surely essential.