Woolworths Group

Woolworths Group

company_name = Woolworths Group
company_type = PLC (lse|WLW)
foundation = Liverpool, England (1909) "(opening of F.W. Woolworth's first British store)" [http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/pnm3dand6d.htm Threepenny and sixpenny sweets] , Woolworths Virtual Museum, woolworths.co.uk. Article retrieved 2007-03-13.]
location = London, England
key_people = Richard North, Chairman, Steve Johnson, CEO
industry = Retail and distribution
products =
revenue = profit £2.74 billion GBP (2006)
num_employees = 30,000 (approx. retail) [http://www.woolworthscareers.co.uk/woolworths/careers.nsf/corporate/about_us.htm]
homepage = [http://www.woolworthsgroupplc.com woolworthsgroupplc.com]
[http://www.woolworths.co.uk woolworths.co.uk] (retail)
:"This article is about the British Woolworths Group plc, and its stores. For other retailers of similar name, see Woolworth".Woolworths Group plc is the name of a British group which owns the high-street retail chain, Woolworths, as well as other brands such as the entertainment distributor Entertainment UK and book and resource distributor Bertram. The 800-strong Woolworths chain is the main enterprise of the group, focusing on its "LadyBird" children's clothing ranges, "Chad Valley" toys and the recent "WorthIt!" value ranges. The chain is the UK's leading supplier of "Pick 'n' mix" sweets.

In recent years, the brand has also moved into the entertainment and electronics aspects of retail after its acquisition of the company, Entertainment UK and has expanded its chains by converting existing stores into larger "20x20" stores found in larger high-street locations for larger product ranges and smaller "10x10" stores aimed at meeting everyday shopping requirements. "Out-of-town" stores, formerly known as "Big W" exist in more far-field locations and stock items that are not offered in high-street locations along with product ranges offered in smaller Woolworths locations. As of March 2007, there are 817 stores in the United Kingdom. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2007) "Woolworths Group plc - Group Businesses" Retrieved on 26 September, 2007 from [http://www.woolworthsgroupplc.com/aboutus/group_businesses.cfm?name=wm http://www.woolworthsgroupplc.com/aboutus/group_businesses.cfm?name=wm] ] [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2007) "Woolworths Group plc - Group Businesses" - Currently the total stores are 817 as listed on the website; "Number of stores: 818* *As of March 2007"]

In Summer 2006 the business launched an in-store collection service for items ordered on their website or in-store, to compliment the already established in-store ordering system. In Late September 2006, the "Big Red Book" was launched, which was designed to be a direct competitor of the Argos catalogue. [http://www.linlithgowtoday.co.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?SectionID=959&ArticleID=1942237 "Store stays put"] , Linlithgow Today website (linlithgowtoday.co.uk). Comments attributed to Andrew Moodie; "These developments are enabling Woolworths to challenge market leader Argos said Mr Moodie". Article dated 2006-12-22, retrieved 2007-01-13.]



The English branch of the originally Pennsylvania-founded Woolworths stores [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - US Origins 125 years ago - the early Woolworth story" Retrieved on 27 September, 2007 from [http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/1800sgalleryhome.htm http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/1800sgalleryhome.htm] ] [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - US Origins 125 years ago - the early Woolworth story" - Notes that whilst the first store he tried with as in New York, his first venture under the name was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; "His first attempt in Utica, New York, failed. It was very popular for the first few weeks but then sales started to decline ... He tried again, this time opening in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles away."] , F W Woolworth & Co, Ltd was founded by Frank Woolworth in Liverpool, England in 1909 primarily due to Frank Woolworth's ancestry linking to Wooley, Cambridgeshire [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The European connection - Frank Woolworth's second home" Retrieved on 27 September, 2007 from [http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/1800s-europeanconnection.htm http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/1800s-europeanconnection.htm] ] -- Frank himself claiming he had traced his ancestry through the Founding Fathers of the district to a small farm in middle-England. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The European connection - Frank Woolworth's second home" -- "As he grew older it was fashionable for Americans to trace their ancestry - particularly if they could trace their roots back to the "old country" - England or Ireland. ... Frank's research [-es] indicated a strong link with Woolley, Cambridgeshire and he used to claim that he could trace his line back through the Pilgrim Fathers to a farm in middle England."] When Frank eventually travelled to England in 1890 [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The European connection - Frank Woolworth's second home" -- "Woolworth's first trip to Europe was in 1890."] , he docked in Liverpool and travelled by train to Stoke on Trent for the purchase of china and glassware for Woolworths ranges, but also noted his love of England in his diary and his aspirations for bringing the Woolworths name to England;

:cquote|"I believe that a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live Yankee, would be a sensation here."

When at a Stoke on Trent train station, Frank Woolworth met a young freight clerk, William Lawrence Stephenson who impressed Woolworth with this "can-do attitude" [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The European connection - Frank Woolworth's second home" -- "Frank was impressed by Stephenson's can-do attitude - nothing was too much trouble for him"] and was invited several years later at the time of conception for the British "F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd", to meet with Frank Woolworth again, who dispatched a carriage and invitation to his hotel room in London. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The European connection - Frank Woolworth's second home" -- "Several years later when planning the launch of the British company, Frank sent a carriage to Stoke-on-Trent with an invitation to join him at his hotel in London for dinner and a chat."] When Stephenson arrived to meet with Woolworth, he was offered the job as director of the new company, to which he accepted. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The European connection - Frank Woolworth's second home" -- " Intrigued Stephenson travelled to London - where he was invited to become a Director of the new company - the only Briton on the team. He accepted. Over the next forty years he was to build F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. "]

Internal concerns with British stores

After the idea for the creation of British stores, Frank Woolworth had offered invitations to store managers in the United States to open up stores in the UK and had only received offers to take positions at the time of his illness in March 1909 from Mr. Fred Woolworth of the Sixth Avenue, N.Y. Store and Mr. Samuel Balfour of the 14th street stores in the United States. Woolworth, Frank W. (personal communication May 19, 1909) -- "It has been a dream of mine for the past ten years to establish a chain of stores in the UK and have asked for volunteers, but have received no offers from any of the managers until in March 1909 when I was taken ill, Mr. Fred Woolworth of the Sixth Avenue, N.Y. Store and Mr. Samuel Balfour of the 14th Street, N.Y. Store came up to see me while I was ill and offered their services as volunteers to open up stores in England."] After these initial offers, Mr. Byron Miller a superintendent in a Boston store also offered his assistance and set sail with the other volunteers on the Steamer, "Kaiserin Auguste Victoria" on Saturday May 29, 1909 from Hoboken at 2 PM. [Woolworth, Frank W. (personal communication May 19, 1909) -- " ... and it is expected that these three gentlemen will sail with me on the steamer "Kaiserin Auguste Victoria" on Saturday May 29th. from Hoboken at 2 P.M.", outbound for England]

Although Frank Woolworth himself expected other members of staff to admire the volunteers in establishing FW Woolworth & Co in Britain, vice president and general manager of FW Woolworth & Co, Carson C. Peck had reservations with enlisting staff members to travel to Britain, questioning whether Woolworth had indeed created the new business adventure following a dream, or due to his dissatisfaction with the current condition of the American branch. [Carson, Peck C. (personal communication June 11, 1909) -- "I have seen bunches of boys blindly follow a leader in all sorts of dangers: I have seen them follow a leader into all sorts of good things. There is no question but that you have had a good leader during your business career and I admire your blind faith in his leadership, but I want to say one or two things, and would like to find out, if possible, whether this rush to get away from present conditions is because of a spirit of adventure or dissatisfaction with your present conditions."]

Peck also asked for those who were willing to volunteer to reconsider their decision, citing that those who had volunteered were unaware of the uncertainty and risks involved and that some were only tentatively willing to engage in Woolworth's new endeavor: [Carson, Peck C. (personal communication June 11, 1909) -- "Now, strange as it may seem on looking over these return sheets, I should judge without having it scheduled up, that at least 150 out of 220 managers have blindly volunteered their services for they know not what."] His concerns mainly centered on the fact that the majority of the managers which followed the decision did so out of loyalty to Woolworth [Carson, Peck C. (personal communication June 11, 1909) -- "] , and that moving such a valuable resource already established in the United States to what was a financially-unproven "Little Infant" in the UK would have a detrimental effect upon the "Bread and Butter" of the Company.

::::Carson C. Peck

Inauguration of British stores

Despite reservations from Carson C. Peck, the decision to launch stores in the United Kingdom went ahead as was previously planned by Woolworth in his previous visits to the UK. Several locations for the first Woolworths store were considered by Frank Woolworth himself along with future locations [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The first British store - Church Street, Liverpool 1909" Retrieved on 27 September, 2007 from [http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/1910s-firststore.htm] ] , but the initial store locations were decided as 25-25A Church Street and 8 Williamson Street Liverpool [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The first British store - Church Street, Liverpool 1909" -- "Many thousands of people yesterday afternoon and evening availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by the proprietors, Messrs. F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd., of inspecting their new stores at Church Street and Williamson Street. " Newspaper Excerpt from the "Liverpool Courier", 27 September 2007] -- the reasoning being that Liverpool was claimed to be the "second city of the [British] empire". As a means of adherence to American trading tradition; allowing only viewing of items on the first day of the shop's opening. This included guests being given complimentary tea whilst being entertained by a traditional brass band in the refreshment room and was reported positively by the local newspaper, the Liverpool Courier who praised the decor of the stores along with the value and range of items on sale there. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The first British store - Church Street, Liverpool 1909" -- "Many no doubt attracted by the novel character of the business transacted. 6D is the highest price charged for any single article in the establishment, but the variety of articles obtainable is infinite. ... Though none were on sale, the goods were laid out ready for the commencement of business to-day, and occasioned the visitors considerable surprise in the matter of their exceptional value. " Newspaper Excerpt from the "Liverpool Courier", 27 September 2007]

Despite praise at the time from the Liverpool Courier, the British national newspaper The Daily Mail likened Frank Woolworth to Phineas Taylor Barnum and claimed that the store positions were decided as a contingency plan in the event the store failed to facilitate escape from any financial liability that ensued. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The first British store - Church Street, Liverpool 1909" -- "The Daily Mail's coverage of the planned opening was less enthusiastic. They likened Frank Woolworth to [P.T. ] Barnum and suggested that the Liverpool location had been chosen so that when it failed the pioneers could make a quick escape through the docks and back to America, leaving their debts behind them."] Despite these reservations, the store proved to be a success; large queues outside both stores and low priced 3d (1.25p) and 6d (2.5p) items leading to stores being almost stripped bare of goods before the end of the first day of trading and being attributed to mass purchased mass-produced foreign and local goods. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). "The Woolworths Virtual Museum - The first British store - Church Street, Liverpool 1909" -- "Most items were either 3D (1.25p) or 6D, with occasional special lines just one old penny. The fine mahogany counters were stacked full of china and glassware, all at much lower prices than in other British stores. ... The secret was mass production, with Woolworths placing big orders, paid for in cash, to secure better prices."]

Post-split from parent company

In 1982, the British Woolworths was acquired by Paternoster Stores Ltd, the forerunner of Kingfisher plc. Woolworths Group plc was formed by the demerger of Kingfisher's general merchandise business, and began trading as a listed company on the London Stock Exchange on August 28, 2001. During the 1980s, management rationalised merchandise lines into clearly defined categories: entertainment, home, kids (toys and clothing) and confectionery.

In the late 1990s, the management extended the Woolworths brand into other retail formats and alternative channels to accelerate growth by taking advantage of changing retail trends. Some larger format stores were opened under the Big W brand, similar to Wal-Mart in the US. Although initially successful, the format ultimately failed to catch on; the original plan had relied upon leveraging the involvement of other Kingfisher group retailers, but following the demerger this was no longer possible. In 2004, Woolworths sold off some Big W store sites to other retailers, including ASDA and Tesco. The gross internal floor area of the remaining sites was reduced to an optimum trading size of around 40,000 to 50,000 square feet. Following this, they were rebranded as Woolworths Out of Town stores.

Woolworths had previously tried the large out of town store or hypermarket format in the 1960s with the Woolco Stores [ [http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/1960s-outoftown.htm Woolworths Virtual Museum: "Diversification and the first steps out of town"] ] which were later sold or closed down.

Recent history

In 2000, the Woolworths General Store format was launched. This format was developed to become an American "drugstore" style store, with a pharmacy and longer opening hours. This failed to develop any additional benefits and the format was quietly dropped.fact|date=April 2007 Other formats the company has recently trialled are the 10/10 format, 5/5 format, Phoenix format and Kids Plus.fact|date=April 2007 The 10/10 format completely re-styles stores between 14 and 25,000 sq ft with new fixtures and full store repairs (stores with a red walkway are 10/10), the 5/5 format re-styles stores between 4 and 6,500 sq ft and uses larger stores' stockrooms for additional support and the Phoenix format uses spare fixtures from the 5/5 and 10/10 refurbishment to make stores more presentable that cannot afford or support a 5/5 or 10/10 refurbishment. The Kids Plus format was trialled at the Burton store, and has now been trialled at Northampton and Bedford. This strips out non-children's departments such as kitchenware and home and expands on toys and children's clothing.fact|date=April 2007

In September 2006 Woolworths reported that like-for-like sales fell 8.3% in the six months to 29 July 2006. Losses widened to £64.9m from £20.2m a year ago. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5362390.stm] Interim results released on September 17 2008 show a further like-for-like drop of 3.2% in the first half of 2008 ending 26 August, and loss before taxation has seen an additional increase of £35.9 million, brining total loss before taxation to £99.7million. [http://www.woolworthsgroupplc.com/investors/news_release_article.cfm?id=168]

On 12 August 2008, Woolworths Group announced the appointment of Steve Johnson, former Chief executive officer of Focus DIY, to the post of Woolworths Chief Executive. [http://www.woolworthsgroupplc.com/media/news_release_article.cfm?year=2008&id=166]

During World War I

At the onset of World War I, FW Woolworth & Co. had 40 stores located both in England and in Ireland located in most major cities - from which a total of 57 staff including store managers had enlisted; the majority of whom did not return after the end of the war in 1918. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). England expected every man to do his duty, and fifty seven men enlisted from the British Woolworths, including virtually all of the Managers. Many never returned alive. "Woolworths Virtual Museum"] Despite American staff again offering their services to the Woolworths branches in England, remaining staff increased their efforts to cope with the lack of staff members throughout the war with several staff members being promoted to managerial positions. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). The Americans offered help, but the British company were keen to prove their worth. A number of women were promoted into the store management positions they so richly deserved, albeit only on a temporary basis. Business continued as usual.]

Stores in the United States, which were then stocking ranges also present in English stores were dependent upon European manufacturers which had adopted newer production methods than their American counterparts. [Woolworths Group Plc., et al. (2006). But the war presented a big problem, particularly for the American company. They had become dependent on European imports for major parts of their business. At the outset of the Great War European factories were far more modern than their American counterparts. Europe had embraced the new technologies and working practices of mass production in a way that was yet to take hold in the US.]


New Cross, London

Given its prominence in the British way of life many branches of Woolworths suffered severe bomb damage and even destruction during the Luftwaffe attacks in the early part of the Second World War. However it was towards the end of the war that the largest civilian tragedy of the conflict in Britain occurred when, at lunchtime on November 26, 1944, a German V-2 rocket fell on a packed Woolworths store in New Cross High Street, killing 168 people (including 15 children), injuring 122 others and razing the building to the ground. The neighbouring London Co-operative Society store was also demolished in the attack.

The store was especially busy as news of a delivery of hard-to-obtain saucepans generated huge crowds, many of whom were queueing oustide the store at the time of the attack.

Planning and economic restrictions after the war meant Woolworths did not build a replacement store on the site until 1960; this closed in 1984. It was reported that some employees there felt the building was haunted [ [http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/1940s-remembernewcross.htm Lest we forget ] ] .

Lewisham Council and Woolworths erected a plaque on the site commemorating those who died that day.

Central Manchester

On the morning of the 8th of May 1979 at a store located opposite Piccadilly Gardens a serious fire erupted in the second floor furnishing department which killed 10 shoppers. An inquiry showed that precautions to prevent the fire were inadequate and that the store had lacked measures such as a sprinkler system (which was not illegal) to stop the spread of the fire from the furniture department; The legal use of highly-inflammable and highly toxic (but cheap) poly-urethane foam in the furnishings helped fuel the fire and increase the risk. However, it should be noted that their lack of proper fire prevention measures were not illegal and were in full compliance of the law.

The fire brought graphic images into the public domain (including footage of office girls trapped behind barred windows on the top floor) as the store was located near the studios of BBC Manchester and Granada Television, the offices of the Manchester Evening News and the northern offices of several national newspapers.

The disaster has become a significant study for academics in the behaviour of people in emergency situations after research showed a number of customers (predominately in the public restaurant area) refused to leave despite the sounding of alarms, requests from staff and even the smell and visibility of smoke, including some who continued to queue at an abandoned check-out [ Faith, Blaze - The Forensics of fire, Macmillan, London, 1999] . The majority of those who perished were in this area.

The second floor was gutted by the fire, whilst the third floor suffered severe smoke damage. The ground, first and second floors were all hit by extensive water damage from the attempt to extinguish the fire. This devastation to the Manchester store and the loss of life resulted in the Fire Research Station conducting a number of tests to develop sprinkler systems that could handle a large department store fire like that of the Woolworths Manchester (although there is still no requirement for United Kingdom retailers to have a sprinkler system in place with many focusing on evacuation procedures rather than fire containment). The fire also generated modifications to the Fire Precautions Act and indirectly out-lawed the use of polyurethane foam in home furnishings (a long-time concern of the Fire Service) making furniture manufacturers develop new fabrics and materials to make sofas from.

Woolworths did not re-open the building and it is presently a nightclub upstairs and an amusement arcade downstairs. The company has not had a major store in the centre of Manchester since the fire, the firm did have several small outlets during the 1990s which sold music and confectionery (sweets, pick 'n' mix, chocolate etc). Despite trials of such formats of outlets at the Sheffield Meadowhall Shopping Centre (which closed in 2003), they did not survive for long, with the Manchester Music and Video store being superseded by a larger MVC store, owned by Woolworths Group.

Entertainment business

Woolworths, for many years, was a leader in the UK music industry. In the 1950s and well into the 1960s, Woolworths issued recordings available only via their stores on their own label Embassy Records, produced and manufactured by Oriole Records. These releases were double sided singles featuring two cover versions of current hit singles sold at a much cheaper price. This venture was very successful at the time, but was eventually killed off when other record companies started to issue compilation albums. However, Woolworths remained in the music business selling a wide range of singles and albums, and remained the UK's Number 1 music retailer well into the 1990s. Even the success of nationwide music specialists stores such as Virgin Megastore and HMV couldn't compete with Woolworths during this time. In recent years however, they have suffered from strong competition in this field from the large supermarket chains Tesco and Asda.

Entertainment UK was founded as Record Merchandisers Limited in 1966, and subsequently became a joint venture between a number of record companies. Woolworths became Entertainment UK's largest customer and in 1986 E.UK was acquired by the Kingfisher Group, but became the property of Woolworths Group Plc after the demerger from the parent company, The Kingfisher Group in 2001. Entertainment UK now supplies many major retailers and signed a new partnership with Virgin Megastores and ASDA in 2007. [cite web |url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/core/Content/displayPrintable.jhtml?xml=/money/2007/01/30/bcnwool30.xml&site=1&page=0 |title=Woolworths' Virgin deal |accessdate=2007-06-02 |last=Blackden |first=Richard |date=2007-01-30| publisher=telegraph.co.uk] Other notable customers include Morrisons, Sainsbury's, ASDA, WH Smith, and formerly Tesco. It also runs two Amazon Marketplace stores on Amazon.co.uk; "market plus", run by the offshore subsidiary Entertainment Plus (Guernsey) Ltd, and "direct-offers", the UK based stock clearance arm of Entertainment UK.

Streets Online, founded in 1996 by Stephen Cole, was one of the pioneers of online retailing in the UK. Originally the name behind the online bookseller Alphabetstreet and music site Audiostreet, the company was bought out by the Kingfisher Group in 2000, and then became part of the Woolworths Group with its demerger in 2001. It then became responsible for the web operations of MVC and Tesco. In 2003 the company headquarters was moved to the E.UK site in Hayes [cite web|url=http://www.woolworthsgroupplc.com/investors/prelims03/op_review.cfm|title=Woolworths Group plc:Preliminary Results Announcement 2003|publisher=Woolworths Group plc|date=2006|accessdate=2008-02-03] .

2| entertain Limited is a joint-venture company combining the former video and music publishing and TV/video production businesses of the Woolworths Group subsidiary, VCI plc, with the video publishing business of BBC Worldwide.


Chad Valley

Chad Valley was launched in 1991 to create an own label range of merchandise. The Chad Valley brand name, which has been in existence since 1860, is used on a range of toys and games suitable for all children under 8 years old.


Ladybird is a brand of children's wear for children aged 0-16 years sold exclusively in Woolworths stores. Ladybird is ranked third overall in the childrenswear market, with an increasing market share of 5%. Clothing in the Ladybird range is priced between £1.99 - £29.99.
Woolworths purchased rights to the Ladybird brand in 1984, purchasing it outright from Coats Viyella in 2001. The brand has a history which dates back to a trading partnership between the original firm Adolf Pasold & Son and Woolworths. This partnership began in 1934 when the Pasolds family bought the Ladybird brand from Kinger Manufacturing Co in 1938 before being bought by the aforementioned Coats Viyella.


External links

* [http://www.woolworths.co.uk/ Woolworths.co.uk]
* [http://www.woolworthsgroupplc.com/ Woolworths Group plc]
* [http://www.entuk.co.uk/ Entertainment UK (EUK)]
* [http://www.2entertain.co.uk/ 2 entertain]
* [http://museum.woolworths.co.uk/ Official Woolworths Group museum]
* [http://www.manchesteronline.co.uk/ewm/newsletter/ewm319.html Eyewitness Manchester]
* [http://www.odpm.gov.uk/stellent/groups/odpm_fire/documents/pdf/odpm_fire_pdf_025700.pdf Office of the Dept. Prime Minister - Report of the planning/legislations]
* [http://www.odpm.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1125522 Sprinklers in Department Stores]
* [http://www.store-times.co.uk/woolworths_opening_hours.htm Woolworths Store Opening Hours]

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