From Woolley to Woolies

From: The Changing Scene (1937), by Arthur Calder-Marshall:

“…Admittedly St. Paul’s Cathedral has not yet been pulled down to make a site for a new Woolworth’s: but I am almost afraid to allow that sentence to stand lest it give some pioneer of commerce the idea which will land him in the House of Lords. New conditions demand new buildings. As I look out of my window, I see a mile of grimed and ugly warehouses and wharfs. They are badly planned and their equipment is out of date. It would be a very good idea to pull them down and replace them by more efficient modern buildings. But those aren’t the buildings that will come down. The remnant of a Georgian terrace just a little higher up stream will come down first. They are magnificently built. Their view down the river is a joy for those who live in them. But they are useless. That is a valuable site, which will have to be developed. There is nearly a hundred yards of river frontage lying idle!”

From Wikipedia:

“Frank Woolworth had ancestry in Woolley, Cambridgeshire— Frank claimed he had traced his ancestry through the Founding Fathers of the district to a small “farm in middle England”. When Frank eventually travelled to England in 1890, he docked in Liverpool and travelled by train to Stoke-on-Trent for the purchase of china and glassware for Woolworth’s ranges, but also noted his love of England in his diary and his aspirations for bringing the Woolworth name to England:

I believe that a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live Yankee, would be a sensation here.— Frank Woolworth”

From the website of The Woolworth Museum:

“Frank Winfield Woolworth was born in Rodman, New York on 13 April 1852. At the age of fifteen he gave up life on his father’s farm to seek his fortune working in a shop in Watertown. Despite learning about commerce and book keeping at night school, his boss, William Moore found him useless as a Shop Assistant and instead put him in charge of display and stock management. One of his jobs was to set up a table of fixed price five cent goods, which proved such a hit that in 1879, with Moore’s support, he branched out on his own, setting up one of America’s first fixed price stores.

After a false start in Utica, New York, he relocated to the Amish County of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, opening his Great Five Cent Store on 21 June 1879. It was a great success and later the same year his younger brother, Charles Sumner Woolworth, joined as Manager of a second store in nearby Harrisburg. When the Woolworth brothers added ten cent lines in 1881, the Five and Ten was born…

The F. W. Woolworth & Co. Five and Ten Cent Store chain opened their first overseas branch in Church Street, Liverpool, England on 5 November 1909. The formula had been translated to become the Threepenny and Sixpenny stores. Woolworth considered Great Britain to be the mother country, claiming to be descended from the Pilgrim Fathers. He had mused about opening a British chain ever since 1890. His top management were against the idea, but he still persuaded four managers, including his cousin, Fred, to emigrate to launch the subsidiary.
To deal with resistance from the British press, Woolworth hired the Englishman, William Lawrence Stephenson, from a favoured supplier. The American Company set aside £50,000 as working capital for the British Company, the only parent company investment ever required by the new start.
By 1912 the British subsidiary had already grown to twelve stores. Their momentum was so great that they were already able to open stores without borrowing. Frank had already turned his attention to other projects…

By the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, the British chain had opened 44 stores with many more in the pipeline. The infant declined its parent’s offer to send relief managers from the USA to replace the many staff who had volunteered for war service.
In 1917 the American company opened its thousandth store in palatial premises on New York’s Fifth Avenue…

1934 marked two very different milestones in Britain and America. The UK firm was enjoying an unrivalled period of prosperity, opening a store every five days outside the Christmas season. A major celebration marked the opening of the of the 600th ‘Woolies’, which was a new build London suburban store in Wallington, Surrey. Sales and profits had never been better…

The British company went to lengths to maintain its sixpenny limit in the run up to World War II, asserting its buying power to make its suppliers accept lower margins during the price inflation of 1938 and 1939. The outbreak of war forced a rethink as prices rocketed and cheap goods became hard to find. Officially the upper limit was dropped temporarily…

On 25 Nov 1944 tragedy struck the British company, as a German V2 rocket destroyed the large store (opposite the ornate Deptford Town Hall) in New Cross, London, causing the worst civilian casualties of any enemy action in the whole conflict. 168 people died…

The chain had opened its thousandth branch in Portslade, West Sussex on 22 May 1958, and boasted a shop in virtually every parade across the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland…

In 1980 the British Woolworth made its first acquisition, buying the B&Q Do-It-Yourself superstore chain. Analysts at the time believed that the management paid too much, while Store Managers were highly critical of the decision to fund the purchase by closing two major stores in London and selling their freeholds…

…Profits fell each year, with Woolworths making its first loss in 97 years in 2005/6, although the other divisions helped the wider group to stay narrowly in the black.
A new value initiative in 2007 saw improved shopper numbers and appeared to be turning the situation around. A consortium of international bankers was happy to refinance the chain, using the rare Asset Based Lending model in the spring of 2008. Shortly after it was signed Woolworths Group sacked its CEO of 61⁄2 years and announced a change in direction. The banks were furious.
As a global slowdown turned into the credit crunch, insurers withdrew their cover for Woolworths purchases, fearing that the Group’s wholesale operation was over exposed to a downturn in the fortunes of their clients. This led to cash-flow difficulties. When the backers were asked for additional funds they declined, also refusing a restructuring plan, forcing the chain into Administration. Just 41 days later, after 99 years and two months at the heart of the High Street, the stores closed their doors for the last time…”

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