That’s the wonder of Woolies

It’s a great shame that Woolworths has been brought so low having gone into administration under Deloitte. This is bad news for the High Street but I am reluctant to see this as the first of many High Street failures. Woolworths’ recent history has not been great with the business being in ‘survival’ mode for quite a while.
Certainly the down turn has done for it, but it was weak. It’s therefore difficult to build a tale of carnage on the High Street based on Woolies alone, even with MFI’s collapse. Hopefully most other High Street stores are in better shape.
It’s particularly saddening because as a kid growing up in a small town Woolies was the place where I bought my first LPs and 45s, where I stocked up on Pick n Mix on a saturday afternoon and where I scouted for toys I should demand from my parents. It was also odd because it seemed to be the sole promoted of all those bizarre products Victor Kaim used to swear in TV advertising (who on earth was Victor Kiam).
But Woolies troubles are paradoxical given its history of selling cheap goods in difficult economic times.
Selwyn Parker, in his recent book The Great Crash, identified Woolworths as one of the few retailers able to make anything out of the depression.

‘The outstanding retailer of the Depression was Woolworth’s. Founded by American Byron Miller, the British branch of the variety store chain adjusted its business to the times. …For many the chain became an emporium of simple pleasures. By 1932, Woolworth’s boasted tea and snack bars at nearly a hundred stores all over Britain…the British chain became so prosperous as a result of this affordable format that it propped up the original American one founded by Frank Woolworth more than half a century earlier…Byron Miller certainly knew how to reach his shoppers in Britain. A prolific advertiser, Woolworths made sure that every item bore th heart-warming slogan ‘British made’…the government also reason to be grateful to Woolworths for the number of staff it hired. the chain found permanent work for sales assistants (usually young and unmarried women) stockroom men, management trainees (always men), cooks (women), managers and merchandisers (men)…for his sterling work Byron Miller ended up as the worldwide president; he would note in his diary, “The child has long since outgrown the parent.”

Blimey, how would Miller react to what’s happened now? The irony is that, in a downturn, Woolworths should have felt right at home. How things change.

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