1920s overview - a change at the top in Britain leads to faster growth
Fred Moore Woolworth, Frank's second cousin, was the founding MD in Britain. He had extensive experience of managing stores and the reshipping warehouse in the USA, and had inherited some of cousin Frank's bravado.
Under his leadership the formula took hold more quickly than it had in North America. He successfully anglicized the formula, giving the new-born a distinct personality. Opening continued unimpeded by the World War. The hundredth store opened in Mansfield in July 1921. By that date Woolworth stretched the length and breadth of England and Ireland. There was even a store in St Helier, Jersey in the Channel Islands.
Fred led from the front, spending much of his time in-store. Like his cousin, he got involved with suppliers and reviewed contractual matters personally. He rarely missed a Board Meeting. But he was also cautious and risk-averse.
Success brought financial rewards and high society status. To the media he was the "Mr Woolworth". Indeed when his daughter Pauline married at St Paul's Cathedral, British Pathé captured the event in one of its first cinema newsreels.
But success came at a price to Fred's health. In the summer of 1922 he suffered a stroke while visiting his mother who had been taken ill in the USA. Despite rushing back to Britain, for the first time in fifteen years he was unable to attend Board Meetings. He rallied briefly in December, chairing the post-Christmas review, before suffering a fatal stroke on 27 January 1923. The stores were instructed to close. Most of the staff knew their MD personally and were so shocked that they needed time to absorb the news.
To everyone's relief the American parent company picked an insider to be Fred's successor. William Stephenson was a popular choice. He was the sole British member of the founding team. The Yorkshireman had made a name for himself both for his kindly manner and his sharp commerciality and instinct. Stores knew him as both friendly and demanding and considered him firm but fair. Buyers and fellow Directors respected Stephenson and understood exactly why the Founder had sought him out to join the team.
Stephenson had privately harboured concerns that his boss had become too conservative as the company grew. As the formula had taken hold it had generated such large profits that Fred Woolworth had been unwilling to make changes to the ranges or the store environment. The new MD knew the store must evolve to stay on top, and would need to take risks to achieve its full potential. Under his leadership the pace of openings accelerated rapidly helping profits to rocket. When he retired after the Second World War, there were 770 stores and Woolworth had become Britain's most successful retailer, with shares riding high on the stock market. He told well-wishers at his retirement party that he had been lucky. Fred Woolworth had provided a solid foundation to build on.
The key changes that Stephenson introduced in the 1920s were:
During the same decade two new Woolworth companies opened their doors:
Both still trade today.
Woolworth Canada ignored its American parent but celebrated its British cousins in the 1920s!
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