Operation Focus transforms Woolworths between 1985 and 1989
The first 'Kidstore' took the place of the Woolworth in Ealing Broadway, West London. It opened on 3 April, 1987. Shoppers liked the new look and sales were good, prompting two further outlets in Colchester, Essex and the Riverdale Centre, Lewisham, SE13.
Observers were impressed that so much of the store's range was new and different. The team had reinvented the range of sweets, toys and clothes.
The Board concluded that it would be best to adopt the ideas across the main-chain, building the best of the Kidstore concept into the core format. New plans changed the space mix, extending Toys and Clothing and dropping the worst performing ranges. The approach came to be known as 'Operation Focus'.
A large proportion of the branches had remained unchanged on the outside for more than thirty years.
An study identified six key 'stories' or product areas in large, stable markets:
Stores were divided into three types:
For example in smaller branches 'Looks' was made up of just hosiery and hair goods, while the large outlets had personal service Jewellery and Cosmetics counters, as well as handbags and bright, contemporary fashion accessories.
The interiors were distinctly different. Shoppers were impressed by the look of the first General Store in Bicester, Oxfordshire (below, left). The prototype Woolworths Weekend in Gallowtree Gate, Leicester (below, right) was also a hit.
To secure the Focus strategy, the parent company acquired its wholesale music supplier, Record Merchandisers Ltd, for £6.5m. It was later renamed Entertainment (UK) Ltd. It took on responsibilities traditionally undertaken by the Buying Office, choosing the range, setting the prices and supply the goods. An EUK field force helped to train the stores and maintain a consistent standard.
Testing of 'Focus' was accelerated in response to a hostile takeover bid from Dixons Stores Group. As the acrimonious bid-battle continued, the new format was rushed into more than fifty stores, each selected because it was in a town with a high concentration of shareholders.
The suffix names "Weekend" and "General Store" were dropped after customers starting asked why the big stores didn't open Monday to Friday and why the small stores didn't sell Cornflakes! The extravagance of the shopfitting was also scaled back. The fancy cartwheel lights and pine shelving were dropped for mass roll-out. By 1990 every store had moved to the new look. 300 branches had been fully refurbished, and 450 had been spruced up and re-arranged. Ironically, in accelerating the change, the bid battle helped to sustain the chain.
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