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A last hurrah for the small stores


Best ever Woolworths? A mobile advert for the new look '20/20' store at Imperial Park, Hartcliffe, Bristol (Image: David Austen)With the large and medium format store refurbishments progressing at pace and the Kids and Celebrations strategy taking shape, the focus turned to the out-of-town Big W superstores. Where possible the leases were sold on to supermarkets or discount fashion chains. But there were no takers for ten of the buildings, which were spread from Glasgow and Edinburgh in the North, Belfast in the West and Norwich in the East, to Bristol and Redruth in the West Country. The property terms left no option but to try to find a more profitable or less loss-making formula for these stores. They were rebranded Woolworths and laid out to a look that became known as '20/20'.

The Norwich, Norfolk and Tamworth, Staffordshire were cut-down and refurbished. The new look, which majored on Kids and Celebrations, opened to much acclaim, but in the final assessment did not deliver sufficient sales to justify the investment. A cheaper and less radical makeover was applied elsewhere. See Gallery Pictures of Bristol Hartcliffe (Imperial Park).


So much more... the concept behind the new look '5/5' Woolworths store at Kingswood, Bristol in 2005



In 2005 attention was finally given to the 500 smaller stores. These contributed almost 90% of the 800-strong chain's profits. Reversing the move made after demerger from Kingfisher, the CEO decided to extend their product selection through catalogues and multi-channel retail. The concept was put to the test in a small local neighbourhood store in Kingswood on the outskirts of Bristol, Avon.

In keeping with the '10/10' and '20/20' naming conventions used in the medium and large stores, internally the new concept was referred to as '5/5' - and it was radical ! The store would aim to stock the entire company range of more than 300,000 products!


Touch screen kiosks from IBM and Retec Interface were designed as a modern alternative for a paper catalogue (Photo: Helen Pardoe)Extended range catalogues like this one allowed the Kingswood store to offer the firm's full range of 300,000 items from a branch of only 5,000 square feet (465 square metres)

The CEO, Trevor Bish-Jones, developed the concept of 'elastic walls' in which a small store could showcase the whole range, including the enormous music, video and games selection from Entertainment UK and books from Bertrams, both wholesalers within the Group.

He tasked the Business Development Team with bringing the idea to life. A whole new look was required which could be tested on real customers in a 'typical' small store. To achieve they had to be pragmatic:

  • Kingswood was adjacent to two '20/20' out-of-town format stores
  • initially deliveries were handled manually by a support team at the nearby Imperial Park store and a local 'man and van'
  • their range was photographed and mini-logues were hand-made
  • tactical computer systems were built by the IT department, which accelerated its work multi-channel retail with self-service kiosks.
Beams in the ceiling gave details of the sheer size of the full Woolworths range, including over 2,000 home ideas, over 1,000 seasonal lines and a spectacular 193,000 CDs

Designers had to explain to customers that much more was available than they could see on display.

They used a mixture of point-of sale signage, catalogues, big screen TVs and dot matrix boards.

A spectacular 300,000 items could be ordered and collected in store three days later, at no extra cost.

Digital signage and plasma TV all pumped out the mesage about the store's extended range

A showcase for some of the store's extended 'to-order' range


The extended range displays and signs made the store highly distinctive. The designers had devised an elegant but expensive shopfit. A big uplift in sales would be needed to justify extension across the small store estate.

Thirty different departmental catalogues were knocked together quickly to get the idea off the ground. Team members had to photograph and describe the products, lay they out into book format on a PC, print the pages and send them off for lamination. Fulfilment arrangements were established with the nearby Imperial Park superstore, backed by tactical systems to allow orders to be processed, picked, packed, despatched and paid for.


Behind the scenes arrangements were 'Heath-Robinson' but ensured that orders were fulfilled on timeSales were buoyant on opening day, with Kingswood customers responding positively to the facelift and appreciating the investment in their local store. Later analysis showed that the main sales growth and come from the store's regular range rather than the catalogues. Five or ten orders a day would not be sufficient to fund a mass extension of the design, particular when a neighbouring store that was refitted with the fixtures displaced from Kingswood achieved all but one percent of the sales growth from a spit and polish refurbishment.

Only a handful more of the new-look stores were opened, with a slightly lower specification refit. But many of the learnings were rapidly taken chain-wide, as part of a major extension of multi-channel retailing - first adding In Store Ordering at every till and then extending the offer to include free In Store Collection for items from the firm's new Big Red Book.

Want to know more about 'elastic walls'? Visit our Kingswood Virtual Gallery.


Shortcuts related content in the Woolworths Museum

2000s Gallery

2000s Overview    Death by Demerger    New values and a new direction    Visit a Big W store

Market Towns and City Centres     The Smaller Stores    Multi-Channel Retail    Wholesale & Media    WorthIt! Value Comeback

Launch of the Virtual Museum    Meet the team    The Lighter Side    Wooly & Worth    Collapse and Rescue


Museum Navigation

Home Page    Recent History Gallery     Visit the new Woolworths on-line