Introducing the Woolworths Museum author, Paul Seaton
The site's creator, Paul Seaton, is a history graduate from the University of Liverpool. He joined Woolworths in 1983 as a management trainee in-store and worked his way up through Store and Regional Management to a senior role in the IT department heading Store Systems, the woolworths.co.uk website and the main SAP Business Warehouse information platform.
He soon became fascinated by Woolworths' long and proud heritage and concerned at the way its oral tradition of sharing its story was being lost. He started to collect memorabilia and to research the story in 1985, taking photographs and videos of the unfolding story and retaining documents that others threw away. After the demerger from Kingfisher, in 2002 the new CEO, Trevor Bish-Jones, invited Paul to brief a new generation of executives, none of whom had grown up in the business, on the values and strengths that had made Woolworths great.
Seaton's response - a forty five minute video of the firm's history proved a big hit with the Board. The senior management agreed five core values from the nine originally proposed and later distributed a polished version of the film on video to every one of the 30,000 employees. While the new CEO's strategy involved a radical departure from many Woolworths traditions, he was keen to harness the pride, innovation, openness, simplicity and low operating costs that had differentiated the founder's red front stores from competitors a century earlier.
Circulation of the video prompted many colleagues and senior managers to suggest a book or some other method of sharing the story more widely with customers and the public at large. Head of PR Nicole Lander offered to arrange a publishing deal and also trawled the Internet to see what others had done, highlighting a small Sainsbury website with heritage pictures. This inspired Seaton to suggest a Virtual Museum website. He was encouraged to progress the project outside working hours. The firm offered editorial independence and to provide a home for the site once it was built, and suggested that like the films it should be Copyright to Seaton's 3D and 6D Pictures venture.
The work was completed a hobby at home using leading edge technology. The author bought many of the photographs and exhibits used in the website at auction at his own expense, vastly expanding his collection of ephemera. The previous incarnation of the museum attracted more than three million visitors between 2005 and 2008, and was nominated as a national treasure. Everyone was surprised to find that 10% of purchases from the former Woolworths.co.uk on-line shop started with a visit to the Museum.
Paul was invited to write a chapter for the official commemorative brochure marking the sixtieth anniversary of the D-Day Landings and later for the official history of The Spitfire. He has appeared on both television and radio, both as an historian - on BBC tv's 'Shopping for England' in the Edwardians series and Radio 2's 'The Wonderful Sound of Woolies' and The Vera Lynn story - and in recognition of his work in finding new jobs for more than 4,500 people through his website WoolworthsReunited.com after the business collapsed. He was dubbed 'Mr Woolies' by BBC1's Panorama. He has also featured on BBC2s Business Lunch and made several appearances as part of ITV News's coverage of the Credit Crunch, including an interview on their signature News at Ten.
In parallel with the web work, he also wrote a history of Woolworths, which the firm planned to publish and sell in store to marks its hundredth birthday. Sadly this was overtaken by events. After updating it was published independently on 5 November 2009, the 100th anniversary of the first British opening. A Sixpenny Romance, celebrating a century of value at Woolworths by Paul Seaton, published by 3D and 6D Pictures Ltd is available on-line, from Amazon.co.uk and can be ordered as ISN 9780956382702 through good bookshops. There is further information in the left sidebar of this page.
Shortcuts to related exhibits in the Woolworths Museum