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Re-inventing the Cards and Stationery Offer in the 1980s

Revitalising and regenerating the Woolworths range of stationery and cards in the 1980s


Winfield branded stationery at Woolworths was deemed old-fashioned and out-of-touch by the firm's new owners in the 1980s

Woolworth UK changed hands in 1982 after the US Parent sold its controlling interest to a British consortium. The new owners set about revitalising the brand, making radical changes.

Stationery was identified as key improvement area. A new Commercial Director was hired from the House of Fraser. Mair Barnes criticised the outdated styling of the range, noting that that luminous orange, cyan and red packaging was 'very 70s' and the conversion tables from yards to furlongs were even more outdated.

She initiated a root and branch review, to find new products, improved packaging and to make the displays appeal to younger customers. The style makeover delivered spectacular results.


The new look stationery range in 1985/6

The new styling was designed with children and young families in mind. It had contemporary grey and yellow packaging. Dull manilla folders were replaced with lively designs of ring files, folders and pencil cases. For the first time many featured characters like Mickey Mouse. The idea of making school items more fun was popular and helped to build sales, particular at Back to School. The look was co-ordinated with Ladybird Clothing.

The improvements helped to boost sales, particularly when coupled with new fixtures. The introduction of a new Kids Stationery range, including colouring books, art materials and a selection of crayons and markers from Crayola, complemeted the arts and crafts in the toy department nearby.


The pink stripey design of notebooks and folders boosted sales four-fold compared with the previous single colour designsSimple plastic objects like desk sets were reshaped and enhanced to make them more fashionableCrayola crayons were a popular addition to the Woolworths range in the late 1980s


Brighter colours and more elegant packaging helped to bring Woolworths' stationery ranges up-to-dateThe Freesia design of gift pack stationery proved popular at Christmas in the mid 1980s

The design enhancements also improved the appeal of Christmas gift products, particularly writing sets and packs of coloured pencils. Woolworths were soon hot on the heels of the market leader,
W.H. Smith, particularly at
back-to-school time.


Brightly coloured new-look displays of cards and stationery in an 'Operation Focus' comparison store in 1987



The new approach moved the range up-market, with higher quality products at higher prices. While good value was maintained, the strategy opened the door for new discounters to undercut the company by introducing cheaper budget ranges during the 1990s.


The cards and stationery ranges in a new look 'Operation Focus' comparison store in 1987


New fixtures marked the introduction of higher-priced greetings cards from leading suppliers including Hallmark and Celebration Arts, and larger displays of up-market wrapping paperNeon signage above new up-market displays of Wrapping Paper in the new Liverpool store, which opened in 1991

Cards and Wrap got new fixtures, items from leading suppliers and more space.

The goal was to create a convenient one-stop gift shop. The elegant range returned high margins, and was a major departure from the chain's value roots.

Sales were good. Time-starved, well-to-do shoppers bought boxed chocolates, cuddly toys, a video or a CD at Woolies with sellotape, wrapping paper and a card.


By the early 1990s the parent company's CEO, Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy at Kingfisher, started to challenge the Directors about value for money, reminding them of Woolworths' heritage of low prices and encouraging the development of own-brand products to redress the balance and every day low pricing ('EDLP') across the store in place of frequent half price and three for two promotions. Woolies Buyers responded with a good (budget), better (standard) and best (luxury) strategy that offered keener entry prices. The CEO's challenge also spawned and a new range of own label 'Colourplay' kids stationery as an alternative to Crayola-branded products. Sales volumes grew, allowing the firm to offer cheaper prices to the public and to grow the cash margin generated by the kids stationery range.


The Woolworths Buyers built own-label 'Colourplay' into a substantial national brand during the 1980s and 1990s