Site Map   Help   

The Woolworths Museum logo(click for the home page)

Chad Valley at Woolworths - the best of both worlds


PLEASE NOTE: Chad Valley is now a brand of Argos, part of Home Retail Group. Ladybird is now a brand of Shop Direct Group Ltd,
which also owns the Woolworths brand name in the UK and operates the website.

This page relates to the period 1985 to 2008, when the brands were operated by the store-based Woolworths chain.
All trademarks are acknowledged.

Toytown ceiling-mounted trains toured the ceiling of modernised larger Woolworths stores in the late 1980s and early 1990s


One of the first displays of Chad Valley toys in a large, modernised Comparison store in 1987


In the mid 1980s the new owners of Woolworths launched an ambitious modernisation programme called Operation Focus. It sought to stop being a jack of all trades. Instrad the stores would concentrate on six specialist areas where they had strong market shares, and could become a specialist retailer.

A key area was Kids, with plans to improve and enlarge the range of both Toys and Children's Clothing. Seeing the enormous success of the Ladybird brand, Commercial Director Mike Sommers went a step further, securing exclusive rights to the Chad Valley brand name, buying it outright from the owner. This would allow Woolworths to develop their own unique toy brand and would help to reposition upmarket with better manufacturing quality, learning and development credentials and improved design for the new Toy ranges.


The Chad Valley and Ladybird logos at their respective launches as Woolworths own brands in 1985 and 1987


While the Ladybird brand wholly replaced the previous unbranded range of clothing (which did not even feature the company name, just the address of the Marylebone Office), Chad Valley initially accounted for only a very small proportion of the overall toy offer. Chad Valley branding was initially reserved for pre-school toys, displayed alongside regular items from Fisher Price, Tomy and Matchbox, and boxed games, to rival products from Hasbro, Milton Bradley, Kenner Parker and Mattel.


A panorama of the Toy department at Woolworths in Clapham Junction in 1987


The first items appeared on the shelves in the Autumn of 1987. Well-made building blocks and activity toys proved particularly popular both with the public and with educationalists, and won a series of prestigious design awards. There was also an excellent range of jigsaw puzzles, which featured idyllic rural views from around the British Isles. There was a conscious effort to ensure that the new products met or exceeded the quality standards of the branded equivalents.

In a further phase of development, one by one, the majority of soft toys were replaced by brighter Chad Valley equivalents.

Packed with customers, the Toy Department at Woolworths in Leicester in 1987

Chad Valley quickly became established as an essential part of the Woolworths Toy Range. The stores were able to offer the best of both worlds, offering the latest supplier branded lines at competitive prices alongside exclusive own-label toys that proved particularly popular for the under-fives.

Chad Valley's award winning First Steps range of toys in the Edgware Road, London W2 store


A family choose toys in a Woolworths store in the late 1980s

By 1988 the upgrade was complete. Ladybird and Chad Valley had become firmly established within the chain's range, and all of the stores had been modernised. The reward for all the hard-work was market leadership in toys, squeezing ahead of Argos with a 21% share of all sales in the UK. The chain even displaced Marks and Spencer from the top-slot in Babywear. To celebrate the stores displayed banners that boasted "Woolworths is Kids".

It seemed that the firm's Focus Strategy had succeeded. The appeal of Chad Valley and Ladybird had been extended far beyond the affluent children of earlier years, not by reducing quality but by embracing new manufacturing techniques and following the age-old principle of the Woolworth business, selling more for less.

It is worth noting that market leadership in the Kids ranges had been achieved alongside five other product categories. Until the chain demerged from Kingfisher, the toy displays rarely accounted for more than 10% of the total selling space.


Toy displays in a large, modern Woolworths store in the 1980sThe selection of toys and games in a small, local High Street Woolworths store in the 1980s

The new look stores were more child and parent-friendly.

Counter heights were reduced to five feet (1.7m) to keep everything in reach, and there were strict rules to keep the wide gangways clutter-free and the floors clean and shiny enough to sit and play on.


A special favourite for both boys and girls in the late 1980s was a 3 foot tall cuddly Dragon, made for Woolworths by Lefray ToysA colleague demonstrates a Chad Valley catepillar to a young Woolworths customer in the late 1980sImprovements to the store environment allowed the chain to move up-market.

For the first time the stores offered presents for up to £100 each, as well as treats and gifts to take to parties.

Great care was taken to retain a reputation for low prices. The chain pioneered half-price toy sales each the Spring and Autumn, and made a point of including a wide selection of pocket money toys at prices of £1 or less.



"Sell a toy, spread some joy"
Frank W. Woolworth, Proprietor