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'Woolworths' set to return to the high street next month

New chain looks to re-employ laid-off staff at pick 'n' mix stores

By Virginia Matthews

Less than 10 months after Woolworths' final stores closed, the iconic style is set for a high street comeback. Alworths – a new "Son-of-Woolworths" chain selling everything from picture frames to pick 'n' mix confectionery – will open its first batch of stores next month.

The grand opening on 5 November will be 100 years to the day since Frank Winfield Woolworth unveiled his "five-and-dime" concept to Britain with his first shop, in Liverpool. Three former Woolworths sites – Didcot in Oxfordshire, Wokingham in Berkshire and Faversham in Kent are the front- runners for the opening.

But the launch will be soured by the threat of litigation against the new company's managing director by his two former business partners.

Tony Page, a former commercial director at Woolworths, has, with a former UBS banker Gareth Thomas, spent more than 10 months and much of his own money securing up to £10m funding for a rescue plan for Woolworths, but says he is no longer involved in the venture.

It has emerged that the new chain is to be headed instead by Andy Latham, the former head of stores and concessions at Woolworths and, until recently, a close associate of Messrs Page and Thomas. Mr Latham is understood to have exploited wealthy family connections in the Middle East to go it alone.

Mr Page said: "Alworths has been my vision and my passion since early this year, but the timing is no longer right for us to reach critical mass with the speed we would have hoped. We are now looking at other retail opportunities."

He added: "I cannot describe how I feel about Mr Latham; but I can say that Mr Thomas and I will be talking to our lawyers." Mr Latham was unavailable for comment last night.

While the new Alworths name is at best a compromise between old and new – the original Woolworths brand name and logo were sold for £12m several months ago to the Shop Direct Group owned by the Barclay Brothers – in most other respects, Alworths will prove reassuringly familiar.

"We are talking about this being a Woolworths by any other name," said an insider.

A spokesman for Shop Direct, the online retailer, said any developments that appeared to "come close" to the territory occupied by its brand would be "closely looked at" but added that action would not be taken "for the sake of it".

Although more than 60 per cent of the 807 mothballed Woolworth stores are already re-occupied – predominantly by budget chains such as Iceland and Poundland – there are likely to be up to 50 more Alworths store openings in the South-East of England in the coming year.

A significant number of Alworths staff are likely to be drawn from the ranks of the 30,000 Woolworths employees made redundant when the chain went into administration at the end of last year. Other names suggested for the new stores by former staff included Worthit, The Peoples Store and Britworths.

Some of the most famous retail names of the day have reportedly been associated with the Woolies rescue plan – among them Sir Geoff Mulcahy, a former chief executive of Woolworths' former owner Kingfisher, and Sir Philip Green, the owner of Arcadia.

But the most successful attempt to resurrect the Woolworths image was by the less well-known Claire Robertson, a former manager of the Dorchester branch of Woolworths. She re-opened in the same premises as Wellworths in March and is now planning a second store.

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Re-launching a sleeping retail giant
[info]duncantruro wrote:
Thursday, 1 October 2009 at 12:00 am (UTC)
Woolworth stores had a simple management philosophy through its history that it promoted from within. A very limiting concept, since if you pay peanuts, you can end up with monkeys. In the seventies, I worked with an audio-viusal company, preparing training materials for their staff rooms and without exception, all their junior managers, store managers and regional managers all started on teh shop floor a lowly assistants, initially being paid a pittance. It was very much the exception in their head offices in Marylebone Road to encounter an 'import' in their management stream, who had not done time 'on the floor' and it was this lack of professionally trained key personnel that allowed Woolworth to rise to their own level of competence. The seventies onward showed the high street multiples sharpening up on their marketing and retail skills, to the detriment of dear old Woolies. RIP
[info]smarttog wrote:
Thursday, 1 October 2009 at 07:44 am (UTC)
I haven't shopped at Woolworth's for years...Once I had got over the fascination of pick and mix, I could never find anything to buy there.
let battle begin
[info]woolandworth wrote:
Thursday, 1 October 2009 at 09:25 am (UTC)
given tha fact that Barclay Brothers got the name doesnt meen they were or are succesful. they might have the name but not the peoples hearts. the name woolworth name it may be but isnt woolies.
well done tony page lets see if if you can beat them (i am sure you can) my only worry is that becasue you will win the battle on the high street. the big money lawers will move in.
a message to the Barclay Brothers you may have the name but not the hearts of the people that when to woolies. you pull the plug once before iam hoping you will not do it again.(big red book)
keep the faith
Tarnished name
[info]liamvirgil wrote:
Thursday, 1 October 2009 at 09:36 am (UTC)
Woolworths prevented their name from returning to credibility with me by their behaviour in advertising a closing down sale at '50% OFF' (in huge letters) prefixed by 'up to' (in tiny tiny letters), then having people who complained thrown out of the stores by security guards.
A rose by any other name...
[info]brimstone100 wrote:
Thursday, 1 October 2009 at 07:06 pm (UTC)
Why don't they just call it Wallworths?
alworths,worthit ,britworth
[info]alan5319 wrote:
Friday, 2 October 2009 at 03:27 pm (UTC)
what ever it will be,we the town council in bletchley milton keynes would love to see a rebirth in our town,of a much loved and missed national icon,please concider us and good luck..cllr alan webb