Businesses in need of a purpose-idea (PI)

Posted by on Nov 27, 2008 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments


Pic c/o

Odd that today we get the news that the UK retailer Woolworth's has gone into administration. I have fond memories of the long, wide and curiously empty aisles of this jumble of a store near where I grew up in North London.

Apparently the cause of the collapse is a sudden removal of their trade credit insurance  which meant that the business had to pay cash for any goods it wanted to sell and it simply ran out of road in cashflow terms; the death-knell seems to have been sounded by Camelot (the UK lottery operator) pulling its services out of the business.

But the problem goes back decades: having worked with Woolies in the past, it has always seemed the business' real purpose was to allow the competing buying departments to carry on doing what they wanted: video, music, pick-n-mix, household, kids clothes, toys, paint etc. The store assortment never really made any sense, the staff didn't seem to be driven by any particular passion and the marketing largely was forced to flip-flop around without ever really expressing the beating heart of the business.  In the end, I suspect the business was – like all too many retail chains who lose their way – a business driven by the property division.

Unlike Superdrug (once a sister retailer at Kingfisher plc) which we repurposed to be about sharing the fun of Health and Beauty (without the orange-faced salesgirls of rival Boots).

So here's the question to ponder while Gordie does his bit to protect staff and suppliers: what do you think Woolies' purpose idea should be? What idea would you suggest to drive it's revival?


  1. John Dumbrille
    November 27, 2008

    I’ll jump on your ‘fun’ jag.
    – ‘we make slumming fun’

  2. david cushman
    November 27, 2008

    Everything is miscellaneous – in the full weinberger sense 🙂

  3. Ryan Lanham
    November 27, 2008

    Woolworth’s should sell nastalgia. A whole store devoted to a 1950s feel and 1950s like prices. Soda jerks, etc.
    Make the whole think a retro experience…

  4. Mike Tyldesley
    November 28, 2008

    Wasn’t it always a 50’s nostalgia store? They did use to sell books, though, and there was a good poem by someone whose name escapes me now called “Frederick Englels in Woolworths”, which was premised on them selling The Condition of the Working Class in England someitme in the mid-70s. Can’t remember the last time I went in a Woolies.

  5. niko
    November 28, 2008

    they should release the brand from it copyright and let it become all the things people associate with it.

  6. Paul Copcutt
    November 28, 2008

    Woolies – we really lost our way, a long time ago.
    The UK equivlaent of K-mart – in style, vision, product selection and now bankruptcy!

  7. John
    November 28, 2008

    Make them the pick n mix store in all categories. A new way of bulk buying.

  8. David Barnes
    December 8, 2008

    Woolworths is the pound shop for slightly posher people. I’ve never understood why people would go in. The only reason I ever do is because I’ve tried everywhere else, or I’m bored.