The end of Woolies draws close

I popped into Woolworths when I was in Wokingham at lunchtime, just to see what was happening.

As just about everyone in the UK knows, Woolworths – a retailing institution known as Woolies – will close the doors on all its 800+ stores around the country by January 5th 2009 with the consequent loss of over 27,000 jobs.

The Wokingham Woolies closes this Saturday December 27, according to the girl I spoke to on the checkout till.

Although I rarely shop at Woolies – I go into a store literally once a year, at about Christmas time, looking for pick ’n’ mix bargains – it’s a company that you so associate with the average High Street scene that it comes as a little shock to think that its facade of cheap-and-cheerfulness will no longer be there in just a few short weeks on High Streets up and down the land.

Indeed, it’s really quite sad that the closure of Woolworths happens just a few months before the centenary of the opening of the first British store, in Liverpool in 1909.

That’s a recession and market forces for you.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Adam_Austin

    I think that Woolies biggest problem was exactly what Dan mentioned – when was the last time I visited a Woolworths? – I don't know anybody who leaves the house thinking "I must pop into Woolworths". Although it is easy to pass judgement in hindsight, I truly believe that Woolies fate is down to being a mediocre business.

    I too feel extremely sorry for all the staff, for both Woolies ad all the other mediocre businesses that are going to be closing their doors. MFI is a good example – anybody I talk to who has had experiences with them complains about broken service and poor products. Surely with so many staff on their books, businesses such as these owe it to them to make sure they are doing their best to build sustainable, remarkable businesses.

  2. neville

    That's a sentiment I see almost more than any other type of comment around the net – people's expressions of sorrow for the employees. It's a tough climate we're in.

  3. neville

    I agree with you, Olivia, re outing poor management. Pity the ones to suffer most visibly are ordinary employees, like the checkout girl I met yesterday at Woolies in Wokingham.

  4. neville

    Yes, i often wondered what Woolies' positioning was supposed to be. An odd sort of hybrid, lots of this and that but no clear position that I could see.

  5. Simon Wakeman

    I popped into the Chatham store at lunchtime today – a sorry sight with the shelves virtually bare…

  6. neville

    It's a sad sight, Simon. I took some pics of the inside of the Wokingham Woolies (on Flickr), lots of bare shelves.

    I think it's a sight we'll see more of in 2009, with rumours floating around that there are hundreds more UK retailers likely to go to the wall soon. It's going to get ugly.

  7. Dan Thornton

    I can't even remember the last time I ventured inside a Woolworths – although I did enjoy finding out they were originally a 'penny store' or whatever the correct term is – and at a time when the Poundland type stores are thriving, perhaps they might have reverted to that model!

    It's going to be a tough year, and an interesting one – particularly which brands survive or even thrive, and which business models prove to be the better for coping with the changes in the economy.

  8. Ewan Spence

    The big problem for many retailers, as I understand it, is the quarterly rent is due at the end of the month. The christmas period, where they can usually build up a "war chest" is now turning into a frantic, must have turnover (any turnover) to make teh rent and wage bill (with likely overtime) for the end of the month. They have no choice but to shift stock. But once the biggest shopping period is over, with no war chest, surviving throught the next 90 days to the next rent bill is going to hurst (and that is also the end of the financial year).

    Its going to be very bumpy.

  9. Olivia Gadd

    The most notable thing is that the recession is "outting" poor management. Whether Madoff and the investment or Woolies and other companies. The spiralling rise of the last several years hit a lot that is now coming home to roost.

  10. Neil Chapman

    Like you, Neville, I popped into my local Woolies just to take it all in. Interestingly I flashed back to the 80s. They were in trouble then. While things on sale were up-to date, DVDs, CDs etc, nothing much had changed in the look or the feel of the place. Also you reflect what most people have mentioned as Woolies' stand-out product – pic 'n mix. A sad indictment all round. I just feel sorry for the staff.

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