Stop being Woolly! Scale Lessons from Woolworths
ALERT! Even if you’re not in retail, read on, as this will apply to any business of any size, in any sector…
Over 140 years ago, fifteen-year-old Frank Winfield Woolworth left his job working in his dad’s farm, for a job in a shop. In charge of stock management and display, he set up a table on which everything cost five cents.
This idea proved so popular that Frank branched out on his own and created the first ‘Five and Ten Cent store chain’. Woolworths was born.
At the height of its success, Frank Woolworth owned 3,000 stores across the world, generating enough cash to pay for the iconic 792-foot tall Woolworth Building in New York (then the highest in the world).
But we all know it went horribly wrong. By the 90’s, the US stores were either shut or sold off. And just ten years ago, in the UK, Woolworths went from normal trading in 800 stores to complete shut down in just 41 days.
If I asked: “what does Woolworth’s mean to you?”, I’d get varying answers.
- A majority of you would immediately say Pic n’ Mix.
- Many would fondly recall buying chart music.
- Some of you would name specific household items such as picture hooks or tea towels.
- And others would vaguely answer with ‘nick-nacks’, ‘bits & bobs’.
And there lies the problem, and the Lessons to Learn.
– No Purpose –
Woolworths didn’t have a clear purpose; it tried to be all things to all people but never served anyone adequately.
Successful businesses – and those in the best position to scale – are 100% clear on what they stand for, what they deliver, and to whom.
They don’t get distracted on creating new products/services that they personally like the sound of, but don’t actually fit their market or serve any purpose.
They focus on doing one thing, do it really well, constantly review and refine, and own that space.
They know what their products cost to make, what really earn them money – and when – because they are asking the right questions of their business.
– Lack of Evolution –
I think it’s a little unfair to say that Woolworths should have predicted the massive rise in mobile devices and the speed that technology would start delivering goods to consumers. As part of a rescue mission, Woolworth.com was set up, but it’s hard to recreate a cyber Pic n’ Mix!
Despite this, Woolworths faced strong competition from:
- Emerging pound shops such as Poundland who quickly began to dominate this market.
- Value retailers like Home Bargain who started selling at multi-price and drew in a new audience with electrical goods such as TVs.
- Supermarkets who expanded their ranges of stationery and books.
Yet, Woolworths continued to be ‘woolly’ in their offering and remained stagnant.
– Brand Nostalgia –
There has been talk of bringing back the Woolworths brand to the high street, but so many other retailers have filled the void that might have been created. And whilst those of us in our 40’s and 50’s remembers the nostalgia of shopping in Woolworths when we were kids, let’s be honest, the modern millennials wouldn’t give a monkeys.
So, back to basics this week and have a think about your purpose, your core offering, your brand promise and what products are actually making money in your business. You may be selling thousands of widgets a week, but what about those other lines/services that could be more profitable?
It’s never too late to stop being woolly and start getting ultra-focussed.
The Scalability Coach
Author of #1 bestseller I don’t work Fridays