Woolworths in the cold for good?


Once again, the old maid of the High Street, Woolworths, has made a profit warning. It is an old brand and is only interesting now because it has 800-odd stores in great high street locations. The uncharitable may associate it with dole moles picking up massive bags of crisps, apalling seasonal decorations and a Jade Goody workout video at 2pm on a Wednesday with a clutch of potentially dangerous truants. Last time I went in there it was to get a Super Mop to clean the kitchen (I heard about the thing on the radio) – got the last one. Left quickly.

The BBC-linked entertainment arm does well but the high street component stinks of death. Competitors for each of its categories, especially supermarkets, the net and homewares stores are cited as reasons it is hurting. A switch to a seasonal and kiddie strategem, which is in progress, will make it all worse and enable every supermarket in town to deliver the coup de grace.  Catalogues, the other idea they’ve got, is fine and a good way to jam more choices into a small space but the people doing that bit need to have ‘We are not nor will we try to be Argos’ tattooed on their foreheads.

It may well be too late and the City may feel that the real value from the thing these days is to get those sites in the hands of more dynamic retailers. However, my own experience provides a hint at a strategy. Get quirky, geniunely useful things that are not sold elsewhere (like that mop) and use PR to get the word out. Not crap ads with dead boybands.

Combine this with better twists on the basics you have trouble getting on the high street (remember not everyone has time or inclination to drive out to a retail park).  Why not get an exclusive range of cutlery, glasses (or even a light switch fitting) designed by someone proper and PR it alongside an integrated campaign emphasising when you should want to go to Woolworths and not some big box?  There could be hope then.  But if they carry on with the Jade Goody crowd it will be time for the City boys to move in and liberate those choice sites…  


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