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Opposing American views about the plan to open stores in Britain

 

The contents of this page are drawn from the original unpublished diaries Mr. David J. Davis, a Store Manager and Superintendent for the F.W. Woolworth Co. 5 & 10¢ Stores in the USA. He gave distinguished service from 1890 until 1932. David's diaries take the form of a scrapbook of the interesting letters and instructions he received from headquarters over the course of his career. We have chosen two letters, both addressed to All Store Managers written in May and June 1909. One was written by Frank Woolworth before he set sail to England, and promotes the idea of a British Company. The other is by Carson Peck, Frank's Deputy and VP, who really didn't agree with the British adventure at all.

 

Frank Woolworth, pictured in 1909 when he founded the British Company that still bears his name.New York, May 19, 1909

From Frank W. Woolworth, President

F. W. WOOLWORTH & COMPANY LTD.
Main Office   London, England

The above corporate name will probably be emblazoned over the fronts of several stores in England before the end of the year, and eventually there will be a similar sign in London showing the office of the company's business in Great Britain.

Some of the stores in the United States of America pictured at around the time of the launch of the British company.  At this time the American F. W. Woolworth & Co was operating a total of 220 stores.

It has been a dream of mine for the past ten years to establish a chain of stores in England and have asked for volunteers, but have received no offers from any of the managers until in March 1909 when I was taken ill, Mr. Fred Woolworth of the Sixth Avenue, N.Y. Store and Mr. Samuel Balfour of the 14th Street, N.Y. Store came up to see me while I was ill and offered their services as volunteers to open up stores in England.

After about a month's preliminary negotiations, it was decided to establish stores in England, and in addition to the above-named gentlemen, Mr. Byron Miller, superintendent of the Boston District has also volunteered his services and all details have been arranged, and it is expected that these three gentlemen will sail with me on the steamer "Kaiserin Auguste Victoria" on Saturday May 29th. from Hoboken at 2 P.M.

They have cut loose entirely from the United States of America and disposed of their personal property and Mr. Woolworth and Mr. Balfour are taking their families with them.  In fact, these three gentlemen are burning their bridges behind them, and they expect to make England their permanent home, providing, however, that their future is a success.

I shall do what little I can to help them get these stores started, and my family and myself will go direct to London ready to start negotiations to form a corporation, and see if there is any such thing as locating stores in England, also to determine what the names of the stores shall be and what prices we will establish as the maximum cost of lines of goods that we will sell.

The corporation of F.W. Woolworth & Co. of New York will own a controlling interest in this company, but it remains for these three gentlemen to determine whether the business will be a success or failure.

I don't believe that there is a single manager in the syndicate but who will admire their nerve and pluck in giving up friends and associations and especially their income and prospects for the future in America for an uncertainty and risk in Great Britain.

None of these gentlemen has ever placed his foot on British soil and they will have a great many things to learn and to overcome, and it is the desire and wish of all of their families on this side of the Atlantic that they will make a howling success, and I venture to say if these three gentlemen cannot make a success of opening up stores in England, nobody ever can.

We expect to land about June 4th. at Plymouth, England, and shall proceed directly to London.

F. W. Woolworth

 

Carson Peck - Frank Woolworth's close friend and confidant, who acted as General Manager and later Vice-President in the 1890s and 1900s.New York, June 11, 1909


From Carson C. Peck,
Vice President and General Manager,
F. W. Woolworth & Co.

G E N E R A L   L E T T E R  :  A L L   S T O R E S

 

F.W. Woolworth Co. store front views from the 1910sOn May 27th. return sheets were sent out to you to find out who wished to volunteer their services to go to England.  To me it seems that these return sheets are in danger of being misunderstood and that it is a good deal like asking a boy to volunteer to go into a bear's den when he does not know whether he is to eat a nicely cooked luscious bear's steak, or be eaten by a great, big black bear.

Now, strange as it may seem on looking over these return sheets, I should judge without having it scheduled up, that at least 150 out of 220 managers have blindly volunteered their services for they know not what.

A number of them qualified their replies, as for instance, one man is willing to go anywhere if he can better himself.

Another man would be willing to go, provided there would be a better chance over there. Still another man is willing to go, provided the position is better than what he has got, but on an equal basis he prefers to stay in the United States.

Another one says - "He would if he could, but he can't" because he is going to get married next year.

Another man volunteered, stating he is not anxious to go, but is always ready to do what he can to help the good work along.

Another one prefers to remain in America, but is willing to go to England should it be for the best interest of all concerned.

Another one says "There is no place like home", but he is willing to go to England if needed.

And another one offers his services, providing he is one of the "big fish", but don't care to volunteer simply to be the manager of an ordinary store.

Another one offers his services to go to England should they be desired. He states that his decision is not hasty and that he does not make the offer on account of any dissatisfaction with his present position, but that he thinks the chances and opportunities are greater in England than they are in America.

Among those who do not care to go is one who says that he has not had enough of America yet to want to leave it.

Now, the above are simply extracts from a few of the replies received, but what stuns me is - that so many have volunteered blindly and are willing to eat or be eaten as the case may be and take their chances.

Now, surely a man does not jump from a high tower or bridge unless he is crazy or wants to create a sensation, yet 150 of you men are volunteering to go to England.

What I am trying to get at is the spirit that moves you in this way.

I have seen bunches of boys blindly follow a leader in all sorts of dangers: I have seen them follow a leader into all sorts of good things. There is no question but that you have had a good leader during your business career and I admire your blind faith in his leadership, but I want to say one or two things, and would like to find out, if possible, whether this rush to get away from present conditions is because of a spirit of adventure or dissatisfaction with your present conditions.

It this volunteering to go to England on your part is simply a desire to help back up the organization of which you are a part, then you cannot be too highly commend for the spirit that you have shown. I trust that this is the motive back of this wild stampede that is exhibited by these return sheets, but here are a few cold facts:

I have heard in a few cases where "Many are called but few are chosen" and looking the facts in the face we find them like this.

Three good men have gone to England with the idea of establishing stores there. These men are up against a good, stiff proposition. With good backing and a mighty good lot of sand on their own parts that have advertised the fact that they were going over there to make money - for whom? Themselves, of course.

They are backed by this corporation and this corporation supplies part of the money, and is therefore, interested in seeing them succeed, but they are men that have got the greatest risk at stake.

Now stop and think for a minute!

Are these three men in shape to offer greater inducements to you for your services than the corporation under which you are serving today?

Do you for a minute suppose, with the experience you have had with this parent operation, that your chances are better with some one else than they are with the corporation you are working with today?

Do you for a minute suppose that this organisation of which you are a part is dying of "dried rot"?

Do you want to desert a ship and take your chances on a new craft?

Have you an idea that the business has stopped growing and these is no further use for you here?

Who but the younger men are to run this concern after some of us old fossils have stepped out.

Are there no chances for you here, that you are ready to "pull up stakes" ?

Have you no loyalty to the concern that has made you and that you have helped to make?

I may be a dreamer and may be over-enthusiastic about the business that we are all connected with today, but I have more enthusiasm for it that I have for an untried outside proposition, although the proposition is in a measure part of this organization.

Now, I apprehend that most of these return sheets in which you volunteered to go to England were sent in under a little bit of a misapprehension of conditions, and it no more than fair to you to say that while the company to be formed in England is to be part of this company, the men are over there to manage that corporation are entirely separate from this organization, and the managers of the store that volunteer from this side and go over there, cease absolutely to have interest in the parent corporation.

It is only fair to you to explain this as I have and it is also only fair to you to say that these return sheets should not have been out by F. W. Woolworth & Co. of New York, but should have been headed "F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd., London", for the New York office is not asking for volunteers to leave us.

I will say further, that had these return sheets been sent out with a full explanation, that the results would have been very much different, but as I said in the beginning of this letter, it is highly commendable to you as managers and shows your loyalty to the concern you are with for you to say that you are willing, as part of the organization, to go wherever your services are demanded, and if that is the spirit that prompted you in your replies, I am ready to throw up my hat and shout with you for the loyalty displayed.

Now regarding the English proposition, the three men that have undertaken this task have been told again and again by all of their friends that they were admired for the sand that they have exhibited in backing up their faith in their ability to make good in a new enterprise.

They have been told by those that know conditions in England and those that guessed at conditions in England that they have fair prospects of success.

They have been told and probably realize the immense amount of hard work that is ahead of them to organize the business and get it started in the right direction.

They have been told that the support of the parent corporation will be given them.   They have been told individually by every buyer and every man connected with the New York Office that they will have their help.

They believe that there is no such thing as failure, and believing this, they have cut adrift absolutely from everything: family, friends and business relations, sacrificed their incomes, cut themselves off from personal communication with their life-time friends, and say that they are going to succeed.  We believe that they will succeed and we are all going to all we can to make their venture a success.

Now this brings me back to this question of volunteering on your part after somebody else has paved the way.

A man that can make good anywhere can make good in America. A man that can made good in any business can make good in this business, and for the next five years the yearly growth and increase of our business in America will exceed the total sales of the English business. Yes ! I believe that this statement will hold true for the next ten years.

This business in America is not stopped growing. It is going to keep on growing; each individual store continues to grow with the proper man behind it and the proper help at this end of the line. And there are just these few points that I want to bring out in writing this letter.

First of all, that our business in America is not a "dead one" yet by any means, and that good strong men now identified with the business have a chance for advancement here that is equal to or exceeds any chance that they might have in England, for good men are needed here and will force themselves ahead as fast as they could in England.

Yet. the time may come when we may want to send a man to England and if such a man is wanted, it will be the best man for the position that we can get to go, even though he has not volunteered on these return sheets.

The last point is just what I have already started again and again - that we are proud of you, if the spirit that prompted you to offer your services was loyalty to the corporation that you are a part of.

I say - let us all shout for America; let us help the little infant that is starting over in England, but here is where our bread and butter is and this is the point that got to have loyal support.

 

Carson C. Peck.