The Woolworths Museum


Working for F. W. Woolworth in the 1960s

A group of Woolworth assistants, pictured in 1969

In the 1960s a typical sales assistant was paid £6 for a forty hour week, about 15p per hour. Many joined at fifteen, which was the school leaving age. They, like Saturday staff were paid a juniors rate of 7p per hour.

Most people worked full-time, with their hours spread over five and a half days, including three Saturdays out of four. Stores normally had an early closing day when they shut at lunchtime, giving their people an afternoon off mid-week. The team also included Saturday Staff, who were normally still at school, and could be as young as thirteen. Many obtained permission to work an extra hour or two in the afternoons during the week after school, and during the holidays. With the exception of a few seaside stores, it was illegal to trade on a Sunday.

 

A group of young trainee managers - every one male - receive instruction from a training officer at Woolworth's Castleton in 1969

Most stores operated a personal service model, with a staff member on each counter to serve customers and register sales. Customers were invited to "self-select", picking up the items that they wanted to buy and presenting them to the assistant. The great majority of purchases were paid for in cash.

Most branches had more than twice as many employees in 1965, all working longer hours, than they did in 1995. And, in the days before equal opportunities legislation, the great majority of Managers and Executives were men. A woman Manager was very much the exception rather than the rule. By today's standards the chart below, which was originally published in the Annual Report in January 1958, is shocking for depicting all of the senior roles as being for men and all of the junior ones as being for women.

 

The staffing structure of a typical Woolworth store in the post-war years

 

The personal service model was labour intensive. Until the late 1960s there was very little automation. The stores did everything by hand:

  • The tills didn't add up the value of the shopping; instead staff did this in their heads or by using a 'ready-reckoner table'.
  • Each item of merchandise was counted regularly. The stock on hand was recorded in pencil in a stock book.
  • One or more senior assistants were appointed to the role of 'merchandiser'. They calculated recommended orders for the Manager.
  • The merchandisers used complex fractions to show the stock on hand in boxes and parts of a box, before calculating 'stock commitments', consisting of a sales forecast for each line for the next six weeks. This was also calculated in boxes and fractions.
  • For example if the store had 220 Mars Bars in stock and they were supplied in an outer of 144 bar, this was recorded as "1 76/144".
  • After the manager had checked and confirmed the merchandiser's recommended orders, they wrote these out in long-hand on a company or supplier order form and retained a carbon copy in the store, ready to record the delivery when it arrived.

 

A typical large Woolworth store in the 1960s - the superstore in St Mary's Gate, Deansgate, Manchester (Store 230). Inset there is a team photograph of the full store staff.

 

The picture above shows the branch in St Mary's Gate at the end of Deansgate in Manchester City Centre, which was a typical large post-war Woolies. Its predecessor, the original store no. 230 had been called Manchester Arcade, it had opened on 6 August 1926 and had fallen prey to German bombers during a two-night blitz of the City, suffering a direct hit at 9.40 pm on Sunday, 22 December 1940. Reconstruction commenced in 1948, with the new premises opening in 1951. For several years the store stood alone in the centre of a bomb site, before the neighbouring properties were rebuilt. We have superimposed a picture of the full store workforce, which was also taken in 1969. The successful and popular freehold superstore was one of those sacrificed in 1972 to fund the huge cost of decimalisation. The decision to close was particularly ironic, given that questions had been asked in Parliament about how the chain had managed to obtain the steel for the huge girders in its superstructure shortly after World War II despite the City already having a large Woolies nearby on the corner of Oldham Street and Piccadilly. Most of the staff transferred to one of the neighbouring branches at Piccadilly or in Salford. Today part of the premises house a modern branch of Multiyork.

 

Recruitment booklet for store staff from the early 1960s. Click the image to download a PDF copy of the whole brochure.Management Careers booklet from Woolworths in 1967. Click the image to download a Adobe PDF of the brochure

Two booklets were produced, one for store staff and one for Store Management and Executive (Head) Office roles. They set out the opportunities, rules and benefits as well as describing the work.

A Deputy Manager could earn £25 a week (up to four times more than a sales assistant). This was about 60p an hour.

Click either cover to download an Adobe PDF of the full contents.

 

 

Recruitment booklet for the opening of the Central Accounting Office in Castleton, Rochdale, Lancashire. The booklet was published in 1965. Click to download a copy of the full brochure in Adobe PDF format.

We also have a 60s recruitment brochure for the Central Accounting Office in Castleton, Rochdale, Lancashire. Click its cover to open an Adobe PDF of the full booklet. It includes lots of pictures of the site and explains how each of the main departments, including accounts and finance, systems and the large distribution depot worked. Castleton was one of the last rail-centric distribution centres to open in Britain. The site's railhead received goods from suppliers and was used to despatch goods out to stores across the UK by freight train. During the 1970s it gradually switched to shipping by lorry.

The Castleton workforce celebrated forty years service to the business in 2007; at the time the facility looked set to continue for years to come. It had established itself as the administrative heart of the company and had become a centre of excellence in computing, distribution and human resource management. It also housed an award-winning call centre. Sadly events in 2008 put paid to any plans for a fiftieth birthday at the site.
 

Woolworths Central Accounting Office in Castleton in 2007, a year before the end.