Working for Woolworths in the Kingfisher Years (1982-2001)
Colleagues in Seventies 'Winfield' overalls show off copies of the 1983 Christmas Catalogue in-store
Woolworths in Dover survived intense enemy bombardment throughout the Blitz before falling to Kingfisher's programme of asset redistribution in 1984, one of around 100 freehold stores to be sold that year. Staff were offered generous severance terms or,
for the most part, had the opportunity to transfer to stores nearby. Most opted to 'take the money'!
After a hostile takeover bid from Dixons Kingfisher turned their attention to improving the Woolworths chain
rather than simply selling the pieces off, starting by defining a new format for the larger stores. They were
determined to improvet the environment, which meant not only new fixtures and fittings, but
also bright orange uniforms in place of the drab Seventies overalls.
The smaller stores also got a makeover in the mid Eighties, with new and more practical blue and cream uniforms
helping to improve staff morale and helping to restore pride in the business, which helped maintain the
remarkable loyalty and long service record of store staff.
By the late 1990s, with the chain delivering more than £100m in annual profits, there was renewed confidence with
a wave of store openings in towns abandonned in the Eighties and new initiatives to revitalise the chain. Gradually
long-standing rules were relaxed to reflect changing workplace practices elsewhere. Uniforms became more practical,
with colleagues helping to design a succession of new looks until the perfect solution was found (below). Rules on tatoos,
ear-rings and studs for men, tights, skirts and hairstyles for women in-store were gradually relaxed to align with trends
elsewhere and a raft of anti-discrimination and employment protection laws. Meanwhile the firm's
out for much longer against the trend towards casual dress. Office management still wore suits and
ties until 2003
(above, centre), which looked even stranger in the hostile environment
of a Distribution Depot (above, right).
Mainchain Managing Director Keith Fleming was quick to spot a good idea in 2000, copying Big W's informal look (above), and
inviting staff to choose a new uniform for the High Street stores. They worked with a leading designer, and chose
a polo shirt for practicality, a fleece for warmth, as well as either a blue skirt or a pair of trousers. In a bold move, Fleming announced that Directors, Office and Store
Managers would all wear the uniforms when working in-store, as part of his new 'colleague culture'.