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Working for Woolworths in the Kingfisher Years (1982-2001)

Colleagues show off the latest, great, evermore spectacular Woolworths Chirstmas Catalogue for 1983

Colleagues in Seventies 'Winfield' overalls show off copies of the 1983 Christmas Catalogue in-store

 

Woolworths at Dover survived the Hun throughout World War II but fell victim to Kingfisher programme as asset redistribution in 1984

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'!

 

New look orange uniforms for Woolworths staff in the larger stores were progressively introduced from 1985

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.

 

Heather Grant, the Store Manager of the quaint Dickensian Woolworths store at Haslemere, Surrey, with her team sporting new Woolworths blue and cream striped uniforms in 1988.

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.

 

Snapshots of working for Woolworths in 1998 from a company brochure: left store staff in the White Rose, Leeds store, centre Reg Hull, Paul Seaton and Jacqui Stephens from the New Channels Team at Head Office, right: Distribution Centre management from Swindon celebrating achieving the coveted ISO 9002 status for their operations

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 offices held
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).

Blue sweatshirts and slacks made a practical and durable staff uniform for Big W stores like Bradford, West Yorkshire (pictured on its opening day). Inset, epitomizing colleague culture is Big W evangelist and MD Bob Hetherington

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'.

After 90 years of autocratic rule from the top, in the Year 2000 store staff worked to design a practical, comfortable uniform for the chain, choosing Red Polo Shits and Fleeces and plain blue trousers or skirts. Everyone from the Managing Director to the newest Saturday worker wore the same outfit when working in-store