Woolworth’s was a retail chain that was founded by Frank Winfield Woolworth in 1879 as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store”. The first Woolworth’s store was opened in Utica, New York, and sold a selection of goods for 5 and 10 cents. The fixed price was intended to undercut many competitors at the time. However, the Utica store failed in only a few months. Frank then moved operations to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This time he found success.
Frank brought brother Charles into the business. They began to increase sales and open new stores.
In the early years of the company, Woolworth’s focused on selling products for 5 and 10 cents. These products included candy, stationery, and other small items. Later on, Woolworth’s expanded its product lines to include higher-priced items. They included clothing, shoes, and home goods.
Some popular items sold at Woolworth’s over the years included:
Candy and chocolates
Toys and games
School supplies and stationery
Women’s clothing and accessories
Men’s clothing and accessories
Home goods such as bedding, towels, and kitchenware
Small appliances and electronics
Sporting goods and outdoor equipment
Books and magazines
Beauty and personal care products
Woolworth’s also had a lunch counter that served food and beverages, which was a popular destination for many customers.
In the 1800s, Woolworth’s direct competitors were primarily other general stores and department stores. Some of Woolworth’s main competitors during this time period included:
McCrory Stores: McCrory Stores was a retail chain that was founded in 1882 and focused on selling low-priced merchandise. The company grew rapidly and became one of Woolworth’s biggest competitors in the 1800s.
S.S. Kresge Company: The S.S. Kresge Company was founded in 1899 and focused on selling merchandise for 5 and 10 cents. The company later evolved into the Kmart retail chain.
Ben Franklin Stores: Ben Franklin Stores was a chain of retail stores that was founded in 1877 and focused on selling a wide range of products at low prices. The company was one of Woolworth’s biggest competitors in the 1800s and 1900s.
J.J. Newberry: J.J. Newberry was a retail chain that was founded in 1911 and focused on selling low-priced merchandise. The company became one of Woolworth’s biggest competitors in the mid-1900s.
These companies, along with other general stores and department stores of the time, competed with Woolworth’s by offering similar products at competitive prices. However, Woolworth’s was known for its innovative merchandising strategies and aggressive expansion, which helped the company to become one of the most successful retailers of its time.
What Set Woolworth’s Apart?
Innovative merchandising strategies: Woolworth’s was known for its innovative merchandising strategies, which helped the company to stand out from its competitors. For example, Woolworth’s was one of the first retailers to introduce the concept of self-service, which allowed customers to browse and select merchandise on their own, rather than having to rely on a salesperson.
Wide product selection: Woolworth’s offered a wide selection of products, including household goods, clothing, toys, and food items, which appealed to a broad range of customers. The company was able to keep prices low by purchasing products in large quantities and passing on the savings to customers.
Aggressive expansion: Woolworth’s was one of the first retail chains to adopt a franchise model, which allowed the company to rapidly expand its operations across the United States and around the world. By the 1920s, Woolworth’s had thousands of stores in countries around the world.
Emphasis on customer service: Woolworth’s placed a strong emphasis on customer service, and the company trained its employees to be friendly and helpful to customers. This helped to create a positive shopping experience for customers, which encouraged them to return to Woolworth’s stores.
Affordable pricing: Woolworth’s was known for its low prices, which made its products accessible to a wide range of customers. The company’s commitment to keeping prices low helped to build customer loyalty and attract new customers.
Overall, Woolworth’s success can be attributed to a combination of innovative merchandising strategies, wide product selection, aggressive expansion, emphasis on customer service, and affordable pricing. These factors helped Woolworth’s to stand out from its competitors and become one of the most successful retail chains of its time.
A Monument to Its Success
The Woolworth Building was built between 1910 and 1913 in New York City. It was designed by architect Cass Gilbert in the neo-Gothic style, and was commissioned by Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of the F.W. Woolworth Company.
At the time of its completion in 1913, the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world, standing at 792 feet (241 meters) tall. It held this title until it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building in 1930.
The construction of the Woolworth Building was financed entirely by Frank W. Woolworth himself, who paid for the building in cash. Woolworth reportedly paid $13.5 million (equivalent to approximately $340 million in 2021) to build the skyscraper, which was a significant sum at the time.
In 1998, the Woolworth Building was sold to the Witkoff Group, a real estate investment firm. The building changed hands several times over the years, and in 2012, it was acquired by the Alchemy Properties, a New York-based real estate development company. The building was converted into luxury apartments and condominiums, and it remains a prominent landmark in Lower Manhattan today.
Centers of Activity
Woolworth’s was founded in Utica, New York, in 1879, and the company’s headquarters were initially located in that city. However, as the company grew and expanded, its headquarters were moved to other locations.
In the early years of the company, Woolworth’s stores were primarily located in small towns and rural areas. The company’s first store was located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and it was followed by several other stores in nearby towns.
As Woolworth’s expanded, the company opened stores in larger cities, including New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. By the 1920s, Woolworth’s had become one of the largest retail chains in the world, with thousands of stores in countries around the globe.
In 1913, Woolworth’s opened its first store in the United Kingdom, followed by stores in Canada, Australia, and other countries. By the 1920s, Woolworth’s had become a global retail powerhouse with thousands of stores around the world.
The company’s headquarters were moved several times throughout its history. In the early years, the headquarters were located in Utica, New York, but they were later moved to New York City.
In the 1960s, the headquarters were relocated to the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan, which was one of the most iconic buildings in New York City at the time. The building served as the company’s headquarters until the 1990s, when Woolworth’s was acquired by Venator Group (now Foot Locker, Inc.) and the headquarters were moved to Venator’s offices in New York City.
There were several factors that contributed to the decline and eventual bankruptcy of Woolworth’s. Here are some of the main factors:
Increased competition: As the retail industry became more competitive, Woolworth’s struggled to keep up with other retailers that were offering a wider range of products and services. Discount retailers like Walmart and Target, as well as online retailers like Amazon, offered lower prices and a more convenient shopping experience, which drew customers away from Woolworth’s stores.
Changing consumer preferences: As consumer tastes and preferences changed, Woolworth’s struggled to adapt. Customers began to prefer more specialized stores that offered a wider range of products and a more unique shopping experience. Woolworth’s stores, with their focus on low prices and a wide range of general merchandise, no longer appealed to many consumers.
Declining sales: As Woolworth’s struggled to keep up with the competition, the company’s sales began to decline. The company attempted to cut costs by closing underperforming stores and reducing staff, but these efforts were not enough to turn the business around.
Mismanagement: In the years leading up to its bankruptcy, Woolworth’s was plagued by mismanagement and strategic mistakes. The company invested heavily in unprofitable ventures, such as the music retailer Sam Goody, and failed to invest enough in its core business.
Economic downturns: Finally, Woolworth’s was hit hard by economic downturns, particularly the Great Recession of 2008-2009. As consumers tightened their belts and cut back on spending, Woolworth’s sales suffered.
All of these factors contributed to the decline and eventual bankruptcy of Woolworth’s. The company closed its last U.S. stores in 1997, and the brand has since been primarily associated with stores in other countries, such as Australia and South Africa.
History of Ownership
Woolworth’s was owned by several different companies over the years. Here is a brief overview of the company’s ownership history:
Founding ownership: Woolworth’s was founded by Frank Winfield Woolworth and his brother Charles Sumner Woolworth in 1879. The brothers initially owned the company together.
Early investors: In 1905, the Woolworth brothers sold a stake in their company to several investors, including Frank Shailor, who became the company’s first president.
Corporate ownership: In 1912, Woolworth’s was incorporated as F.W. Woolworth Company, and the company’s stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company was owned by its shareholders, who elected a board of directors to oversee the company’s operations.
Acquisitions: Over the years, Woolworth’s acquired several other companies, including Kinney Shoe Corporation, Foot Locker, and Champs Sports. These acquisitions expanded the company’s product offerings and helped to diversify its business.
Venator Group: In 1997, Woolworth’s was acquired by Venator Group (now known as Foot Locker, Inc.), a company that specializes in athletic footwear and apparel. Following the acquisition, many of Woolworth’s stores were converted into Foot Locker stores.
Today, Woolworth’s stores no longer exist in the United States, but the brand still has a presence in other parts of the world, including Australia and South Africa.
- Year Started: 1879
- Year Ended: 1997
- Origin Of Name: Name of Founder
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: Footlocker
- Owner Original: Frank Winfield Woolworth
- Owner While In Use: Public Company
- Owner Successor: Venator Group
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Dollar Stores
- Naics Code: 455219
- Location Headquarters: New York, New York, USA