Woolco

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Woolco

<tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align:center; padding:16px 0 16px 0;">Image:Woolco.gif</td></tr>

Type Defunct
Founded 1962
Headquarters Columbus, Ohio

<tr><th style="text-align:right; padding-right:0.75em;">Industry</th><td>Retail</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align:right; padding-right:0.75em;">Products</th><td>Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, electronics, toys and housewares.</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align:right; padding-right:0.75em;">Website</th><td>None</td></tr>

Woolco was a discount retail department store chain, founded in 1962, as a subsidiary of The F.W. Woolworth Company. Woolco stores were Woolworth's response to Kresge's Kmart stores. Kmart, Target, Meijer and Wal-Mart all opened their first stores in 1962.

The creation of Woolco coincided with the expansion of suburbia. Woolworth's flagship stores were still doing well, but the company wanted to tap into the growing discount department market without diluting its dominant position in the variety store business.

The first Woolco stores were located on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. The stores proved successful, and by 1966 there were 18 open in the United States and 9 in Canada. Plans at the time were for 30 stores to be added per year to the base. This led to tremendous growth as over 300 Woolco stores popped up all over North America by the mid 1970s.

The company experimented with both Woolco and a more downscale merchandising unit called Worth Mart in the mid 1960s. Woolco was the eventual winner with customers, and the Worth Mart stores were folded into Woolco's store base by the 1970s.

At the outset, Woolco stores were considered by the company to be "promotional department stores," with expanded product lines and other amenities not typically found at namesake Woolworth stores.

Many locations contained Red Grille restaurants (actually a cafeteria style outlet), and the food areas sold popcorn, real milkshakes, and other food. During the 1970s and '80s, the Canadian stores were well-known for their monthly "$1.44 Days" wherein numerous items were sold at a price of $1.44 CAD. (Competitors Woodward's & Eaton's ran "$1.49 Days" usually the first Tuesday eac h month.) Some stores also contained an automotive and tire service department.

[edit] Demise

Image:Woolcoproduct.jpg
Woolco, like other department stores in Canada, sometimes sold products under their own brand name.

The energy crisis and recessions of the 1970s took their toll on the entire Woolworth organization, with Woolco bearing the brunt of the misfortune.

The typical Woolco store size was well over 100,000 square feet, which was quite large for a discount store of that era, and many of its departments were leased to third-party operators, a common practice among early discounters.

Starting in the late 1970s, Woolworth enacted a cost-saving plan for Woolco that included a reduction in floor space for the largest locations, the elimination of most leased departments and an expansion into smaller markets with stores as small as 60,000 square feet. During this period, the excess space in some larger Woolco stores went to a Woolworth-owned off-price clothing retailer called J. Brannam, which was short for "Just Brand Names"

By 1979, it became clear that the earlier cost-saving plan would not be enough to save Woolco from failure, so Woolworth combined the discount store operating unit with its variety stores and began to close stores in unprofitable markets including Chicago.

Woolco ceased operations in the United States in 1983. However, the Canadian division of approximately 140 stores remained open until 1994, when it was acquired by Wal-Mart. That company quickly converted most of the stores (closing 15% of the stores where workers belonged to the United Food and Commercial Workers union, now known as UFCW Canada) and became an immediate force on the Canadian retailing scene. Some Woolco stores were sold and re-opened as Zellers stores.

[edit] International stores

A number of Woolco stores were opened in the UK in the 1970s. These were spun off along with the British Woolworths chain in 1982 and subsequently sold to Gateway in 1986.

Woolco

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