Frank W. Woolworth - Successful People

Frank Winfield Woolworth was born in Rodman, New York on 13th April, 1852. He was the retail phenomenon of the twentieth century. The mass-market shop sold factory-made goods at rock bottom prices. It was the first brand to go global, building to more than 3,000 near-identical stores across the world. He was the founder of F. W. Woolworth Company and the operator of variety stores known as "Five-and-Dimes" or dimestores, which featured a low-priced selection of merchandise.

At its height, it generated such riches that its Founder was able to put up the world's tallest building in their time and pay for it in cash. Its shares were the gold standard of the New York and London markets, paying dividends that others could only dream of. Part of its magic was an ability to adapt to fit into different local communities and to 'go native', without sacrificing its identity. Shoppers in the UK considered 'Woolies' as British as fish and chips, while Americans continued to call the chain 'the five-and-ten'.

Early Life

At the age of fifteen he gave up life on his father's farm to seek his fortune working in a shop in Watertown. At 20 years of age F. W. Woolworth found work in exchange for room and board at a local dry goods store, and after his employers held a successful clearance sale he saw the possibilities of a discount store. His key innovations were having the merchandise on open display instead of behind the counter, and having prices plainly marked instead of encouraging haggling.

In 1879, with Moore's support, he branched out on his own, setting up one of America's early fixed price stores. After a false start in Utica, New York, deciding that his problem had been a poor location, he relocated to the Amish country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, opening a Great Five Cent Store on 21 June 1879. 

It was a great success and later the same year his younger brother, Charles Sumner Woolworth, joined as Manager of a second store in nearby Harrisburg. Ten cent lines were added in 1881, creating the first Five and Ten Cent store chain. Within months he was opening multiple stores in business partnerships with local retailers, and within a few years Woolworth was a millionaire. 

In 1909 he opened his first store in England, and in 1913 the company opened its new headquarters in New York's Woolworth Building -- then the tallest building in the world.

The Company

The F.W. Woolworth Co. had the first five-and-dime stores, which sold discounted general merchandise at fixed prices, usually five or ten cents, undercutting the prices of other local merchants. Woolworth, as the stores popularly became known, was one of the first American retailers to put merchandise out for the shopping public to handle and select without the assistance of a sales clerk.

Earlier retailers had kept all merchandise behind a counter and customers presented the clerk with a list of items they wished to buy. Frank Winfield Woolworth obtained credit from his former boss, William Moore, along with some savings, to buy merchandise and open the "Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store" in Utica, New York, on February 22, 1878. After the store failed and closed in May 1878, Frank earned enough money to pay back William Moore. 

He soon made a second attempt, and opened his "Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store", using the same sign, on June 21, 1879, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster proved a success, and Frank never forgot the city for the rest of his life. Frank wanted to open a second store in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and so he asked his brother Charles Sumner "Sum" Woolworth to join him by managing it. 

The Harrisburg store opened as, "5¢ Woolworth Bro's Store" on July 19, 1879. After a falling-out with the landlord, that store moved to York, Pennsylvania, opening in March 1880. That store did not last long either, closing three months later.

Frank searched for a larger, low-rent building. He found an ideal location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, at 125 Penn Avenue, and opened their "5¢ & 10¢ Woolworth Bro's Store" on November 6, 1880, with Sum as manager. The Scranton store is where Sum fully developed the brothers' "5¢ & 10¢" merchandising model. 

Sum spent a lot of time working the sales floor, talking with customers and employees. He often personally served customers. Sales grew steadily. By 1881, at Frank's suggestion, Sum bought out his brother's share of the Scranton store in two installments, in January 1881 and 1882. This made Sum the first Woolworth Bro's franchisee.

In 1884, confident enough to open another store, Sum partnered with his long-time friend Fred Kirby to open a store in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, a neighboring town to the west of Scranton. Fred had been working as the head of wholesale operations at Augsbury and Moore of Watertown, New York. Each man put up $600 to launch the Wilkes-Barre store called "Woolworth and Kirby". Fred managed the new store, and while sales were initially poor, the store soon caught on.

By 1887 he used his profits to buy out Sum, and expand the store under his name. Sum and Fred remained the best of friends. During this time, Frank was expanding with more stores. Sum's approach was different; he worked to perfect the look and feel of his Scranton store. It had mahogany counters with glass dividers and glass-fronted showcases. The store was brightly lit, new, and the wooden floor was polished to a lustrous shine. 

The layout was soon adopted by Frank for his F. W. Woolworth stores and became the standard as the two brothers persuaded family members and former co-workers from Moore's to join them in forming a 'friendly rival syndicate' of five-and-ten-cent stores. Each of the syndicate chain's stores looked similar inside and out, but operated under its founder's name. Frank Woolworth provided much of the merchandise, encouraging the rivals to club together to maximize their inventory and purchasing power.

In 1900, Frank launched his first development plan in the city of his first success, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Rather than just enlarging his store on North Queen Street, he bought up properties along the street in an area which was not considered a "good" side of town. By keeping everything quiet and in that area, real estate prices were not inflated. When he finished the real estate purchases, he announced his plan to build a skyscraper, a building with five floors of offices above a large store. 

The roof had a garden and an open-air theater. The theater was a huge hit in town, and soon became the city's social center. This project was something of a dress rehearsal for his next venture. Tea cup ballet, a 1935 photograph by Olive Cotton with some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths.

In 1905 Woolworth incorporated, as F.W. Woolworth & Co., and in 1909 he founded F.W. Woolworth and Co., Limited, to serve Great Britain and Ireland. In 1910, Frank Woolworth took another leap and commissioned the design and construction of the Woolworth Building in New York City. A pioneering early skyscraper, it was designed by American architect Cass Gilbert, a graduate of the MIT architecture school.

In 1911, he invited four rival American retail chains to merge their businesses with his and form a single national corporation. The four rival retailers were Seymour Horace Knox (Woolworth’s first cousin), with 108 five-and-tens; Fred Morgan Kirby, with 84; Charles Sumner Woolworth (Frank’s brother), with 14; and Earle Perry Charlton, with 48. 

Woolworth’s own giant company at the time of the merger had 319 stores. Agreements were signed on Nov. 12, 1911, and the new consolidated company, with 596 stores coast to coast, assumed the F.W. Woolworth Co. name. The new company’s headquarters, the Woolworth Building (1913) in New York City, was the tallest skyscraper in the world until 1930.

Woolworths had dozens of outlets across the US by the time it arrived on British shores, and its owner had already made his fortune. While Woolworth, travelled to Europe to source goods for the company he harboured an ambition to bring his American retailing sensation to the old country.
"I believe that a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live Yankee, would be a sensation here," he wrote in his diary.
His instincts were right, although it was 19 years before he was finally able to prove it. On his first visit to Europe, following a long voyage across the Atlantic that left him seasick and disorientated, Woolworth's ship docked in Liverpool and he chose the city, then at the height of its economic power, as the location for his first British store.

It opened in Church Street on Friday November 5, 1909 to enthusiastic reviews from the local press. "The handsome premises were thronged the whole time they were open," the Liverpool Courier reported. "6d is the highest price charged for any single article in the establishment, but the variety of articles obtainable is infinite'.

Within a generation, however, there were nearly 500 stores in Britain, run by Woolworth's protégé William Stephenson. a young freight clerk he met in a Staffordshire pottery. By the time Stephenson retired in 1948, he had built the British arm into a huge concern, floating it on the London Stock Exchange and becoming one the country's richest men.

By 1929 Woolworth had about 2,250 outlets, and its stores continued to proliferate in the United States and Britain. The company raised its price ceiling to 20 cents in 1932 and abolished price limits altogether in 1935. The company purchased the shoe manufacturer and retailer G.R. Kinney Corporation (founded 1894) in 1963 and the Australian shoe store chain Williams the Shoemen in 1969. In 1982, it sold a controlling interest in its British subsidiary.

Over the years, Woolworth acquired other store chains. The company’s Foot Locker chain of athletic-shoe retailers proved especially successful. By 1982 the company had more than 8,000 stores worldwide, but it was facing increased competition from the Kmart Corporation and other discount retailers. 

These pressures compelled Woolworth to rely more and more on its Foot Locker, Kinney Shoes, and other specialty stores. Woolworth closed its remaining variety stores in the United States in 1997, thus abandoning its traditional general-merchandise retail business there.
The two Woolworth brothers pioneered and developed merchandising, direct purchasing, sales and customer service practices commonly used today. 

Despite growing to be one of the largest retail chains in the world through most of the 20th century, increased competition led to its decline beginning in the 1980s. The chain went out of business in July 1997, when the company decided to focus on the Foot Locker division and renamed itself Venator Group. By 2001, the company focused exclusively on the sporting goods market, changing its name to the present Foot Locker, Inc. (NYSE: FL).

Woolworth founded his success on volume buying, counter-display merchandising, and cash-and-carry transactions. For instance, the 1931 flotation gave the British management increased confidence and autonomy from the head office in New York and the following year, Woolworth's successor, Byron Miller, observed: "The child has long since outgrown the parent, generating more profit and taking hold more quickly than the American company ever did."

Moreover, In 1997, the US Woolies, now owned by a rival American retailer, announced it was closing its remaining 400 FW Woolworth stores, but its British arm remained in rude health. It became part of retail giant Kingfisher, owner of B&Q, but was floated as a separate company in 2001.

Not to mention an average of 15 stores that were closed each year to fund the renovation of more modern outlets. At the start of the 1980s, Woolworths still had 1,000 shops and was beginning to expand into out-of-town locations.


Growth And Expansions

In the 1960s, the five-and-dime concept evolved into a larger discount department store format. In 1962, Woolworth's founded a chain of large, single-floor discount stores called Woolco. Some of these stores were branded as Winfields, after the founder's middle name. 

1962 was the same year that Woolworth's competitors opened similar retail chains that sold merchandise at a discount: the S.S. Kresge Company opened Kmart, Dayton's opened Target, and Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart store. By Woolworth’s 100th anniversary in 1979, it had become the largest department store chain in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Woolworth had toyed with the idea of opening in Britain ever since 1890 and took the plunge despite the reservations of his management. By 5th November 1909, Frank Woolworth had opened his first store outside North America. 5¢ & 10¢ became Threepence and Sixpence for the branch in Church Street, Liverpool, England.

Frank hired his cousin, Fred, to lead the new venture along with three volunteers from New York State. To deal with resistance from the British press he also hired an Englishman, William Lawrence Stephenson, from a favoured supplier. The American parent put up £50,000 capital to finance the new British chain.

By 1912, the British subsidiary had already grown to twelve stores. Its momentum was so great that it was able to open stores using retained profit. Frank had already turned his attention to other projects.Work was nearing completion on his grandest scheme - the world's tallest building in Broadway Place, New York. 

As mentioned earlier, he had commissioned the top architect Cas Gilbert and had overseen the work personally, paying for it in cash. As the $13.5 m tower topped out in 1912, it was already in profit. Businessmen had flocked to take floor space in the landmark Woolworth Building that dominated the Manhattan skyline.

By the outbreak of War in Europe, the British chain had opened 44 stores with many more in the pipeline. The infant resisted its parent's offer to send help from the USA as managers went away to war. 

In 1917 when the American company opened its thousandth store in palatial premises on New York's Fifth Avenue, the American President, Woodrow Wilson, invited Woolworth to take a Government role to raise funds after the USA joined the World War. The magnate launched a savings stamp scheme just weeks later, persuading rival dimestores to join him in selling them. 

He later funded victory parades for returning servicemen in many towns served by a Woolworth Five-and-Ten. The Woolworth five-and-ten formula was adapted to 25 and 50 pfennigs when the chain opened a subsidiary in Germany in 1927.

A copycat company opened a chain under the F. W. Woolworth name in Australia in 1924. The store layout was based on its founder's visits to London and the threepenny and sixpenny stores. Today it is the market-leading supermarket down-underIn 1924 a canny group of Australian entrepreneurs led by Mr. H. G. Christmas were looking for a name for their new 'stupendous bargain basement'. 

They cheekily applied to register the name F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd., in an attempt to cash in on the brand's pulling power, even though they were completely unrelated. In-fighting between the British and American companies meant that neither raised its objection in time, allowing the venture to go ahead.

Bitter legal battles in the High Court followed in the 1930s, after rumours spread of Antipodean plans to open an office in London. The Aussies had the last laugh. Unlike the Poms, they had the resolve to complete a move into food retailing in the Sixties. Today they are the nation's market-leading supermarket. A former subsidiary operates independently in New Zealand.

By the mid 1920s growth in the USA was slowing down. Rival dimestores had adapted to price inflation with fifteen cent lines. But the Woolworth Board was reticent to shake a proven formula, until they saw the early results from a new subsidiary in Weimar Germany in 1927. They had translated the formula to become the 25 und 50 Pfennig stores, roughly 10 and 20 cents, allowing a much broader range. 

The chain grew so rapidly that it had become self-sustaining before Hitler placed restrictions on foreign companies operating in Germany. The short-lived 5, 10 and 15 cent store formula from F.W. Woolworth Co., reflected in the fascia of the branch on Market Street in San Francisco, California.


Buoyed by the German news, a 15 cent line was added after fiftieth birthday celebrations in North America in 1929. This re-energised the chain after its stock was among the heaviest fallers in the Wall Street Crash. Many investors were all-but wiped out by the collapse. Barbara Hutton's father Edwin had wisely sold her entire holding and put the money into gold just weeks before the crash.

The Company Treasurer, Byron Miller, hatched a scheme with the British MD William Stephenson. They reduced the American golden share and listed the subsidiary on the London Stock Exchange. The move gave the Threepenny and Sixpenny stores a measure of independence. It also funded a special dividend of $1.50 on each 25¢ parent company share. The move helped to save many investors. They rewarded Miller with the Presidency in the USA. Stephenson became Chairman in the UK.

The British company went to lengths to maintain its sixpenny limit, asserting its buying power to make suppliers accept lower margins during the price inflation of 1938 and 1939. War forced a rethink as prices rocketed and cheap goods became hard to find. Officially, the upper limit was dropped "temporarily".

As Britain and Canada went to war, the USA enjoyed a period of prosperity. New York recalled their American Directors from Britain and Germany, but all refused to leave. To show neutrality the Corporation donated to war relief in both countries, funding an orphanage near London and ambulances for Berlin.

In 1940 British staff raised 202,680 sixpences to buy a Spitfire to help the RAF. The four Directors matched them penny for penny and plane for plane. Lord Beaverbrook sent a thank you letter and a special plaque. He also agreed to the staff's request to name the planes Nix Over Six Primus, and Secundus. They were the first national assets ever to be named by a company.

Also in 1940, Germany invaded the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. The two stores there traded independently during the occupation. America joined the war after Pearl Harbour, sending a big troop surge in the run-up to D-Day. Many Britons met their American Woolworth cousins for the first time, providing a 'home from home' for men 3,000 miles from a five-and-ten. 

A number of Woolies stores provided billets for soldiers waiting for the big day. On 25 Nov 1944, tragedy struck the British company, as a German V2 rocket destroyed the large store in New Cross, London, causing the worst civilian casualties of any enemy action in the whole conflict. 168 people died.

William Stephenson, was a founder member of the British Woolworths, who led the firm to great success as MD from 1923 to 1931 and then Chairman from 1931 to his retirement in 1948. In 1945, following the Allied Victory, the English Chairman William Stephenson reflected on the sacrifices of the World War. He paid tribute to the 342 Woolies Managers and 1,963 other staff who had served King and Country in Uniform. 

In the final reckoning 145 lost their lives. He also praised the dedication of those who had kept the stores trading on the Home Front. 26 stores had been destroyed, 326 badly damaged and two had been occupied by the enemy out of a chain of 767 branches. He paid special tribute to 'Store 362' and to the 168 colleagues and customers who had fallen at its counters so tragically. 

He noted that the losses at New Cross were higher than across the whole of the rest of the company worldwide, including men under arms.

The German chain had also suffered terribly in the final years of the war, with many branches flattened, along with the parent company's state-of-the-art warehouse facility in Sonneberg. Ironically it had been annihiliated by the Bomber Command of the USAF.

Stephenson said that now the Corporation must rebuild for the future, declaring that he was excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. The 'English Mr Woolworth' had kept working well into his Sixties because of the war, and was keen to retire. He handed over the reins in 1948, but was frequently invited to provide Consultancy in New York and London throughout the Fifities.

The Americans faced stiff competition as shopping habits changed. The cash-rich company responded with a massive investment programme, relocating many of the stores to Malls and converting them to self-service. These had new counter layouts and more merchandise, with high-priced items like electrical appliances.

Margins were reduced, passing the savings on to the customer. New overseas stores were opened in Havana, Cuba, and even Palestine.

In Britain it was a different story. Government austerity measures favoured Woolies. Unlike rivals it was able to import goods freely from overseas. Restrictions were based on quantities rather than prices, allowing the firm to buy high-priced items instead of sixpenny ones.

Without serious competition profits raced ahead. The Board became very conservative. It did not embrace self-service and opted to extend stores in-situ rather than relocate. A proportion of profits were retained for a mass-opening programme, which saw 250 new stores during the decade. But, ominously, controls weakened and stock levels spiraled upwards.

In 1959, a princely sum of £1m was invested to open a huge air-conditioned store in Harare, Zimbabwe (then known as Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia). The store was one of a number of subsidiaries launched in the decade by the British company. With plenty of money in the bank, the British company went on a spending spree, upgrading the lighting across its mainland stores, adding small supermarkets in extra space and extending into emerging markets like Do-It-Yourself. 

It also began opening in the Commonwealth. In 1954 a branch opened in Kingston, Jamaica. Success brought further stores in the former colonies of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and the West Indies. The British company celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1959 with record profits. Despite being 52.7% American-owned, it was still the second largest stock on the London Exchange, outmatched only by ICI. Investors were paid a special celebration dividend.


Looking Into The Future

Robert C. Kirkwood - the visionary leader of F. W. Woolworth Co. in the late 1950s and 1960s. Kirkwood was a visionary leader. He believed passionately that the chain must embrace big changes in order to survive. He reshaped the Company. Some of his actions have helped to sustain the brand into the 21st century, continuing to pay dividends to shareholders. 

Others later contributed to the disintegration of the Woolworth store chains on both sides of the Atlantic. The CEO had already moved many Main Street stores into Malls and Shopping Centers. The next step was bolder still. He launched a chain of much larger Woolco stores out-of-town. These offered a one-stop shop with plenty of car parking. The idea was partly inspired by Kresge's K-mart.

The first Woolco stores opened in Columbus, Ohio, USA and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1962. Trading was mediocre, but the CEO held faith, opening 150 outlets by the end the decade. He borrowed money on backloaded mortgages to finance the move, expecting the format to gel long before these fell due for payment in the Eighties.

The shoe shops of G.R. Kinney joined F. W. Woolworth in 1963 and became Kinney Shoe CorporationIn another radical move, he started to diversify, buying businesses that he believed would complement the new Woolco Division. In 1963 the shoe giant G.R. Kinney was acquired. The retailer made its own products, and provided a steady supply of cheap, reliable footwear for Woolworth and Woolco. 

In 1969, the fashion chain Richman Brothers also joined the stable. Kirkwood hoped that adding new people and management skills would help to shake up Woolworth's narrow, conservative culture. The UK board tried to ignore the CEO's suggestions. They considered Woolco inappropriate for the British market. The UK had lower car ownership and no shops out of town. Instead they extended some in-town stores to Woolco size.

Kirkwood was not satisfied. He insisted that the subsidiary must give Woolco a go. He also pushed through a low-price own label brand, in place of the UK chain's range-by-range branding. Less controversially he encouraged the chain to computerise its supply chain and accounting, using software developed in the USA and already in use at a Central Accounting Office in Chicago, Illinois.

A new 'modern' corporate identity was introduced in North America as Woolworth prepared for its ninetieth anniversary in 1969. The red-front was replaced by a new light-blue logotype for new and refurbished stores. The styling was unpopular, and in the end the firm relented, retaining the logo but once again colouring it red.


Thriving And Acquisitions

The Board's competence was brought into sharp focus by a series of disasters during the decade. In 1971 a whole season's stock was lost when the four year old distribution centre burnt to the ground. Its sprinklers were not working. In 1972, the store in Belfast burnt down in the Northern Ireland troubles.

It had no contingency plan. In 1973, the large superstore in Colchester also burnt down. Fortunately, no-one was hurt, but no remedial action appears to have resulted from these events. On 8th May 1979, disaster struck when one of the largest stores, Manchester, burned down. Tragically eight customers and a member of staff died in the incident, which played out live on national television. 

The coverage showed that fire exits were locked and staff did not appear to have been trained. It took a number of years and a change of owner to recover the damage to the brand's reputation. The parent company celebrated its centenary in 1979. Then in 1980 the British Woolworth made its first acquisition, buying the B&Q Retail chain. After paying off their backers, the new owners used the surplus to develop the B&Q out of town DIY subsidiary very rapidly and to acquire other UK businesses, including the Comet discount electrical chain and the Superdrug drugstore.

A new formula was applied to the surviving 750 High Street stores. The range was trimmed back to six areas where the chain had strong shares - Sweets, Toys and Stationery, Kids Clothes, Entertainment, Home and Garden, and Fashion Accessories.

Branches were given one of two bright new looks, the first for major towns and the second for local High Streets. By 1997, the chain was back in fashion and generating profits of £100m a year, allowing it to expand again. The consortium had invested wisely. Kingfisher had became a respected international retail brand.

Woolworths parent Kingfisher anounced a mega-merger with Britain's third largest supermarket, Asda, to propel themselves into the global superleague. Sadly, it all ended in tears. By 1999 the UK Woolworths parent Kingfisher had a strong reputation. The CEO seemed to have the Midas touch as he had built a huge empire which had pushed the share price ever upwards. 

Investors overwhelmingly endorsed his proposed 'merger of value champions', in which the group would merge with Asda, the UK's third largest supermarket. Detailed plans were published showing the benefits, particularly to Woolworths and sister company Superdrug, and to Asda. Just as the deal was due to complete Asda withdrew, accepting a better offer from the world's largest retailer, Wal-mart.

Still with the decline of the signature stores, Woolworth marched on with a new focus toward athletic goods on January 30, 1997, acquiring the mail-order catalogue athletic retailer Eastbay. The company had more than 1,000 stores at the time of Woolworth’s death, and with lunch counters in many stores, Woolworth was America's largest restaurant chain through the 1940s.

The company peaked as the world's largest department store chain in the late 1970s, with more than 4,000 stores. On March 17, 1997, Wal-Mart replaced Woolworth's as a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Analysts at the time cited the lower prices of the large discount stores and the expansion of supermarket grocery stores – which had begun to stock merchandise also sold by five-and-dime stores – as contributors to Woolworth's decline in the late 20th century. 

On July 17, 1997, Woolworth's closed its remaining department stores in the U.S. and changed its corporate name to Venator. In 1999, Venator moved out of the Woolworth building in New York City to offices on 34th Street. On October 20, 2001, the company changed names again; this time, it took the name of its top retail performer and became Foot Locker, Inc. Foot Locker stores chiefly sell athletic clothing and footwear.

Under separate ownership, Woolworth stores are still operated in Austria, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.


Woolworth And Its Lasting Influence On Popular Culture

The original parent company, now known as Footlocker Inc, continues to trade successfully. It is the largest athletic shoe company in the world with more than 3,000 shops across the globe. In the UK there are a handful of locations, like Brixton, South London, where Footlocker operates from the spot that was once home to a Woolworth store. 

The former parent company, Kingfisher, remains the market leader in Do-It-Yourself retailing in the United Kingdom and France, with many interests around the world. In 1880, Woolworth first sold manufactured Christmas tree ornaments, which proved extremely popular.

In 1929, in Atlantic City, USA, Sam Foster (founder of FosterGrant eyewear) sold sunglasses from his counter in Woolworth’s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, which became a great hit with the sunbathing public.

There is a song "Warrior in Woolworths" by X-Ray Spex from their 1978 album, Germfree Adolescents.
In 2012, British electro-pop due Blancmange released the song, ‘By The Bus Stop at Wollies’, on their album Blanc Burn.

The F. W. Woolworth Company was arguably the most successful American and international five-and-dime, setting trends and creating the modern retail model which stores follow worldwide today.


Frank Woolworth, president of F. W. Woolworth, Corporation, died on April 8, 1919, in Glen Cove, New York. Sum's demeanor made him the perfect candidate to head the F. W. Woolworth Corporation after the death of his brother. He was non-confrontational, as everyone else positioned themselves in the company. The Board of Directors unanimously asked Sum to take on the Presidency. With his infamous modesty he declined. 

He did, however, agree to take the new role of Chairman. Company Treasurer, Hubert Parson, took the Presidency. Over the following twenty-five years, Sum saw four Presidents come and go. He gave each one quiet-spoken advice and good counsel. As Chairman, he facilitated debate and ensured issues were properly confronted and argued out by the Board.

In 1923 the firm was rocked by another death, as Frank's cousin Fred, MD of the British subsidiary, passed away at just fifty-two years of age. He had overseen the opening of 150 highly profitable stores. He had a reputation for being firm but fair, setting high standards but also treating the staff generously, with paid holidays and outings to the seaside.

A lively and active man, he suffered a stroke on a trip home to the USA and never fully recovered. He succumbed to a second attack six months later. His successor was the Yorkshireman William Stephenson, who (in his own words) "joined on the ground floor" before the first British Woolworth store opened.

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