Frank Winfield Woolworth[edit | edit source]
US Origins 125 years ago - the early Woolworth story
In 1873 Frank Woolworth started his retail career in 1873 as a sales assistant in the Augsbury and Moore Dry Goods Store in Watertown, New York. The co-owner William Moore took pity on the young farm boy and accepted his offer to work free of charge on a three month trial in the store.
America was still recovering from the Civil War and cash was tight - and the store sometimes struggled to make a profit. Moore came up with a brainwave - to display all the surplus stock at a single fixed price of five cents (about 1p) per piece. He asked Frank to arrange it.
A fixed price display of goods is quite usual today, but back in 1877 it was a first. At the time prices were never displayed with the goods - instead customers had to ask an assistant, and the price charged varied according to what the customer looked like! Frank made a fantastic display, using red material and gold lettering, that stimulated lots of interest and sales. He manned the counter himself.
Business was reportedly especially brisk while many extra visitors were in the city for the Jefferson County Fair.
Frank believed a whole store could be filled with five cent merchandise rather than just a single counter, and in 1879 persuaded William Moore to back him in opening a store of his own. His first attempt on Elizabeth Street in Utica, New York, failed. It was very popular for the first few weeks but then sales started to decline. Frank had made enough money to pay his debts and had learned a valuable lesson - that he must locate his store at the heart of town, rather than in a side street. He tried again, this time opening in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles away. The store opened on June 21st, 1879. It was a huge success from the start, taking $127.65 on its first day.