In 2009 high street retailer Woolworths closed its doors in the UK for the last time. ‘Woollies’ was a Swiss Army knife of a shop. If you wanted a lampshade, washing powder, a tin of paint, a top-10 album or (of course) some pick-and-mix sweets, Woollies was your store.
Tears were shed as customers and staff bid farewell to it – and people feared they would never see the likes of it on the high street again.
I appreciate that people had huge affection for the Woolworths brand, but mourning the loss of its product offering always felt misplaced.
In the nearby town of Trowbridge, as well as back in the part of Bristol where I grew up, and in the centre of Bristol, there was a branch of Woolworths. And in all three instances, just a few doors along from where Woolworths used to be, there is a branch of Wilkinson.
Like Woolworths, Wilkinson is a store where you could buy a cushion, some cat litter, a birthday card, a bottle of screen wash… and some pick-and-mix sweets.
In January 2009 – and further to having a visual appearance that had remain largely unchanged since 1977 – Wilkinson updated their brand identity. The timing of the change seemed to coincide uncannily with the closure of Woolworths.
The rebrand also made Wilkinson’s colour scheme, which was always loosely similar to that of Woolworths, even more like it: deep red shop facias with white lettering.
Furthermore, in 2015 the brand abbreviated its name to Wilko (something it used previously for its own-brand products) and shifted to an even more Woolworths-like red.
Back in 1966, Woolworths (in a move way ahead of its time) had developed several huge stores in purpose-built out of town premises.
The brand name it used was not Woolworths but Woolco. One of the first new stores was in Thornaby on Teesside… one of the handful of towns where Wilkinson first rolled out its 2009 rebrand.
It seems impossible to imagine that these similarities were not intentional.
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