Woolworths lives again, but only on the internet

Tuesday 03 February 2009 01:00 GMT

Woolworths is to be relaunched as an online business this summer after the brand was bought by Shop Direct Group in a deal that kills any lingering hopes of reviving the pic'n'mix retailer on the high street.

The home shopping retailer Shop Direct, which is owned by the Barclay brothers, the business tycoons, has also bought the childrenswear brand Ladybird from Woolworth Group. It is likely to have paid millions of pounds for each brand, but declined to provide figures. Last month, Home Retail Group, the owner of Argos and Homebase, acquired the Chad Valley toy brand from Woolworths for £5m.

Mark Newton-Jones, chief executive of Shop Direct, formerly known as Littlewoods Shop Direct, said: "It [the product offer] will be more targeted than the previous offer. It will definitely have childrenswear and definitely have entertainment, but I really don't think we will be selling washing up bowls and light bulbs."

The sale of the Woolworths brand is the final nail in the coffin of ex-directors and investors who had tried tosalvage a small high-street business from the wreckage of the 800-storeretail chain, which collapsed into administration at the end of November. All of Woolworths' stores had closed by early January. Tony Page, the former Woolworths commercial director, was reported to have secured backing and made an offer to Deloitte last week for the Woolworths brand, but his hopes were dashed.

Sir Geoff Mulcahy, who ran Woolworths for two decades, also held talks with Ardeshir Naghshineh, Woolworths' biggest shareholder, about a possible rescue plan.

Yesterday, Shop Direct relaunched Woolworths.co.uk, asking consumers to register and give their feedback about what they liked or disliked about Woolworths. Mr Newton-Jones said: "Woolworths is a much-loved brand thatengenders huge affection among British consumers."

Separately, Deloitte, the administrator to Woolworths, was scheduled to hold a creditors' meeting at Alexandra Palace, north London, today. Last night the accountancy firm said the meeting would go ahead, despite the severe snowfall in the capital.

The creditors to the company include 27,000 staff and about 500 businesses which are owed money by Woolworths Group.

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