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Kingfisher plc

Kingfisher plc

3 Sheldon Square
Paddington
London, N2 6PX
United Kingdom
Telephone: (
+ 44-20) 7372-8008
Fax: (
+ 44-20) 7644-1001
Web site: http://www.kingfisher.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1982 as Paternoster Stores plc
Employees: 75,700
Sales: £8.01 billion ($14.2 billion) (2006)
Stock Exchanges: London Euronext Paris
Ticker Symbol: KGF
NAIC: 444110 Home Centers; 454111 Electronic Shopping; 454113 Mail-Order Houses

Based in London, Kingfisher plc is the largest home improvement retailer in Europe and one of the three largest in the world. The company operates four main retail brands: B&Q, Castorama, Brico Dépôt, and Screwfix Direct. The B&Q chain ranks as the leading home improvement retailer in three nations: the United Kingdom, with more than 320 stores; Ireland, with seven stores; and China, with 48 stores. In addition, there are 20 B&Q outlets in Taiwan that operate through a joint venture. Kingfisher operates more than 100 Castorama stores and around 70 Brico Dépôt outlets in France, which together hold the top spot in that market. Castorama is a broad-based, large-format, mass-market home improvement retailer, while Brico Dépôt stores are smaller with a narrower range of products and are aimed more at hard-core do-it-yourselfers and professional tradespersons. Kingfisher also operates under the Castorama banner in Poland, where its 30 stores lead the market; in Italy, where it holds the number two position and operates more than two dozen stores; and in Russia, where the first Castorama opened its doors in early 2006. Brico Dépôt also has a presence in Spain, with seven stores. Operating in the United Kingdom, Screwfix Direct is a catalog and online retailer of trade tools, accessories, and hardware products. Kingfisher has also opened its first B&Q store in South Korea, is involved in a joint venture in Turkey that runs seven Koçtaş stores, and owns a 21 percent stake in Hornbach Holding A.G., the leading do-it-yourself (DIY) warehouse retailer in Germany. Hornbach operates more than 120 stores in Germany and neighboring countries. While its geographic range continues to expand, Kingfisher still generates the bulk of its revenues in the United Kingdom and France, with around 52 percent from the former and 34 percent from the latter.

Kingfisher had its beginnings in 1982 as a takeover vehicle for the British arm of U.S. general merchandise retailer F.W. Woolworth & Co. The British Woolworth had, two years earlier, ventured into the do-it-yourself retailing sector with its purchase of B&Q. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Kingfisher operated as an increasingly diversified retailing holding company. In 1998 the company merged its B&Q chain with Castorama (which also ran Brico Dépôt) to form a joint venture; it gained full control of Castorama in 2002. Screwfix Direct was acquired in 1999 and the Hornbach Holding stake in 2001. Also in 2001, Kingfisher began the process of slimming down to a home improvement focus by selling its Superdrug chain and demerging its general merchandise business as Woolworths Group plc. This process was completed in 2003 when Kingfisher sold its ProMarkt chain and demerged the remainder of its electrical goods businesses as Kesa Electricals plc.

PRE-KINGFISHER
DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. firm F.W. Woolworth & Co. established a British subsidiary called F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. in 1909 and that November opened its first U.K. variety store in Liverpool. By 1931 there were 444 F.W. Woolworth outlets in Britain and Ireland, and the British subsidiary was taken public, with the U.S. parent retaining a 52.7 percent stake. With the exception of World War II, the British Woolworth expanded rather steadily until the late 1960s, when the chain reached its peak store count of 1,141. Its fortunes declined thereafter, leaving it vulnerable to takeover.

In 1980, its general merchandise stores still struggling, Woolworth elected to diversify into do-it-yourself retailing. In August, in its first-ever takeover bid, Woolworth paid £16.7 million for a Southampton-based chain of DIY centers, B&Q Retail Limited. B&Q had been founded in 1969 by Richard Block and David Quayle. At the time in the United Kingdom, building supplies were mainly available only at builder's merchants, which did not cater to the average do-it-yourselfer. The founders designed a store centered around self-service (rather than only counter sales help), affordable prices, longer hours of operation, and a broad product range. As Quayle related to Home Channel News in 1999, "We started off with a good idea: supply what people need for the home, car and garden at a good price and a good value." The first store, encompassing 3,000 square feet, opened on Portswood Road in Southampton, Hampshire, in March 1969. It was initially called Block & Quayle, but the name was soon shortened to B&Q.

During the 1970s additional B&Q outlets were opened across England, some situated at main street sites but many at out-of-town locations, particularly converted movie houses and storage units. The stores also expanded their product offerings, adding such items as power tools, sheet boarding, and Formica. Block left the company in 1976, leaving Quayle to lead the firm through an initial public offering in 1979 that raised £15 million. B&Q Retail Limited went public with 26 stores in operation. When Woolworth bought B&Q the following year, the chain had grown to 39 units. Another ten stores opened over the following year before Wool-worth's October 1981 acquisition of Dodge City, a Scottish chain of 32 DIY centers, for £20.1 million. These centers were eventually converted into B&Q outlets. Quayle left the company in 1982.

1982 PATERNOSTER/
WOOLWORTH HOLDINGS
TAKEOVER OF WOOLWORTH

In September 1982 a syndicate of institutional investors led by the merchant bank Charterhouse Japhet launched a £310 million takeover bid for the British Woolworth through the specially created Paternoster Stores plc. Paternoster was led by Wolverhampton-born Chairman John Beckett and Geoffrey Mulcahy, the chief executive. By November, more than 90 percent of the shareholders had accepted the syndicate's bid and Paternoster's name was changed to Woolworth Holdings plc. As Paternoster did not have enough money to cover the whole of the bid, U.S. Woolworth temporarily retained a 12.7 percent share in the new company. The holding was sold almost immediately afterward.

COMPANY PERSPECTIVES

To be the world's best international home improvement retailer, using its scale and diversity to deliver sustainable growth and improved returns for shareholders.

Woolworth Holdings began to reorganize by removing the unprofitable parts of the business. Between late 1982 and 1991 the group sold about 200 of its unprofitable Woolworth shops in the United Kingdom, reducing the number to around 790. The group also sold all 18 of its shops in the Irish Republic in 1984. In April 1983 the Shoppers World chain of 45 shops was closed down. Later in 1985 the Woolworth shops in Cyprus were sold and between 1987 and 1990 all of the shops in the West Indies and Zimbabwe were also sold. On the other hand, B&Q, a profitable part of the business, was expanded mostly through organic growth, with as many as 30 new stores a year. By January 1984 the company's pretax profits had risen from £6.1 million to £29.4 million. To emphasize that the change in the group's Woolworth shops was fundamental, their trading name was changed from F.W. Woolworth to Woolworths in March 1986. In May 1984 the company launched a successful bid for Comet, the electrical goods discount chain, for £128.9 million. During 1984 Woolworths Holdings profits nearly doubled. Profits came from the still expanding B&Q, with 153 centers, the newly acquired Comet, and the Woolworth shops disposal program.

In early 1986 Beckett retired as chairman of Woolworths Holdings, having successfully overseen the revival of the group. During 1986 the company was subject to an unsuccessful £1.75 billion hostile takeover bid from Dixons Group plc, the electronics retailer. During the takeover battle, the group sold its 12 Woolco superstores to Dee Corporation plc for £26 million. Also in 1986 came the acquisition of Record Merchandisers, which was later renamed Entertainment UK (EUK) and which by the mid-1990s was a leading U.K. distributor of prerecorded music and videos, computer software, and books.

In April 1987 the group was approached by Under-woods, a chain of 40 chemist and consumer goods shops in London. Underwoods suggested the group might like to acquire it, but the chain's profit forecast proved unsatisfactory and the proposal was rejected. The group acquired Charlie Browns, however, a chain of 42 car parts sales and fitting centers in northern England, for £19.2 million. At the end of March the group made a successful bid of £256.9 million for Superdrug plc, a discount chain of 297 drugstores. The company had been established in 1966 by brothers Peter and Ronald Goldstein. In January 1988 the group acquired Ultimate, a chain of 94 electrical retailing outlets, from Harris Queensway for £6.3 million. Ultimate was integrated into Comet.

KEY DATES

1969:
Richard Block and David Quayle open a do-it-yourself (DIY) store called Block & Quayle (soon shortened to B&Q) in Southampton, England; Christian Dubois opens a large-format home improvement and hardware store (initially called Central-Castor but soon renamed Castorama) in France in the Lille suburb of Englos.
1980:
F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. acquires B&Q.
1982:
Woolworth is purchased by a syndicate of institutional investors through a takeover vehicle called Paternoster Stores plc, which soon changes its name to Woolworth Holdings plc.
1984:
Woolworth Holdings enters electrical goods retailing through purchase of Comet.
1987:
Company acquires the drugstore chain Super-drug plc.
1988:
Castorama opens its first store outside France, in Milan, Italy.
1989:
Woolworth Holdings is renamed Kingfisher plc.
1993:
Kingfisher acquires French electrical goods retailer Le Groupe Darty.
1995:
B&Q opens its first larger-format Warehouse store.
1996:
First non-U.K. B&Q store opens in Taiwan.
1998:
Kingfisher acquires majority control of both German electrical goods retailer ProMarkt Holding GmbH and the French electrical retailer BUT S.A.; B&Q is merged into Castorama, with Kingfisher receiving a 54.6 percent stake in Castorama in return.
1999:
B&Q opens its first store in China and acquires Screwfix Direct Limited.
2001:
Kingfisher divests Superdrug and spins off its remaining general merchandise operations, including the Woolworths chain, as Woolworths Group plc; a 12.5 percent stake in German DIY chain Hornbach Holding AG is acquired.
2002:
Kingfisher gains full control of Castorama.
2003:
ProMarkt is sold and the rest of Kingfisher's electrical goods operations are spun off as Kesa Electricals plc, leaving Kingfisher fully focused on DIY retailing.

That same month the group launched a successful takeover bid of £13 million for Tip Top Drugstores plc, a chain of 110 drugstores. These were integrated into the 339-store Superdrug chain. Tip Top's strength lay in northern England and Scotland, while Superdrug's lay in southeast England. In February the group launched another successful bid of £32 million for Share Drug plc, a chain of 145 drugstores that was also integrated into Superdrug, strengthening its position in southern England. Also in 1988, Woolworth Properties, the group's property holding and development arm, was renamed Chartwell Land plc.

BECOMING KINGFISHER
PLC: 1989

On March 17, 1989, the group was renamed Kingfisher plc. The purpose of the new name was to emphasize how much the group had changed since it was purchased from its U.S. parent in 1982. In October Kingfisher acquired the Laskys chain of 58 electrical goods shops for £3.6 million. Kingfisher claimed that, by taking on £5.3 million of bank debt from Granada PLC, the shops would be integrated with Comet's 308 shops. In fact, most of them were closed after they had been operating under the Comet name for only a few months. In November 1989 Kingfisher acquired the Medicare chain of 86 drug stores from Isosceles for about £5 million. About a third were closed and the remainder was integrated with Superdrug. As for B&Q, that chain had been expanded steadily during the decade, reaching 280 stores by the end of 1989, at which time it held 7 percent of the repair, maintenance, and improvement retailing market in the United Kingdom. In addition, the range of products carried continued to widen, and the stores themselves were growing larger.

In December 1989 Kingfisher launched a hostile £568 million takeover bid for Dixons. In January 1990 the bid was referred by the British government to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) because "there are possible effects on competition in the U.K. market for the retail of electrical goods." The bid was blocked by the Trade and Industry Secretary at the end of May following the publication of the MMC's report, which had recommended that the merger not be permitted. Also in early 1990, Geoffrey Mulcahy was named chairman of Kingfisher.

HIGHLY ACQUISITIVE DECADE

During the 1990s Kingfisher made a number of acquisitions, in the process becoming a much more diversified retailer and building an enlarged presence in continental Europe. Its first major move of the decade, however, was to grow organically through the launch of a new retail concept, Music and Video Club (MVC), which specialized in such home entertainment staples as music CDs and cassettes, prerecorded videos, and multimedia products; by 1996 there were 34 MVCs in the United Kingdom. Next, Kingfisher made a short-lived move into the office supply superstore arena. In early 1993 Kingfisher entered into a joint venture with Framingham, Massachusetts-based Staples, Inc. to form Staples UK; by late 1996 the venture had opened 34 Staples stores in the United Kingdom. In late 1993 Kingfisher spent £7.9 million to acquire a 33 percent stake in Maxi-Papier-Markt, a German office superstore chain. In late 1996 the company sold its stakes in both Staples UK and Maxi-Papier, both of which were losing money, to Staples, Inc. for £29.4 million, a move designed to enable Kingfisher to concentrate on its core areas.

A successful and burgeoning area for the company in the 1990s was that of electrical goods retailing. With Comet in the fold, Kingfisher set its sights on the Continent. In 1993 the company acquired Le Groupe Darty of France; Darty held the top spot among electrical retailers in France. In 1996 Kingfisher spent £84.2 million to acquire a 26 percent interest in BUT S.A., the fourth largest electrical retailer in France. Discussions in late 1997 regarding a complete takeover of BUT led nowhere. In the meantime, Kingfisher bolstered its Comet unit through the purchase of NORWEB Retail, a division of NORWEB plc, with about 80 stores subsequently integrated into Comet. The company also gained electrical retail chains in Belgium (New Vanden Borre, with 19 stores) in late 1996 and in the Netherlands (BCC, with 17 stores) in mid-1997.

In mid-1998 Kingfisher paid about £50 million ($83.3 million) for a 60 percent stake in two German retailers, ProMarkt Holding GmbH and Wegert Verwaltungs-GmbH and Co. Beteiligungs-KG, whose businesses were then merged. Together, the companies ran 53 ProMarkt electrical stores, 108 smaller photographic equipment and film processing services outlets, and 11 units selling CDs and other entertainment items. Later in 1998 Kingfisher gained majority control of BUT, and by the end of 1999 held more than 98 percent of the French firm's stock. Kingfisher spent an additional £221.2 million to increase its stake.

In general, the 1990s were a period of increasing sales and profitability. For the 1995 fiscal year, however, Kingfisher's profits dropped significantly, in large part because of sharp falls in profits at both Woolworths and Comet. As a result Alan Smith, who had been brought in as chief executive from Marks & Spencer two years earlier, was ousted in early 1995 and Mulcahy was demoted from chairman to chief executive (Smith and Mulcahy had reportedly clashed over how the company should be managed). By early 1996 John Banham had stepped into the chairmanship, having previously served as director general of the Confederacy of British Industry. Meanwhile, in April 1995 Kingfisher sold the Charlie Browns auto repair and parts chain, considered "non-core," to Montinex for £19 million.

By 1998 the company had turned around the Woolworths and Comet chains primarily by restoring their price competitiveness and resolving distribution and systems troubles. For the year, Kingfisher achieved record sales of £6.41 billion ($10.73 billion), an increase of 10.2 percent over 1997, and profit before tax and exceptional items of £505.5 million ($846.3 million), an increase of 29.5 percent. B&Q had particularly impressive results, including a 12.6 percent in same-store sales. B&Q's stellar performance was aided by the adoption of a two-format strategy with the launch of large-format B&Q Warehouses, the first of which opened in Aberdeen in 1995 (the original-format stores were known as B&Q Supercentres). B&Q outlets also began opening for business on Sundays, and the first B&Q store located outside the United Kingdom opened in Taiwan in January 1996 through a joint venture.

1998 MERGER OF B&Q AND
CASTORAMA

In November 1998 Kingfisher spent £46.8 million to acquire music and video publisher VCI plc. That same month, the company gained majority control of NOMI S.A., one of the largest DIY retailers in Poland. This marked the retail conglomerate's first move into Eastern Europe. A transaction of even greater significance for the DIY operations was completed the following month. B&Q was merged into the leading DIY retailer in France, Castorama Dubois Investissements S.C.A., and in return Kingfisher gained a 54.6 percent stake in Castorama.

Coincidentally, Castorama traced its origins back to the same year that B&Q was founded, 1969. That year, Christian Dubois, inspired by the so-called category-killer warehouse-style specialty store then emerging in the United States, opened a large-format home improvement and hardware store in a shopping mall in the Lille suburb of Englos. The store, called Central-Castor (castor meaning "beaver" in French) but soon renamed Castorama, measured about 54,000 square feet. Additional stores were opened in the Lille area in the early 1970s, followed by a national expansion that begin with the first Paris area outlet, which opened in 1975. By 1979 Castorama had grown through both organic expansion and acquisition into a 35-store chain boasting annual sales of FRF 1.2 billion. The company had also started developing a network of building supply wholesale warehouses, under the Dubois Matériaux name.

Funding for Castorama's growth was engineered via a series of transactions: the 1978 purchase by hypermarket retailer Carrefour of a 45 percent stake in Castorama, the 1982 listing of the company's stock over-the-counter on the Lille stock exchange, and the 1988 shift to a full listing on the Lille exchange. In 1987 the company began transitioning to a larger store format, ranging from 85,000 to more than 100,000 square feet, with some stores carrying up to 50,000 products. Around this same time, the stores began selling private-label products carrying the Castorama name. In 1988 Carrefour's stake in Castorama was reduced to just 6 percent. Castorama that same year ventured outside France for the first time, opening a store in Milan, Italy. By the end of the 1980s the company was the clear leader of the French home improvement retailing sector, operating 86 Castorama stores and six Dubois Matériaux outlets and boasting revenues of nearly FRF 7.5 million.

In the early 1990s, by which time the average Castorama store spanned nearly 80,000 square feet, the chain expanded through the acquisition of several competing chains, including Obi, Briker, and Bricorama. Castorama had been forced to pursue this route to growth because of a new law that had been passed that placed several restrictions on new store developments, particularly in urban areas. Another approach the firm took to further expansion was to add a new building materials concept in France, under the Brico Dépôt banner, geared toward supplying professional and, especially, construction site needs. However, Castorama looked beyond the French border for its main expansion thrust. The company expanded its presence in Italy to nine stores by 1998. It entered the German market in 1992 and had seven outlets there by 1998. The first Castoramas also opened in Belgium in 1994, in Brazil in 1995, and in Poland in 1997. The company also ventured into North America, where an acquisition brought a new name into the fold. In April 1997 Castorama purchased the nine-store Reno-Dépôt chain in Quebec. The average Reno-Dépôt covered a sprawling 130,000 square feet. Two more Reno-Dépôts opened for business in 1998.

At the time of the merger of B&Q and Castorama, Castorama was in the process of instituting a new 130,000-square-foot format of its own. There were a total of 139 Castoramas in operation in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Poland, and Brazil, along with 25 Brico Dépôts and seven Dubois Matériaux outlets in France and 11 Reno-Dépôts in Quebec. The company's revenues had reached FRF 21.1 billion ($3.64 billion). The combination of B&Q and Castorama comprised the largest DIY retailer in Europe and the third largest in the world.

In 1999 this DIY juggernaut expanded further. B&Q entered the Chinese market, opening a 70,000-square-foot emporium in Shanghai. B&Q also acquired Dickens Limited, an operator of five home and garden centers in northeastern England, for £41 million. In July 1999 B&Q acquired Screwfix Direct Limited, a U.K.-based mail-order and e-commerce supplier of building, plumbing, and electrical products, for £83.7 million. In addition, Kingfisher increased its stake in NOMI to 75 percent.

In April 1999 Kingfisher reached an agreement on a £6 billion merger with the U.K. supermarket chain ASDA Group plc. However, U.S. retailing behemoth Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. swooped in to trump Kingfisher's bid and acquire ASDA in its first move into the U.K. market. Wal-Mart's coup prevented Kingfisher from pursuing the development of hypermarkets combining a large food section with electrical goods and general merchandise lines.

NARROWING FOCUS TO HOME
IMPROVEMENT RETAILING

Acquisitions in 2000 included the Belgian electrical goods retailer Hugo Van Praag, the 40 percent of Pro-Markt Holding not already owned, a 60 percent stake in Czech electrical goods retailer Datart International A.S., and an 85 percent stake in Streets Online, a U.K.-based online retailer of entertainment products. Kingfisher also entered into a joint venture in Turkey with Koç Group to operate the five-store home improvement chain Koçtaş. In addition, the company launched e-Kingfisher, a division dedicated to e-commerce. The biggest news of the year, however, came in September when Kingfisher announced its intention to demerge its general merchandise arm, including both Woolworths and Superdrug, in order to concentrate on home improvement and electrical goods retailing. By this time, Woolworths' fortunes had headed south once again as its sales of general merchandise suffered from intensifying competition from U.K. supermarket chains in the process of expanding their nonfood offerings. The poor performance of the Woolworths stores was acting as a drag on Kingfisher's stock price, particularly since the defeat of the planned merger with ASDA.

After entering into discussions with various parties about selling both Superdrug and Woolworths, King-fisher ended up selling Superdrug to the Dutch health and beauty group Kruidvat Beheer B.V. in July 2001. One month later, Kingfisher spun its remaining general merchandise operations off to its shareholders, forming the publicly traded Woolworths Group plc. Woolworths Group included not only the Woolworths chain but also several Kingfisher entertainment properties, including MVC, EUK, VCI, and Streets Online. Almost immediately, Kingfisher moved ahead with a further expansion of its DIY retailing holdings. In November 2001 the company purchased a 12.5 percent stake in Hornbach Holding AG, a family-controlled group that operated the third largest DIY chain in Germany, specializing in warehouse-style stores of roughly 100,000 square feet, similar in size to the B&Q outlets. One month later, Francis Mackay, former chief executive and still chairman of Compass Group plc, replaced Banham as nonexecutive chairman. Although Kingfisher's DIY operations showed an increase in operating profits for the fiscal year ending in January 2002, the group as a whole suffered a net loss of £128 million ($181 million) thanks to a number of special charges incurred that year, including a £342.5 million loss taken upon the disposal of Superdrug.

In May 2002 Kingfisher announced its intention to further narrow the group's focus by taking full control of Castorama and demerging its electrical goods business. In July the company raised £2 billion through a rights issue that was the largest in U.K. history, with the proceeds used to partially fund a £3.2 billion buyout of nearly all of Castorama shares not already owned by Kingfisher. Having full management control of both Castorama and B&Q provided Kingfisher with greater authority to make changes needed to move the DIY operations forward, particularly Castorama, whose performance had been disappointing. Also in 2002, Kingfisher spent £36.2 million to increase its stake in Hornbach Holding to 21.2 percent. In the fall, Mulcahy ended his long, deal-filled, and transformative reign at Kingfisher by resigning from the board.

In February 2003 Gerry Murphy joined Kingfisher as the new CEO. He had previously headed the media group Carlton Communications plc (later ITV plc). Also in February 2003, in a prelude to the spinoff of the electrical operations, Kingfisher sold ProMarkt, its loss-making German electrical goods retailer, to that company's founders. Kingfisher recorded a loss of £193.6 million in connection with the sale. Then in July 2003 the company spun off the rest of its electrical goods businesses, including Comet, Darty, and BUT, to shareholders to form the new publicly traded company Kesa Electrical plc. Focused solely on home improvement retailing, the newly slimmed-down Kingfisher sharpened its focus further in 2003 by divesting a number of its more peripheral operations. Having concluded that it would be best to concentrate its resources on Europe and Asia, Kingfisher sold Reno-Dépôt in Canada and the Castorama business in Brazil. The loss-making Castorama operations in Germany were shut down in deference to the company's strategic alliance with Hornbach, and NOMI was sold as Kingfisher placed its bets on the Castorama business in Poland. Kingfisher also sold off the Dubois Matériaux chain in France and shut down its Castorama stores in Belgium. In the meantime, B&Q continued the steady rollout of its Warehouse format in the United Kingdom as the 100th B&Q Warehouse opened in August 2003 in Northern Ireland. The following July B&Q opened its largest store yet, a giant site at Trafford Park encompassing more than 168,000 square feet.

In 2005 Kingfisher struggled in the face of a sudden downturn in consumer spending in the United Kingdom. As same-store sales fell 2.2 percent during the fiscal year ending in January 2006, the company launched an initiative to reduce costs at B&Q by £200 million. The firm also shifted strategy in relation to future development of new B&Q stores, electing to concentrate on remodeling existing stores and opening new stores using a new mini-Warehouse format that operated on a lower cost basis while delivering higher returns. In addition, B&Q's management team was overhauled in the summer of 2005, led by a new chief executive, Ian Cheshire. Late in the year, Kingfisher began testing a new format in the United Kingdom called Trade Depot, which was patterned somewhat after the Brico Dépôt stores in France but with a smaller number of product lines. In May 2006 Peter Jackson succeeded Mackay as nonexecutive chairman of King-fisher, having served as chief executive of Associated British Foods plc.

In Asia, meanwhile, the first B&Q store in South Korea opened in June 2005, and that same month Kingfisher acquired OBI Asia Holdings Limited, operator of 13 OBI stores in China, for £143.5 million. The OBI stores were subsequently rebranded under the B&Q banner, bringing the chain's total in China to 48. King-fisher was also in the process of expanding the Brico Dépôt chain into Spain, and in February 2006 Castorama opened its first store in Russia. In July 2006, however, Murphy announced that plans to open DIY chains in such new markets as Thailand, India, and Malaysia had been put on hold as Kingfisher focused on turning around the B&Q chain at home. The company earmarked £200 million for a three-year refurbishment program to overhaul its 110 B&Q Warehouse outlets, improve customer service, and introduce higher-end household goods. One key change was a shift from a strict DIY format to one offering customers a more complete home improvement package, including additional space allocated to displaying products in more of a showroom setting and a nationwide rollout of an installation service called "Hire a Handyman."

Richard Hawkins;

M. L. Cohen

Updated, David E. Salamie

PRINCIPAL SUBSIDIARIES

B&Q Asia Holdings Ltd. (Hong Kong); B&Q (China) B.V. (Netherlands); B&Q Ireland Limited; B&Q Korea Limited; B&Q plc; B&Q Properties Limited; Castorama Dubois Investissements S.C.A. (France); Castorama Holding S.A. (France); Castorama France S.A.S.; Immobilière Castorama S.A.S. (France); Castorama Italia S.P.A. (Italy); Castorama RUS LLC (Russia); Castorama Polska Sp.z.o.o. (Poland); Eurodépôt S.A. (France); Brico Dépôt S.A.S. (France); Eurodépôt Immobilier S.A.S. (France); Euro Depot España S.A. (Spain); Halcyon Finance Ltd; Screwfix Direct Limited; Kingfisher TMB Limited.

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

Homebase Limited; Focus (DIY) Limited; Wilkinson Hardware Stores Ltd.; Travis Perkins plc.; Compagnie de Saint-Gobain; Praktiker Bauund Heimwerkermärkte AG; Tengelmann Warenhandelsgesellschaft KG.

FURTHER READING

Benoit, Bertrand, and Susanna Voyle, "Mulcahy Spins an Ever More Tangled Web," Financial Times, November 28, 2001, p. 31.

Bickerton, Ian, and Susanna Voyle, "Kingfisher Finds Superdrug Buyer," Financial Times, July 4, 2001, p. 19.

Buckley, Neil, "Banham to Head Kingfisher," Financial Times, October 16, 1995, p. 24.

, "Kingfisher Aims to Correct Mistakes," Financial Times, March 15, 1995, p. 27.

, "Kingfisher Moves into Office Supplies Stores," Financial Times, December 21, 1993, p. 18.

, "Kingfisher Sets Out Agenda," Financial Times, May 6, 1995, p. 10.

, "Kingfisher Turns the Corner," Financial Times, January 18, 1996, p. 25.

, "Kingfisher Vows to Set Things Right," Financial Times, March 15, 1995, p. 25.

, "Potential Cost of Selling It Cheap Every Day," Financial Times, March 24, 1994, p. 17.

Buckley, Neil, and Betty Liu, "Home Depot Spurns Kingfisher," Financial Times, May 10, 2004, p. 21.

Caulfield, John, "B&Q," Home Channel News, March 22, 1999.

Caulkin, Simon, "The New Worth in Woolworth," Management Today, March 1987, pp. 46 +.

Hollinger, Peggy, "Kingfisher and Asda Poised for £19bn Merger," Financial Times, April 17, 1999, p. 1.

, "Kingfisher to Invest £750m in DIY," Financial Times, October 26, 1998, p. 1.

, "Kingfisher to Merge B&Q with Castorama," Financial Times, September 26, 1998, p. 22.

Hollinger, Peggy, and Andrew Jack, "Kingfisher Halts Talks on Bid for Retailer," Financial Times, October 13, 1997, p. 27.

The Monopolies and Mergers Commission, "Kingfisher Plc and Dixons Group Plc: A Report on the Proposed Merger," London: HMSO, 1990.

Mulcahy, Geoffrey, "Woolworth Holdings," in Turn-around: How Twenty Well-Known Companies Came Back from the Brink, edited by Rebecca Nelson and David Clutterbuck, London: Mercury, 1988.

Oram, Roderick, "Kingfisher Ousts Top Executives," Financial Times, January 28, 1995, p. 1.

, "Kingfisher's Challenge," Financial Times, February 4, 1995, p. 14.

, "Victim in Struggle to Evolve," Financial Times, January 28, 1995, p. 7.

Rigby, Elizabeth, "B&Q Weighs Down Kingfisher," Financial Times, March 22, 2006, p. 19.

, "Kingfisher Plans B&Q Facelift," Financial Times, July 24, 2006, p. 17.

Robinson, Elizabeth, "Kingfisher Chief Still Ready for the Fight: Mulcahy Is Unfazed by Asda's Marriage with Wal-Mart," Financial Times, July 17, 1999, p. 21.

Smith, Alison, "Clearing the Decks at Kingfisher," Financial Times, February 1, 2003, p. 16.

Smith, Peter, "Kingfisher Wins £3.2bn Battle for Castorama," Financial Times, July 8, 2002, p. 21.

Thornhill, John, "Retailers Must Save Themselves," Financial Times, October 17, 1992, p. 13.

Travers, Nicolas, "Darning the Holes in Woolies," Director, June 1987, pp. 4851.

Urquhart, Lisa, "Kingfisher Sells ProMarkt Chain," Financial Times, January 18, 2003, p. 12.

Urry, Maggie, and Alice Rawsthorn, "Retail Monarchs in Search of Global Empires," Financial Times, February 5, 1993, p. 15.

Voyle, Susanna, "No Fanfare for Farewell Flight from Kingfisher," Financial Times, October 31, 2002, p. 26.

, "Now DIY Stands for Dismantle It Yourself," Financial Times, September 16, 2000, p. 18.

, "Outsider Who Now Has an Inside View," Financial Times, April 28, 2004, p. 23.

Ward, Andrew, "Home Depot Rules Out the Prospect of Kingfisher Bid," Financial Times, September 8, 2006, p. 26.

Whatley, Garrod, "Lighting-Up Time at Woolies," Chief Executive (London), December 1986, pp. 16 +.

Wright, Robert, "Kingfisher Surprises with Upturn," Financial Times, March 19, 1998, p. 26.

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Kingfisher plc

Kingfisher plc

North West House
119 Marylebone Road
London NW1 5PX
United Kingdom
(0171)724 7749
Fax: (0171) 724 1160
Web site:http://www.kingfisher.co.uk

Public Company
Incorporated: 1909 as F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd.
Employees: 77,436
Sales: £6.41 billion (US $10.73 billion) (1998)
Stock Exchanges: London Paris
Ticker Symbol: KNGFY

SICs: 5251 Hardware Stores; 5261 Retail Nurseries, Lawn & Garden Supply Stores; 5331 Variety Stores; 5712 Furniture Stores; 5722 Household Appliance Stores; 5731 Radio, Television & Consumer Electronic Stores; 5735 Record & Prerecorded Tape Stores; 5912 Drug Stores & Proprietary Stores; 6552 Land Subdividers & Developers, Except Cemeteries; 6719 Offices of Holding Companies, Not Elsewhere Classified

Based in London, Kingfisher pic is a major European retailing and property group. Its U.K. retail chains include Wool-worths, a variety chain of 781 shops; B&Q, a chain of 280 do-it-yourself (DIY) centers; Superdrug, a chain of 705 drug stores; and Comet, a chain of 224 electrical stores. Foreign chains owned by Kingfisher include three retailers of electrical goods: 150-unit Darty, Frances leading electrical retailer; New Vanden Borre, with 19 units in Belgium; and BCC, with 17 stores in the Netherlands. Kingfisher also holds a 60 percent stake in Promarkt, an electrical retailer in Germany, and a 26 percent stake in BUT, the fourth largest electrical retailer in France. Two smaller U.K. businesses round out the companys retailing operations: Music and Video Club (MVC), a 34-unit chain selling music CDs and cassettes, pre-recorded videos, and multimedia items; and Entertainment UK, a leading distributor of music CDs and cassettes, pre-recorded videos, video games, CD-ROM computer software, and books. Kingfishers Chartwell Land pic unit is a property company that started by redeveloping the Woolworth properties and has diversified into redeveloping properties of other companies both in and outside of the group and also manages an investment portfolio.

Woolworth Beginnings

Kingfisher originated as a subsidiary of F.W. Woolworth & Co. of the United States. The American company was founded in 1879. The companys founder, Frank Winfield Woolworth, identified the potential for a walk-around open display type of shop in Britain during his first visit to Europe in 1890. He observed that the [London] stores ... are very small and are called shops and not much like our fine stores. I think a good [threepenny and sixpenny] store run by a live Yankee would create a sensation here, but perhaps not. In 1909 he decided to found a subsidiary in Britain even though his chief executives thought that it would be unsuccessful. On July 23, 1909, the subsidiary was incorporated in England as a private limited company, F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd., with a share capital of £50,250. In 1912 the share capital was increased to £100,000. After this time the entire increase in assets was built up from earnings and there was no further increase in capitalization. Between 1909 and 1919 the American shareholders received no dividends at all and for the following six years dividends were paltry. This was not for lack of profits but because the shareholders wanted to build up the reserves of the company so that it was always in a position to expand without recourse to borrowing.

The first shop opened at 25 and 25a Church Street, Liverpool, on November 5, 1909. The Draper described it as a penny, threepenny, and sixpenny bazaar on a large scale. In each of the four large salesrooms there are wide counters, extending the full length of the hall, and on these are placed mahogany trays containing the articles for disposal.... The public, we are told, are privileged to wander round the immense establishment without being importuned to buy. During the first two days of business 60,000 people visited the shop. Following steady business improvement, Woolworth opened a second shop in Preston and properties were also obtained in Manchester, Leeds, and Hull. In 1910 a third shop was opened, on London Road, Liverpool. The premises were obtained from Owen Owen, a department store owner, who told Woolworth that he had no idea that the bazaar business could be elevated to such a high standard. On the opening of the third shop there was a riot. The riot made the management wary. When the sixth shop opened in Hull later in 1910, crowd barriers were put in place to stem the anticipated rush of customers. By the end of 1910 the company was operating ten shops, with another two in preparation.

The same business methods that had worked so well in the United States were adopted in Britain. Everything carried a plain price tag, and the prices were one old penny (£0.004), three old pence (£0.0125), and six old pence (£0.025). Supplies were bought directly from manufacturers. As in the United States, Woolworth had difficulty at first in Britain in persuading manufacturers to deal with him directly. Like the U.S. manufacturers, however, the British manufacturers who agreed to supply Woolworth directly soon found they had made the correct decision. Many of these suppliers also grew with Woolworth from small beginnings. A notable example was Duttons Ltd. When the first shop was opened in Liverpool, Duttons received its first Woolworth order. Subsequently, Duttons set out solely to service Woolworth with all types of price tickets, advertising, and printed matter. By the early 1960s Duttons was also responsible for the supply of many items of stationery to the majority of Woolworths suppliers.

The Woolworth method of retailing moved from strength to strength. By 1912 the chain had expanded to 28 shops, 26 of which were managed by Britons. The years net profits were more than US $100,000. In 1914 Woolworth opened its 31st shop, in Grafton Street, Dublin. This was the first Woolworth shop in Ireland. After the creation of the Irish Republic, Wool-worth established a separate Irish subsidiary, F.W. Woolworth Company of Ireland, Ltd. When World War I began, women store managers took the places of the men who joined the armed forces. When suitable women could not be found, men were drafted from the parent company in the United States. After the war, the British subsidiary was ready for major expansion. The man who was to be principally responsible for the expansion was William L. Stephenson.

Floated As British Public Company in 1931

Frank Woolworth met Stephenson through Edward Owen of Birmingham, a buyer for Wanamaker and other American shops. Stephenson was Owens assistant. Stephenson started work at the company in September 1909, at the express invitation of Frank Woolworth, even before the first shop had been opened. Stephenson succeeded Fred M. Woolworth, a cousin of Frank, as managing director of the British subsidiary when Fred died in 1923, becoming chairman in 1931 when Woolworth was floated as a British public company and the U.S. parent corporations interest in its subsidiary was reduced from 62 percent to 52.7 percent of the ordinary shares. Shortly before the flotation, F.W. Woolworth Company of Ireland, Ltd. was voluntarily liquidated and its two shops in Dublin and one each in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, and Kilkenny were incorporated into the British company. The flotation of the chain of 444 shops was underwritten by N.M. Rothschild & Sons. As a result of the companys excellent track record, the Woolworth flotation was a success, despite taking place in the depths of the Great Depression. Since its foundation in 1909 its turnover and profits had never failed to rise from one year to the next, and continued to do so each year until the early part of World War II.

An important change made by Stephenson was to buy properties for his shops instead of taking leases (Stephensons property investments would later make a major contribution to the revival of Woolworths successor, Kingfisher, during the 1980s). Under Stephensons management Woolworth was soon opening shops in Britain at the rate of at least one every fortnight. This remarkable rate of growth was maintained until the early part of World War II. By the late 1930s each shop returned an operating profit two or three times as large as its U.S. counterpart. In 1939, when World War II began, there were 759 British Woolworth shops and nine more under construction.

World War I had brought difficulties to Woolworth but they had been surmounted. From 1914 to 1918 the number of British shops rose from 44 to 81. World War II was different. The expansion program ceased. Furthermore, 23 shops were destroyed and 352 were damaged by enemy action. The companys Channel Island shops in Guernsey and Jersey were placed under German administration from July 1940. In both wars, many of Woolworths staff joined the armed forces and many did not return. In World War II, however, many who stayed in Wool worths service were killed by enemy action. In November 1944, a single V2 rocket destroyed the shop at New Cross, London. In this second worst air raid of the war, 160 people in the shop were killed, including the manager and 18 members of her staff, and an additional 108 people were seriously injured.

Company Perspectives

Our objective is to deliver consistent and superior returns to our shareholders by being one of Europes most profitable volume retailers.

Our strategy is to achieve this by concentrating on markets centered on the home and family, which we know and understand, and developing strong retail brands with leading positions in our markets. Our growth will be driven by a commitment to continuously evolve the offers we make to meet the changing needs and aspirations of our customers more effectively than our competitors.

In 1948 Stephenson retired as chairman of Woolworth. In the early postwar period, it was some time before material losses could be made good. It was not until the latter part of 1956 that the last blitzed shop was reopened. There had been 768 shops in operation in 1940. By 1950 there were still only 762, but from the end of 1951 the expansion program was resumed.

Postwar Expansion at Home and Abroad

In 1954 Wool worth began a new program of expansion into the British Commonwealth with the establishment of a subsidiary in the British West Indies. On November 4, 1954, the companys first store in the West Indies was opened in Kingston, Jamaica. In November 1955 a second West Indian store was opened in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In October 1956 a third shop was opened in Bridgetown, Barbados. Between mid-1958 and the end of 1973 the West Indian subsidiary was expanded to more than a dozen shops located in Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados. Woolworth also established a subsidiary in southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, at the end of the 1950s. A shop was opened on March 18, 1959, in the capital, Salisbury. On November 10, 1960, a second shop was opened in Bulawayo. In early 1974 a subsidiary was established in Cyprus and a shop was opened in Nicosia.

Meanwhile, the number of shops in the British Isles also expanded rapidly. The 1,000th shop was opened in Portslade, Hove, Sussex, in May 1958. A peak of 1,141 shops was reached in the late 1960s. With the widening range of merchandise stocked by Woolworth there had to be a wider range of prices. Inflation resulted in the end of the three old pence and six old pence price limits during World War II. In the early postwar period Woolworth pioneered the development of self-service in the variety part of the retail sector. In 1955 Woolworth opened its first British self-service shop in the small village of Cobham, Surrey, modeled on the experience in America. Customers could, if they so desired, collect a wire basket at the shop entrance in which to place their purchases, and payment was made at one of three or four cash desks at the exit, eliminating the need to pay separately at each department visited, as in the traditional shops. The first completely self-service Woolworth shop was opened at Didcot near Oxford in September 1956. By the early 1970s Woolworth had more than 190 purely self-service shops in operation, some of them large by British standards, selling a full variety shop range.

In October 1966 Woolworth founded a new division, the Woolco Department Stores. The division was to oversee the creation of a national chain of up to 20 out-of-town department stores that were to operate independently and in addition to the traditional shops. The stores contained a full range of quality merchandise at competitive prices, including clothes, domestic appliances, toys, groceries, confectionery, car service, and restaurants. The new stores were modeled on the parent companys Woolco stores in U.S. and Canadian suburban shopping centers, which had been in operation since 1962. The first British Woolco was opened in October 1967 at Oadby, Leicester. Oadby provided free parking for about 750 cars away from the congestion of the city center. Between 1969 and 1977 an additional 13 Woolco stores were opened. In 1977, however, Wool-worth began to reassess the value of the Woolco division to the company. In December it sold its Woolco store at Kirkby and a hypermarket site with planning permission in Blackpool.

Began Period of Decline in Late 1960s

In the late 1960s profits began to fall at Woolworth. A visible sign of trouble came in 1968, when Woolworth lost its place as Britains leading retailer and Marks & Spencer overtook it in both sales and profits. Despite a modernization program, Woolworth still possessed a number of small and poorly located branches with an extremely low rate of turnover and profitability. These branches detracted from the improved performance of the larger units. Furthermore, the Woolco stores were still in the development stage. The results announced in January 1970 were the worst since 1962.

During the late 1960s the companys modernization program had been extended to include the enlargement of the companys shops in the major British towns and cities. Two that were opened after extensions in 1968, in Wolverhampton and Ipswich, became the largest in area in Britain. The largest of all, in Wolverhampton, had a shopping area of 70,000 square feet with 1.25 miles of counters. The Aylesbury store, which opened in the jubilee week of the company, on November 7, 1969, became the second largest shop, with an area of 69,000 square feet. In the early 1970s major extensions and modernizations took place at Basingstoke, Brent-wood, Hartlepool, Brighton, Leith, Liverpool, Manchester, and Wrexham. These shops included extended male, female, and childrens clothing departments; fitting rooms; sports departments; music and record departments; and extended hardware and household departments. They also had extensive food departments and restaurants.

In 1971, with profits still falling, Woolworth began a new cash-and-wrap policy and began to convert 777 shops from conventional behind-the-counter service to a system of centralized payment points in each shop where goods could be paid for and wrapped, thus increasing the speed of service. At the same time the company closed 23 of its unprofitable shops and attempted to trade up and lose its reputation as a purveyor of cheap goods. Nonetheless, the consumer boom of the early 1970s appeared to have passed Woolworth by. Woolworths profits failed to recover very strongly, in part as a result of the heavy costs of its shop modernization program in the early 1970s and prolonged start-up problems with a new distribution center at Swindon that had been opened in July 1972.

Despite its stated intention to stop selling cheap goods, in 1973 Woolworth decided to open a chain of catalogue discount shops. The new chain, Shoppers World, was launched in Leeds in September 1974 and initially consisted of 15 shops in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds. After considerable initial success, the chain also opened an outlet in London in September 1975. Nonetheless, profits continued to stagnate in the mid-1970s. Although the company showed a determination to change with the times, one of its weaknesses was the poor quality of its customer service. Staff turnover was high and this led to consumer dissatisfaction. Another weakness derived from the expansion in the British Isles during the 1950s. Many of the sites chosen were in secondary locations unsuitable for chain stores. An even more serious weakness was that it launched itself into new products in the wrong way. The success of the new products depended on a well-trained staff, first-rate service, and a more polished consumer image than Woolworth had acquired by the mid-1970s. In the late 1970s, however, the performance of the company began to improve. In 1978 the company lifted itself clear of a ten-year profit trough.

Acquired B&Q DIY Chain in 1980

During the late 1970s there was a major change of emphasis in Woolworth away from food into furniture, clothing, do-it-yourself (DIY), and other durable items. In August 1980, in its first ever takeover bid, Woolworth paid £16.7 million for a Southhampton-based chain of more than 40 DIY centers, B&Q (Retail). In October 1981 Woolworth acquired the Dodge City chain of 32 DIY centers for £20.1 million. The centers were complementary to B&Qs 49 existing centers.

Despite the recovery in profits in the late 1970s, Woolworth had still not solved its problems. In 1981, having supposedly repositioned itself upmarket, Woolworth cut prices on 800 of its lines. In addition, Woolworth began to sell off some of its valuable prime town center properties to stem the losses these large shops were making. On balance this made sense, since though these properties were valuable they were also leviathans. The 1981 results, excluding property sales, showed after-tax profits down from £30.3 million to £22.5 million. The companys dividend was cut for the first time in its history. Not only were the shareholders dissatisfied, but also the customers and employees.

Taken Over by Paternoster in 1982

In September 1982 a syndicate of institutional investors led by the merchant bank Charterhouse Japhet launched a £310 million takeover bid for the British Woolworth through the specially created Paternoster Stores pic. Paternoster was led by Wolverhampton-born Chairman John Beckett. By November, more than 90 percent of the shareholders had accepted the syndicates bid and Paternosters name was changed to Wool-worth Holdings pic. As Paternoster did not have enough money to cover the whole of the bid, U.S. Woolworth temporarily retained a 12.7 percent share in the new company. The holding was sold almost immediately afterward.

Woolworth Holdings began to reorganize by removing the unprofitable parts of the business. Between late 1982 and 1991 the group sold about 200 of its unprofitable Woolworth shops in the United Kingdom, reducing the number to around 790. The group also sold all 18 of its shops in the Irish Republic in 1984. In April 1983 the Shoppers World chain of 45 shops was closed down. Later in 1985 the Woolworth shops in Cyprus were sold and between 1987 and 1990 all of the shops in the West Indies and Zimbabwe were also sold. On the other hand, B&Q, a profitable part of the business, was expanded, mostly through organic growth, with as many as 30 new stores a year. By January 1984 the companys pretax profits had risen from £6.1 million to £29.4 million. To emphasize that the change in the groups Woolworth shops was fundamental, their trading name was changed from F.W. Woolworth to Wool worths in March 1986. In May 1984 the company launched a successful bid for Comet, the electrical goods discount chain, for £128.9 million. During 1984 Woolworths Holdings profits nearly doubled. Profits came from the still-expanding B&Q, now with 153 centers, the newly acquired Comet, and the Woolworth shops disposal program.

In early 1986 Beckett retired as chairman of Woolworths Holdings, having successfully overseen the revival of the group. During 1986 the company was subject to an unsuccessful £1.75 billion hostile takeover bid from Dixons Group pic, the electronics retailer. During the takeover battle, the group sold its 12 Woolco superstores to Dee Corporation pic for £26 million. The Woolco sale fitted in with the groups Focus programlaunched in 1985of concentrating on a narrower range of merchandise: toys, gifts, confectionery, entertainment (including records and cassettes), home and garden accessories, kitchen accessories, kids clothes, and cosmetics. Food and adult clothing, which contributed 30 percent of sales, were completely abandoned. The Woolco stores, which had specialized in groceries and clothing, had been the first out-of-town food stores and could have become as successful as the Sains-bury superstores later became. The buyers in the old Woolworth were jealous of Woolcos initial success, however, and started cramming them with old-fashioned variety merchandise.

As part of Focus the company formed a joint venture with the Rosehaugh property group to redevelop five of its Woolworth shops by reducing the amount of space occupied by the shops. For example, the Wolverhampton shop was shrunk from three floors to one floor. In the opinion of the Financial Times, while it made good sense it was a humiliating climb-down. Also in 1986 came the acquisition of Record Merchandisers, which was later renamed Entertainment UK and which by the mid-1990s was a leading U.K. distributor of pre-recorded music and videos, computer software, and books.

In April 1987 the group was approached by Underwoods, a chain of 40 chemist and consumer goods shops in London. Underwoods suggested the group might like to acquire it, but the chains profit forecast proved unsatisfactory and the proposal was rejected. The group acquired Charlie Browns, however, a chain of 42 car parts sales and fitting centers in northern England, for £19.2 million. At the end of March the group made a successful bid of £256.9 million for Superdrug pic, a discount chain of 297 drugstores. The company had been established in 1966 by brothers Peter and Ronald Goldstein. In January 1988 the group acquired Ultimate, a chain of 94 electrical retailing outlets, from Harris Queensway for £6.3 million. Ultimate was integrated into Comet. In January 1988 the group launched a successful takeover bid of £13 million for Tip Top Drugstores pic, a chain of 110 drugstores. These were integrated into the 339-store Superdrug chain. Tip Tops strength lay in northern England and Scotland, while Superdrugs lay in southeast England. In February the group launched another successful bid of £32 million for Share Drug pic, a chain of 145 drugstores that was also integrated into Superdrug, strengthening its position in southern England. Also in 1988, Woolworth Propertiesthe groups property holding and development armwas renamed Chartwell Land plc.

Renamed Kingfisher plc in 1989

On March 17, 1989, the group was renamed Kingfisher pic. The purpose of the new name was to emphasize how much the group had changed since it was purchased from its U.S. parent in 1982. In October Kingfisher acquired the Laskys chain of 58 electrical goods shops for £3.6 million. Kingfisher claimed that, by taking on £5.3 million of bank debt from Granada PLC, the shops would be integrated with Comets 308 shops. In fact, most of them were closed after they had been operating under the Comet name for only a few months. In November 1989 Kingfisher acquired the Medicare chain of 86 drug stores from Isosceles for about £5 million. About a third were closed and the remainder was integrated with Superdrug.

In December 1989 Kingfisher launched a hostile £568 million takeover bid for Dixons. In January 1990 the bid was referred by the British government to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) because ... there are possible effects on competition in the UK market for the retail of electrical goods. The bid was blocked by the Trade and Industry Secretary at the end of May following the publication of the MMCs report, which had recommended that the merger not be permitted. Also in early 1990, Geoffrey Mulcahy was named chairman of Kingfisher.

Acquisitive 1990s

During the 1990s Kingfisher made a number of acquisitions, in the process becoming a much more diversified retailer and building an enlarged presence in continental Europe. Its first major move of the decade, however, was to grow organically through the launch of a new retail concept, Music and Video Club (MVC), which specialized in such home entertainment staples as music CDs and cassettes, prerecorded videos, and multimedia products; by 1996 there were 34 MVCs in the United Kingdom. Next, Kingfisher made a short-lived move into the office supply superstore arena. In early 1993 Kingfisher entered into a joint venture with Framingham, Massachusetts-based Staples, Inc. to form Staples UK; by late 1996 the venture had opened 34 Staples stores in the United Kingdom. In late 1993 Kingfisher spent £7.9 million to acquire a 33 percent stake in Maxi-Papier-Markt, a German office superstore chain. In late 1996 the company sold its stakes in both Staples UK and MaxiPapierboth of which were losing moneyto Staples, Inc. for £29.4 million, a move designed to enable Kingfisher to concentrate on its core areas.

A successful and burgeoning area for the company in the 1990s was that of electrical goods retailing. With Comet already in the fold, Kingfisher set its sights on the continent. In 1993 the company acquired Le Groupe Darty of France; Darty held the top spot among electrical retailers in France. In 1996 Kingfisher spent £84.2 million to acquire a 26 percent interest in BUT S.A., the fourth largest electrical retailer in France. Discussions in late 1997 regarding a complete takeover of BUT led nowhere. But in the meantime, Kingfisher bolstered its Comet unit through the purchase of NOR WEB Retail, a division of NOR WEB pic, with about 80 stores subsequently integrated into Comet. The company also gained electrical retail chains in Belgium (New Vanden Borre, with 19 stores) in late 1996 and in the Netherlands (BCC, with 17 stores) in mid-1997. In mid-1998 Kingfisher paid about £50 million (US $83.3 million) for a 60 percent stake in two German retailersPromarkt Holding GmbH (Holdings) and Wegert Verwaltungs-GmbH and Co. Beteiligungs-KGwhose businesses were then merged. Together, the companies ran 53 Promarkt electrical stores, 108 smaller photographic equipment and film processing services outlets, and 11 units selling CDs and other entertainment items.

In general, the 1990s were a period of increasing sales and profitability. For the 1995 fiscal year, however, Kingfishers profits dropped significantly, in large part due to sharp falls in profits at both Woolworths and Comet. As a result Alan Smith, who had been brought in as chief executive from Marks & Spencer two years earlier, was ousted in early 1995 and Mulcahy was demoted from chairman to chief executive (Smith and Mulcahy had reportedly clashed over how the company should be managed). By early 1996 John Banham had stepped into the chairmanship, having previously served as director general of the Confederacy of British Industry. Meanwhile, in April 1995 Kingfisher sold the Charlie Browns auto repair and parts chain, now considered noncore, to Montinex for £19 million.

By fiscal 1998 the company had turned around the Wool-worths and Comet chains primarily by restoring their price competitiveness and resolving distribution and systems troubles. For the year, Kingfisher achieved record sales of £6.41 billion (US $10.73 billion), an increase of 10.2 percent over 1997, and profit before tax and exceptional items of £505.5 million (US $846.3 million), an increase of 29.5 percent. B&Q had particularly impressive results, including a same-store sales increase of 12.6 percent.

Around the time that it was announcing these stellar performances, Kingfisher was also denying rumors that it was considering divesting Woolworths and Superdrug to concentrate on B&Q and its electrical retailing units. The company issued a statement saying that both Woolworths and Superdrug are very much part of Kingfishers future. It was worth noting, however, that Woolworths, the unit upon which the company was founded, was responsible for only about a quarter of overall sales and less than 20 percent of earnings by the mid-1990s. It appeared likely that at the dawn of a new century, and in the era of European union, the Kingfisher of the future would seek additional opportunities to expand beyond its Woolworths roots and to become even more geographically diverse.

Principal Subsidiaries

B&Q pic; Le Groupe Darty (France); Comet Group PLC; Wool-worths pic; Superdrug Stores PLC; Chartwell Land pic; Entertainment UK Ltd.; The Music and Video Club Limited; New Vanden Borre (Belgium); BCC Holding Amstelveen B.V. (Netherlands); BUT S.A. (France; 26%).

Further Reading

Buckley, Neil, Banham to Head Kingfisher, Financial Times, October 16, 1995, p. 24.

_____, Kingfisher Aims to Correct Mistakes, Financial Times, March 15, 1995, p. 27.

_____, Kingfisher Moves into Office Supplies Stores, Financial Times, December 21, 1993, p. 18.

_____, Kingfisher Sets Out Agenda, Financial Times, May 6, 1995, p. 10.

_____, Kingfisher Turns the Corner, Financial Times, January 18, 1996, p. 25.

_____, Kingfisher Vows to Set Things Right, Financial Times, March 15, 1995, p. 25.

_____, Potential Cost of Selling It Cheap Every Day, Financial Times, March 24, 1994, p. 17.

Hollinger, Peggy, and Andrew Jack, Kingfisher Halts Talks on Bid for Retailer, Financial Times, October 13, 1997, p. 27.

Kirkwood, Robert C., The Woolworth Story at Home and Abroad, New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1960.

The Monopolies and Mergers Commission, Kingfisher Pic and Dixons Group Pic: A Report on the Proposed Merger, London: HMSO, 1990.

Mulcahy, Geoffrey, Woolworth Holdings, in Turn-around: How Twenty Well-Known Companies Came Back from the Brink, edited by Rebecca Nelson and David Clutterbuck, London: Mercury, 1988.

Oram, Roderick, Kingfisher Ousts Top Executives, Financial Times, January 28, 1995, p. 1.

_____, Kingfishers Challenge, Financial Times, February 4, 1995, p. 14.

_____, Victim in Struggle to Evolve, Financial Times, January 28, 1995, p. 7.

Staples Launches British Invasion, Discount Store News, January 4, 1993, pp. 31+.

Thornhill, John, Retailers Must Save Themselves, Financial Times, October 17, 1992, p. 13.

Urry, Maggie, and Alice Rawsthorn, Retail Monarchs in Search of Global Empires, Financial Times, February 5, 1993, p. 15.

Winkler, John K., Five and Ten: The Fabulous Life of F. W. Woolworth, London: Hale, 1941; reprinted, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Woolworth: The Story of a Great Achievement, New Bond, Vol. 18, No. 1, March 1959.

Wright, Robert, Kingfisher Surprises with Upturn, Financial Times, March 19, 1998, p. 26.

Richard Hawkins
updated by David E. Salamie

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Kingfisher plc

Kingfisher plc

North West House
119 Marylebone Road
London NWl 5PX
United Kingdom
(071) 724 7749
Fax: (071) 724 1160

Public Company
Incorporated : 1909 as F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd.
Employees : 61,497
Sales : £3.1 billion (US$5.79 billion)
Stock Exchange: London

Kingfisher plc is a major British retailing and property group consisting of several retail chains, including Woolworths, a variety chain of 796 shops; B&Q, a chain of 280 do-it-yourself (DIY) centers; Superdrug, a chain of 660 drug stores; Comet, a chain of 270 electrical stores; and Chartwell Land, a property company that started by redeveloping the Woolworth properties and has diversified into redeveloping properties of other companies both in and outside of the group, and also manages an investment portfolio.

Kingfisher originated as a subsidiary of F.W. Woolworth & Co. of the United States. The American company was founded in 1879. The companys founder, Frank Winfield Woolworth, identified the potential for a walk-around open display type of shop in Britain during his first visit to Europe in 1890. He observed that the [London] stores are very small and are called shops and not much like our fine stores. I think a good [threepenny and sixpenny] store run by a live Yankee would create a sensation here, but perhaps not. In 1909 he decided to found a subsidiary in Britain even though his chief executives thought that it would be unsuccessful. On July 23, 1909, the subsidiary was incorporated in England as a private limited company with a share capital of £50,250. In 1912 the share capital was increased to £100,000. After this time the entire increase in assets was built up from earnings, and there was no further increase in capitalization. Between 1909 and 1919 the American shareholders received no dividends at all and for the following six years dividends were paltry. This was not for lack of profits but because the shareholders wanted to build up the reserves of the company so that it was always in a position to expand without recourse to borrowing.

The first shop opened at 25 and 25a Church Street, Liverpool, on November 5, 1909. The Draper described it as a penny, threepenny, and sixpenny bazaar on a large scale. In each of the four large salesrooms there are wide counters, extending the full length of the hall, and on these are placed mahogany trays containing the articles for disposal. . . . The public, we are told, are privileged to wander round the immense establishment without being importuned to buy. During the first two days of business 60,000 people visited the shop. Following steady business improvement, Woolworth opened a second shop in Preston and properties were also obtained in Manchester, Leeds, and Hull. In 1910 a third shop was opened, on London Road, Liverpool. The premises were obtained from Owen Owen, a department store owner, who told Woolworth that he had no idea that the bazaar business could be elevated to such a high standard. On the opening of the third shop there was a riot. The riot made the management wary. When the sixth shop opened in Hull later in 1910, crowd barriers were put in place to stem the anticipated rush of customers. By the end of 1910 the company was operating ten shops with another two in preparation.

The same business methods that had worked so well in the United States were adopted in Britain. Everything carried a plain price tag, and the prices were one old penny (£0.004), three old pence (£0.0125), and six old pence (£0.025). Supplies were bought directly from manufacturers. As in the United States, Woolworth had difficulty at first in Britain in persuading manufacturers to deal with him directly. Like the U.S. manufacturers, however, the British manufacturers who agreed to supply Woolworth directly soon found they had made the correct decision. Many of these suppliers also grew with Woolworth from small beginnings. A notable example was Duttons Ltd.. When the first shop was opened in Liverpool, Duttons received its first Woolworth order. Subsequently Duttons set out solely to service Woolworth with all types of price tickets, advertising, and printed matter. By the early 1960s Duttons was also responsible for the supply of many items of stationery to the majority of Woolworths suppliers.

The Woolworth method of retailing moved from strength to strength. By 1912 the chain had expanded to 28 shops, 26 of which were managed by Britons. The years net profits were more than US$100,000. In 1914 Woolworth opened its 31st shop, in Grafton Street, Dublin. This was the first Woolworth shop in Ireland. After the creation of the Irish Republic, Woolworth established a separate Irish subsidiary, F.W. Woolworth Company of Ireland, Ltd.. When World War I began, women store managers took the places of the men who joined the armed forces, and when suitable women could not be found, men were drafted from the parent company in the United States. After the war, the British subsidiary was ready for major expansion. The man who was to be principally responsible for the expansion was William L. Stephenson.

Frank Woolworth met Stephenson through Edward Owen of Birmingham, a buyer for Wanamaker and other American shops. Stephenson was Owens assistant. Stephenson started work at the company in September 1909, at the express invitation of Frank Woolworth, even before the first shop had been opened. Stephenson succeeded Fred M. Woolworth, a cousin of Frank, as managing director of the British subsidiary when Fred died in 1923, becoming chairman in 1931 when Woolworth was floated as a British public company and the U.S. parent corporations interest in its subsidiary was reduced from 62% to 52.7% of the ordinary shares. Shortly before the flotation, F.W. Woolworth Company of Ireland, Ltd. was voluntarily liquidated and its two shops in Dublin and one each in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, and Kilkenny were incorporated into the British company. The flotation of the chain of 444 shops was underwritten by N.M. Rothschild & Sons. As a result of the companys excellent track record, the Woolworth flotation was a success, despite taking place in the depths of the Great Depression. Since its foundation in 1909 its turnover and profits had never failed to rise from one year to the next, and continued to do so each year until the early part of World War II.

An important change made by Stephenson was to buy freehold properties for his shops instead of taking leases. Stephensons property investments made a major contribution to the revival of Woolworths successor, Kingfisher, during the 1980s. Under Stephensons management Woolworth was soon opening shops in Britain at the rate of at least one every fortnight. This remarkable rate of growth was maintained until the early part of World War II. By the late 1930s each shop returned an operating profit two or three times as large as its U.S. counterpart. In 1939, when World War II began, there were 759 British Woolworth shops and nine more under construction.

World War I had brought difficulties to Woolworth but they had been surmounted. During 1914-18 the number of British shops rose from 44 to 81. World War II was very different. The expansion program ceased. Furthermore, 23 shops were destroyed and 352 damaged by enemy action. The companys Channel Island shops in Guernsey and Jersey were placed under German administration from July 1940. In both wars, many of Woolworths staff joined the armed forces and many did not return. In World War II, however, many who stayed in Woolworths service were also killed by enemy action. In November 1944, a single V2 rocket destroyed the shop at New Cross, London. In this second worst air raid of the war, 160 people in the shop were killed, including the manager and 18 members of her staff, and an additional 108 people were seriously injured.

In 1948 Stephenson retired as chairman of Woolworth. In the early postwar period, it was some time before material losses could be made good. It was not until the latter part of 1956 that the last blitzed shop was reopened. There had been 768 shops in operation in 1940. By 1950 there were still only 762, but from the end of 1951 the expansion program was resumed.

In 1954 Woolworth began a new program of expansion into the British Commonwealth with the establishment of a subsidiary in the British West Indies. On November 4, 1954, the companys first store in the West Indies was opened in Kingston, Jamaica. In November 1955 a second West Indian store was opened in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In October 1956 a third shop was opened in Bridgetown, Barbados. Between mid-1958 and the end of 1973 the West Indian subsidiary was expanded to more than a dozen shops located in Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados. Woolworth also established a subsidiary in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, at the end of the 1950s. A shop was opened on March 18, 1959, in the capital, Salisbury. On November 10, 1960, a second shop was opened in Bulawayo. In early 1974 a subsidiary was established in Cyprus and a shop was opened in Nicosia.

Meanwhile, the number of shops in the British Isles also expanded rapidly. The 1,000th shop was opened in Portslade, Hove, Sussex, in May 1958. A peak of 1,141 shops was reached in the late 1960s. With the widening range of merchandise stocked by Woolworth there had to be a wider range of prices. Inflation resulted in the end of the three old pence and six old pence price limits during World War II. In the early postwar period Woolworth pioneered the development of self-service in the variety part of the retail sector. In 1955 Woolworth opened its first British self-service shop in the small village of Cobham, Surrey, modeled on the experience in America. Customers could, if they so desired, collect a wire basket at the shop entrance in which to place their purchases, and payment was made at one of three or four cash desks at the exit, eliminating the need to pay separately at each department visited, as in the traditional shops. The first completely self-service Woolworth shop was opened at Didcot near Oxford in September 1956. By the early 1970s Woolworth had more than 190 purely self-service shops in operation, some of them large by British standards, selling a full variety shop range.

In October 1966 Woolworth founded a new division, the Woolco Department Stores. The division was to oversee the creation of a national chain of up to 20 out-of-town department stores which were to operate independently and in addition to the traditional shops. The stores contained a full range of quality merchandise at competitive prices, including clothes, domestic appliances, toys, groceries, confectionery, car service, and restaurants. The new stores were modeled on the parent companys Woolco stores in U.S. and Canadian suburban shopping centers, which had been in operation since 1962. The first British Woolco was opened in October 1967 at Oadby, Leicester. Oadby provided free parking for about 750 cars away from the congestion of the city center. Between 1969 and 1977 a further 13 Woolco stores were opened. In 1977, however, Woolworth began to reassess the value of the Woolco division to the company. In December it sold its Woolco store at Kirkby and a hypermarket site with planning permission in Blackpool.

In the late 1960s profits began to fall at Woolworth. A visible sign of trouble came in 1968, when Woolworth lost its place as Britains leading retailer and Marks & Spencer overtook it in both sales and profits. Despite a modernization program, Woolworth still possessed a number of small and poorly located branches with an extremely low rate of turnover and profitability. These branches detracted from the improved performance of the larger units. Furthermore, the Woolco stores were still in the development stage. The results announced in January 1970 were the worst since 1962.

During the late 1960s the companys modernization program had been extended to include the enlargement of the companys shops in the major British towns and cities. Two that were opened after extensions in 1968, in Wolverhampton and Ipswich, became the largest in area in Britain. The largest of all, in Wolverhampton, had a shopping area of 70,000 square feet with 1.25 miles of counters. The Aylesbury store, which opened in the jubilee week of the company, on November 7, 1969, became the second largest shop with an area of 69,000 square feet. In the early 1970s major extensions and modernizations took place at Basingstoke, Brentwood, Hartlepool, Brighton, Leith, Liverpool, Manchester, and Wrexham. These shops included extended male, female, and childrens clothing departments; fitting rooms; sports departments; music and record departments; and extended hardware and household departments. They also had extensive food departments and restaurants.

In 1971, with profits still falling, Woolworth began a new cash-and-wrap policy and began to convert 777 shops from conventional behind-the-counter service to a system of centralized payment points in each shop where goods could be paid for and wrapped, thus increasing the speed of service. At the same time the company closed 23 of its unprofitable shops and attempted to trade up and lose its reputation as a purveyor of cheap goods. Nonetheless, the consumer boom of the early 1970s appears to have passed Woolworth by. Woolworths profits failed to recover very strongly, partly as a result of the heavy costs of its shop modernization program in the early 1970s and prolonged start-up problems with a new distribution center at Swindon that had been opened in July 1972.

Despite its stated intention to stop selling cheap goods, in 1973 Woolworth decided to open a chain of catalogue discount shops. The new chain, Shoppers World, was launched in Leeds in September 1974 and initially consisted of 15 shops in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds. After considerable initial success, the chain also opened an outlet in London in September 1975. Nonetheless, profits continued to stagnate in the mid-1970s. Although the company showed a determination to change with the times, one of its weaknesses was the poor quality of its customer service. Staff turnover was high and this led to consumer dissatisfaction. Another weakness derived from the expansion in the British Isles during the 1950s. Many of the sites chosen were in secondary locations unsuitable for chain stores. An even more serious weakness was that it launched itself into new products in the wrong way. The success of the new products depended on a well-trained staff, first-rate service, and a more polished consumer image than Woolworth had acquired by the mid-1970s. In the late 1970s, however, the performance of the company began to improve. In 1978 the company lifted itself clear of a ten-year profit trough.

During the late 1970s there was a major change of emphasis in Woolworth away from food into furniture, clothing, DIY, and other durable items. In August 1980, in its first ever takeover bid, Woolworth paid £16.7 million for a Southhampton-based chain of over 40 DIY centers, B&Q (Retail). In October 1981 Woolworth acquired the Dodge City chain of 32 DIY centers for £20.1 million. The centers were complementary to B&Qs 49 existing centers.

Despite the recovery in profits in the late 1970s, Woolworth had still not solved its problems. In 1981, having supposedly repositioned itself upmarket, Woolworth cut prices on 800 of its lines. In addition, Woolworth began to sell off some of its valuable prime freehold town center properties in order to stem the losses these large shops were making. On balance this made sense, as although these properties were valuable, they were also leviathans. The 1981 results, excluding property sales, showed after-tax profits down from £30.3 million to £22.5 million. The companys dividend was cut for the first time in its history. Not only were the shareholders dissatisfied, but also the customers and employees.

In September 1982 a syndicate of institutional investors led by the merchant bank Charterhouse Japhet launched a £310 million takeover bid for the British Woolworth through the specially-created Paternoster Stores plc. Paternoster was led by Wolverhampton-born chairman John Beckett. By November, more than 90% of the shareholders had accepted the syndicates bid and Paternosters name was changed to Woolworth Holdings plc. As Paternoster did not have enough money to cover the whole of the bid, U.S. Woolworth temporarily retained a 12.7% share in the new company. The holding was sold almost immediately afterward.

Woolworth Holdings began to reorganize by removing the unprofitable parts of the business. Between late 1982 and 1991 the group sold about 200 of its unprofitable Woolworth shops in the United Kingdom, reducing the number to around 790. The group also sold all 18 of its shops in the Irish Republic in 1984. In April 1983 the Shoppers World chain of 45 shops was closed down. Later in 1985 the Woolworth shops in Cyprus were sold and between 1987 and 1990 all of the shops in the West Indies and Zimbabwe were also sold. On the other hand B&Q, a profitable part of the business, was expanded, mostly through organic growth, with as many as 30 new stores a year. By January 1984 the companys pretax profits had risen from £6.1 million to £29.4 million. To emphasize that the change in the groups Woolworth shops was fundamental, their trading name was changed from F.W. Woolworth to Woolworths in March 1986. In May 1984 the company launched a successful agreed bid for Comet, the electrical goods discount chain, for £128.9 million. During 1984 Woolworths Holdings profits nearly doubled. Profits came from the still-expanding B&Q, now with 153 centers; the newly-acquired Comet; and the Woolworth shops disposal program.

In early 1986 Beckett retired as chairman of Woolworth Holdings, having successfully overseen the revival of the group. During 1986 the company was subject to an unsuccessful £1.75 billion hostile takeover bid from Dixons Group plc, the electronics retailer. During the takeover battle, the group sold its 12 Woolco superstores to Dee Corporation plc for £26 million. The Woolco sale fitted in with the groups Focus program of concentrating on a narrower range of merchandise; toys, gifts, and confectionery, entertainment (including records and cassettes), home and garden accessories, kitchen accessories, kids clothes and cosmetics. Food and adult clothing, which contributed 30% of sales, were completely abandoned. The Woolco stores, which had specialized in groceries and clothing, had been the first out-of-town food stores and could have become as successful as the Sainsbury superstores later became. However, the buyers in the old Woolworth were jealous of Woolcos initial success and started cramming them with old-fashioned variety merchandise.

As part of Focus the company formed a joint venture with the Rosehaugh property group to redevelop five of its Wool-worth shops by reducing the amount of space occupied by the shops. For example, the Wolverhampton shop was shrunk from three floors to one floor. In the opinion of the Financial Times, while it made good sense it was a humiliating climbdown.

In April 1987 the group was approached by Underwoods, a chain of 40 chemist and consumer goods shops in London. Underwoods suggested the group might like to acquire it, but the chains profit forecast proved unsatisfactory and the proposal was rejected. However, the group acquired Charlie Browns, a chain of 42 car parts sales and fitting centers in northern England, for £19.2 million. At the end of March, the group made a successful agreed bid of £256.9 million for Su-perdrug plc, a discount chain of 297 drugstores. The company had been established in 1966 by brothers Peter and Ronald Goldstein. In January 1988 the group acquired Ultimate, a chain of 94 electrical retailing outlets, from Harris Queensway for £6.3 million. Ultimate was integrated into Comet. In January 1988 the group launched a successful agreed takeover bid of £13 million for Tip Top Drugstores plc, a chain of 110 drugstores. These were integrated into the 339-store Su-perdrug chain. Tip Tops strength lay in northern England and Scotland, while Superdrugs lay in southeast England. In February the group launched another successful agreed bid of £32 million for Share Drug plc, a chain of 145 drugstores that was also integrated into Superdrug, strengthening its position in southern England.

On March 17, 1989, the group was renamed Kingfisher plc. The purpose of the new name was to emphasize how much the group had changed since it was purchased from its U.S. parent in 1982. In October Kingfisher acquired the Laskys chain of 58 electrical goods shops for £3.6 million. Kingfisher claimed that by taking on £5.3 million of bank debt from Granada Plc., the shops would be integrated with Comets 308 shops. In fact, most of them were closed after they had been operating under the Comet name for only a few months. In November 1989 Kingfisher acquired the Medicare chain of 86 drug stores from Isosceles for about £5 million. About a third were closed and the remainder were integrated with Superdrug.

In December 1989 Kingfisher launched a hostile £568 million takeover bid for Dixons. In January 1990 the bid was referred by the British government to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) because there are possible effects on competition in the UK market for the retail of electrical goods. The bid was blocked by the Trade and Industry Secretary at the end of May following the publication of the MMCs report, which had recommended that the merger should not be permitted.

Since 1982 Kingfishers profits have risen sharply, efficiency has improved, and the merchandise range has been focused. Profit before tax has risen from £29.4 million in 1983-1984 to £215.3 million in 1990-1991.

Principal Subsidiaries

Woolworths plc; B&Q plc; Comet Group PLC; Superdrug Stores PLC; Chartwell Land plc.

Further Reading

Winkler, John K., Five and Ten: The Fabulous Life of FW. Woolworth, London, Hale, 1941; Woolworth: The Story of a Great Achievement, New Bond, Vol. 18, No. 1, March 1959; Kirkwood, Robert C., The Woolworth Story At Home and Abroad, New York, Newcomen Society in North America, 1960; Mulcahy, Geoffrey, Woolworth Holdings in Nelson, Rebecca and David Clutterbuck, eds., Turnaround: How Twenty Well-Known Companies Came Back From The Brink, London, Mercury, 1988; The Monopolies and Mergers Commission, Kingfisher Plc and Dixons Group plc: A Report On The Proposed Merger, London, HMSO, 1990.

Richard Hawkins

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