The Rags-to-Riches Story of Frank Woolworth

On April 13 in the year 1852, one of the innovative pioneers in the retail industry was born in New York, USA. His name was Frank Winfield Woolworth, the founder of F. W. Woolworth Company.

Frank Woolworth
Frank Woolworth (Credit: wiki commons)

Although his father was a captain in the American Civil War, Frank Woolworth grew up knowing not wealth but struggle in the family farm. After finishing junior high school, he had to plead with his mother to part with her meager savings so that he could have money for night schooling. He just wanted to finish basic bookkeeping because he wanted to work in an office away from the farm.

In 1873, Frank Woolworth got to be employed in a general merchandise store after an excruciating interview. He was accepted to deal with customers but when he failed in the first few days to make a sale, he was demoted to cleaning up the windows and helping in making the displays. This he did with outstanding talent. Later, he left his first employer for another because he really wanted to make another try at dealing with customers. He was accepted but with a smaller salary. Disappointed, he returned to his former employer.

Around 1879, his boss offered him $300 worth of merchandise for him to sell the way he wanted it. He gladly agreed and opened a store using a new technique he had been planning for some time: have the merchandise in open display instead of behind the counter and with fix price to do away with haggling. Alas, the store failed in its first year. He thought the culprit was wrong location, so he opened another store with an added feature: offer merchandise for 5 cents apiece. Later, he added merchandise for a dime. Thus, his business came to be known as five and dime store.

Success was now smiling at the man who once had only five dimes in his pocket. Frank Woolworth expanded his business by opening another branch and then another. Soon, he had hire managers as partners with the right to share in the profit of the store. In 1913, he opened the world’s tallest skyscaper at the time, the Woolworth Building in New York City.

Frank Woolworth died in 1919 at the age of 66. He had three children with wife Jennie. At the time of his death, there were over a thousand Woolworth five and dime stores.



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