The Woolworths Museum

Chad Valley @ Woolworths

The best of both worlds

Today Chad Valley is a brand of Argos, part of J. Sainsbury plc.
Ladybird is now a brand of Very Group Ltd, which also owns the Woolworths brand name.
This page relates to the period 1985 to 2008 when both brands were operated exclusively
by the Woolworths High Street retail chain.

All current trademarks are acknowledged.

Toytown ceiling-mounted trains toured the ceiling of modernised larger Woolworths stores in the late 1980s and early 1990s


One of the first displays of Chad Valley toys in a large, modernised Comparison store in 1987

In the mid 1980s the new owners of Woolworths launched an ambitious modernisation programme called Operation Focus. Instead of being a jack of all trades this aimed to establish six specialist areas with strong market shares, transforming the chain into a specialist retailer.

One of these specialities was "Kids". The goal was to improve and enlarge the range of Toys and Children's Clothing. Building on the success he had enjoyed with Ladybird, Commercial Director Mike Sommers went a step further, buying the Chad Valley brand name outright. He planned a unique toy marque, at once moving upmarket, improving manufacturing quality and focusing on product design and education value.


The Chad Valley and Ladybird logos at their respective launches as Woolworths own brands in 1985 and 1987


While the Ladybird brand wholly replaced the previous unbranded range of clothing (which did not even feature the company name, just the address of the Marylebone Office), Chad Valley initially accounted for only a limited toy offer. The name was initially reserved for pre-school toys, which were offered alongside regular items from Fisher Price, Tomy and Matchbox, and boxed games, to complement Milton Bradley, Kenner Parker and Mattel lines.


A panorama of the Toy department at Woolworths in Clapham Junction, London in 1987


The first items appeared on the shelves in the Autumn of 1987. Well-made building blocks and activity toys proved particularly popular both with the public and with educationalists, and won a series of prestigious design awards. There was also an excellent range of jigsaw puzzles, which featured idyllic rural views from around the British Isles. There was a conscious effort to ensure that the new products met or exceeded the quality standards of equivalents from the leading suppliers.

In a further phase of development a new selection soft toys was introduced under the Chad Valley name.


Packed with customers, the Toy Department at Woolworths in Leicester in 1987


Chad Valley was a hit, particularly for the under-fives. It quickly became a core part of the offer. The stores stocked the best of both worlds, with the latest supplier-branded lines nestling alongside the new exclusives.


Chad Valley's award winning First Steps range of toys in the Edgware Road, London W2 store


A family choose toys in a Woolworths store in the late 1980s


1988 marked the end of a modernisation programme which brought a makeover to every store. All had an acclaimed Kids area incorporating substantial ranges of Ladybird Clothes and Chad Valley toys. The public rewarded the investment with number one status as the market leader for Toys, with a 21% share, slightly ahead of Argos, and the top-slot for Babywear, outpacing Marks and Spencer. When Directors first received the updated market-share data, endorsing their strategy, they celebrated by commissioning signage to appear in every store boasting "Woolworths is Kids". One commentator noted "Woolworths are  not very good at grammar"!

The public had endorsed the Focus Strategy. Chad Valley and Ladybird, which had once been the reserve of the most affluent families, had won over the mass-market. This had been achieved not by reducing quality, but by embracing new manufacturing techniques and following Frank Woolworth's adage from his first store in 1879, selling more for less.

It is worth noting that market leadership for Toys ranges had been achieved alongside similar success in five other product categories, and with only an average of 10% of the chain's total selling space.

Toy displays in a large, modern Woolworths store in the 1980sThe selection of toys and games in a small, local High Street Woolworths store in the 1980s

The layout was child- and parent- friendly. The toys were easier to reach, thanks to a 5ft (1.7m) maximum height. The aisles were wider, shinier  kept clutter-free too.

Kids were safe to play sitting on the floor.


A special favourite for both boys and girls in the late 1980s was a 3 foot tall cuddly Dragon, made for Woolworths by Lefray ToysA colleague demonstrates a Chad Valley catepillar to a young Woolworths customer in the late 1980s

The new look brought shoppers with more to spend. Items with prices over £100 began to sell, along with gifts for party guests.

Great value budget lines also featured strongly, with plenty of lines under £ and a pioneering Half-Price Toy Sale in late autumn, for thrifty Xmas Gifts.



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Bonus Items - The History of Chad Valley

Now owned by Argos / J. Sainsbury plc, the renowned Chad Valley marque
was reimagined by Woolworths, going on to win many awards over a 21- ear period


Toys for Toffs, the early ranges


TV changes everything in the 1950s and 1960s