The Very Group
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|Shop Direct Group (2005–2020)|
|Private Limited Company|
|Industry||Retail/home shopping and financial services|
|Predecessor||Littlewoods Shop Direct Group|
|Founders||David and Frederick Barclay|
|Headquarters||Speke, Liverpool, United Kingdom|
|David and Frederick Barclay (Owners)|
Henry Birch (CEO)
The Very Group is a multi-brand online retailer and financial services provider in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is based in the Speke area of the city of Liverpool, England. Established in November 2005 as a result of the merger of the former Littlewoods and Shop Direct companies, the retailer was known as Littlewoods Shop Direct Group until a corporate rebranding to Shop Direct Group in May 2008. In 2013, the company rebranded to Shop Direct, dropping the 'group' from its name. Shop Direct rebranded themselves to The Very Group in 2020.
A business group trading via several digital department stores, Shop Direct traces its roots to a variety of mail order companies in northern England, the football pools and mail order business founded by John Moores, as well as the Manchester-based home shopping business of Great Universal Stores. These companies were purchased by Sir David and Frederick Barclay in 2003, and a major business restructuring took place leading to a merger of two companies that had "been arch rivals for the best part of 100 years".
Since the merger of what had been struggling businesses in 2005, ongoing restructuring and modernisation of the company has resulted in Shop Direct emerging as one of the largest online retailers in the UK. Its traditional paper-based and phone-in orders system has been superseded by electronic commerce technology.
The group's brands are Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com, Very Exclusive and Littlewoods Ireland. The former Shop Direct brands are Additions Direct, Abound, Choice, Great Universal, Isme, K&Co, Kays, Marshall Ward and Woolworths. In 2009, The Very Group acquired the brand name of the failed Woolworths group and re-established it as an online-only operation.
The Very Group traces its roots to a variety of independent mail order and retail companies in northern England, particularly Littlewoods, the pools and mail order business founded by John Moores, as well as the Manchester-based home shopping business of Great Universal Stores. Other businesses from this time that became part of Shop Direct included K&Co (formerly Kays Catalogues).
Founded by John Moores and his brother Cecil in 1923, Littlewoods was initially a football pools company, which used its network of pools agents and printing company (founded in 1928) to establish itself as a catalogue retailer from 1932 onwards.
The home shopping/catalogues business of Argos and Homebase owner, GUS plc, ARG Equation (which included Great Universal, Kays, Choice and Marshall Ward) was de-merged and bought by the Barclay brothers in 2003, where it became Shop Direct.
Merger: Littlewoods Shop Direct Group
In March 2005, following a 20-year history in which it had never made a profit, it was announced that part of the Index chain of catalogue shops was to be sold to Argos, and the remainder was to be closed.
In July 2005, Associated British Foods purchased the 120-branch Littlewoods retail chain on behalf of its retail subsidiary Primark for £409 million. Some of the stores were converted into branches of Primark, and the remainder were sold on to other retailers. The Littlewoods name disappeared from the British high street in March 2006.
Following these disposals, and clearance from the Competition Commission, the Littlewoods home shopping business was formally merged with that of Shop Direct (the former GUS plc home shopping business) in October 2005, to form the United Kingdom's largest home shopping business. The merger was in reality effected in early 2004 when work started on a business optimisation programme, consolidating various business functions.
The then newly appointed Chief Executive Mark Newton-Jones said the merger had "been the biggest challenge of all – taking two companies that [had] been arch rivals for the best part of 100 years and bringing them together. Not just from an operational point of view, but also two different business cultures".
In May 2008, Littlewoods Shop Direct Group announced it would change its corporate brand name to Shop Direct Group, to reflect the multi-branded nature of the business. In July 2008, Shop Direct completed its purchase of the Empire Stores brand name and customer base from mail order competitor Redcats.
With the demise of the Woolworths Group in January 2009, Shop Direct purchased rights to children's clothing brand Ladybird along with the Woolworths trade name from the administrators. The takeover of the Woolworths brand by Shop Direct was announced on 2 February 2009, and the new online retailer began trading on 25 June that year.
At the start of 2009, Shop Direct predicted growth in online sales, with a spokesperson saying: "We anticipate that 70 per cent of our sales will be online by 2010/11 and, therefore, the future of our business is online-led." It was confirmed in late 2009 that it was on track to achieve 70% of its sales via the internet by 2011. By the end of the 2012/13 financial year, this figure had reached 78%.
In 2013, the company rebranded to Shop Direct, dropping the 'group' from its name.
On October 27, 2017, Shop Direct successfully placed its debut bond.
In 2019, Shop Direct rebranded to The Very Group
Structure and brands
The Very Group's brands are Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com, Very Exclusive and Littlewoods Ireland. The former Shop Direct brands are Additions Direct, Abound, Choice, Great Universal, Isme, K&Co, Kays, Marshall Ward and Woolworths.
Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com and Littlewoods Ireland retail clothing and footwear, electricals, home and furniture, gifts and beauty, outdoor and seasonal, and toys. Very Exclusive sells luxury fashion.
Musician and presenter Myleene Klass is currently the face of Littlewoods.com. She has designed a range for the brand since July 2012 and has gone on to become the fastest selling celebrity designer that the brand has ever worked with. Former star of The Only Way Is Essex, Mark Wright was previously the face of menswear at Littlewoods, starting work with the brand in July 2013 to style and model a capsule collection for its own-brand men's fashion label.
As well as its celebrity brands, Shop Direct previously had a stable of own-brand fashion labels. Today, it operates a 'hero' own brand fashion label, V by Very, alongside Ladybird for children. Alongside the core retail business, Shop Direct owns and operates a financial services business, formerly known as Everyday Financial Solutions, and now known as Shop Direct Financial Services.
It also has discount outlets called Bargain Crazy to sell of surplus goods from the Shop Direct group at discounted prices. It currently has ten stores in the UK.
Order processing for The Very Group broadly takes place in the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, particularly at the Shaw National Distribution Centre, a warehousing and returns centre in Shaw and Crompton, Greater Manchester. It comprises six former cotton mills Lily 1, Lily 2, Newby, Rutland, Ash and Dee. Subsequently, Rutland, Ash and Dee mills have been demolished and replaced with new purpose made buildings. It is one of Europe's largest retail distribution centres. The Very Group processes returns at Raven Mill in Chadderton.
On 9 May 2006, the company announced the closure of three warehouses in Eccles, Wigan and Worcester. These closures have taken place, with all operations being transferred to their Shaw and Crompton site. Around 1,200 jobs were lost from the closures, but further jobs were created at the Shaw National Distribution Centre.
In 2016, The Very Group launched a 12,400 sq ft training, conferencing and wellbeing facility for its Liverpool HQ staff, calling the building "The Cube".
Relocation of the Distribution Business
In Spring 2018, The Very Group announced that 2,000 jobs were at risk from redundancy as the company intends to close three distribution centres and move their distribution business to the East Midlands by 2020.
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