The Very Group

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The Very Group
Shop Direct Group (2005–2020)
Private Limited Company
IndustryRetail/home shopping and financial services
PredecessorLittlewoods Shop Direct Group
  • 1 November 2005; 14 years ago (2005-11-01)
  • (1923 as Littlewoods Pools)
FoundersDavid and Frederick Barclay
HeadquartersSpeke, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Key people
David and Frederick Barclay (Owners)
Henry Birch (CEO)
OwnerBarclay Brothers
Littlewoods Ireland
Very Exclusive

The Very Group is a multi-brand online retailer and financial services provider in the United Kingdom and Ireland.[1] 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.[2] Shop Direct rebranded themselves to The Very Group in 2020.[3]

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,[4] 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".[5]

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 Its traditional paper-based and phone-in orders system has been superseded by electronic commerce technology.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 is now amongst the largest online retailers in the UK, with annual sales of £1.86bn in 2016 and 62% of online sales coming from mobile devices.[6]

The group's brands are,, 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.[7]



A former Littlewoods branch in Chesterfield, Derbyshire

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.[citation needed]

The success of the catalogue shopping business led to the opening of a Littlewoods high street department store in Blackpool in 1937.[citation needed]

In October 2001, Littlewoods became the owner of Swan electronics.[citation needed]

In November 2002, the Moores family sold Littlewoods to the Barclay brothers for £750 million.[8]

Littlewoods also owned the Index chain of stores.[9]

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.[citation needed]

Merger: Littlewoods Shop Direct Group[edit]

The logo of Littlewoods Shop Direct Group, used between 2005 and 2008.

In March 2005, following a 20-year history in which it had never made a profit,[citation needed] 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.[10]

In July 2005, Associated British Foods purchased the 120-branch Littlewoods retail chain on behalf of its retail subsidiary Primark for £409 million.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] The merger was in reality effected in early 2004 when work started on a business optimisation programme, consolidating various business functions.[citation needed]

Following the merger, Littlewoods Shop Direct Group moved its headquarters from Manchester city centre to Skyways House in Speke, south Liverpool.[11]

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".[5]


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.[12] In July 2008, Shop Direct completed its purchase of the Empire Stores brand name and customer base from mail order competitor Redcats.[citation needed]

In May 2008, Home Delivery Network, previously Shop Direct Group's logistics division, was separated from the group[13] and subsequently renamed Yodel.

With the demise of the Woolworths Group in January 2009,[14] Shop Direct purchased rights to children's clothing brand Ladybird along with the Woolworths trade name from the administrators.[15][16] The takeover of the Woolworths brand by Shop Direct was announced on 2 February 2009,[17] and the new online retailer began trading on 25 June that year.[18]

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.[2]

On October 27, 2017, Shop Direct successfully placed its debut bond.[19]

In 2019, Shop Direct rebranded to The Very Group

Structure and brands[edit]

The Very Group's brands are,, 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., and Littlewoods Ireland retail clothing and footwear, electricals, home and furniture, gifts and beauty, outdoor and seasonal, and toys. Very Exclusive sells luxury fashion.[20]

Musician and presenter Myleene Klass is currently the face of 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.[citation needed]

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.[21] 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.[citation needed]

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.[22]


Shaw National Distribution Centre is Shop Direct Group's main warehousing and returns centre; the base of logistics.

The Very Group's headquarters is Skyways House, a £31 million renovated aircraft hangar, situated in Speke, south Liverpool.[23][24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

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".[27]

Relocation of the Distribution Business[edit]

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.[28]


  1. ^ "Littlewoods Ireland". 2016-03-14.
  2. ^ a b (29 October 2013). "Digital revolution delivers first profit in a decade for Shop Direct". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  3. ^ Carr, Leanne (27 March 2019). "Shop Direct to rebrand as Very, boss Birch reveals". Retail Week. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  4. ^ "Britain's biggest private companies: Salute a nation of shopkeepers". London: 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
  5. ^ a b "Shop Direct's Mark Newton-Jones: On the double". 2008-12-04. Archived from the original on January 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
  6. ^ (6 September 2016). "Shop Direct reports profits surge on back of technology investment, as Very becomes £1bn+ brand". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  7. ^ Harry Wallop (25 June 2009). "Shop Direct chief Mark Newton-Jones launches". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  8. ^ Mesure, Susie (5 October 2002). "Barclay brothers buy Littlewoods for £750m". Independent. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Jobs to go as Index stores close". 2005-04-19. Retrieved 2020-06-26.
  10. ^ Milmo, Dan (18 April 2005). "3,200 jobs cut as Littlewoods sells Index". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  11. ^ Roberts, Patricia (14 July 2005). "Home shopping jobs go west". Manchester Evening News.
  12. ^ Neil Hodgson (2008-05-08). "News - Business News - Famous name on way out". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  13. ^ "Home Delivery Network and Atkins jobs at risk". 2009-01-23.
  14. ^ "Last Woolworths stores turn out lights in Britain - Business - Evening Standard". 2009-01-06. Archived from the original on 2009-10-20. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  15. ^ Bowers, Simon (2009-02-02). "Woolworths lives again as online brand". London: Retrieved 2009-02-02.
  16. ^ Goodman, Matthew; Kate Walsh (1 February 2009). "Littlewoods owner Shop Direct snaps up Ladybird". The Sunday Times. London.
  17. ^ Judge, Elizabeth; Leroux, Marcus (2009-02-02). "Woolworths to return online in surprise deal". The Times. London.
  18. ^ Wallop, Harry (2009-06-25). "Woolworths returns as online business". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  19. ^ Smith, Robert. "Shop Direct pulls off debut bond after dropping Barclay brothers dividend". Financial Times. United Kingdom. Retrieved October 29, 2017.
  20. ^ (12 September 2014). "Shop Direct to launch Very Exclusive website as it accelerates luxury strategy". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  21. ^ (23 June 2016). "Very to launch new own label to "accelerate growth"". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  22. ^ "Bargain Crazy - About Us". Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  23. ^ "British Council for Offices - Refurbished / Recycled Workplace". Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  24. ^ "Littlewoods back Mersey Gateway Campaign" (PDF). The Crossing (5): 4. March 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-05. Retrieved 2010-09-13.
  25. ^ Bowers, Simon (2 February 2009). "Woolworths lives again as online brand". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  26. ^ "Littlewoods axe 1,200 in shake-up". BBC News. 9 May 2006.
  27. ^ "Shop Direct offers Liverpool staff a place to learn, relax and stay healthy".
  28. ^ "2000 jobs at risk as Shop Direct closes three North West sites".

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