GUS (retailer)

GUS plc
Industry Conglomerate
Fate Split-up/Sold Off
Part merged with Littlewoods
Successor Home Retail Group/ Littlewoods Shop Direct Group
Founded 1900 as Universal Stores
Defunct October 10, 2006
Headquarters London, England
Key people
Sir Victor Blank (Chairman),
Terry Duddy (ARG Chief Exec)
Products Mail order/Conglomerate
Number of employees
Subsidiaries Home Retail Group

GUS plc was a FTSE 100 retailing group based in the United Kingdom. GUS is an abbreviation of Great Universal Stores, the company's name before 2001. On 10 October 2006, the company was split into two separate companies: Experian which continues to exist, and Home Retail Group which was bought by Sainsbury's in 2016.


Universal Stores was founded in 1900 as a mail order business in Manchester, England by Abraham, George and Jack Rose. A private company, The Universal Stores (Manchester) Ltd, took the business over, and the company was incorporated in 1917.[1] In 1930, the company changed its name to The Great Universal Stores Limited. The next year it was listed on the London Stock Exchange. At this stage, it was the leading mail order business in the UK, with a single catalogue, Great Universal. A second catalogue, John England, was launched later in the 1930s.[1]

In 1932, Isaac Wolfson joined the company as merchandise controller. He became joint managing director in the same year. He was Chairman from the late 1940s until his retirement in 1987. Through his wealth gained at Great Universal Stores, he established the Wolfson Foundation in 1955. His son, Leonard Wolfson, followed him as Chairman, to be succeeded by David Wolfson (19962000).

Great Universal acquired Kay & Company Ltd in 1937, and continued to run its catalogue, Kays, as a separate title. Based in Worcester, Kay & Company began life in the 1880s and was an established mail order company at the time of the GUS takeover.[1] The company continued as a distinct entity within the GUS holding company.

Two chains of furniture stores were acquired by GUS, one in 1943 and one in 1945. These stores continued to trade under the names Cavendish or Woodhouse.[1] This was followed in 1958 by the acquisition of a paint and wall covering chain of shops, which GUS expanded to form a much larger and more comprehensive chain of DIY stores. GUS also purchased or developed stores selling women's and children's clothing, buying up the Burberry's and Scotch House businesses in 1955. Burberry's also included a clothing manufacturing business.[1] GUS developed its manufacturing businesses in the 1950s, with products including clothing, bedding, upholstery, textiles and pottery.[1]

GUS acquired A & S Henry & Co group in 1971. This group was primarily a group of manufacturing businesses, which GUS sold off, and a mail order business trading as John Noble which GUS retained. This was followed in 1976 by the acquisition of S & U Stores Ltd with its catalogues, Greenbank and Meridien; the acquisition of Henry Wigfall & Son Ltd in 1977 along with its catalogues All Yours, Wigfalls at Home and Choice Mail Order, and in 1981 GUS acquired the John Myers Home Shopping catalogue business from UDS Group plc. Unlike Kay & Company, all of these acquisitions were brought into the main GUS business and not run as distinct companies. So there were two mail order companies within the GUS group at this stage: the British Mail Order Corporation Ltd (BMOC) and Kay & Company Ltd.[1]

By 1983 the company had expanded its range of operations significantly. Catalogue mail order was by far the company's primary business but the company was also engaged in retailing through shops, the manufacture of clothing and household goods, financial services, property investment and travel.[1] By this time the business was international, with operations in Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Canada, South Africa and Australia and smaller interests in Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, the United States and Hong Kong.[1]

The Company acquired Argos in 1998[2] and the UK's second largest online retailer at the time,, in 2000 for £37 million.[3]

In 2001 the company changed its name to GUS plc using the identifier GUS on the London Stock Exchange. In November 2002, Homebase was acquired by GUS plc for £900 million, where it formed part of the Argos Retail Group. The previous month, GUS had announced that the business was also to be merged into the ARG division of the business and run from Argos' Milton Keynes headquarters.[4] From early in the year the Home Shopping division also embarked on a successful turnaround strategy helped by advisers from Zymolysis.[5]

In 2004, the company sold its traditional home shopping (catalogues) division to the Barclay twins, who later merged the Littlewoods mail order operations into it.[6] This included the iconic Great Universal Stores catalogue, from which the company took its name, and completed the departure of GUS from its original business areas. Around the same time, the Barclays announced the closure of the Littlewoods Index catalogue showroom chain, the principal rival to Argos in the UK, selling around 35 stores to Argos.

In May 2005, it announced that it would divest its stake in Burberry by distributing Burberry shares to its own shareholders. The Burberry demerger was completed in December 2005.[7]

On 28 March 2006, it was announced that the Company would split into two separate businesses, Home Retail Group and Experian, with both companies listed separately on the London Stock Exchange as of 11 October 2006.[8] GUS plc became a wholly owned subsidiary of Experian plc after the demerger and was renamed Experian Finance plc.

GUS plc ranked as the highest-spending online advertiser in the US, according to Nielsen NetRatings, spending over $659m in 2006.[9] The next-ranked online advertiser, Vonage, was a distant second at just over $294m.


The company had two main divisions:

In the year ended 31 March 2005, GUS had sales of £7.8 billion and profits (before goodwill, exceptional items and taxation) of £910 million.

Canadian operations

Great Universal Stores of Canada Limited operated 150 furniture and appliance stores across Canada as of early 1963. Charles Wolfson, formerly president, became chairman as of January 1, 1963, and John P. Adderley became president and chief executive officer.[10]

In the early 1990s the Canadian company was fined $45,000 (Canadian) for misleading advertising, the largest total fine during that fiscal year. At that point, the company was doing business under the name of Légaré Woodhouse in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec.[11]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 The Monopolies and Mergers Commission (January 1983). "The Great Universal Stores PLC" (PDF). The Great Universal Stores PLC and Empire Stores (Bradford) PLC: a report on the existing and proposed mergers. The Competition Commission. Retrieved 25 October 2011.
  2. "BBC News - Business - Argos attacks GUS offer".
  3. " goes cheap". BBC News Online. 1 September 2000. Retrieved 25 October 2011.
  4. project, Thus pips BT to £70m Scottish broadband; lines, AOL UK chalks up 100k LLU; blogs, China targets. " folded into Argos".
  5. "Clients".
  6. "BBC NEWS - Business - GUS sells catalogue business".
  7. "BBC NEWS - Business - GUS to demerge stake in Burberry".
  8. "Breaking News, World News & Multimedia".
  9. The Most Tivo'd Shows: Naughty or Nice for Advertisers?
  10. "Great Universal Stores of Canada Appointments (advertisement)". The Gazette. Montreal. January 3, 1963. p. 13. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  11. Competition policy in OECD countries 1993-1994. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. p. 117. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
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