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The History of Kays Catalogue Stores

Kays can trace its history back to 1794 when John Skarratt opened a jeweller and watchmaker shop in Goose Lane, Worcester.

William Kilbourne Kay worked for Skaratt for Front page of a Kays home shopping catalogue of the 1920sa number of years until 1886, shortly after the birth of his second son, when he left and went into partnership with a local architect named George Jones. They started up their own jewellery and watch business, known as Kay, Jones & Co of Worcester.

By 1890, Kay and Jones had dissolved their partnership, but Kay remained in the Foregate premises and changed the name of the company to Kay’s of Worcester.

The mail order business side of Kays prospered and by June 1895 Kay & Co Ltd was registered at Companies House and is still the name Kays uses today.

In 1902, the board of directors accepted that the company should diversify and they started to sell “Manchester Goods and Ladies Tailoring”.

Over the next decade, William Kay and his sons, Tom and Edwin, travelled extensively across the U.K. and Europe to establish business links with suppliers and to buy stock for the catalogue. This “grand tour” also ensured the continuation of the business by establishing new business contacts for items that could be sold through the catalogues.

By the mid 1920s, Jack Kay, the youngest son, resigned his commission in the Army to take up a directorship in the company as William Kay took a reluctant step backwards from the running of the company.

In 1937, Isaac Wolfson (the newly appointed Managing Director of Great Universal Stores Ltd of Manchester), made a visit to the offices of Kays in Worcester. Negotiations took place that resulted in the majority of the company’s shareholdings being sold to G.U.S. and Kay & Co Ltd benefiting from being given “administrative and managerial support” from G.U.S. for the next twenty-five years.

In 1994 Kays celebrated its 200th anniversary and a number of special events were held in Worcester including a celebration lunch for invited guests and a plaque was unveiled by the wife of the chairman of GUS on the shop at St Swithin’s Street where John Skarratt started the business in 1794.

By the year 2000, Kays was still a trading, published catalogue business but was now part of a GUS company known as Argos Retail Group.

As of 2008 Kays is part of the Littlewoods Shop Direct Group, and is sister catalogues to Littlewoods, Marshall Ward, Additions, Choice catalogue and Great Universal.

In 2010, Kays catalogue merged with it's 2 sister catalogues from the Shop Direct Group, Great Universal and Empire Stores, to create a brand new home shopping catalogue K and Co.

Go to K&Co at catalogue connection to get more information regarding the Kays catalogue website (now part of K&Co) and this site also reviews all the home shopping mail order catalogue websites available in the UK.
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