In their catalogue for Autumn/Winter 1927, advertising their ‘Kay’s “Defiance” Bed Linen Bales’, Kays admitted that ‘there are cheaper Bales on the market.’ However, according to Kays, these cheaper alternatives were of very low quality.
‘The country is flooded with rubbish, trashy goods such as Bed Linens, Blankets and Quilts.
‘From Newspaper descriptions they appear great bargains, but, unfortunately, the glowing descriptions are not verified in the articles.
‘We have (to satisfy ourselves) from time to time purchased these Bales, and in every instance have found the materials utter rubbish.’
By contrast, everything in the Kays’ bale was, we are told, ‘selected with care’ and ‘thoroughly tested’.
‘Our reputation has stood at the back of the “K” defiance Bale for over 30 years. Thousands of testimonials have been received and scores of “Repeat” orders arrive from satisfied customers every day. This is an undeniable guarantee of sterling value.‘
They even threw in two free towels with every purchase.
Like most businesses throughout history, Kays wanted to differentiate themselves from the competition. In the early decades of the 20th century, they were willing to take quite a blunt approach.
In Spring/Summer 1912, they were selling bamboo furniture. Amidst illustrations, prices and measurements, there is a passage to let the customer know that ‘all our patterns are made specially strong, splendidly finished in every respect, and altogether superior to the usual common nailed goods.’
26 years later, on a page in the Autumn/Winter 1928 catalogue promoting ‘Kay’s “Perfection” Tea’, Kays explain that their tea is ‘expertly blended to suit the water of any district in the country and not, as in the case of most brands, just that of certain districts’.
I’m quite fond of the ‘Important Announcement’ on the inside front cover of the catalogue for Spring/Summer 1935. The main part is about customer credit, but towards the end, the subject changes to Kays’ history.
Kays wanted their customers to remember that ‘in dealing with Kays of Worcester, they have a firm of 140 years’ standing,* who are known all over the Country for the excellent quality of the goods they supply.
‘Kays are not like one of these new and indifferent Firms that spring up like mushrooms at regular intervals.’
It looks as though they were feeling threatened by new, more youthful competition. In 1932, John Moores had founded Littlewoods Mail Order Stores — probably one of the ‘mushrooms’.
Kays seem to have got more subtle as the years went by. I couldn’t find anything as blunt as the linen bale advert in catalogues from the 1940s. In Autumn/Winter 1947, however, I did find Kays making a big claim for the superiority of their pants and vests. Apparently, ‘there is no other underwear made where stricter attention is paid to detail and design’.
*This was not exactly true. The Skarrat warchmaker’s business, which amalgamated with Kays in 1896, dated from at least 1794, and so would have been aged at least 141 in 1935. But the Kays company was created in 1886, so its age would have been 49.