It may seem like stating the obvious to say that as well as promoting a range of products, each Kays catalogue also promotes the Kays brand as a whole. I thought it might be interesting to look at how they went about this brand promotion in an individual catalogue and picked, more or less at random, Spring/Summer 1939.

On its early pages — well before any product information — this catalogue features a two-page spread on the Kays building at 9-10 The Tything, Worcester, entitled ‘Corners of our great new extension’. You can see pictures of the Underwear and Fur Department, the Packing Room and ‘one of our high speed electric lifts to all floors’. And there are two photos which display ‘the magnificent facade of our new extension’.

'Corners of our great new extension', Spring/Summer 1939.
‘Corners of our great new extension’, Spring/Summer 1939.

The building is treated as evidence of success, which the catalogue connects with history and tradition. But the catalogue also celebrates the modernity of the new building and the improvements it will bring to customer service.

Since 1794 the Policy of “KAYS” has remained the same . . . “Honest Value and Courteous Attention to every order, whether large or small!” . . . and the success of the Policy is reflected in our continued growth.

Owing to the enormous influx of business, we have found it necessary to convert the entire building into modern efficient offices. Our Staff now occupies the whole of the space of the two upper stories [sic], and can handle your orders quickly and capably.

In other words, Kays suggest, they are both old and new, modern and traditional — the best of both worlds, all at the same time.

The same theme plays out in the catalogue’s main pages. Kays bring you up-to-date fashions (‘the surest way to be right in all things stylish is to depend on Kays’) but also want you to know that they’ve been in the business long enough to be ‘famous for footwear’, to sell ‘famous Cork linoleums’, ‘famous “Wonder” sheets’ and a ‘famous “Paragon” British made sewing machine’.

They want you to know that they have a long history in the watch business (‘over 140 years’), but also that they’re not old-fashioned: they’re selling a ‘fine range of attractive modern watches’ and are ‘keeping step with the times’.

'always reliable "Since 1794"', Spring/Summer 1939.
‘Kays watches always reliable “Since 1794″‘, Spring/Summer 1939.

As for fine china:

“If you want Tea Sets or Dinner Sets, go to Kays” — that has been an accepted saying in thousands of British homes for many years, but we have never offered better value than we do in this Set.

The message: Kays have always been great, but they’ve never been greater than right now.

'The "Worcester" tea service', Spring/Summer 1939.
‘The “Worcester” tea service’, Spring/Summer 1939.

Kays also, not surprisingly, seem to have wanted to associate their brand with both low prices and high quality. To see how (or whether) they managed this in 1939, take a look at this post: Unusually Keen.

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