In an earlier post, I talked about the way their Spring/Summer 1939 catalogue presents Kays as both an old firm with strong traditions, and a modern business, up-to-date with fashions and technology.

The same catalogue also wants its readers to know that Kays offer both high quality and low prices.

One of the inside front pages features a ‘3-fold guarantee’ covering quality, prices and customer satisfaction: a marketing technique that would not be out of place in a modern catalogue, or online.

'Guarantee', Spring/Summer 1939.
‘Every purchase is backed by our 3-fold guarantee’, Spring/Summer 1939.

The language is really what sets this page in its time. ‘We guarantee our merchandise to be Unusually Keen’, writes the Kays of 1939, ‘and as low in price as possible, consistent with quality.’

I like the awkwardness of ‘consistent with quality’. Kays realise that their customers know that cheap goods are often cheap for a reason, and seem anxious to make sure that although they’re promising low prices, they won’t be associated with low quality.

On a later page, they even take the trouble to explain why they can sell their ‘”wonder” sheets’ for low prices: ‘Low-priced–because we placed a big cotton contract before raw material costs rose so rapidly!’

Conversely, Kays also try to manage customers’ expectations. They sometimes seem worried that they may have promised too much. The catalogue speaks highly of Kays’ made-to-measure suits: ‘Every garment is made with painstaking care by master craftsmen.’ But a little below, it adds: ‘Although we maintain a high standard of quality, “Value for Money” is always our foremost thought when compiling cloth ranges for the ensuing year.’

'Made-to-measure department', Spring/Summer 1939.
‘Made-to-measure department’, Spring/Summer 1939.

I think modern firms’ advertising is a generally lot slicker and less obvious about the potential problems it’s trying to smooth over. But perhaps someone out there will be able to contradict me!

The idea of a guarantee crops up again on a page selling boots, with a strong emphasis on the Kays brand: ‘Any pair bearing our name is guaranteed for satisfactory wear’. The illustration of the boots includes a little Kays logo, and there’s also another picture of the Kays building (featured heavily at the beginning of the catalogue). Not only are the boots for sale in a Kays catalogue, they’re strongly branded as Kays  boots.

boots, Spring/Summer 1939.
‘Kays of Worcester . . . famous for footwear’, Spring/Summer 1939.

Similarly, they sell a Kays  sewing machine, Kays  cork linoleum, Kays  push chairs, Kays  prams, Kays  watches, Kays  clocks and Kays  ‘”Perfection” Tea’.

They sell a vacuum cleaner called ‘The Kay’, and all their bicycles are branded ‘The “K”‘ — for example, ‘The “K” Cyclo Sports’.

The catalogue illustrations show the Kays company name or logo marked on cutlery, watches, and even this wringer:

'Famous washers & wringers', Spring/Summer 1939.
‘Famous washers & wringers’, Spring/Summer 1939.

I did find some clocks marked with a different brand name: ‘Smith’s “Sectric Timers”‘. And in fact, the products Kays sold in Spring/Summer 1939 would have been manufactured by a variety of different firms. But their catalogue focusses on Kays. It builds up a sense of Kays’ identity, and suggests that Kays and Kays almost alone are responsible for everything on its pages.

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