]>Woolworths is to open standalone Ladybird shops in the UK, but remains absolutely committed to licensed brands, as Ladybird's Simon Brown told Sam Phillips. Woolworths intends to open its first stand-alone Ladybird shop in the UK before the end of this year and will invest in 92 dedicated Ladybird areas in its larger shops. The new shops will be operated by a franchise partner, with a new fascia, and will stock 600 lines across fashion, hosiery, accessories, footwear, schoolwear and nightwear. More shops will open in 2007 and there are plans for more than 50 in the next five years. Successful trials have been going on with a stand-alone format in Ireland and with an instore shop in London. It's a bold time to be opening new retail outlets on the UK high street, but Ladybird's head of international, Simon Brown, explains a number of factors point to this being a successful move. For a start, the overseas model for Ladybird shops has been very successful and the tried and tested format and shop concept can be rolled out efficiently here with its own branding and layout. But also, this is a brand already well-known and much-respected by consumers. Research has shown Woolworths that consumers see the brand as a separate identity and as aspirational - not just a retailer. As Simon Brown says, 'which major brand can you think of now that doesn't have its own shop to show off the brand attributes to their best?' Up against competitors like Mothercare or Adams, Ladybird will distinguish itself by being purely for kids aged 0-10. Simon admits the childrenswear market remains tough and that fierce pricing means that although the volume of sales may be up, the value may not be. Ladybird will aim to surprise on this front by offering a boutique-type shopping environment, beautifully executed product and an aspirational shopping experience but with keen prices an absolute priority. Video footage of shoppers in the Dublin shops, for example, back up this element of surprise at value for money. In terms of product lines, this is an opportunity to offer variety and choice, particularly in the fashion lines and more depth than is currently possible within the space available in Woolworth stores. Lines such as toiletries will be trialled immediately and other areas of potential growth include hardware such as prams and infant products. Stand alone shops are an opportunity to offer specialist staff knowledge and space to these items. The good news is that licensing remains key. 'Licensed characters are very important to us strategically, as a group,' says Simon. 'We will continue to make sure that characters reflect the Ladybird brand so that we maintain our reputation as a leading seller of licensed products'. There will still be a Ladybird presence in every store. The first stand-alone location is yet to be confirmed, but sites are being investigated in Bath, Oxford and Bluewater, all locations that don't currently have a Woolworths and places that offer, as Simon says, 'a different sort of shopping experience.' He admits that in a retail year as tough as this one has been, this is an interesting move. But with consumers getting older, spending more money on fewer children and becoming ever-more discerning, this is the right time to mark Ladybird out as a specialist.