DIY in Europe approaching the key selling season.

Kingfisher announced its full year results at the end of March and with it came an explanation of what the new Chief Executive, Véronique Laury, wants to do with the business.

Two things stand out for us in the Kingfisher announcement, both of which we would take issue with. First there is to be a streamlining of the business creating “One Kingfisher”. Since Laury also emphasises the importance of creating formats specific to each country, we question whether One Kingfisher is the right way forward.

She also states that she believes that DIY has a great future. Perhaps in her position she has to say things like that. But it happens that her assertion coincides with the announcement of plans to close 15% of B&Q’s space, including 60, presumably smaller, stores.

How has the DIY sector performed?

DIY has been a tough market in recent years. This is hardly surprising as consumers were bound to cut back on home improvement spending during the recession - especially in a downturn as severe and prolonged as the one we have experienced.

In fact, the Kingfisher results were not too bad, with growth in the UK and a decline of 1% in France. But, as we show in the next table, France could have been worse. Bricorama underperformed Kingfisher with sales down 2.5%, but the winner was Groupe Adeo (Leroy Merlin) with sales up 6%.

To put this in perspective, the table shows some figures for the major DIY markets (those for which retail sales figures are reported).

The first, purple, bar shows the DIY performance in 2014. The second, green, shows the performance since 2010 (% pa) and the final, blue, bar the growth in all retail sales in 2014.

Figure 1: DIY in key European Markets, 2011-14
[graphic: image 1]
Source: National statistics offices/Mintel

France: The country has performed badly and has been in and out of recession. DIY retailers are performing more as if the country is trending down, after holding up reasonably well since 2010.

Germany: After a recovery in 2013, the sector has fallen sharply in 2014, though much of that is because Praktiker finally closed down in 2013.

The Netherlands: After a particularly tough recession, the country began to recover in 2014 and the DIY performance is typical of consumers who at last feel safe to spend money on their homes again.

The UK: The strongest performing country in the EU has also seen the strongest DIY performance. So it is perhaps a little surprising that this is where Véronique Laury plans her first cull of stores.

What do we think about the future for DIY?

But we think she is right to do so. There are two major trends working against the DIY sector and this is why we do not agree with her assertion that the prospects for the sector are good.

  1. The population is ageing. Nothing new about that, but older people are less inclined to do DIY themselves and more inclined to pay someone else to do it for them. Tradesmen are much more likely to buy their goods from a builders merchant than a DIY store.

  2. Urbanisation: There is a perceptible trend across Europe for younger people to move back into City centres. They are less likely to own a car and more likely to be unable to afford to buy their home. Those renting are usually much more constrained in any DIY they might want to do.

Both these trends imply a move back into the high street for shopping and a move away from using superstores. DIY retailers lose out on both counts.

Actions speak louder than words

So perhaps we should look more closely at what Ms Laury does rather than at what she says. Slimming down the B&Q estate makes sense and perhaps it will be followed by similar moves by Kingfisher elsewhere.

Kingfisher’s strategy of targeting small tradesmen and serious DIYers with Screwfix and Brico Depot makes a lot of sense. But we do wonder whether it should also be opening smaller, high street stores for the consumer market. It looks to us as if the high street format of Clas Ohlsen has a more exciting future in the current environment than the DIY superstore.

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