Brand Health Check: B&Q

In a tough year, the DIY chain aims to benefit from the demise of rival Focus.

The recession hits, the housing market crashes, and what do people do? If reports are to be believed, we all stay home to redecorate and fix up the place. In reality, however, the picture is not so clear cut. B&Q's latest results show that its like-for-like sales slumped 6.7% in the 11 weeks to 16 July.

Ian Cheshire, group chief executive of B&Q parent Kingfisher, has said: 'These are testing times for retailers, particularly in the UK.' He's not kidding. B&Q's rival Focus DIY fell into administration in May, and this is not to mention all the other retail chains that have gone to the wall this year.

Yet, as Cheshire also pointed out, such times of crisis can create 'an opportunity for strong businesses such as ours to strengthen their position'.

The OFT has given B&Q the go-ahead to buy 30 Focus stores. Part of the fallout from Focus' failure was its stock clearance, which lured bargain-hunters. With those deals snapped up for summer, B&Q will be hoping normal trading can be resumed. That, too, is an issue, though, with sales of seasonal outdoor products hit by poor weather, down 20% for the quarter.

B&Q believes it will emerge from the current 'testing times' in excellent shape, well-placed to enter a new stage of development. But do the latest numbers show that it might need more than just a patch-up-job?

We asked Giles Hedger, group chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett, which works with Homebase, and Nick Gray, managing director of Live & Breathe, which has Argos as a client.


The recently reported drop in sales looks largely circumstantial, coming as it does after a stimulated first quarter, and diluted as it has been by the clearance sale of the ill-fated Focus. Beyond the tales of inclemency and insolvency, however, something interesting is afoot.

For a while now, the retail margin of B&Q in the UK has been a focus for its owner, Kingfisher. Impressive improvement has been achieved in some difficult years, but, while B&Q has become more efficient, it needs to keep its eye on the main chance - the leadership of a market and ownership of an idea.

The stated focus is making DIY easier, but ease alone may not be enough to unlock latent demand, and teaching consumers one at a time is a slow way to build Rome.

Improving your home is difficult, but it can be beautiful and worth the effort. The question is not 'What are you mending this weekend?', but 'What could you build if you put your mind to it?'


- The fact that 'difficulty' is a claimed barrier to home improvement doesn't mean that 'ease' is a winning strategy for stimulating demand.

- The banana skins of the overweening amateur just serve to remind us why we put it off. Instead, tune in to the psychology of a cash-strapped mortgagee with wet-room aspirations.

- The website says B&Q exists 'to help people create homes to be proud of'. Help is only one of the verbs in that sentence, and only part of the idea in the brand.

- Identify a clear, comfortable doorway into the brand for the non-trade segments you seek to attract. The proficiency continuum is a myth and the tribes need separate handling.


I don't think there should be a knee-jerk reaction to the latest figures. The more commentators jump on results like this, the more self-fulfilling the prophecy of the declining high street will become.

B&Q should be left to maintain its resolve - allowed to regroup and stand strong, and make the most of the opportunities it has now, rather than pandering to sensationalised headlines.

The numbers weren't great, but they were over a relatively short period. The closure of Focus caused some volatility in the market, but now it has gone, B&Q should be in a stronger position.

The recent economic turmoil may have affected spending, too, but, on the whole, people are continuing to improve their houses rather than move or buy property. So the portents for a better position in the long term are good.

B&Q has a great offer, which isn't often well-communicated. It provides loads of services such as reserve and collect, next-day delivery and help on improving your DIY skills - in-store demos, classes and more. These are all fantastic, but could be better communicated.


- B&Q needs to embark on an aggressive programme of local marketing around the stores acquired from Focus to migrate the previous loyal customer base to the new brand.

- Make more of the added services - DIY classes in stores are a fantastic idea, but still not widely known about - and there's much more that B&Q is already doing that it can promote.

- Maintain resolve. B&Q is doing a good job and should continue with its strategy of not only providing great prices, but also 'making it easier' for us all to do DIY - and not be swayed off course.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug backs 'rubbish' mobile app with TV ad
Powerade launches global World Cup campaign
Burberry's flagship Shanghai store facade responds to weather changes
Subway considers taking fast food to fast lane with F1 sponsorship
Ikea splurges 'grey' Belgium with colour
Grim outlook for Tesco boss Philip Clarke ahead of expected profits fall
Thomson to create first crowd-sourced wedding decided by Facebook fans
Currency wars meets origami in Alpari FX trading ad campaign
Amazon rumoured to launch 3D smartphone in September
Facebook to allow European users to store and transfer money on site, claims report
Unilever pilots multi-brand advertising with YouTube beauty channel
Lego, Coca-Cola, Net-a-Porter, Bitcoin and AOL: the digitally creative brands
Dove tries to tell women their beauty is innate through placebo patches
Wonga faces social media storm after forcing Twitter to remove satirical material
Spotify tells the stories of relationships with music
Skype contrasts real stories with 'saccharine' style of Google and Apple
Top 100 UK advertisers: BSkyB increases lead as P&G, BT and Unilever reduce adspend
Viral Review: One Direction perfume 'prankvert' should have been a bigger hit
German beer brand Warsteiner tells drinkers to 'do it right'
SSE signs 10 year deal to sponsor Wembley Arena
Co-op bank posts losses of £1.3bn and expects no profits for two years
Morrisons digital boss Simon Harrow to leave the business
Tesco boss Philip Clarke backs CMO Matt Atkinson's 'enormous contribution' to brand