Belfast Telegraph

Drop in B&Q profits is blamed on change in consumer habits

By Audrey Watson

The flagging fortunes of DIY giant B&Q is down to changing shopping habits - which are also helping its sister firm Screwfix expand, a retail expert has said.

B&Q has nine stores across Northern Ireland and parent company Kingfisher yesterday revealed a fall in half-year profits, but insisted the company's turnaround is on track.

Kingfisher, which also owns trade tools chain Screwfix, posted a 2.3% fall in underlying pre-tax profits to £384m for the six months to August 1.

Earlier this year, B&Q announced it will shut stores at Boucher Road in Belfast and Buncrana Road in Londonderry by the end of the financial year, with the loss of dozens of jobs.

Eamonn Murphy, retail adviser at Murphy Chartered Surveyors, said: "People are changing the way they shop and this change is reflected in these latest figures. Consumers are opting for smaller, more convenient stores and a more personal shopping experience.

"How many people can honestly say they visit a 100,000 sq ft specialist DIY store more than a few times a year?"

However, Kingfisher announced plans to ramp up expansion of Screwfix, which has eight stores in the province, after like-for-like sales jumped 16.5% thanks to a buoyant UK housebuilding sector. And more Screwfix openings could be on the cards.

Mr Murphy said: "The success of Screwfix isn't surprising. Screwfix stores are aimed primarily at trade customers, but are also open to the public. Rather than a huge DIY outlet, they are more like a traditional hardware store with personal service and expert advice."

Kingfisher's recently-appointed chief executive Veronique Laury, previously announced some "sharp" decisions affecting the B&Q business, including closing as many as 60 B&Q stores over the next two years, affecting around 3,000 jobs in the UK and Ireland.

There has also been speculation that the group might phase out the B&Q brand name. Mr Murphy said: "Kingfisher are rationalising their business and it would be understandable if the company was considering merging B&Q and its French equivalent, Castorama.

"However, I would be very surprised if they did this." And he said some stores that might otherwise close could become combined B&Q and Screwfix outlets.

Other plans include cutting back on some of the 393,000 products sold across the company and adding nearly 200 outlets to the Screwfix chain, boosting it from 412 to around 600 throughout the UK as part of a group-wide overhaul.

And Alana Coyle, associate director of retail at CBRE in Belfast, said it was unlikely the B&Q brand would go. "B&Q is a recognised brand throughout the UK and Ireland with a strong market share - I would consider that the current restructuring plans are about rationalising the store portfolio rather than a phasing out of the brand," she added.

Belfast Telegraph