B&Q is expanding its presence on the high street with new B&Q Local convenience stores, while rising costs force many other retailers to close shops.
The DIY and home improvement retail giant has been trialling smaller high street stores since 2020, but now plans to launch two stores in London’s Palmers Green and Camden districts with the new name in the first quarter of 2023.
They will be the first to bear the B&Q Local brand, which B&Q recently applied to register as a trademark.
Graham Bell, chief executive of B&Q, said: “Depending on the test and trial we could probably see quite a few - there are 50 odd catchments where we’re not represented. But it’s finding the physical location and getting planning permission.”
B&Q's plans to open new shops come as soaring inflation and energy prices are forcing many big retailers to reduce costs by closing shops.
In October, M&S said it will shut one in four of its larger stores to save hundreds of millions of pounds on rent after its energy costs were £40m higher than expected this year.
The Association of Convenience Stores has warned spiralling energy costs could force thousands of the UK’s convenience stores to close when the government’s relief scheme for small stores ends in March 2023.
London's Oxford Street now has the highest number of empty shops since 2016, with household names such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, and HMV having abandoned the capital's premier retail street. Many shops have been replaced by American candy stores and vape stores.
Retail veteran Mr Bell, who previously worked for Asda, said B&Q had looked to the success of the big grocers’ convenience stores for inspiration. He said: “Grocers have led the way with [ventures like] Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express.”
B&Q's smaller stores themselves offered a “takeaway range that’s probably most of the DIY generic bits and pieces” but also allowed shoppers access to “the full proposition you would get in one of our large stores”, he said.
“You’ll still be able to plan and buy a complete kitchen and order lots of goods in larger stores and get them delivered the next day for click and collect.”
However, Mr Bell stressed B&Q planned to continue opening larger stores as well as the convenience outlets.
B&Q had cycled through “a lot of different names” before deciding on B&Q Local, he added. “Customers have this expectation and they want a bit of clarity. We've tried to do something with the fact that they're local communities, local stores and local access for convenience.”
There were “huge populations” that struggled to reach B&Q’s larger stores, he said, particularly in Urban areas. “London is a huge catchment and we obviously can’t get the representation of the large stores that we’d like. It’s areas we’re not so represented in and allowing those communities ease of access.”
B&Q also launched a new online 'marketplace' earlier this year where shoppers can access goods from third party suppliers - effectively boosting the range of products sold by B&Q by roughly 100,000.
B&Q’s sales dipped 2.7pc over the three months to October 31, latest financials for its parent company Kingfisher reveal.
A recent survey of 1,000 consumers by Retail Economics and money-saving app Hyperjar found DIY and home improvement gifts were deemed to be the most expandable by consumers cutting back as the cost of living surges.
However, Mr Bell said B&Q had not seen a “huge deterioration” in sales of traditional gifts such as power tools.
He added: “If you look at our Christmas range, it’s definitely on track. People are doing Christmas as they’ve always done - even prior to the pandemic it looks on par with that.”