Kingfisher-owned DIY giant B&Q is reaping the benefits of a scheme to improve store standards, having cut gaps on shelves by 25 per cent.

The improvement, over the seven weeks to September 18, followed the launch of a staff handbook spelling out exactly what is expected of store employees, said Kingfisher UK chief executive Euan Sutherland.

“There is a degree of inconsistency in stores,” said Sutherland, who is determined to deliver consistent standards throughout the chain.

The improvement came as B&Q’s parent company Kingfisher delivered an adjusted pre-tax profit hike of 23 per cent to£214 million in the 26 weeks to August 2.

Group like-for-likes slipped 2.6 per cent in the period and the retailer warned of tougher trading to come. “It will be as bad if not worse in the second half,” warned group chief executive Ian Cheshire.

The core UK arm – comprising B&Q, Screwfix and Trade Depot – suffered a like-for-like drop of 4.8 per cent because of a weak outdoor season and the slowdown in consumer expenditure. B&Q’s comparable store sales slid 4.6 per cent in the period.

Kingfisher said its finances are robust, having sold its Italian arm for 560 million (£445 million) in July. It will now not need to borrow money until 2012.

Profit at Kingfisher’s French operations rose from£105 million to£128 million in the period. Like-for-likes fell 0.7 per cent.

B&Q China’s like-for-likes plummeted 23.6 per cent, with losses of£17 million because of a weak housing market and internal operational issues. However, Cheshire said China “remains an important long-term market opportunity”. He added: “China will become the biggest home improvement market in the world. It will be top of my agenda for the next six months.”

Panmure Gordon’s Philip Dorgan said: “We are very bearish about the impact of recent events in the banking industry on consumer spending. It may be that the effect is short-lived, but it could be that second half retail sales will be much, much worse than we expect.”