There is more than changing consumer habits behind the decision by Homebase, the DIY retailer, to close a tranche of its stores.
So Homebase is set to close a substantial portion of its stores and install Argos implants in parts of the remaining estate following a successful trial. And one of the reasons, we are informed, for this being done is that time-pressed people don’t do as much DIY as in the past and therefore fewer stores catering for this need are required. Makes sense really. Equally, Argos’ performance has been on an upward curve following its rapid transformation into a digital darling and perhaps a halo effect might therefore follow for Homebase.
“Current conventional wisdom has it that big equates to undesirable, irrespective of the type of shop”
John Ryan, Stores editor
But might there not be another pressing reason that some of Homebase’s stores aren’t up to the mark? That the sector is over-spaced is almost certainly true as the majority of DIY stores are large footprint entities and current conventional wisdom has it that big equates to undesirable, irrespective of the type of shop. But does this mean closing around a quarter of a store portfolio? And might people not be going to a number of the poor-performing Homebase stores because, well, they’re not very nice places?
The trick that commodity-led retailers need to be able to pull off when looking at their stores is to make the mundane tolerable and perhaps, at best, even interesting.
Switching sectors for a moment, this is why Waitrose has been succeeding. Food shopping is something that we all have to do and for the most part it is a chore. Yet this grocer has managed to make the experience interesting and the results are there for all to see.
Back to Homebase then, and a trip to the branch in Swiss Cottage. DIY’s a tricky thing and the right tools for the job are a good starting point. But where to find them? This is a dimly lit shed with tired aisles and if you can find a member of staff who can help you then it’s a result. The layout’s confusing and people tend to visit because it’s Hobson’s Choice in the area. This is not an uplifting experience and the exit door always seems attractive.
Perhaps an alternative spin on things should be put at this point. If DIY stores were not like Homebase in Swiss Cottage then we might feel inclined to do more DIY, more often. Certainly consumer habits are changing, but retailers still need to provide reasons for shoppers, of whatever mindset, to cross the threshold.