The DIY giant’s One Team Product Show highlighted its plan to grow the home improvement market by selling exciting, user-friendly products. Nicola Harrison visited the event to check out its new range.

In a market that lacks the might of big consumer brands such as Apple, DIY retailer Kingfisher has taken it upon itself to lead product innovation in home improvement.

And in a clear signal of its intent, the world’s third largest DIY retailer last week held a huge product show in Lille, France, where its French arm is headquartered. It was the first time Kingfisher has held such an event, reflecting the growing importance of innovation at the retailer.

The Kingfisher One Team Product Show brought together 10,000 products, 400 suppliers and 6,000 store staff from across B&Q and Castorama France in a 200,000 sq ft conference hall.

Speaking at the event, Kingfisher group chief executive Ian Cheshire said the new range of products, featuring items including a fire alarm that sends a text when it detects smoke and a shed that can be assembled in 60 minutes, is “about making things easier”.

“People would do more [DIY] if they could do it more easily,” said Cheshire.

As such, Kingfisher has increased its innovation budget by 50% in the last three years after the retailer spotted a huge opportunity to grow the home improvement market, not just take a bigger slice of it.

The pace of change has been rapid at Kingfisher. Common ranges - own-brands that exist across the group - have risen from 2% of sales to 8% in the last year alone. And that momentum shows no sign of slowing. Kingfisher wants common ranges to represent 50% of sales eventually. The move allows Kingfisher not only to drive innovation in a market that lacks it, but also to drive margin gains, half of which will be ploughed into keeping prices down, said Cheshire.

One of the aims is to “democratise high-end product” according to Cheshire. He gives the example of a pop-up extractor fan that would “cost thousands” at a department store, but Kingfisher own-brand Cooke & Lewis has developed one for £590. “It’s very cool, very modern and in an affordable [price] bracket,” he said.

Because there has been little innovation from the brands in DIY, Cheshire said shoppers are “willing to test own-brand in this area”. But he cautioned that it “takes time” to change shopper perceptions and convince them that B&Q is the place to come to for product innovation. “It’s a slow burn,” said Cheshire.

Work behind the scenes

It may take some time, but going by the number of product innovations on show in Lille, the retailer is on the
right track. Oriel analyst Jonathan Pritchard was on the trip and, while he believes Kingfisher’s UK market share is coming under threat from value retailers including The Range, he was impressed by the new products. “There is a lot of innovation going on behind the scenes on products, and many of the Kingfisher-owned or licensed brands are getting real traction in store, in areas such as paint, power tools and garden,” he said.

One product likely to prove popular when it hits the shelves next year is the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. Created by the design team behind the iPod, the system sends a text to the homeowner’s mobile telling them what the danger is, where it is and what to do. “It’s exactly why you bought the iPod when it first came out,” said Cheshire. “It’s so intuitive.”

While not a product as such, the new Kitchen 3D planner tool is a service that should speed up the time spent in stores. The ‘Spaces Planner’ technology has cut virtual kitchen planning down from two hours to about two minutes.

The shopper only has to wait moments before getting an exact quote and a full shopping list of the items needed. The benefits to the customer are obvious, but the speediness also helps the retailer as it frees up time for sales people to sell.

Last year 260,000 kitchen plans were created and never bought, meaning staff wasted 520,000 hours that could have been better spent. With this system, staff will know within two minutes if they are on to a sale or not.

Quick and easy to use

But it is not just the high-tech products that Kingfisher is pushing. One item that ought to chime well with shoppers come summer is the Camden Barbecue. The retailer realised customers wanted barbecues that are easy to use, clean and store. So it designed a new range of own-brand Blooma barbecues with features including porcelain enamel grills that can go in the dishwasher and shelves that are foldable, making it easy to store.

In the spirit of making home improvement easier, Kingfisher will begin selling a shed that can be assembled in 60 minutes. The own-brand Blooma quick-assembly shed is designed to appeal to those consumers who are afraid to attempt such a seemingly tricky job. It is easy to put together because the panels are preassembled and it uses a stapling system rather than nails. The plastic roof is hard-wearing and requires less maintenance than traditional roof felt and can be fitted from the inside, while the door and window can be placed on different areas of the structure.

The quick-assembly theme also stretches to kitchen units under the Cooke & Lewis brand. The kitchen cabinets use a Uniclic system, requiring no screws, and can be assembled in less than a minute.

It may be hard to add value to a hammer, but Kingfisher seems to have achieved it with its own-brand Mac Allister.

After repeated use or when used outside in rain, traditional hammers can slip in the user’s hand. The Mac Allister hammer is designed to tackle this by using the same technology found on golf clubs to produce a non-slip handle.

The other annoyance associated with hammers is hitting thumbs when putting nails into walls. The Mac Allister hammer aims to eradicate this with an innovative magnetised groove in the top that holds different sized nails, meaning thumbs and fingers do not need to go anywhere near the danger zone.

Kingfisher also hopes to ease DIYers’ woes with a Mac Allister cordless drill with a built-in torch in the end to make it easier to see in confined, poorly lit spaces. It also has an ‘intuitive chuck’ making it easier to change to different bit sizes.

The eye catching Milly Lamp is designed to solve transport issues for the consumer. The own-label lamp is made from silicone and can be shaped into different sizes and packs flat, making it easy to transport from the store or when moving house. It also makes it easier for the retailer to stock and display.

Kingfisher is also looking at innovations in the delivery realm, and is planning to launch next-day delivery on its entire paint range.

The retailer claims it will be first to market with the offer when it launches next year.

Cheshire said the new product launches are the “physical manifestation of the Creating the Leader strategy”, which he kick-started last year. “It starts with product and people. This is the thing that delivers the numbers. It’s the birth of the future of Kingfisher.”

Next generation numbers Electronic shelf-edge pricing

Retailers could soon be using ‘dynamic pricing’ based on demand and time of day in the same way that airlines and hotels do, according to Kingfisher group chief executive Ian Cheshire.

He said that electronic shelf-edge pricing would allow the retailer to change prices across stores. Kingfisher’s French business Castorama already uses electronic shelf-edge pricing and Cheshire said he would bring it to B&Q in the UK.

During a store tour around Castorama in Dunkirk, France, Cheshire said: “We’ll see this in B&Q in the next generation of stores.”

Cheshire also sits on the board at hospitality firm Whitbread, and said that six years ago the business tended to offer just two prices for a hotel room. “Now there are something like 10,000,” said Cheshire. “Dynamic pricing will become much more common [in retail]. People are used to it because of airlines.”

He said electronic shelf-edge pricing means that shops are consistently displaying up-to-the-minute accurate prices, and that store staff save time on manually pricing goods. It also gives the retailer a “much greater focus on the visible price file”, he said.

The prices are controlled by each store, allowing Castorama to install local pricing.

Cheshire also said that retailers could soon offer shoppers personalised offers based on their preferences and their exact location in store.

He explained that near field communication chips in smartphones will enable retailers to identify shoppers in certain parts of the store and create special offers for them by sending a message to their devices. Cheshire said Kingfisher had been “doing little behind the scenes tests” to see how easy it would be to launch such a mechanism.