In an interview with Reek Week, Laury speaks openly about the challenges involved in making radical, structural reforms and keeping up with the pace of change.

Above and beyond the transformation strategy already in progress, Laury reveals that Kingfisher’s DIY stores will increasingly be in city centre locations, in line with urbanisation and a demand for convenience as well as in-store experience.

She says the business also strives to become more than just a retailer so will offer more services in the future, such as rental.

Will robots run retail?

Speaking to delegates at World Retail Congress, Laury said that retailers must “change or die”, but disagreed with founder Richard Liu’s extreme prediction that the industry will be entirely run by robots in ten year’s time.

Conversely, she emphasised the importance of humans in retail: “The only benefit of having stores in the future is to have humans in them.

“I’m not a dreamer. I know a lot of people watch videos on YouTube of how to do home improvement and they are really good, but there’s something more personal about helping people through their project and the emotional connection with someone who really understands what you are going through,” she said. 

To this end, she said that the role people will play will change, and conceded that the number of people employed by retail companies will decrease over time as new technologies are deployed.

She said that Kingfisher, which currently employs 78,000 people, will not have the same number of people in the future.

“Probably it will be a bit less, probably,” she said.

But she pointed out that the company would not make radical cuts to its workforce as it has a “social responsibility”, even if this does slow down the rate of change. 

“Socially, it would not be right to get rid of those people and it’s not the sort of CEO I want to be. But it can slow us down because people don’t always welcome change.

”You need to make people understand that either you change or you die.”

To this end, Kingfisher has launched a home improvement academy to bolster store staff’s DIY expertise, and works to upskill existing employees and attract new talent at its new digital hub in London.

Evolution has a price tag

Laury made clear that to survive in the digital economy retailers must make sacrifices and “be bold”.

“The important thing for me is, I don’t think we can do what we were already doing – have the same number of people and stores in the same locations – and just keep putting digital on top.

”For 50 years, retail has been location, location, location. The race was to get the best store in the best location and if there is a cost associated with that it would be fine.

“Technology has changed all that, but I think a lot of retailers have underestimated the cost of digital and not realised if you simply add that cost to your existing economic model it doesn’t work.”

Speed it up

Laury added that, while retailers are accustomed to change, when it comes to digital, retailers have not moved quickly enough.

She offered the example that just 8 years ago she was hearing people in boardrooms saying that Amazon “wouldn’t go anywhere” because they were losing money.

Laury said that now she craves younger and more diverse board members and advisors. She said she regularly asks advisors: “Can you find me a 30-year-old executive you can put on this board?”

“I’m looking for diversity, different points of view, diverse experiences, and younger people. I think it’s a challenge.”