Attention to detail: Kingfisher boss Thierry Garnier
Sitting on a coffee shop balcony overlooking B&Q’s huge store in New Malden, Surrey, Thierry Garnier looks slightly excited. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I ask.
“After you’ve been in business for 20 years, you can smell whether it’s being handled well or badly,” he says
The tall, elegant and fashionably bearded French manager has discovered a scatter wire hanging from the translucent ceiling.
Immediately below us, the 55-year-old points to the empty spaces on the shelves in which blue-green, ceramic plant pots are displayed.
Garnier is a mathematician turned businessman who spent the first part of his career in the French public sector for the Eurocrat Michel Barnier.
The Kingfisher boss has improved his retail and trading skills at French hypermarket pioneer Carrefour.
His vision for the future of Kingfisher was born during a seven and a half year stint in China for Carrefour, who taught him that Europe’s big challenge is to catch up with Asia in terms of the speed of e-commerce.
His years in Beijing also became an intellectual challenge for Garnier, his wife and four children.
He set out personally to be fluent in Mandarin, and by the time he embarked on his new life in the UK, he was able to read his morning paper in Chinese over breakfast.
It is the meticulous attention to detail that sets the better retailers apart and in 18 short months at the helm the Frenchman who now lives in West London has already made a huge difference.
Aided by the pandemic and lockdown, the do-it-yourself and do-it-for-me company has seen increases in sales, profits and market share.
Garnier’s early decisions included ending his predecessor’s “One Kingfisher” strategy, which meant promoting private label merchandise and uniformity in stores.
Successful: B&Q’s parent company, Kingfisher, saw sales, profits and market share spike during the pandemic as the British used their lockdown time to upgrade their homes
As we explore the large area of one of the country’s three best-selling B & Qs, he points out that the stores have again sold the most famous brands – Stanley for tools, Dulux for paints and high-quality German power tools alongside private label products.
Garnier also turned down the idea that Kingfisher’s three distinctive companies – B & Q for consumers, Screwfix for retail, and Brico, its Continental discount business – could somehow be grouped under one brand.
“When you have these strengths, don’t try to pull them together into one sentence,” he says.
‘There are three different customers and three different pricing models. The strength lies in the different banners. ‘
Garnier stands in the bright garden center at the back of the store, a big target for shoppers during the closing times, and is extremely satisfied with the densely visible arrangements of greenery, bushes and brightly colored border shrubs.
The most popular lines include the large, pre-planted pots full of flowering plants, ideal for flat residents with balconies.
Boris Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds reportedly spent £ 200,000 renovating 10 Downing Street
As we walk through kindergarten, the manager reports an invasion of shoppers last weekend and expects an increasingly socially distant flood over the bank holiday in May.
The next point of contact on our business tour is a neatly screened area with a click-and-collect counter. In the area behind it, the employees sort online orders after they have picked up items from the sales area.
The pandemic was a trigger that led B&Q to improve its e-commerce game.
On the first day of the initial lockdown, Garnier decided the DIY group needed to go online immediately. Although hardware stores were technically allowed to operate, none of the disease control protocols were ready.
In order to make the online task that was introduced in the 300 B&Q branches manageable, Garnier and colleagues decided on 6,000 lines, which are referred to in technical jargon as storage units and are each marked with a barcode.
The stores were reorganized for online operations overnight.
Garnier said, “We responded to the skyrocketing demand by doing order picking. This is typically the Chinese approach. ‘
“In China, there is a lot of picking in the shop, and with a promise of 15 minutes delivery time from the shop to your home, it’s quick.
“Over time, B & Q can expand its offering to the full range of stores.” While Kingfisher is getting used to a new world after Covid, the Frenchman is looking for the model in China.
“The younger generation of customers is really looking for speed everywhere,” he says.
“You can see that in the supermarket. You see that on TikTok and its 15-second films. ‘
While working for Carrefour in China, the Kingfisher boss learned that customers wanted their basket in half an hour.
That meant 15 minutes of picking and 15 minutes of delivery. He tries to bring the same discipline into his new operation.
‘B&Q clicks and collects in an hour. We fight for speed. I think an hour is too long. In Spain they do it in 15 minutes and at Screwfix it is a minute, ”he says.
In addition to trading turbochargers online in the UK and continental operations, Kingfisher also needs to adapt its model to reflect the cultural shift during the pandemic and the return to the home improvement business.
The more time people spend at home, the better for Kingfisher’s do-it-yourself and trade guns.
In addition to Screwfix, B & Q operates a cave-like self-service facility called Tradepoint in the basement under the larger shops for smaller construction companies who want to rent wood or a cement mixer.
Garnier says, “When you’re more at home, with more wear and tear, you may be looking for a yard that you don’t have and you need a proper home office, space to work out, and possibly a cubicle in the yard. This is the new DIY. ‘
The company’s marketing surveys show that large cohorts of younger people between the ages of 18 and 34 were drawn to home improvement, and a staggering 75 percent said they enjoyed it.
In the wake of the pandemic, in which store sales across the group rose 7.1 percent to £ 12.3 billion, Garnier is confident that home improvement and home improvement activities are geared towards a good run in the medium term.
As the blockage was relaxed, B & Q was able to reopen its services in the field of kitchen design, color mixing systems and expand its range of wallpapers, which is now fashionable again.
It’s a shame Boris Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds didn’t think about B&Q before settling on the Lulu Lytle Rococo.
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