Why are B&Q’s sales figures so weak?

“Scapegoat” is the description that is being applied to Rob Cissell, who was moved from his post as chief executive of B&Q last week, after only 18 months in the job.

But Cissell may not be the only casualty. There is also speculation that marketing director David Roth may be moved from his post. A B&Q spokeswoman says: “Roth is still with us in the role of marketing director.”

Poor UK and Irish like-for-like sales (down 7.7 per cent for the 13 weeks ending April 30) led the City to call for blood.

So Cissell has been moved sideways to become commercial and development chief executive at parent company Kingfisher. Taking over from him is Ian Cheshire, previously B&Q’s international and development chief executive, who has won his spurs rolling out B&Q in China.

Unfortunately for Cissell, his time at the helm coincided with a slowdown in the housing market, which had a knock-on effect for the DIY trade.

However, Evolution Beeson Gregory retail analyst Nick Bubb says: “The housing market is affecting DIY spending, but there’s a sense that B&Q is under-performing.”

Bubb suggests that rival Homebase has been weathering the slowdown better than B&Q. Since its sale to GUS, Homebase has been getting its act together and benefiting from extra investment on stores and advertising.

B&Q also faces pressure from other sources. Troubled MFI is promoting its kitchens heavily, in a desperate push to boost sales. Specialist retailers such as Topps Tiles, and the generalist supermarkets are also nibbling away at the edges.

B&Q’s trade business is also vulnerable to operators such as Jewson and Travis Perkins, which last year bought Wickes. Sensitive to this, B&Q has responded by setting up standalone stores serving the trade.

B&Q has recently changed tack with its JWT-created advertising, moving away slightly from a price-led strategy in order to focus on female customers and aspirational products.

A full-blown launch of a multi-channel strategy, using in-store magazines and the internet, had been due later this year. Cheshire may add knowledge from China to this, even though the Chinese DIY market is substantially different. There, consumers look to DIY stores to provide whole room sets to equip their new-build flats, which are sold as shells.

One area where B&Q could raise its game, say observers, is the store environment, which is said to intimidate female shoppers and seems somewhat neglected. But with speculation linking Kingfisher with a takeover from US retailer Home Depot, among others, B&Q will have to get its house in order without such expensive frills.

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