HAI study group tours top UK stores

In the middle of October, HAI brought two delegations of members on study tours to Milton Keynes in the UK. Hosted by Steve Collinge from the Insight Retail Group, a variety of DIY/home improvement, builders merchants and small format trading stores were visited in a packed two-day schedule.

The majority view among members was that the visits to Selco Builders Warehouse and Screwfix were the two most useful, as there are no similar format stores in the Republic of Ireland to match their offering, but broadly the consensus was that the retail and merchant bricks-and-mortar trade here in Ireland is in good shape relative to its UK counterparts. One of the most popular and beneficial aspects of taking a variety of members on a tour such as this was the opportunity to network which was appreciated by all.


Part of Kingfisher PLC, the third largest global home improvement company, B&Q has 296 stores, including eight in Ireland, and over 18,000 employees. In terms of turnover, B&Q is more than twice the size of its nearest competitor and their stores offer around 40,000 home improvement and garden products for three main customer groups: the everyday DIYer; the project initiator and the trade professional, served by the TradePoint brand. In recent years, they have struggled to grow their business and in March 2015, they announced plans to close up to 15% of their stores, which led to 64 branches closing over the following two years. They are currently investing in their store estate, updating store liveries and improving the shopping experience for consumers.


Part of Kingfisher PLC, Screwfix is the UK’s largest multi-channel supplier of heating & plumbing, electrical & lighting, screws, nails & fixings, security and ironmongery, as well as building & joinery to the trade. With 7,300 employees and 533 branches across the UK, it is the fastest growing retailer of home improvement products in the UK and it has plans to expand.

Its trade counters offer 11,000 products for immediate collection and in 2017 it has offered the ‘one minute click and collect service’. Through its website screwfix.com, it also dispatches thousands of parcels every week for next day and weekend delivery to tradesmen, handymen and serious home improvement enthusiasts all over the UK. Screwfix recently launched a shipping service to 23 countries across Europe and opened four trial stores in Germany in 2014 employing a further 82 members of staff.


Bunnings is a new entrant to the UK home improvement market following the acquisition of the Homebase chain by the Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers in February 2016. In Australia and New Zealand, it owns Bunnings Warehouse, the leading retailer of home improvement products and a major supplier to project builders, commercial tradespeople and the housing industry. Having acquired Homebase stores in the UK and Ireland, its intention is to convert all stores to the Bunnings format within five years. Since February 2017, nine stores have been converted, with a further 15-20 to be rebranded by year end. Despite positive feedback for the new format from customers and suppliers, the company has struggled to maintain sales and profit from the remaining Homebase estate, with a loss of £54 million in their last financial year.


Part of Grafton Group, Selco Builders Warehouse is one of the fastest growing suppliers of building products to the trade. Originally formed as Sewell & Co (Timber) Ltd in 1895, a small, family-owned business based in Birmingham, the company has grown into a highly competitive and highly respected trade-only builders merchant with 57 branches spanning four regions in England and Wales. Each branch offers around 15,000 trade products and the full range is also available on selcobw.com, with thousands of products available to buy online for next working day delivery, or to buy online and collect in-branch. Online and in-branch, it also offers services such as sheet-cutting, brick-matching, paintmixing hire, and delivery, project lists and credit account management.


The business is part of the General Merchanting Division of Travis Perkins PLC, which also owns Wickes, Toolstation (a major competitor to Screwfix), Benchmarx Kitchens and plumbing and tiling businesses. Travis Perkins has supplied building materials to the trade for over 200 years and is now one of the largest suppliers to the UK’s building and construction industry with a national network of more than 650 branches. More than 100,000 product lines are available to trade professionals and self-builders, including building materials, plumbing and heating, landscaping materials, timber and sheet materials, painting and decorating, dry lining and insulation, doors and joinery, and hand and power tools. Tools can also be hired from more than 200 outlets.


MP Moran is a traditional builders and plumbers merchant with five branches in the UK and two in Ireland (Castleisland and Swinford), stocking more than 32,000 lines. The company first opened its builders merchant doors in London in 1976, when its founder, Mick Moran, who had been working there since the mid-’60s, found it frustrating that he was unable to purchase all the products he needed in one store. The business prides itself on customer service and looking after its 170 staff. It delivers impressive sales and profit from seven branches, including its largest in Watford. Cash and account sales are split 40/60 across the group with the head office branch located on the Kilburn High Road. Loyalty cards were introduced recently and provided a means of targeting trade customers with promotional offers.

If you are interested in going on this UK Study Tour please contact Annemarie on 01 298 0969 or email annemarie@hardwareassociation.ie. The Tour cost is €500 inclusive of flights, accommodation and meals.