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Press release:
'Innovating through a downturn'

24 September 2010


Don’t let the day-to-day stop you investing in your company’s future.

Two years into a downturn, and with 2011 looking challenging, many retailers will be wondering when the sun will shine again.

Most of us have been concentrating on the same priorities: managing costs and cash, safeguarding margins and keeping a close eye on stock levels. This all helps protect and enhance the bottom line, and of course we still need to focus on those things.

But I fundamentally believe that it is the best businesses that keep investing during the tough times to ensure they are in good shape when the better times arrive.

So, with many projects having long lead times, whether they are new product ideas, store developments or supply chain enhancements, the time to invest is now.

Driving sales growth is obviously difficult in the current climate, but at Kingfisher we have been busy laying the foundations for future growth. At B&Q for example, we recently launched a Dragons’ Den-style panel to help us filter new ideas from staff.

Called the Innovation Den, it features four B&Q directors who assess a selection of ideas from our staff and then back the best with set amounts of investment.

So far more than 1,000 ideas have been submitted. About 20 people have been in front of the panel (which is a lot less harrowing than the TV version) and the first few ideas are now being trialled by small groups of our stores.

The fact that so many suggestions have been made shows that there is no shortage of ideas, and we hope to gather even more when we open the panel up to suppliers and other groups.

One of our French businesses has also being blazing the innovation trail. Castorama, which now has its own design team and a research and development director, has been working on a series of innovations in products that people might have thought hard to reinvent.

In tiling for example, Castorama has launched click-together tiles that require no grout, and ultra-thin tiles that can be laid on top of the old ones. These two ranges now account for 8% of all Castorama’s tile sales.

Toilets are another example. There was some scepticism and a few raised eyebrows when Castorama launched a space-saving eco loo, which has a wash basin in the cistern and uses the water from the basin to flush the loo.

But this single product now accounts for 10% of Castorama’s toilet sales, at a price of €299. This shows that innovation is possible even in the most utilitarian of products, and that customers will always reward a good idea, even at a premium price.

And the loo, scary though it may sound, is now available at B&Q.


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