LSA - Interview with Henri Solère

Behind the scenes of Kingfisher's own brands

The Castorama France head office in Templemars, near Lille, is where the design and quality teams of the Kingfisher group work. LSA was able to exclusively access it and talk to Henri Solère, the group's Chief Offer and Sourcing Officer.

Quality checks on Kingfisher own-brand drills and toilets at the Castorama France head office in the North.

A few figures:

  • £5.3bn (€6.2bn): the scale of own-brand sales within the Kingfisher group in 2020-2021
  • 44%: the share of own brand in turnover
  • +19 points: growth in the share of own brand between 2015 and 2020

Source: Kingfisher

Oringinal article: Dans les coulisses des MDD de Kingfisher (lsa-conso.fr)

The challenges

Own brands are a major differentiating factor for all brands. This is even truer for Kingfisher who, after years of difficulty, is back in the game.

The scale of own brands increased by 19 points, reaching 44% of turnover at the end of the 2020-2021 financial year.

Quality of execution and customer satisfaction are key to achieving this level of results. Hence the enormous efforts made in this area.

Last year, Kingfisher achieved exactly 44% of its turnover through its own-brand ranges. In 2015, however, they accounted for only 25% of sales. It has come a long way and, in the return to the game of the British home improvement and DIY group - up 7.2% for its 2020-2021 financial year, which ended at the end of January last year - this rise in own brands has played an important part. It was well worth LSA visiting the head office of Castorama France, in Templemars (59), near Lille, where, with the Southampton site in England, the group's design and quality teams in particular (including the range, sourcing, quality, sustainability, design, brand and data teams) are working hard to further improve this performance. “Around sixty people are spread between the two sites, and without being an R&D centre in the strict sense of the term, are working to develop own-brand ranges for the entire Kingfisher group”, says Henri Solère, the group’s Chief Offer and Sourcing Officer for the last three years.

Credentials

The principle that everyone here has in mind? Usefulness and ease of use. Finding that little extra that will make a difference. On paper, something very simple, akin to the ABC of business. In reality, there is a crazy complexity and the need to juggle different imperatives: development budgets are not easily expandable and costs must necessarily be met to be able to position ranges in the right price quartiles. But in this perpetual struggle, acquired expertise helps. “Our own-brand sales increased to £5.3bn last year. This allows us to reach a critical size to be worth and thus have the means to achieve our ambitions”, Henri Solère argues.

And these ambitions, precisely, are to give these own brands all their credentials. In other words: ensure that GoodHome, Magnusson, Erbauer and others - the group works with a catalogue of around 35 brands, a maximum of a dozen or so per company - are seen as brands in their own right. It is far from the time when own brands had no other purpose than to occupy the bottom part of the shelves. These ranges are now designed with “brand territories” worthy of the major international brands.

Of course, the price challenge remains: “80% of customers who ultimately give up their projects do so because it’s too expensive or much too complicated. Two major obstacles that our own brands are designed to help overcome”, explains Henri Solère. Of course, these own brands are also designed to meet the challenges of differentiation. But they are, above all, engaged in a “search for meaning”: “They must provide practical solutions to customers and respond very concretely to their needs”, insists Henri Solère.

To achieve this, the Kingfisher teams spend a lot of time in people’s homes observing and questioning. “This part of collecting information is essential”, Henri Solère assures us. “It allows us to connect with reality, to see how our customers live in their homes. It is the basis for defining our strategic direction around the benefits that our offer must provide to improve life at home and make completing projects easier”. Just one example. Not the most glamorous, we agree, but which will mean something to everyone: in a toilet, the enemy is limescale. So, the challenge is to design a product that can be easily cleaned. Therefore, where very often water flows through a small stream, Kingfisher toilets have a much wider water inlet that lets you wipe a sponge over it without having to contort yourself excessively. Simple and effective.

Customer testers

The processes are always the same. “We define the features so that they meet specific uses. Some are new to the market and this is proof of our innovative strength. Obviously, the estimated quantities sold are always taken into consideration, as our volumes are a lever for lowering selling prices. Price accessibility is a key objective”, explains the Chief Offer and Sourcing Officer. Nothing is done by chance, of course - the financial stakes are too high to do that. Data analysis and team expertise help make these predictions.

With these elements in hand, the design teams and the technicians get involved. Then it’s prototyping, whether using conventional machines, in foam or wood - there are around twenty of them in Templemars - or one of the two professional 3D printers that are available. There is also room for consumers. Customers are regularly invited here, to head office, to carry out tests: is this brush easy to hold, do you like this tap, etc.? Finally, we make the final adjustments before sending them to the production lines. The quality laboratory works for all Kingfisher group brands. Before, during and after production, tests are carried out under extreme usage conditions. Eight people work at it full time, with the task of carrying out what amounts to torture sessions for taps, shower units, locks or other tables and garden chests on the day of our visit - in all, nearly 10,000 annual tests. This shower column? Subjected, before our eyes, to a cycle of no less than 200,000 uses, with great variations in water pressure. Those locks? Immersed in a damp oven to trigger accelerated ageing and thus observe their resistance to wear and rust.

The quality of the items comes at this price. And this is the top concern of Henri Solère and his teams. If own-brand ranges, within the same product category, are offered at different prices, this comes from more or less "luxurious" finishing and decoration materials - solid wood rather than laminated wood, stainless steel rather than brass, etc. - but not at all from a potential poorer quality of use. “All our drawers, whatever our collections, are 35 cm deep because, whatever their budget, this is what our customers need to store bath towels. Just as all our ranges of taps have water savers from the lowest price model upwards, for example”, insists Henri Solère.

With this mindset, this is the goal at least, the customer can buy with confidence. And Kingfisher wants to appear to be attentive to the smallest possible problems: teams scrutinise customer reviews and, on the group’s websites, the number of stars allocated to own brands. It's even a job in its own right.

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From the initial idea to going on the shelves, there’s a tight schedule. It’s impossible to discuss a standard agenda, as the time needed to develop the ranges varies depending on the complexity and the product categories but, to put it simply, the main steps to be followed are always the same.

An initial idea for development based on the desire to provide a practical response to customer needs. Home visits and market studies take place to establish a brief: such an objective to be achieved, at such price levels, with such forecast sales volumes.

Prototyping (in particular via 3D printers) and various technical feasibility tests are carried out before things are sent to the production lines. Customers are invited to the group’s head office to test future innovations, and obviously, the technicians are doing the same thing.

Production has begun.

Quality checks are carried out at the Templemars head office before, during and after production to ensure the level of excellence of the ranges offered for sale.