B&Q sales begin UK recovery after 70% lockdown slump

B&Q’s weekly takings plunged by 70% during the first stage of lockdown but sales have begun to recover since the reopening of its stores a fortnight ago.

The chain, part of the Kingfisher group, said UK sales slumped 70% in the first week of April but were up nearly 20% in the equivalent week of May as Britons stocked up on materials to tackle lockdown DIY projects. Shares rose 12%.

B&Q was classed as an essential retailer under the government’s quarantine rules but its shops closed in March and it initially focused on offering “contactless” click and collect services. It has since reopened its 288 outlets after using the closure period to implement strict new safety measures.

Thierry Garnier, Kingfisher’s chief executive, said: “We have rapidly adapted how we operate to meet the essential needs of our customers safely during lockdown.” He said the company had made major changes to how it operated “in a matter of days” as its business suddenly moved online, with a fourfold increase in internet sales since mid-March.

As part of its response to the pandemic, Kingfisher donated its stock of personal protective equipment (PPE), worth more than £1m, to frontline healthcare workers. Garnier and the other board directors have volunteered to take a 20% pay cut.

Kingfisher, which also has large businesses in France and Poland, said that in the three months to 30 April group sales from established stores slumped by a quarter to £2.2bn. The sales drop for the the UK and Ireland, which includes the Screwfix chain, was slightly less severe, down 16%.

To reopen its stores B&Q has followed the example of supermarkets by limiting the number of customers in stores, switching to card-only payments and installing perspex screens at checkouts. Owing to the bulky nature of some DIY materials, the retailer is allowing two people to shop together so they can “self-serve” larger items.

Kingfisher, which has lined up access to the loan schemes being backed by the British and French governments, said it would not pay a final dividend to shareholders. The cash cost of last year’s payment was £157m and the company said it would revisit the dividend when it had “a clearer view of the scale and duration of the impact of Covid-19 on the business”. In the UK, Kingfisher will also save around £140m thanks to the government’s decision to waive business rates this year.

Amy Higginbotham, an analyst at GlobalData, said UK consumers were using the lockdown to tackle decorating and gardening projects, which meant the sales decline in Britain “was not as steep as it might have been, as high demand meant sales shifted online as stores closed”.

“B&Q benefited from being the first DIY specialist to reopen stores, but with all Homebase stores now open, and other DIY specialists such as Wickes opening stores on a trial basis, the retailer must focus on building the confidence of its customers to retain footfall,” she said.

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