Business interview: B&Q retail and property director Paul Crisp discusses the chain's plans for Scotland

It has become one of the most familiar brands in UK retailing with roots stretching back to the 1960s and its distinctive orange superstores gracing retail parks across Britain.Now, as DIY giant B&Q, part of Kingsfisher, takes the wraps off its first small format store in Scotland, the chain’s retail and property director, Paul Crisp, provides an insight into Scots’ shopping habits, how the business is striking a balance between digital and physical sales channels and where the group is likely to expand next north of the Border.

How are new store formats seen are essential to B&Qs growth strategy, and what is the thinking behind the smaller floorplate branches?

At B&Q, we have placed stores right at the centre of our growth strategy. Over the last three years, we’ve seen customers’ habits change, with a shift to online, and the need for speed and convenience when shopping. Typically, 85 per cent of customers now start their shopping journey online which is a huge change – so it’s important that we are constantly looking for ways to adapt and change too. It’s important to us that we give our customers different ways to shop with us so that they can choose the option that is best for them.

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Smaller more local stores offer a convenient way for customers to browse our ranges and to collect their online orders - as well popping in to seek advice from our store colleagues if they need a bit of guidance. According to our recent research, 40 per cent of our customers in Scotland are choosing to shop with us by using a mix of online and in store.

B&Q has just opened its first smaller format store in Scotland, located in Livingston, West Lothian. Picture: Stuart WallaceB&Q has just opened its first smaller format store in Scotland, located in Livingston, West Lothian. Picture: Stuart Wallace
B&Q has just opened its first smaller format store in Scotland, located in Livingston, West Lothian. Picture: Stuart Wallace

So, to help make shopping for home improvement projects easier, reflecting these changing customer needs, we’ve developed new, smaller format stores in more convenient locations, including high streets, to complement our existing offering of larger stores. As well as making it easier for our customers to buy home improvement essentials more locally in a store, they can also collect items ordered at from these smaller stores, giving them easier ways to shop our wider range of 40,000 plus lines available for home delivery and click and collect.

Our Scottish customers are really important to us and that’s why it’s brilliant that we’re opening our first small format store in Scotland, in Livingston – helping to make it easier for customers to interact with our colleagues, as well as creating jobs.

Since 2019, we’ve filled 1,315 job vacancies in our Scottish stores, and with the opening of B&Q Livingston, we’ve created 50 more jobs. Among the new team at B&Q Livingston, we’re delighted to welcome back Dorothy Gillespie, aged 84, who previously worked at the former B&Q Livingston store for 11 years – it’s great to have her back and she’s a total asset to the team.

Playing our part in our local communities is really important to us, not just as an employer, but also through our partnerships with Shelter and the B&Q Foundation, of which I’m proud to be a trustee.

B&Q retail and property director Paul Crisp.B&Q retail and property director Paul Crisp.
B&Q retail and property director Paul Crisp.

Our staff in Scotland have been brilliant in supporting this work and have really gone above and beyond – for example, a team of over 100 colleagues from our Scottish stores raised more than £52,000 by organising their own Great B&Q Scottish 10km, following the cancelling of the organised national event. B&Q has partnered with Shelter since 2017, raising more than £2.3 million to date and more than £390,000 in the financial year 2021/22.

The B&Q Foundation – a charity that provides grants to registered charities which improve or create places where people can feel at home – was established in 2020. In little more than just over a year, the charity has awarded grants totalling over £1.7m to over 300 charities supporting local communities across the UK, including a number in Scotland.

Our colleagues really get behind our fundraising and our customers in Scotland often lead the way in supporting us in our efforts to raise more funds to support the great work done by both partners - Shelter and the B&Q Foundation.

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B&Qs digital transformation: How is the brand changing for an increasingly digital world, and how do its bricks-and-mortar stores sit with its e-commerce strategy?

Digital transformation is core to making our offer and services for our customers better. In an increasingly digital world, our stores are at the centre of our investment in ecommerce growth. Part of getting closer to our customers is ensuring we have fulfilment services giving customers the flexibility to choose an option that suits them.

In Scotland, in particular, where customers can be travelling some distance to get to our stores, having more choice is really important. This has been even more so during the pandemic. Whilst prioritising colleague and customer safety throughout - and continuing to do so – we adapted quickly with new fulfilment services. In May 2020, for example, we launched our store-to-home service and now have fulfilment hubs at around 50 B&Q stores serving over 99 per cent of UK homes. We’ve also improved our in-store click and collect facilities with dedicated Click and Collect areas in all our stores, and collection locker trials.

Currently around 80 per cent of products ordered at are fulfilled by our stores – either through click and collect or home delivery. We’ve a great distribution of stores across Scotland, so our store-to-home model allows us to reduce the distance travelled by customers for their home improvement shopping, and means we can help even more customers in Scotland.

We’re continuing to add and improve our fulfilment services with stores at the centre, and at B&Q Livingston are trialling our new load & go service to make it easier for customers, including trade customers, to pick up larger items – if it does well in Livingston we’ll then look to extend it to other stores across the UK.

How has B&Q tailored its in-store technology to cater to Scottish tastes and trends, such as investment in self-checkouts?

It’s very important to us that we meet the needs of our customers in Scotland and that we pay attention to regional differences to ensure we understand our customers. For example, in our Scottish stores, we make sure we have a wide range and dedicate appropriate space for products, such as wood treatments and outdoor paint, that are more popular with our customers in Scotland than the rest of the UK.

Our research shows that some 57 per cent of Scots are planning a home improvement project in the next six months – so we need to make sure that we’re meeting their needs and allowing them to shop in the way they want.

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Interestingly, our self check-outs are proving to be particularly popular with our customers in Scotland. This service has done really well, and allows people to shop faster, and they’ll be in all of our stores in Scotland by the end of the year.

Other new store technology includes the headsets our colleagues wear to help make it easier for them to be contacted anywhere in the store. It was our colleagues who asked for these to make it easier for them to help customers quicker than before. It’s really important to me that we’re listening to our colleagues and responding to their suggestions for improving our customers’ experience.

As well as investing in store technology, we’ve invested in the environmental aspects of our stores, including upgrading all of our stores in Scotland to LED lights which are more environmentally friendly, and adding solar panels.

Can you tell us a bit about B&Q’s investment into partnerships to enhance its Scottish stores, such as new Speedy Hires in B&Q Darnley, Parkhead and East Kilbride stores, with another in Edinburgh set to open during February.

We’re always looking at how we can expand our product and service offer to our wider customer base, including our TradePoint customers, to make their shopping experience with us easier, and this includes working with partners.

We now have partnerships in place as concessions in our stores, including with tool and equipment hire service Speedy Hire, which is currently available in our Darnley, Parkhead and East Kilbride stores, and will open another concession in Edinburgh in February. We’re also trialling concessions of Crystal windows at four stores in the UK.

Other partners include Needhelp, an online platform to help make it easier for customers to find a verified professional local tradesperson and so to get more of their home improvement projects completed.

For bigger projects, in 2020 we launched our kitchen, bedroom and bathroom installation service working with local installers, including our TradePoint customers, to help make it easier for customers to complete an entire project under one roof with a brand they trust. It is great to be able to work with local tradespeople and connect them to customers in their area.

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As well as partnerships, B&Q has invested in dedicated Tradepoint counters to make it easier for Tradespeople to shop with us. It’s really important to us that we continue to improve our offer to our Tradepoint customers – particularly since the pandemic, with people’s renewed passion for improving their homes.

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