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Is Small(er) Really Beautiful?

The downsizing of big box stores is leading to some curious collaborations




The names B&Q and Morrisons probably mean precisely zip to a U.S. audience, yet in the U.K., they’re a big deal.

The former is a DIY, home improvement chain and it’s the biggest of its kind in the country. It’s part of a group called Kingfisher, Europe’s largest home improvement concern, that operates across multiple borders.

Morrisons is a supermarket and has about 11 percent of the U.K. market. While this still leaves 89 percent of the available share for others to play with, it’s still a lot and the retailer’s green and yellow storefronts are a familiar sight up and down the land.

The thing is, both are large formats and in these days of downsizing and more frequent shopping (instead of the weekly grocery shop which tended to be the way things were in days gone by), some of the stores look way too big. With this in mind, B&Q has given up 60,000 square feet of its selling space in its Norwich branch, in the east of England, to Morrisons — and this is being promoted as a win-win for both parties.

But consider the facts: You need some timber and paint to finish that shed in the backyard that you’ve been meaning to do something about for ages. Off to the local DIY store and while you’re there, why not pick up a steak, some vegetables and maybe a few beers to help things along? Sound likely? Well, maybe, but given the mission-based nature of this kind of shopping, is it really the sort of thing that’s going to happen?

The reality is that in the scramble to become smaller and more manageable, some retailers are forging alliances that may seem puzzling from a consumer perspective. Small may be (slightly more) beautiful in the brave new post-recession world, but some sense of what sits comfortably alongside what has to remain.


John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A based in London and then Dusseldorf. He lives and works in London.



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