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John Ryan

The DIY Store That May Not Be All About DIY

These stores are beginning to fill the gap between furnishing and refurbishing

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AT WHAT POINT does a DIY store cease to become a place that shoppers head to when they want tools for that home improvement project?

The answer may actually seem pretty clear-cut: when there are fewer tools and more interior roomsets. But in fact, the boundaries are increasingly confused. In the U.K., Homebase is one of few major players in the market, and until recently it was a place you went to for cable, paint, screwdrivers – well, you get the picture.

Visit its most recently opened Abingdon store, however, and opinions about what DIY stores are all about might shift. There are certainly tools and yes, paint and a paint-mixing service is available. But in place of the usual shed-like environment there are soft-colored perimeter wall panels and mid-shop inspirational room presentations that take center stage.

This is, in fact, a space in which the notion of “hardware” gives way to an altogether more designed ambience, one in which the home improver considers how their home might look, rather than just getting the job done.

Now consider Zara Home. This is the offshoot fascia from fashion brand Zara, and it is almost entirely concerned with persuading shoppers to put things in their homes that will look slick, contemporary, warm, chic – there are a lot of options.

Yet it has just released a Zara Home toolset – hammers, allen keys, screwdrivers and so on. And there is a nifty-looking toolbox to keep the beechwood-handled tools in order. Now admittedly, little doubt will remain that Zara Home is still about home furnishings. Yet viewed another way it almost feels as if the retailer is heading towards what the new look Homebase is showcasing and that somewhere there is a middle ground in which do-it-yourself meets soft furnishing; also, the fact that both retailers are beginning to target this area perhaps indicates a change in customer tastes.

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This is not to say, of course, that “hard-end” DIY is set to disappear. Room will still be made for the dedicated builder and major project enthusiast. But for many of us there has been a gap between refurbishment and furnishing, and retailers are considering what can be done to satisfy the demand for this. Change is happening and DIY stores are as much prone to flux as any other sector.

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 Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.

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