Are DIY classes for you?

Home improvement is one of the largest growing industries around. From those who have just settled in a new place to those that are attempting to sell a property, it seems that many people are attempting to fix minor issues themselves to spare the expense of hiring a professional. More than ever people are turning to DIY classes to learn the basics, but are these workshops any good and are they right for you?

Classes at B&Q

DIY classes, however, were only one element of B&Q’s turnaround plan, masterminded by Euan Sutherland, now Kingfisher’s chief operating officer, who joined as head of B&Q in 2008. His timing was terrible. He started three months before Lehman Brothers collapsed. Then mortgages dried up and house prices plummeted. The events of September 2008 led to a fundamental re-adjustment of the business.

“Before the banking crisis, B&Q used to get two bites of the cherry — people doing up their homes and people moving, when typically they would do the ‘big projects’. When that market went away we had to rethink,” Sutherland said. The focus shifted from moving to improving.

Before he changed direction, however, the stores needed their own makeover.

Sutherland, 43, who had been chief executive of Superdrug-owner AS Watson, spent his gardening leave — all eight weeks of it — visiting B&Q stores around the country before he started in June 2008. His prognosis was that while the brand was strong, the stores lacked confidence and clarity.

On joining, he asked his team to tell him what made a great store. They all had different suggestions, which he hammered together to make a blueprint for how every store should look. Internally, it was known as the “Martini plan” because it was “any store, any place, anywhere”.

The reality behind the workshops

The plan, which is similar to the one Tesco boss Philip Clarke outlined last week, involved investing in B&Q’s new orange uniforms, training staff and refreshing the shops. “In a period of stress and uncertainty we just said ‘we’re confident, we know what we’re doing’,” Sutherland said.

Store managers were given six months’ salary in shares, which would vest only if they stayed with the business for three years and standards were maintained. Today, those shares are worth £45,000 to each manager, after the share price climbed from about 160p in April 2009 to a closing price of 304p this weekend.

Improving stores and maintaining standards was key but it would have made little difference if the customers were still clueless about DIY. Research conducted by B&Q soon after Sutherland joined painted a worrying picture for the future of the £31 billion sector.

It showed the average grandparent was more skilled at basic DIY jobs, such as tiling walls and bleeding radiators, than someone half his or her age.

Learning new techniques

Nearly nine out of ten people over 50 (86%) could rewire a plug compared with 59% of under-35s, of whom 44% prefer to get help rather than face DIY tasks on their own.

Some 66% of homeowners admitted to having unfinished DIY jobs around the house, with more than half saying they didn’t know how to complete them.

Sutherland said: “I read every bit of insight. It basically said that, if you can make this easier, I will do more of it. That was the number one driver but if you looked at our model — and look at our model today — we made it quite complex, so we’re breaking down barriers to make it easier.”

The DIY classes are just one strand of the company’s effort to bring back the skills that were second nature to our grandparents. B&Q has also invested in training its staff so they can speak with authority on the shopfloor about tiling, painting or hanging wallpaper — and teach the classes.

Even more has been ploughed into creating products that make DIY easier. So, when Sage did her wallpaper hanging class she used a technique that involved spreading the paste on the wall before applying the wallpaper — normally, the paste would have been brushed onto the wallpaper, making it more difficult to manoeuvre. Other materials have also been made simpler, such as products for outdoor decking.

Have you ever attended a DIY workshop? We want to hear from you? Was the experience fulfilling? Have you put your new skills to use yet? Get in touch with us to let us know your thoughts!