The owner of B&Q and Screwfix is handing workers a pay rise as the company’s boss forecast that demand for energy-saving kit and the shift to working from home would keep fueling the DIY boom.
Pay for B&Q workers will increase by 6.5% to £ 9.80 an hour while Screwfix is increasing minimum staff pay by 5.4% to £ 9.70 an hour from 1 April, putting both chains just ahead of the new legal minimum of £ 9.50 which starts next month .
Their parent company, Kingfisher, is the latest retail firm to announce a significant pay rise for workers, amid heavy competition for staff, the increase in the legal minimum wage and a strong rise in sales and profits.
The retailer announced pre-tax profit of £ 1bn for the first time in the year to 31 January – a third up on the previous year and a threshold passed by only a handful of UK retailers ever – as sales rose almost 7% to £ 13.2 bn, fueled by a burst of home improvement during pandemic lockdowns.
Families refitted spare rooms as offices or space for adult children and refurbished gardens for outdoor entertaining to reduce their Covid risk.
Thierry Garnier, the Kingfisher chief executive, said he expected the DIY boom to roll on amid “strong supportive trends” including more working from home, a relatively strong housing market and “a lot of demand for energy saving” because of higher gas and fuel prices.
“Home improvement is not a bad place to be in a crisis,” he said, adding that trading since the year end had been resilient with sales up 16% on pre-pandemic levels with strong orders for kitchen makeovers.
He said he hoped the government would put forward new plans to help support families to install more energy efficiency measures to offset higher gas and electricity bills caused by a global surge in energy prices. “UK homes are relatively poorly insulated,” he said.
B&Q is to test a service that will “diagnose and fit energy efficiency solutions”, such as insulation and heating management tools, to cater to demand, while Screwfix is selling solar panels and heat pumps.
The group is opening 80 more Screwfix outlets over the coming year, up from 70 over the past year, with the aim of reaching a total of 1,000, up from about 790 at present. It is also experimenting with franchise outlets in the Middle East and expanding an online DIY marketplace, which will enable brands to sell direct to B&Q customers.
However, Kingfisher said it would be cutting costs by trimming the size of 40 stores in the UK and France by up to 30% over the coming decade, including four B&Q stores this year, and by installing more self-checkouts and self-scanning systems . Despite the pay rise, the group’s hourly pay rates sit below those of many rival retailers including Aldi, Lidl, Marks & Spencer & Sainsbury’s.
Garnier warned that inflation would continue to dog the market throughout 2022 with a constant challenge from the cost and availability of shipping containers, while suppliers were struggling to keep pace with demand for garden products and building materials.
Despite the problems, Garnier said availability of products was now at about normal levels ahead of the busy Easter season and about half the group’s products were now own-label, offering a cheaper alternative to well-known brands.
The group has removed some Russian-made products from its shelves but had no direct impact from the war in Ukraine after selling its Castorama chain there in 2020. Garnier said Kingfisher’s businesses in Poland and Romania continued to trade strongly despite the war in their eastern neighbor .