Kingfisher's results are looking sunnier

But they need to tackle their weakness: DIY.

Kingfisher has revealed that total sales across its UK & Ireland fascias – B&Q and Screwfix – increased +3.6 per cent during the 10 weeks to 13 July 2013, with LFLs growing +2.5 per cent.

This update is certainly a sunnier one for Kingfisher. One of the hottest UK summers for many years has brought with it a surge of spending on gardening and outdoor products.  This more positive update comes off the back of a torrid Q1, where notably miserable conditions across the retailer’s key European locations negatively impacted growth during the traditionally critical Easter period. Moreover, while weakness in its core DIY categories continues to represent a cloud on the horizon, Kingfisher is being proactive in its response.

In the UK, this period saw B&Q benefit strongly from the more positive weather, with higher demand for gardening products and outdoor furniture. For example, B&Q saw sales of wooden outdoor furniture grow 56 per cent, while natural stone tiles were 6 per cent ahead. A more austere British consumer is increasingly looking to make the most of their gardens, with BBQs and dinner parties being viewed as attractive alternatives to going out to bars and restaurants. Indeed, while the performance of outdoor categories will inevitably continue to be heavily shaped by seasonal fluctuations, the more frugal post-recessionary consumer mindset means that these categories will present significant opportunities.

Kingfisher is being proactive in its response to weakness across its core DIY categories, which continue to struggle amid weakness in the housing market and generally low consumer interest. To this end, B&Q is gaining market share off the back of investment in stores, a focus on value and the continued development of ranges and services. Moreover, a recent deal with Morrisons to share space in Meir Park, Staffordshire, reflects an understanding of the long term necessity to reduce space in response to structural changes and overcapacity in the UK DIY category. Elsewhere, Kingfisher’s UK trade fascia, Screwfix has achieved a strong Q2 performance, boosted by new outlets and competitive pricing. 

Kingfisher faces a number of challenges to overcome in the medium-long term. Most notably, until the housing market improves significantly, consumer interest in DIY will remain weak.  Linked to this, while the ultimate potential of the Coalition’s Help To Buy scheme remains uncertain, the early signs have been promising. Indeed, we do believe the DIY market will eventually reach a stable and settled level towards the back end of next year. In relation to Kingfisher itself, we retain our view that while it is a victim of circumstance the company is both well run and proactive. Investments in stores, a focus on value and the continued development of ranges and services put it in a strong position to grab share and take advantage of the upturn, when eventually materialises.

Photograph: Getty Images

 Managing Director of Conlumino

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.