Published On: Fri, Jul 26th, 2019

High-end retailer enters the fray

Hardly a day goes by without one of the UK’s major retailers being in the news about their struggles as they tackle the sector’s seismic challenges. House of Fraser, Arcadia and Debenhams have all been put through the mill as they adjust their business models to tackle the changing face of the retail marketplace. John Lewis has adopted a slightly different strategy as it announced a continued manoeuvring into the home improvement sector. Last year, the retailer acquired home improvement firm Opun in a £3.5 million pre-pack deal. At the time, John Lewis said: “By creating a 21st century home improvement proposition in what is currently a fragmented sector, customers will benefit from an end-to-end home improvement service which includes inspiration, design, project management and execution.” This movement into the home improvement sector is no coincidence and one that has started to draw the attention of the mainstream media. With the expected permanent relaxing of permitted development rights for single-storey extensions, there are expectations for a boom in house extensions. This obviously hasn’t escaped the attention of John Lewis, who have been busily targeting the home improvement sector through its Home Solutions booking site for tradesmen.

There are other indicators that the home improvement sector is entering a golden period as reports from outlets such as Hiscox and AMA point to high expectations for growth. According to Hiscox, the number of homeowners opting to improve rather than move has increased 12% over the past 5 years – this represents 4 million households. That figure has inspired to investigate which home improvements stand to add the most value to a property. High up on the list are kitchen extensions which add 10.8% to a house’s value and a conservatory that adds 6%. Respected market intelligence provider AMA has also reported that the conservatory and glazed extension market grew by 3% in 2018. It’s this positive backdrop that underpins John Lewis’s drive into the home improvement sector. In line with its superior brand image, the retailer appears to be targeting the high-end market and ‘selling a lifestyle to Middle Britain’. Projects will typically be ones like a recent ‘big box’ kitchen and living room extension in south-west London costing between £50 – £70,000 which featured sliding glass doors.

Those with a good memory will remember all the fanfare back in 2011 when Tesco entered the fenestration sector. At the time, Marketing Director Simon Singleton declared: “This is an exciting time to drive a coach and horses through a seedy old sector.” This really disrespected our industry and showed a clear lack of understanding of the working structure and nature of the market. At the time I commented: “What does Tesco stand for in the mind of homeowners? Value, even cheap compared to rivals Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. Are homeowners really going to pick the company that has championed the ‘value’ brand to improve their home?” The tie-up between John Lewis and Opun is far more in tune with what the sector is trying to promote – good quality installations that attempt to enhance people’s homes with lifestyle products. They won’t take over the market, but it’s a fantastic endorsement for the credibility and future of the home improvement industry. I believe Tesco’s horse and cart was last seen nibbling an apple in the fruit and veg aisle!

John Cowie – Editor