Do It Yourself concept catches on

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am

DIY is common among homeowners in Europe and North America. Couples will happily spend their weekend browsing enormous Do It Yourself stores in Britain and the United States and then haul their purchases home to embark on major renovation projects.

No job is too large it seems, from putting up shelves, to renovating bathrooms, or converting lofts.

But in Hong Kong, people prefer to employ someone to do these jobs. This is mainly because labour is cheaper than in the west, but there are other factors to consider, such as the lack of free time and lack of space for storing tools. Without a culture of DIY there is little knowledge in the city about the concept.

Compounding the problem is the difficulty of sourcing DIY products. Suppliers are spread out, with many specialist shops offering products to help renovate your home, but few offer all the things you need under one roof.

British DIY giant B&Q hopes to change all this. The firm's newly opened store at MegaBox in Kowloon Bay is 120,000 sqft over two floors and is packed with every conceivable home improvement product - from cement, to sofas, plants, sinks, and ready-made conservatories - it is a one-stop-shop for anyone planning to improve their home.

'The traditional home improvement market in Hong Kong is mainly on Lockhart Road [in Wan Chai] and there are many small home improvement shops across Hong Kong. But, by putting everything together, we believe we will save people time and money,' said Oliver Leung Wing-hong, general store manager, B&Q Asia.

Offering so many products under one roof had attracted trade business to the store, he said. Property developers and contractors use B&Q as a procurement centre and save themselves the complicated paperwork involved in using multiple suppliers.

They save the time and man hours spent on procurement, they enjoy the security of knowing that there will be a consistency of stock that is not always offered by small suppliers and they are able to buy products on credit.

Having so many products under one roof was convenient for homeowners and helped to inspire ideas, Mr Leung said. '[Customers] can choose things to match. They can look at the wallpaper and the paint against the fabric. They can co-ordinate their rooms better by taking the lamp and matching it with the dining table.'

Mr Leung called this practice CIY, or Create-It-Yourself, and said that the process often began at home. 'Many customers will collect magazines and cut out the pages they like and that starts generating a thought process,' he said.

B&Q provides a decorating service for those who need guidance in this creative process. Customers can talk directly to interior designers about their plans for their homes.

'Customers can generate ideas in the store, and can express them to the interior designer. They can interact with the products here, so it is easier for the designer to define what the customer wants.'

Mr Leung said the response among the expatriate community in Hong Kong to B&Q's new store was good as they were generally familiar with the shopping environment. They understood the concept of the store and knew what they could buy and felt at home there.

The local market has been less easy to convince, however. People are being asked to convert from their traditional pattern of visiting a few small shops for their home improvement products, to shopping for them in a new retail mall. 'They think it's expensive because it's not in the street,' Mr Leung said.

'But we are educating them to realise that we have [advantages, such as] warranties, guarantees and refunds.'

Hong Kong Chinese residents were not used to the concept of DIY, Mr Leung said. They often asked him to define what it was, he said, and generally their perception was that it might involve connecting a television to a DVD player, or maybe changing the fuse in a plug, but there was no expectation that it might call for the use of a saw or nails. However, people in Hong Kong are becoming willing to give DIY a try.

'We did a survey two years ago and found that the majority of people wanted to try DIY but they didn't have the knowledge of how to do DIY or how to use the tools correctly,' Mr Leung said. In response to this, B&Q decided to run DIY classes in-store to encourage people to have a go.

The classes take about 45 minutes, are in Cantonese and cover woodwork, painting, gardening and basic electrical knowledge.

The woodwork class, for example, gives people the chance to become familiar with a drill.

They are shown the drill bits, given a demonstration and then offered the chance to do it themselves.

'More people are slowly becoming willing to give DIY a try,' Mr Leung said.

'Some people, particularly the younger generation, want to hang pictures, or put up simple shelves and they don't want to have to call a handyman to do it for them.'