Building a solid foundation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2008, 12:00am

Home improvement retailer targets mainland and Hong Kong markets for growth with a range of quality services

People want homes that are comfortable and stylish, a symbol of prosperity and status rather than just a place to live.

To address this need, Kingfisher, a leading European home improvement retailer, is harnessing developing Asian markets by expanding its business in Hong Kong and the mainland.

Kingfisher operates 800 stores in nine countries in Europe and Asia, with leading market positions in Britain, France, Poland, Italy, Turkey and China.

Hongkongers will be familiar with the B&Q store in MegaBox which opened last June. B&Q is a British retail brand belonging to the Kingfisher group.

The group operates a global business so it has to meet the unique demands of customers from many countries, all of which have their own style and tastes. Finding the right products to meet these demands is the job of the Kingfisher Sourcing Organisation, the company responsible for direct sourcing and procurement for the group.

With 15 years' sourcing experience and established offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, India, South America and Eastern Europe, Kingfisher Sourcing has expertise in product trends and sourcing, particularly in Asia.

The company receives requests from its international offices every day. One of the main roles for staff is to provide the best products at the best prices to clients. Educating clients in the latest trends is part of the process, and this is the job of the design consultants.

'We have our own design consultants from Europe who work very closely with the Hong Kong team. Our consultants will research the market trends a couple of years ahead, produce styling trend reports, and then brief our 65 staff in the sourcing team and B&Q retail staff through regular in-house training workshops,' said Valery Cussenot, head of commercial, Kingfisher Sourcing Organisation. He has lived in Hong Kong for 14 years and thinks that people have an acute sense of what is trendy.

'After receiving the information and training on trends, our B&Q staff will guide and educate customers on what is to come and help them create a home of their own.

'In Hong Kong, where living spaces are small and gardens are a less common feature, DIY [do-it-yourself] is not a main business focus as in Europe. So we offer a different solution to our clients, such as what to do with space and storage.'

According to Mr Cussenot, finding your personal style is most important as it is what defines your home. He said there were four major style trends.

The 'contemporary' style is a minimalist, simple and executive feel. The 'multicolour' is fun and playful, bright and bold, and suits young couples with small children. The 'country' style is for people who prefer the traditional look of a country cottage house, with soft, warm colours and wooden, antique furniture. And the 'heritage' style is a luxurious and romantic look using such pieces as chandeliers.

He said it was important to pick a style that suited a person rather than following the latest trends. 'A house should reflect someone's personality,' he said.

The mainland property market is growing fast so the need for home decoration must keep pace.

Kingfisher helped customers in the mainland renovate 40,000 homes last year through a 'one-stop solution' from design to implementation. The idea, called 'customer coaching', ran a successful pilot in France and is now available in 64 stores on the mainland, and the one in Hong Kong.

Customers are first guided through questions on their preferences in style and colour. Shop staff then recommend a tailored design plan and a trustworthy contractor for the job.

Mr Cussenot said that the mainland was going through many positive changes, one of which was a growing concern for the environment which, he said, was the next big trend.

'Eco-friendliness is the major trend in Europe at the moment and I think it will become a major topic for Asia due to its global effect,' Mr Cussenot said.

'These eco-concerns mean people will ask about the kind of materials we use for products, and whether our products are energy efficient. To answer this global concern, we use timber from well managed forests for our wooden flooring, and introduce designs which save water in the bathroom, to give a few examples.'