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DIY is not dead

DIY is not dead image

At 9pm on 4th September 1996 Changing Rooms first aired on BBC2. It was episode one in what became a very successful 8 year, 17 series, 154 episode run, that eventually led to the sale of the franchise to the US, Australia and New Zealand. 

Although extremely successful in showing the public how they could relatively quickly and cost effectively transform their homes, it wasn’t all plain sailing. In one episode in series 8, a Linda Barker room was being built in Wandsworth to accommodate a large collection of rare teapots. Overnight, the shelves collapsed, demolishing the entire valuable collection. In another infamous episode, Anna Ryder Richardson designed a room for a couple where she placed framed erotic French underwear around the room. On entering the room, the woman screamed aloud and shouted, "Why would I want this shit in my room?! I've got children!" and burst into tears.

The 154 episodes of Changing Rooms and the series it spurned including 60-minute makeover, DIY SOS etc. have long been held responsible for fueling the already hot home improvement market at the time; as consumers were inspired and empowered to grab tools and equipment and transform their homes, During the ‘golden years’ of Changing Rooms, the Home Improvement retailers made hay and their sales and profits boomed. With no online competition and unrelenting consumer demand for decorating and DIY products, the only challenging decision in their board rooms, was how many stores they were going to open in the next 12 months or how hard they’d campaign to stay open on Easter Sunday.

On 27th August 2004, (can you believe it 13 years ago!) it was announced that Changing Rooms had run its course and the final programme aired on 28th December 2004. During this final episode, the team focused their efforts on restoring homes in Boscastle, Cornwall that had been badly damaged by the floods that prior August. 

Remove the rose-tinted spectacles, we’re back in 2018. In recent years, we’re increasingly been told by the media and others that DIY is dead, that core skills have been lost forever and phrases such as ‘in this post DIY world’ are finding their way into everyday industry conversations. I’ve even heard some of the largest home improvement retailers say that they refuse to use the term 'DIY', preferring to use the non-personal, sterile ‘Home Improvement’ as the appropriate term in this day and age.

Well, let me tell you something. DIY is not dead, it’s not even on life support or even just a little off colour, DIY is nothing more than asleep.

In the 13 years since Changing Rooms ended (and the same applies to Ground Force), in my view there has been nothing to pick up the mantle and there remains a huge and growing void. The well-known supplier brands are each in their own way doing their best to rejuvenate interest and enthusiasm in do it yourself, but without the sustained, high profile approach of a TV show watched by millions of consumers, it’s very, very difficult.

And yet UK consumers remain starved of helpful tips and guidance. Yes, they flock to Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz in growing numbers to quench their thirst for ideas and inspiration, but it’s a short-term fix. You see fantastic images of how your kitchen, bathroom or lounge could look, the much-needed inspirational end result, but little or nothing to get you there. Nothing and no-one to hold our hand during a process full of uncertainty and risk and nothing to empower consumers to take on the do it yourself tasks themselves.

So, what do we do? We either put off the task in our millions and book a holiday instead or we default to asking a tradesperson to do these jobs for us. We wait for the increasingly busy individual to find time to do our project and then charge us often a not insignificant amount of money to do something that with a little help and guidance, we could have done ourselves in the first place.

What Changing Rooms did, was to present the typical, boring, magnolia painted, cream carpeted average UK room that most of us have and in 30 mins revealed the steps to how this could be transformed into a fantastic new space. It’s unlikely that anyone actually copied the entire end result of any of the Changing Rooms, but many of us saw wallpaper designs, flooring, tiles, paint colours, lighting and room layouts that we all watched and thought, you know what, that could work in our room, let’s take a look this weekend.

It’s that critical spark right at the start of the process that is now barely visible or completely missing. At this point, I have to ask the question, what have the retailers done to fill this void? Yes, we have project guides and boring, functional how to videos on You tube, but little else. In many cases, there is less in-store inspiration and help now than there ever has been – nothing to awaken the DIY flame within us, to get us off our back sides and make our homes just that little bit better for our friends and families. When we had TV programmes to light the spark and drive people into our stores, we didn't have to do much else, other than provide some basic in-store help and advice. With the spark gone, the majority of DIY stores are just warehouses, full to the brim with products that people are buying less and less of every year.

If I can use what I think is a relevant example from grocery retailing. The Tesco Food Love Stories campaign launched in January 2017 and in 12 months has played a key role in fundamentally repositioning that business. The campaign which I’m sure you’ve seen, puts normal everyday people at the heart of their adverts. The single Dad, the busy Mum, they’ve all been able to create fabulous meals for people they love. Many grocery retailers have done this in the past, the difference with the Tesco campaign is that they’ve completed the circle.

They’ve inspired people through an above the line campaign and once you arrive in store, there are the familiar characters, proudly displaying their dishes, along with a list of all the items and ingredients you need, instructions on how to make the dish and to achieve the same. Not only that, but Tesco have been successful in changing the rules of store layout and have displayed all of the ingredients for those recipes together in one place. The website features the same people, great imagery and again the simple recipe and you can even click on a link that shows the specific ingredients and enables you to buy just those items quickly and easily. They've created the spark and in-store and online, they've fanned the flames. Find out more about Tesco Food Love Stories

We’re all hungry for inspiration and ideas and we all need help, often with the very basics when it comes to DIY tasks and yet our retailers seem to have deferred responsibility and without a Changing Rooms to do the job for them, they’ve almost given up. Not only that, they’ve jumped aboard the bandwagon and not only accepted, but embraced the concept that DIY is dead, even though this is a one-way road to ultimately their own demise!

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25 January 2018

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Insight provides a host of information I need on many of our company’s largest customers. I use this information regularly with my team, both at a local level as well as with our other international operations. It’s extremely useful when sharing market intelligence information with our corporate office.

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Paul Boyce - European CEO, QEP Ltd.
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