In 1989 it broke
out of its home country for the first time, and it now has big-box stores in
Russia, Brazil, and a number of European countries.

Today, by its
count, Leroy Merlin’s parent group ADEO is the third-largest “DIY
actor” in the world
.

And at the end of
September, its first full-fledged store will open in South Africa.

The finishing
touches are still being put on the store, but we got a sneak peek. Here is what
we found.

The first store is carefully located with easy access to the highways
that ring Johannesburg.

Leroy Merlin is
known for choosing locations on the outskirts of cities, where rents are cheap
for its big stores. Its spot in Greenstone east of Johannesburg is convenient
to reach, and will even soon be on a Gautrain bus route, but comes with
cavernous parking and storage.

 

There are some whimsical touches in the displays – and some disruptive
promises underneath.

 

For both kitchens
and cupboards, Leroy Merlin promises self-assembly of flat-pack modular units,
no tools required. And at any time somewhere north of 90% of everything on the
shop floor will be in stock and so available immediately, the SA
CEO Cedric Sennepin tells Business Insider South Africa.

That means
customers can walk in, figure out the closet configuration they want, leave
with a couple of boxes that fit into a car, and assemble it themselves on the
same day.

 

Aesthetics come first, which can be a little weird at times.

 

Leroy Merlin sells
paint by colour. That seems obvious in theory, but is weird in practice when
you are used to heading to the outdoor-wall paint section and then picking the
colour, or picking your colour using the colour cards arranged by manufacturer,
in a display set up by the manufacturer.

To buy paint from
the French newcomer you select the colour, then the application, then the
finish. And then you get directed to a manufacturer. 

There are many colours. Everywhere.

We’re used to
mass-market hardware retailers offering us toilet seats in white, white, and
white, and maybe, if they are feeling particularly daring, black.

But Leroy Merlin
seems to think colour is not a sin.

Nor is it afraid of
designs that are, at times, not quite within our definition of
“tasteful”.

 

When it comes to
kitchen sinks at least, Leroy Merlin seems to stick to the more traditional
approach – even if some of its sinks have glass tops. And even if the range of
sinks is the biggest in the country, as the company claims.

The group believes it can change some South African consumer habits by
introducing choice.

 

Sennepin is a
little surprised by how little wallpaper South Africa uses. But that may be, at
least in part, because of the lack of choice easily available in SA, he says.
So Leroy Merlin will start off with what is an unusually large array of
wallpaper, and see if there is pent-up demand. If there is, the company may
then expand still further on the range.

Leroy Merlin will introduce a number of new brands into the market.

 

The in-house and
associated brands that come with Leroy Merlin includes the Sterwins garden
tools range, mid-price equipment that tends towards better-than-usual design…

… and Standers, a
brand for everything from fixtures and fasteners to padlocks.


The
building-materials “yard” is not what we’re used to.

For starters, it is
indoors, all of it, in a huge basement underneath the parking lot.

For another, it is
drive-thru.

The usual South
African experience with building materials includes any number of trips between
an (outdoor, weather-exposed) yard and indoor till points, trying to figure out
what is in in stock, what it costs, and getting the yard operator to
communicate that cost to the till operator. At which point you can fetch your
car or bakkie, queue to get it into the yard, present your proof of payment,
load up, present your proof of payment at the exit, and finally escape a system
apparently designed to frustrate.

At Leroy Merlin, in
theory at least, you drive in, load up with timber or sand or a cement mixer,
pay, and leave.

We don’t yet know
if it works, but we’re sure looking forward to trying it.

The approach to service includes assistants who will help you Google
stuff.

 

Large hardware and
DIY stores are not exactly known for their sterling service. But Leroy Merlin’s
embrace of technology will make all the difference, Sennepin promises.

The team of 130
people in the store will each have expertise in some area of hardware – and a
smart device. That comes with an app, through which any member of staff can
pull up a price and description, and helpful information, about any item of
stock.

But perhaps more
importantly, it also comes with Google.

“Sometimes you
just need to figure out a problem,” says Sennepin. So staff will
explore solutions with customers both by opening up boxes and checking
instructions and going online to find information and advice, as appropriate.

Source: Business Insider