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Look out Builders, the French are here!

Leroy Merlin is unlike anything we’ve seen in SA.

One wouldn’t imagine that executives at Massmart’s Massbuild unit are losing any sleep over a single new store opened by one of the world’s largest DIY chains. After all, Massbuild – comprising Builders Warehouse, Builders Express, Builders Trade Depot, and Builders Superstore – has over 100 in South Africa.

But the 17 000m2 Leroy Merlin store at Stoneridge in the Greenstone area, east of Johannesburg, should force Massbuild to take notice. Leroy Merlin is the first store from the French Adeo group, which is the third-largest DIY retailer in the world and number one in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Russia.

Its entry into the market has been careful and deliberate. For months, it’s been operating a far smaller pop-up store in the adjacent Stoneridge Centre called ‘Campus’. This outlet allowed it to gain insights from customers and suppliers, and helped it prepare its “Africa commercial plan”.

Leroy Merlin is unlike anything we’ve seen in the local market.

Massmart may argue – correctly – that what it built Builders Warehouse into (after it acquired a chain of eight stores in 2003) is unlike anything the local market had seen before. But the chain has stagnated. There’s no visible innovation in the core business of DIY/home improvement retailing (the stores look almost exactly the same as they did a decade ago).

Leroy Merlin is true world-class retail, especially from a merchandising perspective – with products, brands, choice and assortment that we simply haven’t seen before. It’s big on flat-pack furniture (as well as more elaborate, larger kits for kitchens and bathrooms). And it competes incredibly well on price.

The store is premised on six pillars: construction, hardware, kitchen, bathroom, home décor and garden. Think Ikea crossed with Builders crossed with Mr Price Home crossed with (particularly the ‘coolness’ of) Typo.

It displays its products incredibly well, and provides simple guides to shoppers to help them make the correct buying decision. For tiling, for instance, it suggests shoppers take into account the foot traffic of the area to be tiled, the size of the tiles and the spacing one would like between tiles when making a product decision.

The store is big on colour, with a particularly striking wall of bright toilet seats (surely not everyone’s taste!).

Where Leroy Merlin really excels is in its displays of its products in context within spaces you’d have at home. Much of its flat-pack furniture, some tiles, as well as some lighting is displayed in spaces where the products belong.

The workshops it hosts to teach various DIY skills (at R50 a pop) are surely going to become popular. These are either simple how-to’s (like painting a wall or wiring a plug), or guides on building specific things (like a shelf or a kid’s teepee).

Other innovations include a drive-through building material yard as well as a ‘click and collect’ service where online orders can be picked up at the store within two hours. Free Wi-Fi is hardly a differentiator, considering that most stores offer it these days (Builders has been rolling this out in its portfolio).

Leroy Merlin is a destination store. It was buzzing on Saturday afternoon and shoppers had travelled from all over the province to visit it, as they have been since its opening at the end of September.

What should give Massbuild pause for thought is that Adeo is opening Leroy Merlin stores practically adjacent to Builders outlets. This first store in Greenstone is 250 metres away from a Builders Express.

Adeo says two other Leroy Merlin sites are under construction and will open next year, while a fourth store will open in early 2020. These are all in Gauteng.

For now, we know that one of these sites is adjacent to Fourways Mall (also a 17 000m2 store, and part of that complex’s redevelopment). This will be 800 metres from the Builders Express at Cedar Square, and 900 metres from the Builders Warehouse in Fourways.

Another, at Little Falls in Roodepoort, will be under 5 km from the Builders Warehouse in Strubens Valley.

Four stores can hardly compare to the 100-plus footprint of Builders, which (as a division) will generate revenue of R13 billion this year. But you can be sure Adeo is not going to stop at four stores. In Brazil it has 41 stores. In Russia, 75. Romania has 16.

The problem for Massbuild, for now, is that Leroy Merlin will chip away at sales, especially in certain segments. It may result in some store footprint ‘optimisation’ from Massbuild.

And it will surely force Builders to actually compete on range, price and experience.

That means consumers win.

Hilton Tarrant works at YFM. He can still be contacted at

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The French will hit MassCash where it hurts most.

I was at this store. In the morning while they were business checking stock. Its ipad, laptops all over the place.

I was impressed.

There are ‘only’ 2 things that Builders are vulnerable on – service (customer experience) and price. If LM sorts out the first one properly, they won’t even have to go to the second, to win!

“There’s no visible innovation in the core business of DIY/home improvement retailing (the stores look almost exactly the same as they did a decade ago).”

How often do you do DIY? Do you expect their stores to have a makeover to look pretty?

This sounds very much like a paid advertorial to me.

I’m waiting to see what these guys really do in Africa. I don’t expect that they will be remotely like the European stores in the end. South Africans are far more basic when it comes to DIY. (And of course there’s the break and pillage factor that comes into play.)

I’ve been very complimentary to Builders and Massmart in the past:
Fact is, customer service at Builders these days doesn’t even suck. It’s completely non-existent!

…I agree with Hilton, that Builders staff service is lacking.

The staff milling around not the most helpful.

Btw, we’re still waiting for your (R10K?) roman-style bath quotation, from Builder’s head office….since 2014!
(Thank you CTM & Bathroom Bizarre for better service. Bathroom make-over was completed in 2014, without help from Builders WH).

I totally agree with the Spark. I have been observing Leroy Merlin for 15 years in Europe and they havent change that much since than. Their concept is new to South Africa and it may be that the rest of the market will catch up fast with this concept. We may lack a few things here and there but ultimately they can not continuously innovate because they havent been doing at all in Europe.

I also agree that this could be a paid editorial and the novelty will die off.

About time that Builders get some opposition. They have extreme rebate demands from suppliers and offer poor service to clients .

Looks like Builder’s management have been sleeping on their hysters!

LM are going to catch a groot skrik in SA, Eff all business!!!

Last time I checked, the French Armée de l’Air has a vastly numerically superior Mirage & Rafale fleet, compared to our Souph Efrikan AF Gripens.


Croissant vs boerewors roll…

…Shampagne vs papsak!

Grossly unfair to drag a good boerie into this debate..

Hi Mike,

Our South African Gripens may have the edge, even parked on the tarmac, with the canopy open. The last time France won a war was in 1856, and even then it had help from Italy, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

After that, most French battles took place inside France trying to keep the Germans out of Paris – ultimately unsuccessful. If it weren’t for the Americans, British, South Africans, Australians, Indians, Canadians, Polish, Dutch, Kiwis, Rhodesians and others, France would’ve been the fourth largest province in the Third Reich.

If you look up “French Air Force during Word War 2” you’ll see the entry only goes for about four paragraphs, and covers tragique topics like the fighter plane that couldn’t take off no matter how fast it charged down the runway, and two of French pilots shot down in the war. That’s about it. The Nazi’s were fond of using the hardware from its defeated foes. French tanks and armoured cars were eagerly pressed into service in the German Army, but the French avions were left where they were. Says a lot without saying a lot.

The last time the French Navy regularly won sea battles was in the 1690s. For the next 200 years French navy ships were sunk by the Royal Navy and the Spanish Armada with monotonous frequency. There was a brief return to victory in 1884 with the Battle of Foochow, but things returned to their old state fairly quickly afterwards. In the last 120 years, French navy ships were usually sunk (scuttled) by their French sailors to prevent them falling into the hands of the Russians, Germans, Italians, Japanese and British.

So,I think your trust is misplaced. 🙂

@ Milo Compton. Now I really enjoyed your WW2 military history comment, with a French perspective. Interestingly, in WW2 the French had as good tanks as the Germans, but German blitzkrieg method allowed better use of tactics.

War history is interesting. There was a point during 1940 Battle of Britain where the Brits (almost) succumbed, due to dwindling fighter strength. Would Britain be different today if the mighty USA did not interfere on the European theatre? Hard to tell, but interesting thought.

The poor French losing. The Mirages they sold to Israel in the 1960’s were exemplary used against overwhelming odds. Falklands: French supplied Etendard naval attack jets, with Exocet anti-ship missiles (almost) cost the British the 1982 Falklands War, not to speak of British destroyers with poor air defence…taking the brunt from outdated Argentinian A4 Skyhawk jets. Argentina as a much smaller nation lost (apparently their air force hasn’t recovered much in capability since 80’s) but SIX British warships were SUNK, which is a feat for such an insignificant 3rd world nation. Quite a serious blow to the Brits, considering they have the 2nd mightiest navy on the planet 😉

Back to WW2. Wouldn’t call the French a lunch of losers *lol* It’s like arguing “because Germany LOST both world wars, surely their military must then be considered the worst in Europe” as they keep losing major battles (based on history). Wouldn’t bet a bratwurst on that! 😉

Even the Brits experienced humiliating routs (WW2) when they were ousted out of Singapore by a smaller, but better trained Japanese force.

On home ground we have Isandlwana, the empire facing spear wielding bantus, with their ammo cases bolted down with screws during battle, along with their pants 😉

Why not have some love for the French? (even as a Brit?) Surely they bravely defended Dunkirk against approaching Germans, so that fleeing British can escape back across the channel.

Despite what the “most civilised nation on earth” did to other nations, in order to expand the British empire, I have more respect for the British Army, than the US. Israeli Army obviously the most hardened in the world.

1988 SADF Military Intelligence regards 🙂

Let’s not forget the mighty midget, Napoleon Bonaparte, who blazed his way through Europe and only lost to the Russian winter and an Irishman with a beaked nose, the erstwhile Lord Wellington. Wellington not only bloodied Napoleon’s nose but has the distinction of having won every battle against the Frenchman and forcing his abdication.

Yet I love the French and their quirkiness which is why I appreciate them. The world would have been a poorer place without their many outstanding contributions to mankind, the Citroen DS being one such example amongst many.

SA needs more world class companies like Adeo to invest and provide competition for local companies . Our industries are nearly all dominated by a few big players , often leading to price collusion , to the detriment of the man in the street .
New investment , like in this case , also immediately provides new jobs , new opportunities for local manufacturers, and reduces prices .
If only our government could start to treat local business people as a critical asset , and not an enemy of the people .

I hope the French will consider opening in the Western Cape in the not yo distant future.

As a active property speculator, I visit various hardware stores on a weekly basis. Without fail, the worst service is always experienced at Builders with their lazy staff. And they are not cheap being consistently the most expensive in most items, sometimes 30% more than the owner run Build It down the road. The only reason I go is for the specials and I cherry pick here and there but would never go for normal priced items and definately not for advice.

I was at their store a few weeks back. Once you get over their displays you realise their service is hardly any better than Builders. Rather stick to your local owner run hardware store.

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