Do It All to unload stores: Boots and Smith will sell weak links in DIY chain

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BOOTS and WH Smith yesterday put a 'for sale' sign over much of Do It All, their jointly owned do-it- yourself chain, when they admitted that a 'significant number of stores' could not be converted to the new trading format.

The two companies said they intended to sell as many poorly-performing stores as possible and would close those that proved unsaleable. A spokesman for Boots would not say how many stores were underperforming.

WH Smith and Boots are to spend pounds 10m between them in the next 12 months converting a further 38 stores to the new trading format. That will bring the total to 82 out of 220, but the spokesman denied that all the remainder would be either sold or closed.

Discussions on the sale of a number of sites are already in progress with buyers - including rival do- it-yourself retailers and others from outside the industry. The spokesman said the market for out-of- town retail sites was improving and added: 'We do not want to close stores down. We would much rather dispose of them.'

Do It All, product of a merger between WH Smith's Do It All and Boots' Payless chain in 1990, has suffered badly from competition exacerbated by the housing slump. Market share and sales have been declining - in August, WH Smith revealed that sales had dropped 7.3 per cent, while its share of the chain's losses had risen by pounds 5m to pounds 14.3m in the 12 months to May.

The two companies are trying to stem the losses by refitting the stores and regrouping products according to different DIY projects, such as laying a patio or refitting a bathroom.

The spokesman said that, in the 17 stores converted in the past 12 months, sales increases were 11 per cent ahead of the rest of the portfolio, with more recent conversions doing better still.

But the group is to make further changes to the format, including placing more emphasis on decorating and workshop equipment, following the results of research at the pilot stores.

Boots shares closed 3p lower at 511p. WH Smith gained 9p to 469p.