Jest in time plan pays off for Do It All

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The Independent Online
MODERN management with a medieval touch is helping to improve the sales performance of Do It All, the troubled DIY store chain. Building on the "court jester" tradition that helped to keep feudal royalty in check, a handful of internal consultants has been given carte blanche to tell executives the unvarnished truth without any fear of recrimination.

"It's about the creation of fools who will tell the emperor that he hasn't got any clothes on," said Nick Turner, Do It All's organisational development manager.

The change in management tactics brought about by the jesters is being credited for a sharp increase in the size of purchases at the 70 stores where the system is in place.

Over the past two years, these outlets have increased their market share by 5 per cent, the company claims. "We have consistently over the past 12 months outperformed the DIY federation, which includes everybody except B&Q," said David Parton, the company's head of business planning. The improvement is most marked in the 70 "Project Focus" stores, which have also benefited from a facelift.

"Our basket size [in those shops] has increased by 38 per cent, taking the average spend from around pounds 11.40 to pounds 14.80," Mr Parton said.

"We are finding that as the stores refit, the average basket builds considerably and keeps building. But we believe the main factor in this improvement is the style of management that we've been developing, rather than any cosmetic changes that have been made in-store." Another 70 of the chain's 200 stores are to refitted by next March.

A successful turnaround is badly needed at Do It All. When its parent, W H Smith, merged the chain with Boots's Payless in 1990, both parts of the business had been struggling. But instead of improving the situation, the merger proved disruptive.

In the 1991 financial year, the combined sales figure stood at pounds 428.4m. By 1992, hammered by the recession and beset by problems with incompatible computer systems and product consolidation, it had fallen to pounds 412m. Even more worrying, the chain's market share dwindled as competitors cut prices.

The latest industry statistics show the company has a long way to go if it means to catch up with its competitors. An independent survey by Verdict Analysis calculated that Do It All's sales per square foot of retail space were pounds 64 in the last financial year - a rather puny figure compared to Wickes' pounds 162, Homebase's pounds 109 and B&Q's pounds 104.

Do It All's share of the nation's DIY spending as a whole is also low, standing at 4.5 per cent of the market, although by comparison Homebase holds less at 3.9 per cent. The lion's share, as in previous years, goes to B&Q, with 14.9 per cent of the market.

The court jesters programme is part of a complete overhaul of Do It All aimed at boosting that share. "We have adopted a dual strategy," said Mr Parton. "On the managerial side, we have redesigned the style so that we no longer have the old 'control and command' culture.

"Every member of staff, from sales floor up to board level, now has the opportunity of participating in decision-making, and the benefits of this new approach are already showing."

The consultancy team, a band of eight drawn from both the management development and organisation development departments of the company, conducts upward appraisals of everyone on a yearly basis.

"Since we started the internal consultancy in January last year, we have seen a 36 per cent improvement in management style as perceived by their reports, so I think it's fair to say that we've been successful," Mr Turner said.

"There is a link between management style and motivation, and I think that the improvements that we're seeing in the performance of our stores now is an indication of the style of management we are trying to develop."

The programme has also been cheap. Hiring outside consultants to come in and criticise would have cost it about pounds 140 for each manager assessed. Using its own staff has set it back only pounds 7 per manager.