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Whole new meaning to a night on the tiles

"People need more time and more space these days," muses Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy as he walks through the almost deserted aisles of the B&Q centre in Wandsworth, south London, writes Richard Halstead. It's midnight on Thursday, and the chairman of Kingfisher plc, B&Q's parent, has come to inspect the latest experiment in retail: 24-hour DIY shopping.

Around Sir Geoff walk a few customers picking up wood, paint, bathroom fittings and tiles for what will be the busiest weekend of the year in home improvement. The Davises from Tooting are buying a trellis for their garden, some paint for the kitchen "and a few odds and ends that we know we'll need". They decided to come to the shop after dinner and a quick drink in the pub, "because we tried to go two Sundays ago on that really nice day, and everyone else had the same idea, and it was so crowded".

In about 12 hours the store will be heaving as Easter shoppers arrive in droves to find the equipment to fulfill their ambitious plans for the front room or back garden. B&Q has ambitions, too: to allow shoppers access to its stores early in the morning and late at night - and 24 hours a day in peak season. A survey last year found that 9 per cent of shopping trips take place between 6pm and 10pm, up from 6.4 per cent 10 years ago.

The handful of customers in the store just after midnight - nearly outnumbered by staff - do not speak of revolution just yet. Sir Geoff says: "It might take a while to catch on. It took time for people to get used to shopping on a Sunday, and now that is one of our best trading days."