The DIY market for paints in parts of Europe is showing signs of an accelerated shift to new behavior patterns among home decorators.
Consumers are becoming less inclined to do the actual painting themselves, although a large proportion of them, particularly women, are continuing to select and even buy the paints themselves. Instead they are employing handymen or professionals to do the hard work.
The sector for buy-it-yourself (BIY) or do-it-for-me (DFM) paints has been in existence for some time in Europe. Now it is starting to expand quickly in some countries.
Paint sales in DIY stores has been picking up in countries like the UK, which has one of the biggest home decorating markets in Western Europe. A lot of the growth has been coming from the DFM segment.
A major underlying factor behind the faster rise in do-it-for-me transactions is demographics. A significant number of the swelling elderly population in Western Europe do not want to do their own decorating, although they will continue to want to choose the paints themselves.
Increases in disposable income, particularly among high earning couples with their own homes, have also boosted business for professional decorators. People with money to spend are not so enthusiastic about painting their kitchens or bathrooms during their leisure time.
A recent phenomenon has been the greater mobility of labor in the EU following the entry of eight Eastern European states into the EU four years ago. As a result, large numbers of Eastern Europeans have migrated into Western Europe to take advantage of the EU's open borders to earn higher wages. Many are willing to do casual jobs like home improvements.
In the UK, for example, there are now an estimated 600,000 Poles who have recently moved to the country and have bolstered the supply of freelance painters, plumbers and other workers in the home maintenance sector.
In the wake of the growth in DFM sales in areas of Western Europe retailers have been changing the way they sell paints and other home improvement products by revamping their stores to make more use of displays of newly decorated and fitted kitchen, bedrooms living rooms and other parts of the home.
Also some manufacturers of decorative paints are reconsidering their marketing tactics by putting more emphasis on the professional market. This can mean changes to the quality and formulation of paints because interior decorators tend to have different application skills than most DIYers.
"The division between the DIY and professional markets in Europe is becoming more and more blurred," said a spokesman for Akzo Nobel. "We still have to do a lot to help the BIY purchaser particularly in the choice of colors which can be complicated. Often the person doing the painting in these situations are not professionals so they need guidance as well."
However, SigmaKalon, which has approximately 500 fully owned retail outlets for its decorative paints across Europe, is being careful to maintain a distinction between the DIY and professional markets. "We have to take account of the specialist expertise of professional painters which enables them to achieve visual effects unavailable in the DIY market," said a SigmaKalon official.
When giving details of an eight percent rise last year in his company's retail sales to £8.7 billion ($17 billion), Gerry Murphy, group chief executive of Kingfisher plc of the UK, Europe's largest DIY store chain and the third biggest worldwide, told a recent press conference that most of the growth in revenue was coming from the DFM segment.
In the UK, where Kingfisher is market leader, sales went up marginally in the second half of the year after declining in 2005 and the early part of 2006. In France, where the company is also No.1, revenue jumped by nine percent. The UK and France are the two largest home improvement retail markets in Europe.
In response to the new trends in the European market, Kingfisher has been remodelling many of its stores so that outlets, especially the larger ones, have room sets displaying completed kitchens and other rooms, with trained assistants available to help in the choice of paints and other products.
Some of the ideas for the redesign of the stores have been imported from China where Kingfisher has approximately 60 stores and is by far the largest Western retailer in the country. China is almost entirely a DFM market because of the lack of tradition in DIY and plentiful supplies of cheap labor.
In Europe the company is now focusing a lot of attention on what it calls "project initiators" who will tend to be wealthy and spend more than average on home improvements. They like to browse in a comfortable store environment to find ideas for room makeovers but will tend to have the project completed by professionals.
"Approximately 75% of project initiators are women, so we are making our stores increasingly female friendly," said a Kingfisher official. "These are people who are more interested in the end result than the process of achieving it. We are selling more premium paints to them because they want quality. They also want to change the décor of rooms to keep up with the latest styles and fashion. Unlike the older generation they are less interested in acquiring their own DIY skills."
In its larger stores, Kingfisher is allocating dedicated shopping areas for professionals with easy access to loading bays for trucks and pickups while also at the same time facilitating contact between them and DFM buyers at the outlets.
In the UK, Kingfisher is providing instruction leaflets and other literature in the Polish language to cater to the growing numbers of handymen from Poland in the country.
Hornbach Group of Germany, one of Europe's largest operators of DIY megastores in which Kingfisher has a minority stake, has a service under which it helps consumers arrange package deals with professionals in their outlets. Drive-in facilities in the stores enable professionals to load merchandise directly onto their pickups.
"We help organize specialist packages such as the decorating of several rooms by a professional painter," said Axel Mueller, Hornbach's investor relations and communications manager.