Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Thursday, 30 March 2006 00:00 UK


By Charles Miller
BBC Money Programme

Britain's do-it-yourself sector is in trouble. Could it be because Britain has given up on DIY in favour of GSI - Getting Someone In?

Retailers fear Britain is falling out of love with DIY

DIY retailers are suffering in a contracting market described by B&Q, the biggest of them, as "very difficult".

"There has been a degree of downturn that no one really saw coming at that speed," says the firm's chief executive, Ian Cheshire.

B&Q and its competitors blame the downturn on a sluggish housing market - because when people stop moving house, they stop spending on big home improvement projects.

End of an era?

But is it as much to do with a more general trend? Is Britain falling out of love with DIY?

For Londoner Adam Coulter, the laptop - not the toolbox - is now the first thing he reaches for when he needs work done round the house.

"I do have a tool box, and I can do something like screw a hinge on," says Adam. But he prefers to go online and order a handyman to do his little jobs.

Small businesses like 0800handyman are flourishing: offering a man on a bike to do as many household jobs as you can line up for them, and charging by the hour.

An ageing population is less likely to DIY, and more likely to 'Get Someone In'
Open University

Richard Kuyper is one of 38 handyman bikers who whizz around London dealing with people's home decorating jobs.

"I think that people are prepared to pay the money and have a good service," he says. "They'd rather be there drinking the tea and eating the biscuits and watching us doing it."

Bucking the trend

But while DIY retailers are having it tough, Swedish homeware seller Ikea is planning to expand its British stores - proving that we haven't stopped spending money on our homes so long as we can come up with an easy solution.

"One of the appeals of Ikea is that it makes you feel like you're doing a bit of DIY, but it's not quite so dirty or hard work," says Elen Lewis, author of Great Ikea!, a book which tells the story of the chain's development.

"You can buy a piece of furniture, assemble it yourself, and still feel a bit satisfied as if you've worked towards something - but it's much easier."

When Ikea invented flatpack furniture 50 years ago, people thought nothing of a little light self-assembly.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen
Is DIY becoming an "art form" to observe rather than to take part in?

Today, for some people even building an Ikea cupboard can be too much. But now even that - the least ambitious kind of DIY - can be avoided. The Unflatpack company is one of several assembly services that will do your Ikea penance for you.

"Today DIY has become an art form. People prefer to watch it on the television than go down to a superstore and get big cans of paint and get their hands dirty," says John Griffin, Unflatpack's owner.

Even Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, the design guru of Changing Rooms, whose inspiration led to an outbreak of stencilling, now admits the heyday of DIY is over.

"As a nation of interior designers, we're bringing someone in to do it for us, and we're not going to jeopardise the effect by doing it very badly," he says.

'Handy Mandy'

As male customers disappear, the big hope in the DIY retail trade is that women will eventually take their place.

Handymen on call are the preferred option for more and more people

Tomboy Tools is an American company, now being launched in the UK, to sell specially-designed tools to women at Tupperware-style parties in people's homes.

Meanwhile, some DIY retailers, including B&Q, are plugging a new kind of alternative to DIY, which they call "home enhancement".

It appeals to women in more traditional ways - with a range of finished products, such as cushions, candles and kitchenware.

The big retailers now believe they can do better by selling to the browsing female shopper than the bloke with a list of DIY materials he's looking for.

The Money Programme: DIY RIP? BBC Two at 7pm on Friday 31 March.

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