DIY pioneer: Home centers need to think again

Inside an OBI home center in Germany.

Cologne, Germany -- Does home center retailing need a new business model? One DIY pioneer thinks so. 

Manfred Maus, who in 1970 founded OBI, which grew to become Germany’s largest DIY home center, spoke to Home Channel News at the 2012 Internationale Eisenwarenmesse – or International Hardware Fair – in Cologne, Germany. 

“My children and my grandchildren will buy completely differently than we buy,” he said. “I think the home center concept is old. We need a new business model.”

Maus, now retired from OBI but keeping a close watch of the industry through various advisory positions, said technology advances will almost certainly have an impact on the development and transformation of a physical home center.

The person shopping for a lawn mower in a store has probably already shopped online and probably knows more about lawn mowers than any salesperson in the store, he said. 

“That means the future is multichannel -- you need both,” Maus said. “The customer comes with mobile Internet in your store and takes a little picture and asks his wife, ‘Do we buy it?’ And the price can be checked. This means the world is changing, and we have to sit down to find out what has to be done to have a home center for the future.”

Another discussion point: store size. 

“The question is: Is 15,000 square meters (or 160,000 sq. ft.] still the right size for a home center?” Maus said. “Or can we use a smaller store and work with the Internet?”

Asked for his thoughts on products and opportunities for retailers, Maus mentioned security systems and security-related products as a can’t miss category if home improvement retailers do it right. There’s even an opportunity to partner in creative ways with law-enforcement authorities, he said.

Regarding U.S. retailers, the founder of OBI feels the merchandising magic might have slipped in America. “The European home center has the better merchandise concept,” Maus told Home Channel News. “Years ago, I was always impressed about retail merchandising in the United States. Today, I feel [Europeans] have more know-how in presenting the merchandise in specialty stores.”

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