B&Q owner shuts all stores in France as country goes into lockdown

The owner of DIY chain B&Q has closed all 221 stores it owns in France as the country goes on lockdown over the coronavirus outbreak.

Kingfisher, which also owns Castorama and Brico Depot, added it had “taken measures to protect its colleagues and customers, to limit the impact on profitability and to preserve financial flexibility”.

All staff in France will continue to get paid but there were no immediate further details on what action has been taken to reduce costs.

Bosses said they have formed a central committee to monitor the outbreak along with committees in its individual retail businesses.

They said sales continue to hold up well, but the French store closures will remain in place until April, and 28 stores in Spain will be shut for the next two weeks.

Kingfisher also attempted to reassure investors that it would not run out of cash, pointing out it has £195 million cash in the bank and access to two credit lines worth £775 million. Overall it can access more than £1 billion in cash, if required.

It added: “Given recent government actions and the heightened impact and uncertainty of changes in the magnitude, duration and geographic reach of Covid-19, we are not yet able to predict the impact of Covid-19 on our 2020/21 full-year results.”

Staff have seen travel restrictions imposed and flexible working arrangements, including home-working where possible.

Supply chains in China and the Far East, which make up 25% of total goods sold, are also starting to reopen, with 85% of orders having a less than four-week delay. Products from Italy are also still flowing, with factories remaining open.

The company added that as of Saturday March 14, there has been no impact on sales, with the first two weeks of the month in positive territory.

It added: “However, there is significant uncertainty on sales and demand as the outbreak spreads, and as central governments and businesses take action to contain and delay its impact.”

Chief executive Thierry Garnier said: “We are committed to supporting local authorities and governments to limit the spread of the virus, and the health and safety of our colleagues and customers remains our top priority.

“Our teams are also evaluating the best ways to satisfy emergency needs in our markets, particularly for electricity, heating and plumbing.”