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9 More Inspirations for U.S. Dealers from the Global DIY-Summit

Gundel speaking
Sebastian Gundel of Germany's OBI, accompanied by the DIY company's mascot, delivers the keynote speech at the Global DIY-Summit in Rome

By Craig Webb

President, Webb Analytics

More than 1,000 people from 50+ countries came to Rome in mid-June for lessons and ideas on "How to Thrive in the 'Never Normal.'" Along with my other stories on Scope 3 emissions and a switch to QR codes, here are x takeaways from the 10th annual Global DIY-Summit that are particularly appropriate for America's LBM operations.


Germany’s Biggest DIY Firm Strives to Engage and Explain

Eighteen months ago, Sebastian Gundel (shown above) became CEO of OBI, a European DIY giant with 656 stores in nine countries, 40,000 employees, 200 million annual visitors, and 8.2 billion euros ($8.8 billion) in annual sales. He has worked hard to shake up the company ever since.

One big initiative is through engagement by boosting the company’s online services via web, app, and phone. Customers who only shop in person at OBI spend about 470 euros per year, while customers who shop both online and in person spend 1,000 euros. “And if we engage with them 20 times a year via all formats, sales are three times higher than with people who engage less than 20 times a year,” Gundel said. "This is the lever from where we want to start our growth.”

But along with that technological ramping up, OBI also is introducing the “Machbar”—basically, a help desk where the store’s best and more knowledgeable employees answer questions and guide customers to the right aisles and coworkers. 

“We have tested the Machbar at 10 stores in Berlin” Gundel said. “We didn’t add any employees or marketing, but in those stores we got a 4.2% rise in sales, a 4-point-higher net promoter score, and a 2.7% rise in [average] ticket. … Customers are leaving our stores and are more likely to return.”

It’s clear that Gundel believes in data. He also has pushed more internal communication. When he started, surveys indicated just 36% of employees felt they were well informed about OBI’s activities and direction. Now, 18 months later, 74% do. "One OBI," a social media platform, has proven to be a big help in promoting the feeling of belonging, he said.


Promote a Mindset, Not Just Values

Lots of LBM operations promote their customer support, but few have done it as colorfully—and humorously—as Mitre 10, a New Zealand cooperative of 84 stores nationwide: Here’s a video fulfilling Mitre 10’s slogan, ‘With You All the Way:”

Andrea Scown, Mitrę 10’s CEO, said the organization strives to have “The face of a corporation and the spirit of a cooperative.” To that end, major efforts go to staff development and recognition, while “Make It Epic” impact boards in staff areas help keep the focus on what matters.

The company promotes values, but it also stresses mindsets. “How you show up has such a value on your teammates,” Scown said.


AI’s Likeliest Value to Your Company? Sorting Out Your Mess

“If you want to connect the dots, you have to collect the dots,” remarked Peter Hinssen, a consumer experience strategist. “But in most of your companies there is more fiction written in Excel than in words.,” with budget forecasts ranking as probably the greatest fraud.

The trouble with most dealers, he said, is that perhaps 70% of their data lies in unstructured resources—emails, random polls, memos, speeches and such—while jut 30% is in structured resources such as ERP records. Until now, there was no way to tap into and incorporate this information into our analysis and planning. But with Artificial Intelligence, we’re going to move in that direction.

Already, AI is making it possible to access data at a speed previously unimaginable, Hinssen said. You can buy binoculars that can identify 9,000 different bird species while you’re gazing at them from afar. is a legal tool that can research precedents faster than an army of aides. And Brickit is software that can scan all your Lego blocks cast across the floor, sort them, and return with recommendations (and instructions) on what to build.

AI won’t give your company perfect directions for how to operate because its computer software still reaches wrong conclusions, such as taking cat traits and applying them to a video of a dog walking on a windowsill. But compare that with where were are now, he said: “Most of you are King Kong [on the Empire State Building]: Big, loud, and with no idea of how you got there.” 

A major post-9/11 study concluded that America’s failure to protect itself wasn’t a failure of information, but rather of imagination. In LBM, “You may be a good puzzle solver in your company, but in the Never Normal we also need mystery solvers—people who know how to move forward if you don’t have all the pieces in place.” AI can help, but having a mind free of 'the shit of yesterday” and current restraints is vital.


Promote Local Artisans … and Employees

Grupo Cemaco is Guatemala’s leading home center chain, with 24 home centers and 29 small-format hardware stores. It also has a robust online site and can deliver goods to 90% of the country within 24 hours, said Jonathan Nathusius, Grupo Cemaco’s CEO.

The home centers are a sort of combination Target and The Home Depot, a place where you can buy virtually all the materials needed to both build and decorate a house. (It’s the nation’s No. 1 wedding registry.) Some of those soft goods reach the stores through “Guatemala Nuestra,” a program that helps local artisans grow by providing a space to show off what they do while simultaneously helping them learn the basics of marketing, packing, and shipping products.

As part of its mission “To improve Guatemala one home at a time,” Cemaco boosts its own employees’ homeownership dreams by providing zero-interest loans, financial literacy programs, extra health care at private clinics, and store discounts.


DIY Shoppers May Be Sportier Than You Think

Shoppers who buy online from Amazon in Germany are 1.8 times more likely to engage with live sports on TV than are typical Amazon customers, reported Jacob Minah, Amazon Germany’s head of ad sales for the home and gardening.

Amazon capitalizes on this discovery by sponsoring broadcasts of Europe’s major soccer and tennis championships, but if the 1.8x ratio also holds true in the United States, it suggests that dealers long have had reason to sponsor sports events, put their logos in arenas, and buy commercials in games.


Thierry Garnier
Thierry Garnier

These Are Uncertain Times. That's OK

Multiple speakers picked up on the "Never Normal" theme by urging attendees to search constantly among multiple opportunities for the next big thing, even as they maximize what's working now.

"We have to be agile," said Thierry Garnier (pictured at right), Group CEO of Britain's Kingfisher and president of EDRI/GHIN, the summit's organizer. He recalled how fast his team responded to the United Kingdom's shutdown of physical stores during COVID, forcing the company to ramp up dramatically its online service. By the peak of the pandemic, it was handling 1.5 million orders per week.

"Today, in this world, perfection is a mistake," Garnier said. "We need to go fast and make mistakes."

Ireland's Adan McCullen, a change consultant, recognized how much people don't want to change. But these days, change can happen so fast that most people don't respond early enough to catch the wave rather than be drowned by it.

“We have to rewire our organizations" he said, so that we can invest time and energy to launch new initiatives even though they seem like a step backward from the status quo. "You have to jump to a new S curve before the crisis hits," McCullen said. "That’s when you have the revenue to make a change."


We're Hip to This Trend Already

The Novelli advertising agency works with dealers and other firms around the world, and at the summit they showed off one of the most popular trends: Building block kits that create a replica of a store, such as of the Australian DIY center Bunnings or "Macca," as McDonald's is known Down Under.

If this looks familiar, it might be because Beacon Building Products was giving away a similar build-it kit at trade shows earlier this year. Its project featured the mascot for Beacon's TRI-BUILT brand.



Lobby the Government for More Than New-Home Support

Like most national organizations, the Ireland Hardware Association spends time pressing the government for action on key issues. Paul Candon, this year’s association president, said one such initiative was launched when it became known that Ireland had 70,000 vacant home across the republic. Now there are government programs to buy vacant home and restore them.


Webb at the DIY Summit
Webb Analytics President Craig Webb, shown with a version of himself 47 years earlier, speaks about American achievements at the Global DIY-Summit in Rome on June 13.

My Contribution: Great Ideas from the U.S.

I also came to the stage to bring ideas to the world--in my case, from the United States. I introduced the worldwide audience to:

  • Ganahl Lumber and Friedman's Home Improvement, which boosted end-cap sales by featuring shims.

  • Kevin Hancock of Maine's Hancock Lumber, who became a better leader after nearly losing his voice.

  • Second-chance programs at Walker Lumber and A Few Cool Hardware Stores.

  • "Tracula," a new program for improving cycle counting, developed by Nation's Best Holdings and promoted by Do it Best.

  • "Hey GURA," an AI innovation at Tractor Supply.

  • ABC Supply's order sheets, designed for sales reps but also highly popular with customers.

  • Hayward Lumber's Bill Hayward, who has become a champion of healthy homes.

  • HPM Building Supply's decision to help build manufactured housing in Hawaii.

  • Keim Lumber's 360-degree project visualizer.

Each of these achievements deserved a speech of their own, but I only had 20 minutes to talk about them all. If you'd like to get a copy of my presentation, write to me at


Next Stop: Portugal

The Global DIY-Summit is produced by EDRA/GHIN--the European DIY Retail Association / Global Home Improvement Network.The 2025 Global DIY-Summit will take place June 11-13 in Lisbon, Portugal.

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