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DIY is not dead

At 9pm on 4th September 1996 Changing Rooms first aired on BBC2. It was episode one in what became a very successful 8 year, 17 series, 154 episode run, that eventually led to the sale of the franchise to the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Although extremely successful in showing the public how they could relatively quickly and cost effectively transform their homes, it wasn’t all plain sailing. In one episode in series 8, a Linda Barker room was being built in Wandsworth to accommodate a large collection of rare teapots. Overnight, the shelves collapsed, demolishing the entire valuable collection. In another infamous episode, Anna Ryder Richardson designed a room for a couple where she placed framed erotic French underwear around the room. On entering the room, the woman screamed aloud and shouted, “Why would I want this shit in my room?! I’ve got children!” and burst into tears.

The 154 episodes of Changing Rooms and the series it spurned including 60-minute makeover, DIY SOS etc. have long been held responsible for fueling the already hot home improvement market at the time; as consumers were inspired and empowered to grab tools and equipment and transform their homes, During the ‘golden years’ of Changing Rooms, the Home Improvement retailers made hay and their sales and profits boomed. With no online competition and unrelenting consumer demand for decorating and DIY products, the only challenging decision in their board rooms, was how many stores they were going to open in the next 12 months or how hard they’d campaign to stay open on Easter Sunday.

On 27th August 2004, (can you believe it 13 years ago!) it was announced that Changing Rooms had run its course and the final programme aired on 28th December 2004. During this final episode, the team focused their efforts on restoring homes in Boscastle, Cornwall that had been badly damaged by the floods that prior August.

Remove the rose-tinted spectacles, we’re back in 2018. In recent years, we’re increasingly been told by the media and others that DIY is dead, that core skills have been lost forever and phrases such as ‘in this post DIY world’ are finding their way into everyday industry conversations. I’ve even heard some of the largest home improvement retailers say that they refuse to use the term DIY, preferring to use the non-personal, sterile ‘Home Improvement’ as the appropriate term in this day and age.

Well, let me tell you something. DIY is not dead, it’s not even on life support or even just a little off colour, DIY is nothing more than asleep.

In the 13 years since Changing Rooms ended (and the same applies to Ground Force), in my view there has been nothing to pick up the mantle and there remains a huge and growing void. The well-known supplier brands are each in their own way doing their best to rejuvenate interest and enthusiasm in do it yourself, but without the sustained, high profile approach of a TV show watched by millions of consumers, it’s very, very difficult.

And yet UK consumers remain starved of helpful tips and guidance. Yes, they flock to Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz in growing numbers to quench their thirst for ideas and inspiration, but it’s a short-term fix. You see fantastic images of how your kitchen, bathroom or lounge could look, the much-needed inspirational end result, but little or nothing to get you there. Nothing and no-one to hold your hand during a process full of uncertainty and risk and nothing to empower consumers to take on the do it yourself tasks themselves.

So, what do we do? We either put off the task in our millions and book a holiday instead or we default to asking a tradesperson to do these jobs for us. We wait for the increasingly busy individual to find time to do our project and then charge us often a not insignificant amount of money to do something that with a little help and guidance, we could have done ourselves in the first place.

What Changing Rooms did, was to present the typical, boring, magnolia painted, cream carpeted average UK room that most of us have and in 30 mins revealed the steps to how this could be transformed into a fantastic new space. It’s unlikely that anyone actually copied the entire end result of any of the Changing Rooms, but many of us saw wallpaper designs, flooring, tiles, paint colours, lighting and room layouts that we all watched and thought, you know what, that could work in our room, let’s take a look this weekend.

It’s that critical spark right at the start of the process that is now missing.

At this point, I have to ask the question, what have the retailers done to fill this void? Yes, we have project guides and boring, functional how to videos on You tube, but little else. In many cases, there is less in-store inspiration and help now than there ever has been – nothing to awaken the DIY flame within us to get us off our back sides and make our homes just that little bit better for our friends and families.

If I can use what I think is a relevant example from grocery retailing. The Tesco Food Love Stories campaign launched in January 2017 and in 12 months has played a key role in fundamentally repositioning that business. The campaign which I’m sure you’ve seen, puts normal everyday people at the heart of their adverts. The single Dad, the busy Mum, they’ve all been able to create fabulous meals for people they love. Many grocery retailers have done this in the past, the difference with the Tesco campaign is that they’ve completed the circle.

They’ve inspired people through an above the line campaign and once you arrive in store, there are the familiar characters, proudly displaying their dishes, along with a list of all the items and ingredients you need, instructions on how to make the dish and to achieve the same. Not only that, but Tesco have been successful in changing the rules of store layout and have displayed all of the ingredients for those recipes together in one place. The website features the same people, great imagery and again the recipe and you can even click on a link that shows the specific ingredients and enables you to order just those items quickly and easily. They’ve created the spark and in-store and online, they’ve fanned the flames.

Find out more about Tesco Food Love Stories

We’re all hungry for inspiration and ideas and we all need help, often with the very basics when it comes to DIY tasks and yet our retailers seem to have deferred responsibility and without a Changing Rooms to do the job for them, they’ve almost given up. Not only that, they’ve jumped aboard the bandwagon and not only accepted, but embraced the concept that DIY is dead, even though this is a one-way road to ultimately their own destruction!

DIY is far from dead, it’s simply asleep, waiting for someone/something to wake it from its prolonged slumber, a simple spark that reignites the passion for home improvement that lies within each of us.

One organisation doing its best to deliver this spark is BHETA, the British Home Enhancement Trade Association. They’ve launched ‘Home Improvement Week’, a brand-new initiative running from 12th to 18th March this year. You know the sort of thing, a specific period of time when along with help from the media, the industry can pull together and reignite consumer interest in DIY.

If you want to know more about National Home Improvement Week – click here

Watch the explainer video here

Many of the leading brands instantly recognised this was going to play a role in beginning to bridge this void and over a sustained period, may even help to reignite interest from consumers.

And would you believe it – the largest DIY retailers are not interested in being involved and worse than that, even criticised BHETA for using the term DIY. Instead of seeing this as a one-way ticket back to the good times, they’re either too busy to get involved or simply weren’t interested.

For goodness sake, the phrase ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ has probably never been more appropriate.

I usually write these articles with the simple objective to make people think, maybe raise a smile or two and every now again a few nods of agreement or some feedback on Linkedin – oh yes, Insight DIY Steve, he knows his stuff. This time, I’m writing this article with the single objective to create action.

Retailers small and large, up and down the land – who for the 20th year running will be doing exactly the same thing in March with your seasonal areas, this year, devote some of that space to National Home Improvement week. There is plenty of time to achieve this, there is plenty of space available, all the leading brands are behind it and more than ever, we need you to get on board and embrace this initiative. Don’t think about it, just do it, get behind the one initiative that might, just might deliver the spark that re-awakens the DIY’er in all of us.

Author – Steve Collinge, MD Insight Retail Group Ltd

About the author: Steve’s career has been spent in the DIY & Gardening industry, including sales and marketing roles with LG Harris, Spear & Jackson, Cuprinol and Dulux. In 2010, he launched the market intelligence agency IRG Limited, the following year launched the Insight DIY website and in 2012 launched the first independent price comparison website within the Home Improvement sector

You can email Steve at

Here’s Steve’s LinkedIn Profile: Steve Collinge

Follow Steve on Twitter: @Insight DIYSteve


Do It Yourself

insightdiysteve View All

Founder and Managing Director of Insight Retail Group and the Home Improvement & Gardening Industry news and intelligence website Insight DIY.

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