Author: Graham Ball
But the ancient Chinese philosophy, which involves changing the design of your living space to improve your fortune, is proving to be a big hit in the world of DIY retailing.
Two vast new B&Q superstores, in Glasgow and Merseyside, have been designed following Feng Shui guidelines, and their business is booming.
Both store managers maintain their success is due to the positive energy that has been channelled into their shops by Feng Shui experts.
While the superstitious art form has played a major role in Chinese life for thousands of years it has only recently caught on in the West. Smart interior designers in Mayfair have embraced many of the tenets, and estate agents selling property to Hong Kong businessmen have been quick to acquaint themselves. They know, for example, that the number four is deemed to be particularly unlucky, and excise the digit from their new developments.
Korean factories in the North-east and Scotland have been designed on Feng Shui lines, as was the Trump International hotel in New York. But up until now the less-than-spiritual world of hardware sales has remained largely untouched by the cult.
“I first encountered Feng Shui when I went to the opening of our company’s first store in Taiwan. Everyone there takes it so seriously you cannot fail to be impressed,” said David Ingliss, the Glasgow B&Q store manager. Mr Ingliss’s hosts told him of the Hong Kong millionaire who re-located his business empire into a new skyscraper. However, soon after the move, the business began to falter.
“In desperation the entrepreneur called in the Feng Shui experts who said that because his new office block was round it was like a huge cigarette and that all the energy was burning off through the roof. They said the only thing he could do was to build a swimming pool on the roof, which he did. And to this day there is an office block in Hong Kong with a swimming pool 40 floors up which no one ever uses, but there is a successful company underneath it,” said Mr Ingliss.
Feng Shui (pronounced “phong shway”) means wind and water. The theory is based on the appreciation of a relationship existing between humans and the environment.
The principles were laid down more than 3,000 years ago by Taoist thinkers who maintained that there is one common life force. Human beings, they claim, are constantly affected by chi without necessarily being aware of its force. And if the flow of chi energy is interrupted misfortune can follow. On the other hand, a good supply of chi will lead to happiness, good fortune and a long and healthy life.
“Some people may think it is just mumbo jumbo and I must admit there is a superstitious element to it,” said Mr Ingliss.
“But much of Feng Shui is just common sense and has a direct relevance to good retailing. Experts lay great store by things not being cluttered and cramped so we made a policy of keeping the aisles wide, clear and welcoming.” The Glasgow store, with a floor area greater than two football pitches, has been described locally as a DIY Disneyland. “I took that as a compliment when I heard it.When the Feng Shui adviser called, the building was up but it was not fitted out. Fortunately the basic structure was OK but we followed the principles for positioning various departments and activities.”
And it has worked. Mr Ingliss’s store has been one of the most successful in its first year of any of the B&Q stores . “I am not saying it is all down to Feng Shui but I believe that we are on to something. It may have started out as a novelty but there is a definitely a buzz about the place.”
In Wallasey in Merseyside just off the M53 there is another Feng Shui B&Q superstore. It opened last February and covers 175,000 sq ft. “Some of the staff took the mickey out of me at first but most of them accept that there are tangible beneficial effects now,” said Jon Dorsett, the manager, who also encountered the art of Feng Shui on a company trip to the Far East. “When the Feng Shui consultant came she had a map and said it was important that the toilets were not in the wealth section of her chart. Fortunately they were not as the wealth area here, according to her map, is in our goods inwards section.”
Mr Dorsett also adheres to the policy of wide aisles and even goes so far as ordering all restocking work to be done outside opening hours. “We paid close attention to advice on colour, lighting and especially the distribution of indoor plants. We trained them to grow around the entrance to the garden centre and installed wind chimes. That department is now among the top five in the company.
“I am not sure that I believe in the magical side to it but I did move a mirror at home that was facing the front door – that is very unlucky apparently – but it actually just looks better in its new place,” said Mr Dorsett.
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