Kingfisher Chief Seeks Clarity Over French Sunday Opening Laws

Kingfisher Plc (KGF), owner of the French Castorama chain, is seeking “clarity and consistency” over Sunday opening laws in France amid protests by stores and their employees who want to work on the traditional day of rest.

Chief Executive Officer Ian Cheshire met yesterday with the head of a government-appointed commission, which is seeking to streamline the laws and has to report back by the end of November, he said in an interview in Paris.

Kingfisher is France’s biggest home-improvement retailer and gets more than half its earnings from the country. Under a law dating back to 1906, most non-food retailers are forbidden from opening on Sundays, though the law has been modified over the years, leaving a mishmash of rules. Furniture and gardening stores can remain open, while do-it-yourself outlets can’t.

“It seems extraordinary to have a furniture store down the road from us open on a Sunday, but we clearly can’t trade,” Cheshire said. “There is no real logic in any one place.”

France’s imposition of laws that bar many shopkeepers from opening Sunday and after 9 p.m. has led to protests by retailers and their employees. President Francois Hollande is seeking to strike a balance between appeasing unions, which are asking that stores remain closed on Sundays, and dealing with near-record joblessness and sliding purchasing power, with many employees willing to work extra hours for additional pay.

Stores affected have included the Champs Elysees branch of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s (MC) Sephora cosmetic chain, which was ordered to close no later than 9 p.m. on weekdays even though the outlet makes 20 percent of its sales after that time.

Antiquated Rules

The new rules are antiquated, according to Jacques-Antoine Granjon, the founder of online retailer Vente-Privee.com.

“The laws sometimes have to be open to the new world, and the new world is business that never stops,” Granjon said in a phone interview. “Where there is a need and where you have people who are ready to work, they should let them work.”

Kingfisher’s Cheshire reiterated that the economic outlook in France “is still really uncertain as customers are nervous because they don’t know what they are going to be hit with in terms of taxation.”

By contrast, the outlook in the U.K. shows a “slow, steady uptick.” While the business climate has improved, “people are still less confident about their personal finances,” he said.

Kingfisher plans to open four branches of its Screwfix unit in Germany by the middle of next year, the CEO said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gabi Thesing in London at gthesing@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net

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