Although better known for its wine and cheese, France also has hardware stores that are not to be sniffed at. Personal favorite and market leader in the DIY sector – or secteur du bricolage, as the French say – is Leroy Merlin. The company’s 100,000-square-foot central Bordeaux branch is packed tight with the things you’d […]
Although better known for its wine and cheese, France also has hardware stores that are not to be sniffed at. Personal favorite and market leader in the DIY sector – or secteur du bricolage, as the French say – is Leroy Merlin. The company’s 100,000-square-foot central Bordeaux branch is packed tight with the things you’d almost given up looking for, like decent shower curtain equipment, draft stoppers that actually stop drafts and a screwdriver with changeable heads. It’s also full of things I’d not even thought to look for yet, like a WD-40 oil pen, particularly effective for dabbing rather than spraying squeaky hinges.
Leroy Merlin is nice to children, providing special trolleys with plastic car attachments for younger ones, and has a decent lunch counter with reasonable coffee, impressive brownies and very good wraps. The loos are clean and the staff is helpful. No Gallic shrugs here, even when one asks detailed questions about how best to hold the oil pen.
Originally called Au Stock Américain, Leroy Merlin was founded in 1923 by Adolphe Leroy and Rose Merlin to sell American military surplus that had been abandoned postwar. The company now has 122 stores in France, plus another 300 or so outlets in 12 other countries, including China and Brazil.
The funny thing is the French don’t seem terribly enthused about the place.
The funny thing is the French don’t seem terribly enthused about the place. Part of the problem is pronunciation. If you say the name in English, no one knows what you mean. “Come on, Leroy Merlin, you know,” you say. Shrugs. “It’s full of great stuff and the staff is brilliant.” Blank looks.
I offer my friends a detailed account of the time a Leroy Merlin salesman explained what former French president Nicolas Sarkozy meant when he said he would take a “KÁ¤rcher” to the Parisian “racaille.” Not only did the salesman translate “racaille” as “scum,” he then led the way to the high-pressure water cleaners, the KÁ¤rchers. These friends were mildly amused, but that’s it.
I then gave another example, of the afternoon when a Leroy Merlin saleswoman outlined French cat burial regulations. Graves must be at least 3.9 feet deep and lined with quicklime, she explained, carrying a 22-pound bag of the stuff to an empty checkout before bidding a sympathetic goodbye. The friends smile politely.
Further discussions about the shop’s full range of vacuums, including one that sucks warm cinders directly from the fireplace, are clearly not going to happen. Nor is anyone going to come and gaze – just for the hell of it – at the wall of sinks, flat mounted so you can easily compare sizes and shapes. Nor will they be joining me to admire the huge linoleum sample squares they provide, so as to better visualize a whole room. And nobody seems wildly keen on comparing the merits of a new, six-in-one knife with a flashlight that fits on a key ring, versus a fold-up knife (without a flashlight) on the other rack. How about taking a look at the exchangeable-head screwdriver? Non. No more hardware talk.
For the French, Leroy Merlin – pronounced Le Roi Merlaan, with a very long and guttural r if you want to avoid confusion – is just doing what a hardware store should do. Fini. Plus, there are better things to talk about, like food. So how about those cream-cheese-and-cucumber wraps you can eat while walking around the store? Okay, finally, they’re engaged. Heads lift, mouths open in shock. You can’t walk while eating, they say, horrified. It’s bad for digestion.
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