SA’s DIY retail stores have mostly been immune to economic downturns. When the going was good, people bought new homes, which they renovated later. In a sputtering economy, many prefer fixing things themselves. Thanks to this kind of all-weather resilience, companies like Cashbuild and Italtile became JSE favourites. But now, even they say this slowdown is the severest in a long time. Over the past year, retailers have had a lot to grumble about, as a rise in the VAT rate, increases in the fuel price and poor wage growth have drained consumers’ wallets. The difficulty was evident in total retail sales growing only 1% for the three months to end-December. For hardware, paint and glass retailers, sales shrank 1.5% for the period, Stats SA data shows. This could clearly be seen in the performance of Massmart’s Massbuild division, which had a rise in sales of 5.9% to R13.72bn but only a paltry 1.8% gain to R749.1m in trading profit in its results for the year to December. At rival Cashb...

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