Store transformations – disruption in bricks and mortar

HAI CEO Annemarie Harte paid a visit to the new Bunnings store in St Albans to see what new ideas the Australian hardware store giant is bringing to the UK market.

The very first thing that struck me when I drove into the car park at the new Bunnings store in St Albans is that the building was totally wrapped with their branding, an unusual sight given that the big players in the home improvement market usually have a single large sign that you might be desperately trying to find off a motorway or in a busy retail park.

It was interesting to see the slogan ‘Lowest Prices Are Just The Beginning’ emblazoned across the front hoarding of the store. Last summer, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) refused the company’s application to register its strapline for use in the UK. On top of this, Bunnings’ lowest price claims were also recently at the centre of controversy in New Zealand, where Bunnings were alleged to have indulged in “misleading advertising”. I’m getting the feeling that Bunnings are entering the market to shake it up…

Training time

It’s important to bear in mind that the transformation from Homebase to Bunnings has doubled the number of staff in the store and the training time devoted to the ‘team members’ is phenomenal in hardware terms (further underlining the importance of investment in your people, a key lesson for everyone in the hardware business and one I echo in my CEO’s message (see page 3). So, it as encouraging not to encounter the basket-holding wooden robot who might greet me in a place similar to this, instead getting a warm smile and greeting from not one, but two, unobtrusive team members further into the store who made me feel welcome and reassured that they were on hand if required. Greeters aside, I had entered a kind of home improvers’ paradise, no tat and all focus. I recalled the performance of the Focus DIY chain from my time living in Birmingham; where it stumbled, Bunnings are getting it right. Walking the store, it is clear to see that Bunnings have total conviction in the approach that has served them so well in their home market. The store delivers strong first impressions on price, range and stock depth – in retail terms it is bursting at the seams. It was quite mesmerizing – well-stocked aisles, a dolly mixture of choice and items for all budgets. It had an overall feeling of ‘family friendliness’, providing a Hardware Café and children’s play area, as well as a Community Notice Board, which promised upcoming product demos on Saturdays, although rumours of sizzling sausages on arrival were grossly exaggerated as none were to hand (or mouth) on my visit.

Beyond the DIYer

Where the first department on site in many of the old Homebase stores was homewares (e.g. candles, cushions, mirrors), this category has been abandoned in favour of traditional DIY categories, especially tools. The tool corral has a huge range of both hand and power tools that are not just aimed at the DIYer. Judging by some of the high price points and brands, Bunnings is serious in targeting the trade customer. I counted 35 different (standard) saws (by comparison a typical Homebase now has approximately 20 and pre-Bunnings Homebase would have stocked a lot less) and I counted 22 (standard) hammers (approximately 14 in a typical Homebase). The tool corral was strongly supported with branded supplier presence interacting with customers. The store is true to its warehouse roots, with a no-frills, lowcost approach. The initial impression (low price, promotional dumpstacks with handwritten prices at the entrance, the warehouse racking, the tool corral, banners highlighting brands stocked) reinforces range and price authority. Unlike many of its competitors (and the old Homebase) there is nothing in the way of visual imagery and inspiration.

While the overall departmental signage is clear, there is very limited ‘in bay’ navigation and the lack of point of sale material to help customers choose products means that several categories are difficult for customers to shop. For the regular DIYer with a large project to complete this may not be an issue. But, I wonder if this approach will limit the appeal to the occasional DIYer just popping in to pick up one or two items, even if the increase in staff numbers can help address this. As I made my way out of the store, I had to smile as I noticed a team briefing was in full swing, the manager reminding team members about greeting customers and special offers in-store. It was pleasing to see Bunnings’ emphasis on customer service.

This article was prepared with the  assistance of mdj2 associates. Mdj2 are a consultancy focused on the retail and consumer sectors. All the team have worked in senior roles in the DIY and Home Improvement sector and they have completed numerous consulting projects for major DIY retailers and suppliers.

FACT FILE: BUNNINGS ST ALBANS

TOTAL SIZE: More than 67,000 sq. ft (6,000 sq. metres).
RANGE: Over 30,000 lines.
STORE FEATURES: Indoor children’s playground, café, timber cutting, garden centre, colour wall and engraving and key cutting services.
TOTAL TRAINING TIME: Over 3,000 hours (50+ hours training per team member).
NEW JOBS CREATED: 30 new full and part-time roles created, taking the total team members to 68 (almost double the workforce of the previous Homebase store).
EXPERTISE: Team members’ previous experience includes ex-plumber, ex-electrician, builder, landscape gardener and painter and decorator, with experts ‘owning their own aisle’.
ACTIVITY ORGANISER: Dedicated team member responsible for community involvement activity and instore workshop programme.