Bunnings UK to launch transactional website because of importance of 'digital engagement'

A Bunnings UK presentation in Milton Keynes heard that the Wesfarmers-owned 255-store chain is to launch a transactional website in the next 18 months.

UK managing director PJ Davis said: "Digital engagement is very important in the UK. We'll have a transactional website within 18 months."  

In Australia, Bunnings' website is non-transactional and is still the the sixth most viewed site in the country. But Davis said: "We have to in [the UK] market."

Speaking ahead of store visits for Australian investors, Davis said there was "uncertainty in the UK market. It's a washing machine at the moment. I wouldn't like to predict."

Wesfarmers bought Homebase in January 2016 for £340m and is spending £500m on transformations.

Davis said he also recognised that the UK market is "not pergola, deck or pool" but is "all about living inside".

He said the growth of non-specialists and heavy discounters B&M, The Range, Home Bargains, Poundland, Wilko and Ikea showed the potential of the market and that the trade and specialist market is growing strongly with retailers such as Selco and Toolstation.

Davis said he wants Bunnings UK to "service the width of the market from novice to professional".

Davis said he was targetting the serious DIY/renovator and not the tradesman, but they were welcome customers. He said there was a "broad assortment" but "if we try and become all things to everyone, we'll fail".

He said he was also "seeing consolidation" in large garden centres such as Wyevale and Dobbies.

Davis said Homebase was "seen to be over-priced" and its "high-low pricing" model meant customers were waiting for sales at Homebase, which has had an impact on returns. 

He said Homebase had "very low stock positions" and was "unreliable on stock" with a "very narrow demographical focus", "low trading hours" and "low service intensity".

The first Bunnings UK pilot, at St Albans, opened on 2 February, repositioned as "always lowest prices, not 'price offs'".

Davis said it had been a good weather to start the season as Bunnings moves into core home improvement and gardening out of soft furnishings and concessions. He said now the centres had plenty of space for home improvement and garden.

He added: "I don't pretend for one moment that outdoor living is as significant in the UK as in Australia but we have had more success with barbecue and garden furniture than we originally expected" over the "dark months" of the winter. But he admitted there was probably too much stock carried through that season in some areas. He said post 1 October, sales had been good in outdoor living, which suggests Bunnings are seeing or bringing change to UK buying patterns.

Davis said it was taking time to build the Australian high performance staff culture but separation from Home Retail Group was "well-advanced". He said now the centres had plenty of space for home improvement and garden.

He said home delivery with 320 white vans was underway and not centralised anymore: "Outdoor furniture and barbecues are very much home delivery products-that will be tested."

St Albans has 30,000 skus, up 12,000, in a 67,000sqft store. A smaller St Albans store will re-open as a Bunnings Warehouse in three weeks (late March/early April), then Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes by 30 June and six more by the end of the year.

Davis said in its first 4-5 weeks he was "very pleased" with St Albans.

He said Bunnings UK is "recovering space" from goods inwards, concessions and garden centres for more SKUs. Covered outside areas will help sell more landscaping, he added.

Davis repeated his "lowest price, widest range, best service" mantra as a "clear position for customers".

He says the £38bn UK market is "fragmented" with less than 15 per cent with the two biggest players.

Davis says Bunnings UK must be ready for "micro seasons" and that Matt Tyson, ex B&Q, on Bunnings advisory board, is helping him recognise them; "We have got to be more flexible."

Australian analysts questioned Davis on Bunnings UK's recent loss of £28m in its set-up phase. He said set-up and separation costs had been large. 

Davis said there had been £13m non-operational costs such as concession exits and £5m "intangibles".

He said there was a "washing machine" effect $5m intangibles.

He said in reply to questions on Brexit and exchange rate impacts that more than 50% of stock is overseas-sourced though "plants are grown locally"

Bunnings UK has moved kitchen manufacture to Italy, and stopped installations. He said there had been some loss of volumes on kitchen and bathroom. One analyst, David Errington, questioned whether Bunnings UK would reduce to just being a garden centrw without strength in those areas.

He said inflation would mean prices would not fall and that "markets set prices" and "its about value".

Davis said there were high fixed costs in the UK so volume is very important.

He said stock density was higher than Australia because outdoor living needs a lot of space there.

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