Commercial Horticulture publisher Snell has added his perspective on Bunnings £340m buy-out of Homebase, which completed this week. Australian Garden Centre Association manager Leigh Siebler said not to under-estimate the Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings chain on www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk yesterday.
Snell has added his view on Australasia's dominant DIY/garden centre chain: "Bunnings is a product of the Australian mining boom. The mining giant Westfarmers was looking for something to do with the capital it was amassing and the DIY market looked promising. The point here is that, from the beginning, Bunnings has been very well funded so no corners needed to be cut when it was set up. Still to today, many millions of dollars are spent setting up each store, no expense spared.
"Essentially, a Bunning Mega store is a large commercial warehouse softened and prettied up to allow public access, and that is its basic appeal to the Aussie and Kiwi bloke. We are still not that far from the pioneering era; we all think we can do anything around the house or workplace that needs doing without calling in pesky tradesmen; and we know we need to have in our garage or shed every tool, gadget, sprocket, nut and bolt that was ever invented – just in case.
"So to be let loose in a Bunnings store is a wonderful experience because it is full of boy’s toys and we need every one of them!
"Most of the goods are displayed on steel commercial racking, painted red, and several layers high. The floor will be polished concrete. The racks are in rows, each numbered and at the ends well signposted as to what is in each row. There are always heaps of staff, in red livery, and they are very well trained to be polite and friendly and knowledgeable about the store layout. Ask one for some obscure item and they will say "You’ll find that in Row 42" or whatever. Bunnings also tries to employ ex-tradesmen as store staff, which is appreciated by customers looking for advice.
"Apart from the racks, many other goods are just displayed on the pallets they were delivered on, with signs on top or sides. They have a lot of impulse items and specials displayed this way and these are well shopped. One recent Saturday I saw a pallet of mini charcoal barbecues at a Bunnings, probably a couple of hundred barbecues in boxes in all. I didn’t buy one at the time but later decided to so went back next day – those barbecues had sold out within two hours.
"A category manager from a rival to Bunnings in New Zealand told me a key to Bunnings’ success is their ability to stick to their core product offering and not be tempted to stray too far outside. A second key element is their ‘low-price offer’ even though most of their prices aren’t low because they do essentially sell medium- to high-quality products. Their TV and radio slogans, which you will hear so often you’ll get to know by heart are: 'Lowest prices are just the beginning' or 'We have the widest range at the lowest prices every day. If you happen to find a lower price on the same stocked item we'll beat it by 15 per cent.' Trouble is, because many of their main lines are exclusive to them, you can’t find them elsewhere anyway.
"The core product ranges for Bunnings are hardware and home improvement lines and in these their range is both very wide and very deep, probably beyond the ability of any rival to better. They do offer everything for the home, including complete kitchens and bathrooms, but are weak on whiteware and don’t stray far into ‘home decoration.’ They offer lights and lamps, for example, but really only a wide range of the basics. They don’t do things like beds or linen.
"The Bunnings Mega stores have a strong trade offering as well, mainly aimed at builders. They have covered sections at one end of their stores stocking an extensive range of timber lines, from rough-sawn landscaping timbers and fencing to framing and finishing timbers, joinery and even interior and exterior doors. Their re-stocking systems must be fantastically good to be able to maintain such a wide offering on so small a footprint. Tradesmen, I’m told, often go to Bunnings for things their normal trade supplier would have to buy in. They know Bunnings will have everything in stock so even though it might cost more, they save time.
"The Bunnings garden centres are tidy, well displayed and maintained. The plant range is wide but not deep and the accent is on colour plants and pot plants. They usually have a very good indoor plant selection which includes expensive exotic items. Their range of flower and vege seedlings is very strong. Their landscaping product range is also extensive, and covers every kind of paver, brick, pebble, soil, potting mix, trellis, watering systems etc, etc. They have a wide range of barbecues and associated products and also garden furniture. There are aisles devoted to garden tools, mowers, water blasters etc. If you wanted to buy a garden hose, there could easily be 50 or more choices of sizes, lengths, diameters, materials, colours and prices, ranging up to white food-grade hoses for a couple of hundred dollars.
"The garden centres at Bunnings are normally situated at one end of the building, farthest from the entry. This is presumably to draw customers through the store and past the pallet-loads of impulse lines on offer. Between the garden centre, which is plastic roofed, will be a café and childrens’ playground area. These are all pretty simple affairs compared to the extensive food offerings I see in UK garden centres in your magazine.
"So, that’s a little of what you might expect from a Bunnings store in the UK – unless of course they have identified that they need a different model, and I think that is likely. Will UK buyers like the somewhat austere warehouse atmosphere of a Bunnings? Are they as wedded to DIY as Kiwis and Aussies? It will be fascinating to see. I’m sure Bunnings will be in for some surprises in the UK but they are a very formidable organisation and if anyone can make it happen it is them."