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London to Perth to St Albans… The return of Bunnings - John Stanley


In 1896 Arthur and Robert Bunning left London for Peth, West Australia. This was the start of a journey that started in the timber industry, grew into Westfarmers and eventually the move into hardware retailing and supermarkets. As far as the garden retail sector is concerned the success has been phenomenal. Now Bunnings has returned to where the brothers started with the opening of the first branded Bunnings store in the UK opening in February at St Albans, Hertfordshire on the northern fringe of London. As every Australian will know they dominate the garden retail sector in Australia and the challenge is will they do the same in the UK where they plan to rebrand the Sainsbury Homebase hardware and garden business.

I managed to visit the new St Albans store in the first week of opening to check if the Australian flavor is evident in the store and whether the model will work in the UK. The cold, miserable February day I visited was not a West Australian day, but once inside I was clearly experiencing an Aussie experience.

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The store layout and marketing is the same as the winning approach in Australia and the model works exceptionally well. Before visiting the store I had also visited other hardware stores and independent garden centers so that I could judge the difference in approach in the market.

In the previous stores, I visited I could wander around the store, mostly ignored by the team members on the shop floor. It was a pleasure to walk into Bunnings and have greeter welcome me to the store and then find all the team was keen to engage with me and talk about their knowledge and advice on the product. This approach is very “Un-English”, but it works. After talking to several of the team they mentioned they had been on an intensive training workshop before going on the shop floor and that customer engagement was something that was stressed. At first, the British customer is hesitant of being greeted, but they soon come around to enjoying this team engagement. These team members are promoted as “category hero’s” something that is rarely done in a UK retail outlet.

Many plant displays I observed in other retail outlets were uninspiring, whilst Bunnings understand the importance of impulse sales and the plants were displays to encourage customers to buy.

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Customers are also encouraged to “linger longer” with complimentary coffee from the coffee shop that served an excellent quality coffee, free workshops and activities for the children. Clearly, weekends are going to be a success with the Australian “sausage sizzle” being introduced into the store on Saturdays and Sundays. These events, linked to local community activities, has been a winning formula for the business and one that will be repeated in the UK.

The UK has not had a competitor who uses this style of retailing in the garden sector and it will now be interesting to see how the industry reacts to the challenge.

John Stanley

John Stanley is a Conference Speaker and Consultant. In 2012 he was awarded the WA Small Business exporter of the Year. He works in 35 countries and is one of the world sort after retail and small business presenters. His new conference presentation looks at the new consumer and how that affects your business. Follow John on Facebook John-Stanley -Associates or contact him at john@johnstanley.com.au

Source: HortiTrends News Room