HI News V3 No. 8: Metcash reports
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Trim routers have become a more common tool
Metcash has said no to an offer to buy Hardings Hardware
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
The current issue of HI News is primarily about listed wholesaler and retailer, Metcash and its Independent Hardware Group (IHG) subsidiary.

Simply click on the following link to download this edition:
HI News V3 No. 8: Metcash reports

In addition to reporting its annual FY2016-17 results, Metcash confirmed to Fairfax Media that it rejected an offer from Reece to buy its Hardings Hardware group of stores.

Statistics in this edition takes a look at how "complementary" the Mitre 10 and Home Timber & Hardware store networks are within IHG.

There are more developments in Bunnings' UK business than in Australia as it doubles its pilot stores in the British market.

The Home Depot is acquiring rental company, Compact Power Equipment and Home Hardware in Canada is repositioning the brand through a new ad campaign.

The main product category we explore in this issue are trim routers. Other products featured include the Fiskars weed puller, Stihl's backpack battery, Cub Cadet's Z-Force mower, the newest multi-tool from Fein Power Tools, Swann's latest security system and the Worx Ai drill.
Metcash full-year results FY2016-17
Metcash results for FY2016/17
Metcash 52-week year results by half
Jeff Adams, incoming CEO of Metcash
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
Metcash has released its results for its full-year FY2016/17. Once the results are fully interpreted, it looks like the company had something between a mildly positive and a flat year. However, given the circumstances of its core industry, wholesale distribution of food products to independent grocers and supermarkets, the company has done well.

Its home improvement retail operations, Independent Hardware Group (IHG), did well in particular. Earnings improved during a turbulent time, as the company acquired Home Timber & Hardware Group (HTH), and coped with the mass discounts dumped into the market during the busiest months of the year, as Masters exited the industry.
Metcash results for FY2016/17

The headline results as reported by Metcash were an increase in overall sales revenue by 5.4% on the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was FY2015/16, to $14.12 billion; reported net profit after tax (NPAT) was $171.9 million, down by 20.6% on the pcp; and earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) rose by 7.7% on the pcp to reach $298.7 million. Metcash also reported what it termed "group underlying profit after tax" (UPAT), which it claimed rose by 9.3% to reach $194.8 million.

Making allowances for this being a 53-week accounting year rather than a 52-week accounting year decreases some of these gains. However, it is also true that the NPAT decline is largely due both to profit from the sale of its automotive operations, which added close to $40 million to the pcp NPAT, and ongoing costs from the acquisition of HTH, which decreased NPAT in the current period.

In its hardware operations, the company showed strong gains in EBIT, especially for the Mitre 10 portion of its operations, as well as substantial contribution from the HTH operations Metcash acquired in October 2016. During the second half of FY2016/17, the Mitre 10 operations managed to boost overall EBIT margin to an excellent 4.26%, largely through efficiencies gained.

Metcash CEO Ian Morrice was balanced in his remarks on the result release, in contrast to early, enthusiastic press reports. In the press release announcing the results he stated:
Our initiatives focused on supporting Independent Retailers be [sic] "The Best Store in Town", together with our Working Smarter program aimed at simplifying the way we operate and reducing costs, have helped mitigate the impact of difficult trading conditions.
Significant progress has been made on the integration of Home Timber & Hardware, and we remain excited about the opportunities this acquisition presents.
The strength of our financial position has us well placed for future investment, and the Board was pleased to announce it is bringing forward the recommencement of dividends for shareholders.

He was equally measured in his statements at the conference with investment analysts to introduce the results. He said in part:
I think we've got some results to present this morning that from our perspective really highlight and underpin continued progress against our purpose and vision ... the components of our vision being best store in town, partner of choice, passion for independents and thriving communities.

Reassessing the results by excluding the additional EBIT from HTH, and adjusting for this year being a 53-week accounting year, growth in operational EBIT from the company's food, liquor and hardware operations essentially kept pace with general inflation at around 1.5%.

However, the results did show substantial gains from Metcash's Working Smarter efficiency program, and the HTH acquisition promises to be a good source of future growth.

As a result, the stock market broadly welcomed the results, especially as they were accompanied by a reinstatement of a regular dividend of $0.045 per share for the reported financial year. This led to the share price going up from $2.19 prior to the release, to $2.41 a week later, an increase of 9.1%.

Prior to the results announcement, Metcash indicated that Mr Morrice would be stepping down from his role as CEO in 2018. Metcash announced on 11 July 2017 that it will replace him with a former executive from the UK-based supermarket chain, Tesco, Jeff Adams. The announcement read, in part:
Mr Adams will join Metcash in September and, following a comprehensive orientation of the business, will work with Mr Morrice to ensure a smooth transition into the role. He will succeed Mr Morrice as Group Chief Executive Officer following completion of the transition in December. Mr Morrice will then act as an adviser to Mr Adams and the Board through to June 2018.

Mr Adams has something of a mixed background. He was successful at growing the Tesco business in Thailand, but was one of several executives who struck out when trying to get the company's expansion into the US past first base.

Mr Adams is slated to begin his role on 4 September 2017, on a four-year contract, with a total employment cost of $1.8 million per year. Additional short-term and long-term incentives also apply.
End of the transformation plan

The Transformation Plan, launched initially as a one-year project in March 2014, expanded in June 2015 into into a three-year project, and for a brief time in 2016 apparently a four- or five-year project, has seemingly come to an end, as a three-year project, with these FY2016/17 results. Where it would normally appear as an item under "Strategic objectives" in the report documents, it is absent this year, while the company's ongoing efficiency drive, "Working Smarter", continues.

It is difficult to say how successful the plan was in reaching its goals, but it is fair to acknowledge that it was successful in parts. The appointment of some key personnel at Metcash in mid-July 2015, including Steven Cain as CEO Supermarkets, and Mark Hewlett as executive general manager of new channels, arguably came out of the transformation plan.

Equally, though, the way the company managed a major divestment and a major acquisition - the sale of Metcash's automotive division to Burson Auto Parts, and its acquisition of the HTH from the Woolworths controlled Hydrox Holdings - were key to the company holding its own in an increasingly difficult marketplace.

Analysis of the results has been complicated by several factors, including the acquisition of HTH from Woolworths, and Metcash's sale of its automotive operations to Burson's in FY2015/16. Additionally, for accounting purposes, Metcash's FY2016/17 consists of 53 weeks instead of the usual 52.
Metcash Group

Metcash has been called to task for what a few analysts see as an unusual treatment of some results, especially the number it produced for UPAT. This matter is covered in some depth in our Comment section for this issue.

To try to make these performance numbers more accessible, HNN has put together some different comparisons. Table 1 presents the results represented in the company's accounting, as well as an estimation of the sales and EBIT to represent an equivalent 52-week year, with the contribution of the HTH acquisition omitted.

In overall terms, Metcash's food operations, which include its IGA independent grocer brand, had sales of $9.18 billion, up by 0.6% on the pcp. Sales at supermarkets rose by 1.3% while sales at convenience outlets fell by 2.7%.

Excluding the 53rd week, sales at supermarkets fell by 0.6%, and convenience outlet sales fell by 4.5%. Like-for-like (comp) sales at Metcash grocery banner IGA lifted by 0.1%.

EBIT was virtually flat at $180 million, though would have declined when accounting for the 53 week year. Poor economic conditions in Western Australia, and stronger competition in that state and South Australia brought the number down, while eastern seaboard states performed more strongly.

Metcash's liquor operations' sales rose by 3.5% to $3,333 million, and by 1.8% when adjusting for the 53 weeks. EBIT for the unadjusted year increased by 7.9% on the pcp, to reach $67 million.
Independent Hardware Group

Mr Morrice made direct reference to the IHG result in his opening remarks at the presentation of the results to analysts:
So [total Metcash] sales are up 5.4% and EBIT is up 8%. However, both of those numbers include a 53rd trading week and also the acquisition of Home Timber & Hardware. So when you flow that through into Hardware's EBIT increase there, yes, there's an element from HTH, but the good news underneath that is that the continued strong performance of Mitre 10 was also a big feature. This is all given the amount of disruption with the closure of Masters during the course of the year. So I'm very pleased with that hardware result.

Mr Morrice returned to this theme later in his remarks, in the section specifically devoted to IHG:
So sales obviously increased significantly without acquisitions. So some of you will want to also focus on how Mitre 10's going. And as you can see, up 2.9%, 1.4% on a 52-week like-for-like basis. And given all that happened in the market, we're pretty pleased with that. And earnings, we've pulled out the $12 million that we've seen from HTH to the second half. So as you back solve that, you will see an increased earnings rate from Mitre 10 due to both sales volumes and cost efficiencies.

Table 2 sets out the performance figures for IHG, broken down into Mitre 10 and HTH, with estimated accounting for the 53rd week.
Metcash results for IHG division

This shows that, on a 52-week basis, Mitre 10 grew its revenue by 1.39%, but increased EBIT by over 9%. This resulted in an EBIT margin for the year of 3.34%. Metcash notes that its EBIT margin on wholesale retail activities was 2.4%, which means that around 0.9% or around 37% of total EBIT came from other sources, amounting to over $13 million. Other sources would include the retail portion of company-owned store revenue, and income from sources such as the 2017 Tradeshow/Expo (which is rumoured to have earned over $1 million for the company).

HTH EBIT margin was lower at 2.37%, and overall EBIT margin was 3.03%.

Table 3 sets out the performance of IHG on a half-by-half basis, using estimated 52-week year numbers.
Metcash 52-week year results by half

Mitre 10 sales revenue slipped a bit in the first half, but increased by over 2.9% in the second. EBIT, however showed a healthy gain in both halves, rising by 7.8% in the first half, and 13.7% in the second half. First half EBIT margin for Mitre 10 was 2.36% in the first half, and a very hefty 4.26% in the second half, up by 0.4% on the second half of FY2015/16.

HTH estimated EBIT margin was much lower than Mitre 10's, at 2.68% in the second half. HTH is estimated to have returned $12.2 million in EBIT, which means that, if store numbers remain stable, it is on track to earn mid-range in Metcash's $15 million to $20 million estimation for FY2017/18 EBIT.

There are some apparent anomalies in these numbers, in particular a higher than expected EBIT margin for Mitre 10, and a lower than expected EBIT margin for HTH. At a best guess what may be happening is that IHG has obtained very favourable rates from suppliers based on future volume of sales, but these suppliers are more broadly featured in Mitre 10 stores than HTH stores. As the numbers show, sales at Mitre 10 were basically flat.

Another possibility is that, with the changes brought through the Working Smarter program providing real benefits, the HTH stores may not be "best practice" at the moment, in IHG terms. Hard won efficiencies in the supply chain may be boosting the margin for Mitre 10 operations.

This conclusion is partially backed-up by a statement from Metcash CFO, Brad Soller:
In relation to FY2017, there's about $4 million of synergies that have been realised in the results. Some of them, importantly, have been realised within Mitre 10 itself and not in all HTH. Some of the savings are in Mitre 10.

Chart 1 shows the general progression of Mitre 10's EBIT margin for the past seven years. No mention was made this year of like-for-like (comp) sales, which have been provided in past years.
Store numbers

In terms of store numbers, Metcash has chosen to report these as consisting of 305 Mitre 10 stores, down from 310 in the pcp, and 67 True Value Hardware stores, down from 68 in the pcp. It provides a single number for all HTH stores, including Home Timber and Thrifty-Link banners, of 368, without a comparative number.

The IHG Investor Day briefing from 23 March 2017 lists 246 Home branded stores, and 126 Thrifty-Link stores, for a total of 372.

One of the concerns that have been voiced is the extent to which there will be competition between the Mitre 10 and HTH stores. Mr Laidlaw has stated that the networks are very complementary, in that there is only limited competition. HNN has delved further into this matter in our Statistics section for this issue, where we use Google Maps to determine driving time between stores as a proxy to network concentration.

This is summary of the main article. To read the main article, please download our pdf publication, HI News, from the following link: News Vol.3 No.8: Metcash reports
Trim routers
The Makita RT0770C trimmer features a tilt base
HNN Sources
The Makita DRT50Z uses the same accessories as RT0770C
The MT Series Makita routers offer great value for money
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
As recently as six or seven years ago, just about any kind of router was deemed to be the sort of tool only a carpenter or dedicated woodworker would own. However, as prices have decreased, and quality at the lower end of the price range has increased, routers have become a more common tool.

In particular, the smallest kind of router, usually called a "laminate trimmer", has grown in popularity over the past several years. That is in part because it is small - typically less than 250mm tall, and around 2kg at most - which makes it easy to use, as it can be operated one-handed.

Most importantly, the laminate trimmer (or trim router as it sometimes called) solves the kind of basic problems that any tradesperson, and quite few DIYers, are likely to encounter. In fact, far from being an "expert only" tool, it's the kind of gadget that can help the less expert look a lot more expert.

If you are not familiar with the laminate trimmer, the best place to start in understanding them is with the trimming bit itself. Image 1 is an enlarged photograph of such a bit. The laminate trimmer attaches to the top, smooth shaft. Below that is the cutting part of the bit itself, and at the base is the guide, which is a ring of smooth metal that runs on ball-bearings.

Imagine that you are facing the fairly typical woodworking task of doing something like fitting a new top to a bedside cabinet. It might be plywood that will be painted, or a piece of 12mm pine wood you intend to stain. To make the job look really good, you are going to have to get all four edges of the top flush with the supporting frame underneath.

If you are (like the editors of HNN) a bit of a duffer with a saw, it can seem like there is almost no way of doing this easily. Measure as you will, even with a good mitre saw it just seems inevitable that the end result will be a one or two millimetres out, spoiling the whole look. You end up filing, sanding, and so forth - and then you have to worry about keeping the edge perpendicular, and not rounding it out.

With the laminate trimmer, you don't worry about cutting the wooden top precisely. Instead you cut it oversize by 10 to 15mm or so, then fix it to the cabinet frame, making sure there is overlap on all four edges. Using the laminate trimmer, using the flush trimming bit, you then simply run around the edges of the frame. The ball bearing runs on the frame itself, and the cutting portion of the bit removes all the excess wood. The end result is the the most perfectly flush finish you can imagine.

There are only two "gotchas" to worry about. The first is to remember to move the trimmer in a counter-clockwise direction (push in and forward with your right hand), as, with the trimmer turning clockwise, this enables the bit to do its work. (If you are trimming inside out, such as when making the hole for a sink or tap in a counter, you move clockwise instead, for the same reason.) The second "gotcha" is to always start trimming wood on an endgrain edge. About half the time, at the end of the endgrain you will push off a chip from the grain edge - but it won't matter, because that's the very edge you will be trimming next.

Once you've done this a few times, you will be tempted to move to the next stage, which is using a slightly different bit to produce a fancier edge. It's very easy, for example to put a nice 30-degree bevel on the edge (though you do have to think through how you want the corners to look).

Beyond this specific task of trimming, it's also possible to use the the laminate trimmer as a kind of "light" router as well. A typical task where they are very useful is when installing a new door. With a proper router bit, they make mortising the space for hinges very simple (though you do have to dig out the corners with a chisel still).

Even better they handle the surprisingly tricky task of cutting the recess for the latch plate on the lock, which goes on the edge of the door. These can be surprisingly tricky to do well, especially if the chisel is anything but your friend. Both of these tasks are best accomplished by using templates, which make it a matter of just guiding the laminate trimmer.

As a trade sale, it really comes down to the choice of brand and size, as most professionals are well-acquainted with how useful the laminate trimmer can be.

As a DIY sale, however, it can be one of the more difficult items to sell outside of people with some real interest in woodworking. The problem is that the laminate trimmer is, indeed, a specialised tool, and does not get used nearly as often as a hammer drill, or even an impact driver.

The selling point is that it takes a task that can really consume a surprising amount of time, or end with a compromised result, and makes it easy to produce something that looks great. It's actually an ideal tool to sell through a short demonstration course - as long as the course sticks to the basics outlined above: doors and tops/bottoms to things. Most DIY courses that feature any kind of router seemingly cannot resist deep into the world of complex routing, and simple DIYers, who are seeking to solve problems more than to experience a craft, are simply not interested.
The role of Makita: RT0770C trimmer

While HNN does not have any statistical proof for this, only some anecdotal evidence, we do think it is likely the real spark to the growing popularity of the laminate trimmer was Makita's RT0770C trim router.

Introduced in 2012, and revised since, the 770 was one of those classic tools that managed to combine two things: it hit an exact sweet spot in terms of size and capabilities, and it was very thoughtfully designed. Plus, as we often have said, it just had that Makita quality of having things in balance.

In terms of the sweet spot, the 770 is a corded tool with a rated power of 710 watts. With most laminate trimmers ranging from 300 watts to 600 watts, that gives it just that little bit of extra power. At the same time the motor is small enough, when combined with an aluminium chassis, to keep the weight down to just 1.9kg - easy enough to handle one-handed.

The great design mainly expresses itself in the set of three accessories available with the tool. It comes standard with a trimmer base, which is all you need if you are going to do the kind of trimming jobs described above. An option set of accessories includes two other bases, a plunge base and a tilt base. The plunge base converts the 770 into a lightweight plunge router, complete with soft-grip handles, and a rotating turntable of three depth stops, for different stages of a complex job.

The tilt base is quite a unique accessory. It enables the trimmer to be rotated from plus 30 degrees out to minus 45 degrees. This has an interesting effect on custom router bits. For example, the flush trim bit can be used to make a bevel.
The Makita RT0770C trimmer features a tilt base

In addition to these three bases, there is another, fourth base, sold individually, which converts the 770 into an offset router. Daughter gears transfer the drive to the edge of the base, meaning it can work as close as 18mm to a wall or other barrier.

Where the excellence of design really shows itself is that the parts of the various bases are interchangeable.

For example, the trimmer base has a round base plate, and the tilt base has a square base plate. Undo a few screws, and you can put the square plate on the trimmer base, which means you can use a straight edge clamped to the work piece to guide the trimmer for special uses. The soft-grip handles from the plunge base can be fitted to the offset base, for better control in tight situations. And so on.

Then there are the other typical Makita touches. There is an integral shaft lock, so it takes just one wrench to change bits. The motor base is flat, and the power cord comes out from the side of the motor, so the unit sits flat when upside down. It has soft-start, making it easy to pause and begin again in the middle of trim. Just a great tool.
Makita DRT50Z

This new, cordless trimmer launched in Australia in early 2017. It is, basically, the 770 in cordless form. It even uses the exact same accessories. Without battery, it weighs just 1.4kg.

The really exciting news about this trim router is the price. It retails for $249, just $60 or so more than the corded version. That doesn't include the battery or the range of accessories, but for tradies who already have Makita batteries and the 770, it's a great buy.
The Makita DRT50Z uses same accessories as RT0770C
Makita 3709X and 3710

Makita does also offer a simpler laminate trimmer, the 3709X. This is a corded tool, with a 530 watt motor, weighing 1.5kg, just 199mm tall. It is generally sold with an aluminium carry case. The Makita 3710 is basically the same trimmer with a tilt base.
Makita MT Series M3700G

In terms of sheer value, next to the RT0770C is this recent offering from Makita's MT Series, which replaced its previous value brand Maktec. This is essentially a slightly older version of the 3709X, but it sells for close to half the price of the pure Makita version. It features a 550 watt motor, and weighs 1.4kg.
The MT Series Makita routers offer great value for money
Other brands

To be frank, most of the other brands available in Australia really do not match up to Makita, with the exception of Festool, which makes very high end router products. In fact, these are such a speciality item (and typically cost over $700) that HNN simply does not have the technical knowledge to effectively provide a guide or review of them.

DeWalt, for example, sells just one, corded model in Australia, the DWE6005, which typically costs more than the Makita RT0770C, and has specs that are not quite as good.

Bosch sells a blue router, the GMR 1, with, again, similar specs to the RT0770C, but for, typically, a higher cost.

Ryobi offers two laminate trimmer. The corded version has a 400 watt motor, weighs 1.67kg, and retails for a price close to that of the Makita MT Series M3700G. It's not a very impressive offering.

The other laminate trimmer from Ryobi, however, is a real competitor. Newly designed, this One+ cordless trimmer (R18TR-0) is styled as a "palm" tool, with special attention paid in its design to permit easy one-handed use.

Finally, there is the Ozito laminate trimmer. While this is the least powerful of all those covered here at just 350 watt, and it lacks basic features such as a spindle lock (which means changing bits requires two spanners), it really should not be dismissed. At $65 it will attract consumers who have very infrequent need for the tool, or even just one main period of use, when installing a new kitchen, for example.
Other products

While Makita seems to be the outstanding brand in this sector for Australia, that is much less the case overseas. In the US, for example, a Bosch router typically wins this category, with offerings from Techtronic Industries Home Depot-only brand Ridgid and Hitachi highly ranked as well.
Seeking opportunities
A NSW-based territory sales manager is required for Toro and Pope brands
HNN Sources
A GM role at Australian Outdoor Living
An opportunity to develop digital marketing strategies at PGH Bricks
Visit the Mecca Website
Toro Australia seeks an "ambitious self-starter" for a sales role; a general management role with Australian Outdoor Living is on offer; and CSR's PGH Bricks has an opportunity for a digital marketing specialist.

Click on the logos to find out more about each role.
Optimising product sales

Reporting to the state sales manager (NSW/ ACT/ VIC/ TAS), the territory manager will develop market opportunities for the Pope and Toro branded products in the north/west Sydney and Northern Beaches region, within the hardware retail channel. This position is also responsible for leading a small team of part-time sales merchandisers.
A territory sales manager is required for Toro and Pope brands
GM for outdoor products

A general manager is required to head up the Victorian operations of home improvement company, Australian Outdoor Living. The successful candidate will oversee a team of design sales consultants tasked with introducing a range of Australian-made outdoor blinds, pergolas, verandas, decking and artificial lawn. The role will eventually involve product expansion.
A GM role at Australian Outdoor Living
Promoting bricks on digital platforms

PGH Bricks, a business unit within the CSR Group, is looking for a digital marketer to join its marketing team. Based at North Ryde (NSW), the digital marketing specialist will assist in the execution and management of online projects and deliverables across owned, earned and paid digital channels. Key duties will include management of digital programs and multi-channel online communications.
An opportunity to develop digital marketing strategies at PGH Bricks
Big box update
The Bunnings North Toowoomba store should open later this year, in 2017
HNN Sources
The former K&D site in Devonport is turning into a Bunnings store
Bunnings has not confirmed whether the Panoroma (SA) store on Goodwood Road will go ahead yet
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
Bunnings said the North Toowoomba (QLD) store is expected to create 180 team member jobs and over 100 jobs in Devonport (TAS) once they open; and Mitcham Council is trying to find out whether a Bunnings outlet will open in Panorama (SA).
Bunnings developments on schedule

Construction work on the $43 million Bunnings Warehouse development in North Toowoomba (QLD) is progressing as planned. Bunnings general manager - property Andrew Marks said the new store is expected to open in late 2017.

The warehouse is located on the corner of Ruthven and Bridge Streets and is the second Bunnings for Toowoomba, the other being on Anzac Ave in Harristown. Once completed, the latest store will have a total area of more than 17,000sqm.

It will include the main store, indoor timber trade sales area, building materials and landscape supplies yard and outdoor nursery. The development will also include an indoor playground, cafe and parking for more than 370 cars on the site of the former Toowoomba foundry.
Devonport location

The old K&D Warehouse building in Devonport (TAS) has also been painted the signature green of Bunnings Warehouse as preparations continue for the store's opening.

The new Bunnings is located at the Devonport Homemaker Centre and is expected to open in late 2017. Mr Marks told The Advocate:
The erection of structural steel is complete and the pre-cast concrete wall panels and the roofing works are well underway.
Panorama store not confirmed

Bunnings has not said whether it will continue with plans for a $42 million outlet at the former TAFE site in Panorama (SA) after almost three years of fighting with objectors.

Bunnings general manager - property Andrew Marks would not say if the hardware giant would lodge a third application to Mitcham Council to build the warehouse on Goodwood Road.

Mitcham mayor Glenn Spear said he had been "left in the dark" about the future of the development. He wanted it approved so the old TAFE buildings, now dilapidated and vandalised, could be demolished.

Bunnings has previously lodged plans for a $45 million store in Edwardstown, 2km from the Panorama site. Mr Marks did not confirm what that proposal meant for the Panorama plans.

Mitcham Council's development assessment panel knocked back Bunnings' first application for the TAFE site in August 2016 at a meeting that attracted at least 80 people. The big box retailer submitted an amended plan in December, which was also rejected.

Panorama resident Neil Baron appealed that decision in the Environment, Resources and Development Court. The matter is still before the courts.
Europe update
Bunnings United Kingdom & Ireland is accelerating its store expansion plans
HNN Sources
Andrew Livingston (second to the right) is leaving his position as Screwfix CEO
Travis Perkins is looking at new technology to boost its business
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
Bunnings United Kingdom and Ireland (BUKI) is doubling down on its expansion plans and has opened its fourth store; Kingfisher-owned Screwfix gets a new boss; and technology startups will soon influence the way Travis Perkins does business.
BUKI increases pilot store program

Bunnings United Kingdom and Ireland (BUKI) said it plans to double the number of stores launched in 2017 from 10 to 20 after a "positive response" from customers to pilot outlets in St Albans and Hemel Hempstead. BUKI managing director Peter "PJ" Davis said:
Increasing the number of pilot stores to 20 will give us the opportunity to test the concept in new geographies, with different demographics, across a range of store sizes.
We are determined to combine the best of Bunnings Warehouse with what UK consumers want. The success of the pilots still remains a precursor to additional investment.

The retailer is trialling its Bunnings Warehouse concept to "road test" demand in Britain before rebranding all its Homebase stores.

Mr Davis admitted that the expansion came during a tough time in the retail sector as shoppers face an increasing squeeze on their spending power from rising inflation.

However, he said the firm had seen "very little inflation" in its own prices after the pound regained some ground from the lows seen in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote.

Over 1,000 jobs are expected to be created from opening the additional stores, according to the big box retailer. International Trade Minister Mark Garnier said:
This is a significant and welcome investment by Bunnings ... The Department for International Trade works with companies around the world to promote the strengths of the UK and this investment from Bunnings is yet another endorsement of the UK's attractiveness to overseas investors.

At Wesfarmers' investor day in early June, Wesfarmers warned that the Bunnings UK business would lose money in the first half of 2018 as well as in the 2017 June half. It blamed the losses on a combination of restructuring costs, bad weather and the repositioning of Homebase's bathroom and kitchen offer.
Milton Keynes and more

The announcement to double its pilot store program was made as Bunnings opened its fourth store in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, a large town located about 72 km north-west of London.

This store is the second one in the area and the largest in the UK and Ireland, at more than 90,000sq ft.

It stocks more than 35,000 different home improvement and garden products, including a mix of international and British brands from Purdy's paintbrushes, never before available to non-professionals, to Ryobi and DeWalt tools. Paint mixing services from Johnstone's Trade, Crown and Dulux are also available in-store.

To celebrate the opening, Australian racing driver Mark Webber, a nine-time Grand Prix winner, hosted a welcome breakfast for team members. The store's complex manager, Kevin Dale, said:
It is great to finally open our doors to customers. Our team members have worked really hard to get the store ready for opening. Collectively we've already completed more than 1,500 training hours to make sure we have the expertise to help with home or garden projects.

BUKI also has plans in place for a fifth pilot outlet in Folkestone, before overhauling Homebase stores in Thanet, Sittingbourne and Basildon Vange.

Europe update - HNN
Executive moves at Kingfisher

The CEO of Kingfisher-owned DIY retailer Screwfix is leaving to become chief executive of British kitchen supplier, Howden Joinery.

Andrew Livingston has headed up Screwfix since 2013, joining the company as commercial and ecommerce director in 2009. This followed stints as chief operating officer of Wyevale Garden Centres and as commercial director of kitchens and bathrooms at B&Q.

Screwfix, with over 500 stores, has recently been a major driving force at Kingfisher, last year growing sales 23% to GBP1.3 billion thanks to strong growth from the specialist trade desks, digital growth and the opening of 70 outlets in the UK and Germany.

Mr Livingston will be succeeded by Screwfix's operations and property director Graham Bell, who has held roles within the Kingfisher group for 18 years.

At Howden Joinery, Mr Livingstone will replace its founder and chief executive Matthew Ingle, who will retire in the first half of next year after 22 years at the helm.

Kingfisher's head of sales & operations head has also exited the company after less than a year. Jean-Paul Constant's departure follows soon after B&Q retail director Damian McGloughlin leaving to go to Bunnings UK and Ireland.
Travis Perkins seeks new tech to lift trade

Builders' merchant and home improvement retailer, Travis Perkins has initiated an accelerator program called BreakThru as a way to benefit from tech start-up businesses.

BreakThru is part of a company-wide initiative to embrace digital methods that could future-proof business operations and enhance customer experience across Travis Perkins' 22 brands.

Led by chief digital officer Cheryl Millington, the program has been launched to expose the group, which operates over 2,000 branches, to entrepreneurial thinking and new products.

BreakThru, in collaboration with innovation specialist L-Marks, will allow successful start-ups to validate their business ideas over the course of an 11-week partnership program.

Up to GBP200,000 each is available for those digital entrepreneurs coming up with the most viable solutions.

Travis Perkins said it is exploring ways to streamline customer service, improve health and safety, and create fleet and workforce efficiencies. It also hopes to find start-ups that can create a seamless digital customer experience, including technologies to create real-time inventory visibility and management. Chief executive John Carter said:
Our goal is to provide a seamless customer experience through harnessing the latest innovations and ideas brought by start-ups.
We hope the start-ups who join us can challenge us internally, while we also hope to provide them with the expertise and support to take their product or solution to the next level.
Indie store update
Metcash resists pressure to sell hardware stores, according to Fairfax Media
HNN Sources
Sam's Hardware in Blacktown (NSW) has decided to shut up shop
Total Tools opens a new branch in Cairns (QLD)
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
Metcash has said no to an offer to buy Hardings Hardware, according to Fairfax Media; a hardware store in Blacktown (NSW) has shut its doors for the last time; Cairns has got a new Total Tools store; Reece is planning an outlet for Toowoomba; and a PlastaMasta branch has opened in Ipswich (QLD).
Metcash rejects offer to sell hardware stores

Fairfax Media reports that Metcash has knocked back a $25 million offer from plumbing supplies retailer Reece for Hardings Hardware. It has also ruled out selling its company-owned hardware stores.

Metcash acquired Hardings Hardware last year as part of its purchase of Home Timber & Hardware from Woolworths. Woolworths' Danks division had bought the former privately owned group of stores in 2013 to strengthen its hardware wholesaling operations.

It is understood that Reece offered about $25 million for Hardings, which has six outlets in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia and sells bathroom, kitchen and building products to the trade sector.

Metcash chief executive Ian Morrice and Mitre 10 boss Mark Laidlaw turned down the unsolicited offer, telling Reece the price was too low and it was not ready to sell.

Analysts said the sale of Hardings would have dented Metcash sales and earnings, because the stores turn over about $100 million a year and are said to be profitable.

Metcash declined to confirm if it had received an offer for Hardings, but doused hopes that it would at some stage sell company-owned hardware stores. A spokesman told Fairfax:
We have consistently said we are not looking to sell our company-owned stores in hardware. We have made it clear when asked and in investor meetings that Hardings provides significant growth opportunities for the Independent Hardware Group going forward.

The report goes on to day Metcash is under pressure from Mitre 10 and HTH store owners to sell company-owned stores to avoid competing directly with independent retailers. A source said:
They're wholesalers and don't really like to own their own stores. They're not good at running stores.
Blacktown hardware store closes after 23 years

The Lebanon-born Jabbour brothers closed the doors at their Sam's Hardware store in Blacktown (NSW) for the last time recently.

Owner Sam Jabbour opened the store in 1994, after deciding he was "too old to keep driving trucks". He was inspired by his older brother, who had a hardware store in Lidcombe in western Sydney. That store closed down six years ago after losing business to a nearby Bunnings.

Mr Jabbour said he would miss talking to the locals and helping people. He told the Blacktown Sun:
Most of the customers are friends. They're part of the furniture over the years.

With five children and now three grandchildren, Mr Jabbour said he was looking forward to taking a break and reclaiming his weekends. He and his wife are about to embark on an eight-week European holiday gifted by their children.

Mr Jabbour was visited by Boral sales representatives Jason Townsend and Peter Lindsay on the final day, who brought pizza to farewell their loyal client. Mr Townsend said Sam's Hardware was his first account when he moved into sales in 1994.
Total Tools store opens in Cairns

Darwin man Damien Gorton has opened a Cairns branch of Total Tools in the suburb of Portsmith (QLD). He told the Cairns Post the response has been fantastic so far.

There had been franchise availability in Cairns for some time, but finding a site to accommodate the size of the store had been difficult.

Mr Gorton said he had been the nominated Cairns franchisee for about 16 months before the Aumuller Sreet site was settled and Total Tools Cairns opened.
It's the perfect location. That southern corridor down to Gordonvale is going to be a huge growth area. Being at the southern end of Cairns close to Comport Road poses well for us...

He said his store offers between 60,000 and 70,000 items on the shelves with availability to many more.

Mr Gorton's background includes being the manager at Port of Darwin and prior to that, he had been an oil and gas engineer. He said:
I love tools and I'm very into buying tools. I had been looking for something like this for a long time ... We're here for local tradesmen and women.
Reece gains approval for Toowoomba suburb

Toowoomba Regional Council has granted approval for Reece to build a hardware and plumbing supplies warehouse for trade customers in the suburb of Wilsonton (QLD).

The company's new branch will provide a wide range of products to support the water, gas, sewer, fire service and telecommunication sectors. It will supply bulk items and designate large areas of the site for storing outdoor items.

Reece will predominately store supplies for delivery but this outlet will also include a small counter for pick-ups ordered by trade account customers.

There will be no display or showroom component in the single-storey warehouse and no walk-in retail sales to the general public.

Reece has more than 450 stores across the country and employs about 4000 staff.

The site at 198-200 McDougall Street is in the medium impact industry zone as defined by the Toowoomba Regional Council.
Building supplies outlet opens in Ipswich

A PlastaMasta branch officially launched in Ipswich (QLD) in early July to serve local tradies and home handymen. Manager Wayne Knight told the Queensland Times:
PlastaMasta Brisbane West is the next logical addition to our stores around the Greater Brisbane area.

PlastaMasta has operated in Underwood, Toowoomba, Brisbane's northside, and the Gold Coast for 25 years. Mr Knight explains:
PlastaMasta was established as a franchise; we own all of the stores. We are distributors of Knauf products and have an exclusive partnership with them.

The business offers products such as wall and ceiling linings, using Knauf plasterboard, acoustic linings, cornice, compounds and plaster, metal profile, primer, sealants and a range of accessories.

PlastaMasta works closely with builders and construction firms. It recently supplied products for the new state government building in William Street, Brisbane. Mr Knight said:
There is a massive growth in the western corridor. Having a store in Ipswich makes sense, so that the product is close by. We have supplied product to local builders for years so this adds convenience for them.
Supplier update
Gerard Lighting gets an investment boost
HNN Sources
Tap maker Sussex is a Melbourne-made success story
JELD-WEN has acquired a Finnish manufacturer of interior doors and door frames
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A major boost for Gerard Lighting from two investment companies; tap manufacturer Sussex produces its inventory from its Melbourne sites; and Finland-based Mattiovi Oy is now owned by JELD-WEN.
Restructure deal for Gerard Lighting

Private equity-owned Gerard Lighting is set to see a recovery after key lenders agreed to a deal that will alleviate its debt burden.

According to a report in the Financial Review, the company has entered into a restructuring agreement with Bain Capital Credit and Investec. This deal will see the two firms assume control of Gerard, which is the largest lighting distribution and partnership network in Australasia.

The deal means Bain Capital Credit and Investec will invest $15 million in new equity, with representatives from both firms expected to assume board seats in the company.

The Street Talk column in the Financial Review first reported that Bain Capital Credit increased its exposure to Gerard's debt stack, taking a $30 million loan from the leveraged finance arm of industrials giant Siemens.

Bain Capital Credit's initial exposure to Gerard came when it bought GE Capital's Australian and New Zealand commercial finance business in 2015.
Brief history

Gerard Lighting is best known for brands such as Crompton, Sylvania, Pierlite and Moonlighting. The company operates in a competitive industry subject to intense pricing and margin pressures as imported products jostle for extra sales.

It was founded by Alfred Gerard in 1920s when it was then known as electrical accessories business Clipsal. It listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2010 before private equity firm CHAMP successfully embarked on a $186 million takeover in 2012.
Melbourne tap maker defies manufacturing trend

Vanessa Katsanevakis heads up her family owned firm, custom tapware manufacturer Sussex, and first met Alan Wilson, founder and chairman of Reece, a decade ago. She told The Australian in an interview:
My dad was still alive. Alan came out and visited us at our Somerton facility and got a factory tour. He wanted to see how we were still manufacturing in Australia.

That was ten years ago. Sussex is best known for its classic Scala collection, and is quietly delivering double-digit revenue growth from three sites in Melbourne's north.

In an era when Australian manufacturing is seen to be in crisis, Sussex continues to make all its products in Melbourne and is the only Australian tapware manufacturer operating its own foundry. Every step of the manufacturing process is performed by local workers.

Celebrating 20 years in business this year, Sussex is now looking at exporting to Britain, Canada, Asia and the United Arab Emirates after recently launching sales into New Zealand. The move would see it double staff numbers to over 120.

Ms Katsanevakis runs the company with her husband George. She said:
Our growth has been in excess of 17% per annum now since the GFC. It will increase over the next few years. We currently have the capacity to double, if not triple, production.

Ms Katsanevakis' father, Dutchman Nicolaas Johannes van Putten, a watchmaker by trade, moved to Australia from The Netherlands in 1960. He originally founded Sussex as a jewellery company but the business expanded to tapware in the 1990s. His mantra was to have a fully integrated business from foundry to end product, allowing Sussex to compete with Reece and a bunch of importers.

For 10 years before the global financial crisis, the group had between 20% and 25% year-on-year revenue growth. But sales fell 30% during the GFC, just as Ms Katsanevakis was being encouraged by her father to take the reins of the business.

Her brother (and only sibling) was not interested in taking on the role, so she was groomed to take over the company by her ailing father.
My dad got prostate cancer, he took a step back and the business did plateau for a few years.

Her father lost his battle with cancer in 2010 when his daughter was 28.
It was such a tough time. My firstborn was seven weeks old when my father passed away. My husband had been in management at a steel fabrication plant. My dad gave him his blessing; he wanted us to take the business to a new level.
My dad ran it like a hobby, he was brilliant at engineering and vision but he wasn't strategic in his approach.
It was no option for us to take it over, we knew we had a special product and there was room to improve in the business. We cut our overheads and manufacturing costs by 15%.
With time we saw the niche for customisation and we were able to offer that even further, with the 30 different finishes we now offer.

Some of Sussex's main customers are women aged 35 to 50, a demographic Ms Katsanevakis can empathise with. She said:
Customisation is our focus, and focusing on our niche. With the finishes we offer, imports can't offer that. We are local, we take each order as it comes and customise it. Gone are the days of plastic chrome tap products. Now it is brush gold, rose gold, black spouts, etc.
Quality first is what has carried us through. Our focus is mid- to high-end because we can't compete at that lower end.

Ms Katsanevakis said the focus of tap buyers has also changed in recent years. !Australian-made is back in fashion. It has done a full cycle. People care about that crafted and bespoke item that is handmade.

While she worries about the next downturn, following the experience of the GFC, she sees no slowdown on the horizon.
We are experiencing so much growth, and all the builders that we know say it is booming.

And as she moves to take the company into new offshore markets, her father's legacy remains paramount.
I will not let all the work my dad has done go to waste. My husband and I are passionate about taking this business to the next level.
JELD-WEN makes another European buy

Window and door maker JELD-WEN Holding has acquired a Finnish manufacturer of interior doors and door frames. The company did not disclose what it paid for Mattiovi Oy, which is privately held. JELD-WEN president and CEO, Mark Beck, said in a statement:
The acquisition of Mattiovi strengthens our market position in the Nordic region and enhances our unique pan-European strategy.

The company has actively expanded its global footprint in the last two years. Mattiovi is JELD-WEN's seventh acquisition and the second in Europe during the period. Europe is one of the company's largest markets, generating revenue of USD242.3 million in the first quarter, more than a quarter of its total revenue, according to the company's financial statement released on May 9, 2017.

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, JELD-WEN is one of the world's largest door and window manufacturers. It operates 115 manufacturing facilities in 19 countries.

In January, JELD-WEN went public and priced its initial public offering at USD23 per share for a total of USD575 million.

The company expects the acquisition will be accretive to its earnings this year. Previously, it estimated 2017 EBITDA would range from USD440 million to USD460 million.
USA update
The Home Depot buys Compact Power Equipment
HNN Sources
eBay's divisional merchandise manager - home and garden for eBay will present at the eRetailer Summit
Canada's Home Hardware embarks on a new project
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
Home Depot agrees to purchase Compact Power Equipment which is set to improve its customer experience for professionals; the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit will be held in September 2017; and Canada's Home Hardware emphasises projects in its new advertising campaign.
Home Depot buying tool rental company

The Home Depot is acquiring Compact Power Equipment, a provider of construction and landscape equipment rental and maintenance services, in a USD265 million cash deal.

The deal bolsters Home Depot's position in the market for equipment rental to both professional and do-it-yourself customers. Home Depot CEO Craig Menear said in a statement:
The acquisition allows us to further improve the customer experience - in particular for pros - through enhanced equipment and tool rental offerings. It also allows us to grow Compact Power's best-in-class building services capabilities.

Compact Power Equipment has been a business partner of Home Depot's since 2008. The companies' partnership began with three pilot equipment centres at the retailer's Charlotte, North Carolina stores. By 2015 it had grown to 1,000 Home Depot stores across the US and Canada.

Home Depot said the cash acquisition would close in the company's fiscal second quarter.

Revenue for the U.S. equipment rental industry was expected to increase by 3.4% to USD49 billion in 2017, based on an American Rental Association report conducted with IHS Markit. Tool rentals are expected to grow by 4.3% annually from 2016 through 2020, according to the projection.

The deal is Home Depot's first big acquisition since August 2015, when it acquired Interline Brands Inc. for USD1.7 billion to establish a platform in the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) market where it primarily serves institutional customers (such as educational and health-care institutions), hospitality businesses, and national apartment complexes.

Also in 2015, Home Depot acquired HD Supply Hardware Solutions, known as Crown Bolt, a leading supplier of fasteners and builders hardware to retailers in the US. And in January 2014, Home Depot acquired, an online seller of window coverings.

Compact Power is majority-owned by Canadian private equity firm Kilmer Capital Partners.

Home Depot buys Interline Brands - HNN
Home Improvement eRetailer Summit expands focus

Accelerating online sales in the home improvement retail space is the mandate of the second annual Home Improvement eRetailer Summit. This event, being held September 13 to 15, 2017, at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida (USA) will feature a conference and networking opportunities for vendors and e-commerce retailers.

The purpose is simple: to help the hardware and tools, home decor, paint, housewares, lawn and garden, outdoor living, and flooring sectors develop winning e-commerce strategies. This year's event will also include housewares and kitchenware, furniture, and large appliances.

The highlight of this year's eRetailer Summit is an "e-commerce boot camp" to learn best practices from leaders in the online selling marketplace. The conference will be capped by a presentation by Alyssa Steele, divisional merchandise manager - home and garden for eBay.

A logistics Q&A will examine the demands being put on the delivery aspect of online sales. Event founder, Sonya Ruff Jarvis from Jarvis Consultants said:
Online housewares sales are hot, and large home goods have historically been considered too large or unwieldy to sell online. We want to make sure retailers and vendors alike are on top of the trends affecting all these important categories.

Retailers looking to understand the e-commerce space and vendors who wish to make real connections with leading e-retail decision makers will find this forum a way to meet, share ideas, and develop concrete strategies for growing online sales.

About the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit.

If you are interested, please contact Sonya Ruff Jarvis:
Home Hardware's "Here's How" campaign

As part of its latest brand positioning, Canada's Home Hardware has launched a new campaign that shows a couple stepping into their new home and discovering all the projects they have ahead of them to fix the place up. They are able to tackle them, though, thanks to the supplies and advice they get from their local Home Hardware store.

The retailer recently debuted its "Here's How" positioning, replacing the "Homeowners helping homeowners with expert advice" tagline it had used for nearly eight years.

The core of the old brand positioning was that Home Hardware stores were a place would-be DIYers could get friendly, helpful advice from people living and working in their communities. The new campaign keeps that element of the brand's positioning, albeit in a more subtle way, with the spot ending with the tagline "Do it yourself doesn't mean do it alone." Rick McNabb, VP of marketing and sales at Home Hardware, said:
The old positioning has been around for a while and it's served the company well, but it's a mouthful. What got us here is a higher level of customer care and going the extra mile. It's less about 'expert advice' and being more grounded in the experience our staff has and how helpful they'll be. 'Here's How' is not a radical departure from that, because that's our differentiation.

Mr McNabb adds that "customer care" differentiation is important to maintain as a competitive advantage in a crowded category that also includes The Home Depot, Lowe's and Canadian Tire.

The advertising agency, John St. has also created a series of short videos focusing on products exclusive to Home Hardware stores. That was a major part of Home Hardware's previous marketing efforts, and Mr McNabb said those efforts were successful in drawing traffic into stores.
It's a traffic driver and differentiator, and the hope is we can get you excited about the other stuff in the store once you're there. But along the way, it can get you away from the notion of home improvement and you run the risk of becoming known as an 'exclusive item' brand.

That's part of the reason why the newest campaign focuses on projects, as it allows the brand to show off every category it plays in and how it can serve any home improvement need someone might have. It's also applicable across the company's three retail banners: the typical, small-format Home Hardware, the larger Home Hardware building centres for contractors and large-scale projects and hybrid locations that tend to be located in more suburban locations. Mr McNabb said:
We wanted a campaign that would be an overarching Home Hardware campaign that could speak to all of our banners and the different needs we serve.

He adds it is also looking to speak a bit more directly to younger consumers, as Home Hardware's previous marketing has skewed older to a demographic that grew up with the brand and already has a high affinity for it.

Cub Cadet expands Z-Force range
A review of Cub Cadet's Z-Force SX 54 zero-turn manoeuvrability
HNN Sources
The LX 48 model has a 48" triple-blade cutting system
Visit the Cub Cadet Australia website for more information on its lawn equipment products
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
Cub Cadet's Z-Force SX 54 is equipped with a 24 HP professional grade Kawasaki FR Series V-Twin engine. A 54" triple blade cutting system provides a wide cut, while its heavy duty welded steel frame gives the SX 54 a long life.

The SX 54 features a steering wheel with patented Synchro Steer technology, providing 4-wheel control to create genuine zero-turn manoeuvrability and a PTO clutch, utilising electronic fingertip engagement. It also has a high-back elasticity vibration control suspension seat with armrests, which minimises fatigue and reduces the likelihood of back pain after sustained use.

Similar to the SX 54, the LX 48 operates on a 24 HP professional grade Kawasaki FR Series V-Twin engine. A slightly smaller 48" deck allows users to navigate narrower terrain, while zero-turn capabilities maintain the same level of agility as the SX 54.

Operated via a lap bar, the LX 48 is constructed from the same heavy duty steel frame as the SX 54.
Meeting weeding needs
The Fiskars Xact Weed Puller is featured on the Bunnings website
HNN Sources
A video of Xact Weed Puller is also on Fiskars' YouTube channel
Specifications for the Xact Weed Puller on the Australian website
Click to visit the HBT website for more information
The Fiskars Xact Weed Puller means it could be time to ditch the potentially harmful chemicals in herbicides to eradicate weeds. The tool can help alleviate the effects of digging, bending, and backaches.

Engineered to facilitate easy removal of root weeds, the Xact Weed Puller is ergonomically designed, and allows users to tackle weeding jobs of any size. A 1m reach means users don't need to be on their hands and knees in the garden, while the stainless steel prongs will penetrate the earth, grip the root firmly, and remove the weed.

An innovative weed ejection system means end-users never have to bend over to remove the weed from the tool. Specifications include:
  • Dimensions - Height 1000mm
  • Weight - 950g
  • Material - Aluminium shaft/stainless steel
  • Warranty - 25 years
  • Products
    Drill uses advanced intelligence
    A video of the Worx Ai Drill
    PR Web: Worx
    The ToolGuyd website reviews the Ai Drill
    Worx said its Ai Drill is almost intuitive
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Worx senior product manager, Jeanne White, said advanced intelligence can be defined as the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour. This is just what the company's engineers had in mind when they created the Ai Drill. She said:
    The Ai drill is almost intuitive. It's so easy to use that first time users and do-it-yourselfers will breeze through home and craft projects.

    The Ai Drill has three drive modes including drill, SafeDrive and PulseAssist, which are activated by touch sensitive keypads on the top of the drill.

    BitLock is another key feature of the Ai Drill. Load a drill or driver bit into the tool's chuck, and its motorised jaws tightens and self-centres the bit, and does it with 30% more torque than hand tightening, according to Worx. The motorised jaws also run in reverse to release the bit when it's time to swap bits or for storage. To engage BitLock, users simply turn and hold the collar ring until the chuck's jaws have tightened or loosened the bit.

    The Ai Drill has no clutch settings. It relies entirely on the tool's internal electronics to safely drill holes, drive and remove screws, regardless of the work material.

    When SafeDrive is selected, it delivers just the right amount of torque necessary to drive the screw and then backs off once the screw head is flush with the surface.

    With PulseAssist, the Ai Drill applies enough bit rotation to drive the screw snug to the surface without over-tightening or stripping the screw head. This feature also works in reverse to back out stubborn screws without damaging the screw head. The drill moves at a slow, optimal speed so it doesn't strip screws.

    The 3.1lb or 1.4kg (with battery) Ai Drill is powered by a 20V MAX 1.5 Ah battery. The battery is compatible with other Worx 20V MAX batteries used in WORX DIY and lawn and garden tools. It is also part of Worx 20V PowerShare program.

    The MAX battery recharges to full capacity in approximately five hours. The drill has a low battery capacity indicator. When the battery's power runs low, the drill's LED light flashes.

    The single-speed (0-800, no-load) drill has a 3/8 inch chuck. It is capable of handling a variety of drilling and driving jobs with 180 in./lbs. of torque. An integrated LED light illuminates the work area and is activated by pressing the trigger. The tool's drilling capacity is 1-inch in wood and 3/8 inch in mild steel.
    HI News V3 No. 7: Bunnings Strategy Day
    Download the latest issue of HI News Vol. 3, issue no. 7
    HI News
    Graph of historical data for DuluxGroup's paint segment
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The latest edition of HI News focuses on the major corporates in Australian hardware/home improvement retailing: Bunnings and DuluxGroup.

    Simply click on the following link to download this edition:
    HI News V3 No. 7: Bunnings Strategy Day

    In terms of independent retailers, Tasmania-based Kemp & Denning (K&D) has sold its trade business to Clennett's Mitre 10 and Newcastle's Toolies store is closing down.

    Our regular section on statistics takes a look at the entries and exits of Australian businesses to see how hardware retailers and general retail is faring.

    Klein Tools has acquired General Machine Products and in other US news, Sears is suing another tool maker.

    Also, US home improvement retailer Lowe's outsources some of its tech jobs to India while experimenting with exoskeleton suits for store staff; Ace Hardware wins again on customer satisfaction; and True Value delivers its first quarter results.

    In the UK, Bunnings opens its third store, names more locations and appoints a COO.

    Product news in this issue includes the launch of graphene paint in the UK; a roofing tool that has been developed in WA; and the Everdure range of BBQs winning a prestigious Australian design award.

    Other products featured are the Worx BladeRunner X2 portable benchtop saw and Loctite RE-NEW adhesive.
    Wesfarmers-Bunnings Strategy Day
    Michael Schneider, CEO Bunnings
    Bunnings display of special order products. These can be ordered online
    Bunnings has introduced a $99 electric chainsaw
    Give to Amnesty International
    Each annual Wesfarmers' Strategy Day, from the perspective of reporting on Bunnings, tends to fall into one of three categories. Type A is when Australia's largest home improvement retailer is making an investment in something controversial - such as when it radically expanded its store network in response to the challenge from Masters Home Improvement - and needs to both announce this and defend it under questioning from investment analysts.

    Type B is when Bunnings is doing something a little controversial, but not very obvious, so the company can get it past the analysts by either not emphasising it, or by making it seem as though something else is being referenced. Type C is when some other event has occurred outside of Wesfarmers that has captured the analysts' attention, and coloured their attitudes and questions.

    This year's Strategy Day, held on 7 June 2017, was mostly type C, with a dash of type B added. The exterior event that captured the attention of the analysts was the imminent arrival of the world's largest online retailer, Amazon, to the Australian market. Analysts came close to suggesting that some of Wesfarmers' divisions, in particular its still-failing mid-range department store Target, were unlikely to survive the arrival of Amazon in the Australian retail market.

    Bunnings did not come in for that level of questioning, but analysts did push to understand what the retailer's online strategy would be over the next two to three years.

    All this is to say that it's always a good idea to keep in mind that "Strategy Day" goes both ways when it comes to Wesfarmers, and particularly Bunnings. Analysts do get an opportunity to ask more questions, the company does present more of the fundamentals of its plans for the next year or two years. However, Wesfarmers has always been adept at concealing elements of its strategy from competitors. It's not uncommon to find that a little less has been said than at first seemed to be revealed. And on occasion, what seems to have been said is not quite what was really said.

    That's one side of the Strategy Days. The other side is that, especially for Bunnings, the top executives do deliver some of the most dense, and at times the most profound, statements about the basics of how these businesses intend to operate. They can often be a kind of very modest, but nonetheless ambitious, operational manifesto.

    For Bunnings, these manifesto-like statements reference what is perhaps the deepest part of its DNA. Bunnings' most closely held belief, as nourished by its former CEO, John Gillam, is that "nothing is deserved, everything must be earned". The Strategy Day introductory statements are, at their heart, a reiteration of this belief, and a careful listing of the ways in which, in the coming financial year, the retailer intends to (again) earn the trust, loyalty and engagement of its customers, its staff and its suppliers, as well as acceptance by the communities in which it operates.

    The manifesto delivered this year by Michael Schneider, who has replaced John Gillam as both managing director of Bunnings Australian and New Zealand (BANZ), as well as overall CEO of Bunnings, including Bunnings UK and Ireland (BUKI), was particularly dense, and deserves close parsing and interpretation. In HNN's view it presages some more difficult times to come for not only Bunnings, but also for home improvement retail in general.
    Smaller stores

    Before getting into this deeper view, it is best to start with something on the lighter side of the Bunnings presentation. As remarked above, while this Strategy Day was largely a type C affair, there was a dash of the type B, which in this case is all about a little bit of "misdirection" by understatement.

    We saw something of this in the response to what was a good question from respected analyst David Errington, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Head of Consumer Research for Australia and Asia. Mr Errington asked:
    The one area that I've really been interested to watch in the last five years is the flexibility in your format. I mean, John [Gillam] always used to say, and you used to say, you're not a cookie cutter, but you're taking that to new dimensions like the Collingwood store. With the carparks all around the place, it didn't seem to be a typical Bunnings, but you seem to be a lot more flexible now in where you're putting stores. You can put car parks on the roofs. You can put them underground. You can do anything you like.
    What's the sales density of these new type of formats? Are they comparable to a typical 15,000 to 20,000 square metre one out in the sticks or - and do they - what sort of return metrics are they? And going forward, what sort of proportion are we going to see with these new type formats that are outside of the norm of what we expect the Bunnings Warehouse to be?

    Mr Schneider replied:
    The Bunnings stores we open - so Bunnings Warehouse will always be the big box, big stock, big box, stores that you know. And the Bunnings stores are our small format.
    For a long time, we had formed a view that the future was only warehouses. We revised that in the last probably six or seven years, to say the small formats play an important role. They play a role in going into a market to get the communities to having a Bunnings store in the area before you migrate to a warehouse. We've done that a few times where we have them, with the feeling 'well, we couldn't get anything else in Collingwood.' So we took the old credit building and turned it into a Bunnings store.
    So from a format point of view, I'm pretty agnostic. I think if we can get the numbers to sort of work, and Richard [Goyder] and Terry [Bowen] touched on some of the sort of modelling that we do, then we can get in and get going. It's great, and some of them are good infill, particularly as traffic in major cities gets worse on weekends, and they're very convenient during the week for charities to drop in and get the things that they need. In terms of productivity, they perform really well. Some will be better than others and some of our warehouses also have high stock turn.

    Well, there is nothing wrong with that response. However, the underlying reality is that Bunnings is engaging in some really experimental new formats, such as the store it has proposed for the inner-Sydney suburb of Rozelle.

    Where the Collingwood store does a good job of compressing the content of a Bunnings Warehouse to a "pocket edition" that covers most of the needs for that area, the proposed Rozelle store would seem, based on its plans, to offer lower stock density and more amenity in an urban environment. It even includes a turntable in the delivery area, to reduce the problem of turning trucks in urban traffic:
    Service vehicles (up to 12.5m long) will be provided with a turntable to turn within the site enabling them to enter and depart in a forward direction and these vehicles will approach along Parsons Street from Crescent Street and depart along Parsons Street to Mullens Street.

    It is a quite radical, and very interesting idea.

    Any other retailer - just about - in Australia, given this question would have gone on about these new formats, what the company plans to do with them, their potential, other plans under development.

    But not Bunnings. Not Bunnings, because the retailer simply does not see any real advantage in doing so. All it would be doing, we expect the Bunnings' view would be, is to increase expectations, telegraph strategy to competitors, and possibly increase local resistance to the development application.

    In the end, if the store gets approval (the first version was rejected), the store will be built, and it will be judged on how it justifies that investment and satisfies the needs of its customers.

    The next bit of this conversation with Mr Errington is just as masterful. He asks another very good question:
    But going forward, say if your next 100 [stores], which arguably ... could be the rolled out in, say, five or seven years, how many of those would be warehouses compared to how many would be these infill type stores?

    That question is fielded by Justin Williams, the incoming chief financial officer for Wesfarmers (replacing Terry Bowen):
    Majority is still warehouses. It's still the preferred format, but where there's opportunities, where there's markets, as I said, where it's rightsized, then we take advantage of that flexibility.

    The majority. If 100 are built over the next seven years, that's...well, it's 51, isn't it? Once again, the company answers, but it doesn't advertise its strategy, or limit its future options by much.
    The manifesto

    After carefully reading the introductory comments that Mr Schneider made at the Strategy Day, HNN has reached the conclusion that the Bunnings strategy for FY2017/18 - and possibly beyond that - is based on expectations of a flat to slightly reduced market for home improvement goods and services.

    This does not mean that Bunnings is suggesting or forecasting a reduction in either revenue growth or earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) growth. It does mean that the company will likely be making some changes to strategy and its approach to ensure it does deliver its expected good growth results.

    Probably the most significant data point which could suggest this is Mr Schneider's careful description of the opportunity he sees for Bunnings arising from the exit of Masters:
    In the last 12 months, we've seen some fairly significant change in the market with one large competitor closing down.
    Accounting for range overlap, the differential in average pricing and the role of competitive marketplace on those dynamics, we see some opportunity for growth, but at a much more modest level than some analysis has suggested.

    In fact, the number that Wesfarmers has suggested is 20%. The company is stating that Bunnings will pick up only 20% of the revenue that was going to Masters while it operated.

    This gave rise to some questions from analysts. Bryan Raymond from the Research Division of Citigroup asked:
    On the residual sales you expect to pick up from Masters' closure, I'm just interested in your workings how you got to 20%? It seems, given the crossover that amounts to 70% to 75% of the overall range, it seems like a relatively low number. I would be keen on [understanding] ... how you got to your 20%.

    Mr Schneider handed over to Mr Williams to respond.
    Yes, 20%, consistent, obviously, with our market share, and it sort of really reflects the competitiveness of the industry. As Mike's slide showed, there's a myriad of competitors out there.
    So, the sales were built up. They came from a large number of competitors, and it make sense that they would be shared back between that similar suite of competitors. We don't expect to pick up large numbers of those sales. The industry is much more competitive than that. That's the reality of the industry, it's highly competitive.

    Mr Schneider then picked up on this answer:
    And probably on a unit basis, we - if you thought about gain on a unit basis, it might be a bit higher, but we've also invested significantly in price and we also recognise that there was a price differential between us and that business.
    So if you normalise some of that, if you - how many hammers you're selling, as an example, it might be more than 20%. But in dollar terms, that's sort of where we see it planning.

    He is suggesting that a Masters' customer might spend $199 on a cordless power tool, but an equivalent power tool might cost only $189 at Bunnings, so a 5% reduction in revenue would be built in.

    It fell to Richard Barwick, an analyst with CLSA's Research Division to ask a key follow-up question:
    I think your comment, Mike... was it "lower than some analysis that's out there"? Is that code for "the market's expecting too high sales in Bunnings over the next 12 months"?

    Mr Schneider clearly denied this:
    I don't think that we'd sort of suggest that for a second, I think it's really just about trying to make sure that we can give all of you and everyone listening in sort of a good sense of the mechanics and how we've worked out our numbers.

    Without the kind of modelling Bunnings can do on its own business, but thinking through typical customer interactions and the dynamics of the market, it is just really hard to get to the 20% number for the transfer of sales from Masters to Bunnings.

    The narrative that Mr Williams and Mr Schneider are suggesting is that a customer back in 2014 stops going to his or her local Thrifty-Link for drill bits, sandpaper, paint, nails, hammers and mitre saws, and switches to a nearby Masters. Two years later, after Masters closes, he or she then says "Righto!" and shows up back at the Thrifty-Link.

    In support of this, there are, of course, some people who just do not like Bunnings, and will not shop there. But so strong a preference is quite rare. It seems that, in general, a more likely narrative is that customers who have previously sought out a big-box experience by shopping at Masters will, when Masters closes, transfer their purchases to the only other big-box in the market, Bunnings. This is especially the case given that some Masters stores are within 100 metres of a Bunnings, and most others tend to be less than a five-minute drive away.

    Again, though, allowing for a two-month aftereffect of the Masters liquidation sale on the market, Bunnings does have modelling not only for March of the previous quarter, but probably for April and May as well. That is "low season" modelling, but it would still be telling.

    HNN's prediction, in line with other analysts, was around a 60% pickup for Bunnings of Masters customers. We could assume that is too high, and 50% is more likely. Given that, the only way that HNN can make sense of this prediction is to suggest that what is going on is that the Masters market (which was tilted towards more affluent consumers) will itself see a contraction, of around 35% over the FY2015/16 demand. Combined with a (to be generous) 10% price difference, that would mean overall potential demand was 90% of Masters demand, further reduced to 58.5% by a decline, with Bunnings then picking up, overall, around a 29% gain.

    Of course, all this eventually just becomes a game of numbers and assumptions. If we are lucky, five or more years from now we'll be able to look back and have some clarity about the shape of the market.

    What is very clear, however, is that the outlook is essentially pessimistic. Neither Mr Williams nor Mr Schneider is saying "Well, there was an 8% differential in price between Masters and Bunnings, but that will be wiped out through increased demand".

    The exchange reported above also brings up another feature of Bunnings' presentation at the Strategy Day. The reason why Bunnings will get less share of Masters' revenue is, Mr Williams tells us, the competitors in the market.

    Mr Schneider made repeated references to competition in his prepared remarks. A standard slide Bunnings uses in its presentations showing the logos of its competitors has swelled considerably to include about 200, where in the past it listed a more modest 60 or so.

    He began by stating: competition increases and the broader addressable market is further explored, we must ensure we're listening closely to what our customers are asking for as well as evolving our offer to reflect the changing landscape of our industry.

    His fullest statement about competition came mid-way his remarks:
    In stark contrast to what many people talk about, we see and experience a market that's incredibly competitive. It has a wider range of specialists, mass merchants and category killers. Whilst many have a strong physical offer, many others have a strong online presence, and increasingly, we're seeing both. By focusing on ensuring we have a winning offer and drive our real focus on having the lowest prices, we continue to work really hard to ensure we have the products, the prices and the service that allows us to compete effectively regardless of format.

    Later he stated:
    We take no competitor, and I mean no competitor, local or global, physical or digital for granted. We are never complacent. If we ought to be successful, we must continue to give great value and fantastic experiences to our customers, and in doing so, be chosen by them.

    These remarks are, on face value, quite true. Competition has increased in the home improvement market. The main independent hardware groups, chiefly Metcash's Independent Hardware Group (IHG), and the smaller Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) as well, have realised that whatever other advantages they offer, they need to start by having the best supply chain possible. Beacon Lighting has optimised its business, Reece continues to dominate some sectors in bathrooms, and retailers such as Sydney Tools offer low power tool prices online, and are expanding their physical presence.

    However, it should be noted that the main reason why Bunnings has so many competitors in so many markets is that it keeps entering new markets, and taking considerable market share away from the incumbents. A business will certainly gain competitors through that strategy, but it is not as if it is beset by competitors popping up out of nowhere.

    It is possible that both in these remarks, and in its remarks about gains from Masters, Bunnings is dealing with a concern that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has been active recently in the home improvement sector, might be wary of how much market share the retailer has now gained. Even a simple suggestion by the ACCC that Bunnings should limit its future expansion could be damaging.
    Leaner times

    While concerns about some kind of regulatory intervention may have shaped a narrative that sees Bunnings depicting itself as a little less strong than it really is, HNN does still believe that underlying this is a genuine concern about a weakening home improvement market.

    Bunnings would not be alone in this. The Housing Industry Association (HIA) is forecasting (as of 8 March 2017) volume growth in renovations of 2.0% in 2017/18, and 2.7% in 2018/19. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has also suggested that the "interest rates and equity windfalls" may be balanced by increased concern over the future. Writing in its "Statement on Monetary Policy" for May 2017, the RBA noted:
    A substantially weaker housing market could have broader implications, including slower growth in consumption and dwelling investment than expected.

    The way in which the company looks at gains from Masters' exit wasn't the only indicator of a Bunnings strategy geared to delivering ongoing growth in a down market. In the opening part of his prepared statement, Mr Schneider made reference to delivering:
    ...strong and sustainable returns across a variety of economic conditions. Working to stay nimble and responsive to what our customers are looking for is evident in the consistent track record of performance that Bunnings has continued to deliver.

    In addition to this slightly unusual comment, there are three areas of focus that come up which indicate Bunnings may be gearing up for tougher times.

    The first is an increased focus on existing customers, over gaining new ones. This isn't to say that Bunnings is not also seeking new customers and new markets, but where in the past that was a primary focus, the focus seems to have shifted to engaging more with customers the retailer already has.

    The strongest statement about this Mr Schneider made was this:
    Unsurprisingly, our strategic agenda remains the same. A deep and strong focus on the lowest prices, the widest range and the very best of service. In doing this, we ensure we remain absolutely focused on creating value for our customers over the long-term, and supporting these with physical and digital experiences that create inspiration and confidence to take on many types of DIY projects and do them in ways that create real values for the customers who do them. If we do these things, as I said, we get to be chosen more often, hoping to not only expand the market, but the degree to which we get to participate.

    This is a well-known strategy for dealing with flat or declining markets. Gaining new customers in new markets carries upfront development costs, which can take a year or two to recapture. Convincing existing customers to buy more or from a wider variety carries lower costs.

    The second element is what Mr Schneider has termed "better use of capital".
    Bigger products and the changing technologies, store formats and the ability to use our capital more effectively to create better, even more convenient store offers or being more productive to invest in more value for customers.

    Later he states:
    Supporting this, we'll continue to improve operating efficiencies, lowering both our operating and capital spend on a per-project basis, meaning we can drive our growth agenda even more efficiently.

    Referring to new stores and the rollout of new store formats, he said:
    Trials across the last year on using capital more effectively and efficiently in these sorts of projects has been really pleasing to us and will form part of their model going forward, which enable us to do even more work with less capital.

    In a down market, conserving capital is very important to providing good performance numbers. This is especially the case with Bunnings, which as a service/retailer, judges its performance using return on capital (RoC), rather than, say, return on net assets (RONA), which is more common in manufacturing.

    Finally, there is Mr Schneider's focus on efficiency. This is an area where he has long been acknowledged as an expert. The recent shift in Bunnings Warehouses to combine the kitchen ordering, special orders and information desk into a single staffed in-store unit is typical of the clarity he and his team bring to this task.

    Mr Schneider is also an enthusiastic supporter of using technology to improve both efficiencies and customer experience:
    We're finding even more ways of using our tech platforms to improve efficiencies in the business from HR to supply chain to in-store tools to make our business even easier to run.

    Simplifying processes, using apps and other technology, such as mobile point-of-sale will ensure even faster and more enjoyable experiences in store.

    It goes almost without saying that pursuing efficiencies is a really key strategic move in a down market. It is a fundamental to ensuring growth continues.

    Not associated with market conditions, this was perhaps the most surprising feature of Mr Schneider's address: he re-emphasised the need for Bunnings to be more engaged with the communities in which its stores operate. The word crops up no fewer than six times in what he had to say.
    By working hard to be trusted by our team, our customers, suppliers community and of course, the wider market, we continue to ensure that the sincere and genuine way we participate in both the broader market and local communities is maintained. And the customers are willing to choose to shop with us because they understand and they appreciate it.

    Later he said:
    And our plan reflects this. It focuses on even better experiences for both our commercial and consumer customers and in the communities, which our stores are and our teams live.

    As well as:
    Speaking about stores, the unique environment of our stores is something that we know our customers really enjoy. And doing more to bring our stores to life and participate even more in the community in which we operate will be core to the engagement we want to continue to build with our customers.

    HNN is sure that Mr Schneider and his team, like all good retailers, has a strong and genuine desire to engage with the communities where he does business, in a way which reaches beyond the store itself. It could be equally true, however, that the campaigns run by small retailers of all types is having some effect on customers' attitude to shopping at larger, corporate-owned stores.
    Product lines

    In terms of hints as to what new product developments can be expected from Bunnings, the slide presentation did call out a new outdoor power equipment offering from Honda. It also suggested that Bunnings would be continuing to market smarthome, LED lighting, and assisted living items for ageing Australians.

    Perhaps one of the more interesting hints at what is coming is a couple of references Mr Schneider makes to "big products":
    We'll continue to expand our reach through rolling out an online offer that supports and grows our already substantial special orders offer, enabling customers to buy large products in areas, such as playgrounds, sheds, outdoor structures, mature trees, bulk landscape, all of these in an online platform.

    This is only part of this article. To read the remainder, please click on the link:
    HI News Vol. 3 No. 7: Bunnings Strategy Day

    Until next time,


    You can contact me directly via email or Twitter @HNN_Australia

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    DuluxGroup results FY2016-17 H1
    Results for DuluxGroup first half 2016/17
    HNN Sources
    Graph of historical data for paint segment
    Dulux gets star billing at Fagg's Mitre 10
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    Australia's DuluxGroup Limited (Dulux) has announced its results for its FY2016/17 first half, which ended 31 March 2017. (DuluxGroup is not associated with AkzoNobel which markets the Dulux brand in Europe, nor with PPG, which markets the brand in the US.)

    Overall sales revenue was $881.2 million, up by 3.54% on the previous corresponding period (pcp) which was the first half of FY2016/17. Earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) also grew, climbing by 7.83% on the pcp, to reach $106.0 million.

    (In fact, as Dulux chose to list its payment of $540,000 to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in November 2016 under expenses, it's arguable that the company's true performance EBIT should be $106.5 million.)

    Nominal net profit after taxation (NPAT) was $72.7 million, up 14.13% on the pcp. However, this number includes the writeback of an outstanding tax provision worth $3.1 million. Setting aside the writeback, NPAT would be $69.6 million, a 9.26% increase on the pcp.

    Dulux's paints and coatings segment reported sales revenue of $473.7 million (including inter-segment sales). This was an increase of 4.69% on the pcp. EBIT for this segment was $88.5 million, up 7.14% on the pcp.

    In the media release that accompanied the results announcement, Dulux's CEO, Patrick Houlihan, was reported as saying:
    This is a high quality result, driven by strong profit growth across all of our Australian and New Zealand businesses. The strong Dulux ANZ result reflects strategic decisions we made a few years ago to align with key retail channel partners, consumer-driven preference for our premium branded products and our longer term strategy to broaden our coatings portfolio.
    We have an excellent portfolio of businesses that have a track record of providing our shareholders with resilient growth. Looking forward, we see multiple streams of growth both domestically and offshore.
    Results overview

    The Dulux results were fairly positive for a paint and coatings company at this particular stage of its development cycle. Sales revenue growth was positive but low, reflecting environmental factors and internal strategies, while EBIT growth was much stronger.

    The external factors included the discounted sell-off of competing products during the company's first quarter, as Masters Home Improvement exited the market, and wetter than normal weather during the prime exterior painting season during spring 2016.

    The internal strategic factor was the decision to raise prices as the company released a range of new products in the second half of calendar 2016. This contributed to better profitability, reflected in both EBIT and NPAT, but may have inhibited sales growth.

    Despite the positive results, the investor presentation saw investment analysts somewhat more assertive in tone during the Q&A session. One reason for this is possibly that, with a slow-down in residential construction likely for the second half of calendar 2017 and all of calendar 2018, analysts were exploring if Dulux will be, as the company suggests, largely immune to this change in the market, due to its low dependence on new construction.

    While it is often the case that renovation activity increases when new house construction and sales decrease, it is also possible that the housing market reset Australia seems headed for may alter homeowners' relation to their dwellings. This could see reduced overall spending on housing, with some of this going instead to other discretionary categories, such as travel and entertainment. This is not delayed spending, it is revenue exiting the sector.

    Additionally, with the a strong move to consolidation in the global paint industry, as Sherwin-Williams completes its acquisition of Valspar, and PPG continues to pursue AkzoNobel, Dulux itself could become a takeover target within the next two years.

    HNN will return to these matters at the conclusion of this report. We begin with an overview of the company's four main segments, before looking at some macro aspects of the overall business, and Dulux's predictions for the next half and beyond.
    Paints and Coatings ANZ (Dulux)

    This segment includes: Dulux decorative paints, woodcare, texture, protective, powder and industrial coatings in Australia and New Zealand for both consumer and professional trade markets.

    For this segment, retail paint sales make up 36.8% of revenue (21% all revenue), trade paint sales make up 38.5% of revenue (22% all revenue), and specialty coatings make up 24.7% (14% all revenue).

    In market terms, 65% is paint for maintenance and home improvement; 15% is related to new housing; 15% is for commercial and infrastructure construction; and 5% is for industrial use.

    Dulux states that is has approximately 46% to 47% of the "measured" paint market overall in Australia. The company states that decorative paint makes up 60% of what it sells, and the other 40% consists of speciality coatings, such as Dulux Metalshield, Dulux PRECISION, and Dulux Protective Coatings. (HNN assumes these are volume figures.)

    Dulux stated that the renovation and repaint market declined by 1.5% during the reporting period. (This decline was in the "sell in" market, from supplier to retailer.) This was due to wet weather and the effects of Masters' stock liquidation. New housing, which represents 20% of the paint market volume, grew by 5%, while commercial construction, which represents 5% of market volume, grew by 4%.

    Setting aside inter-segment (same company) transactions, revenue for this segment for the reported period was $472.3 million, an increase of 4.8% on the pcp. Including inter-segment transactions, the revenue was $473.7 million, up by 4.7% on the pcp. The segment revenue amounts to just over 53% of the overall Dulux sales revenue.

    EBIT for the segment in the period was $88.5 million, up by 7.14% on the pcp. The EBIT margin was 18.68%, up by 0.43% on the pcp. Dulux stated that net input costs were flat. An increase in the cost of titanium dioxide (TiO2) was offset by reductions in other costs, it said.

    Dulux breaks down its 4.7% increase in revenue for this segment as coming from four different sources. Overall market share grew by 2.0%, with all of that growth coming from the retail channels. The price increase delivered another 2%, with the increase around 5.7% on premium products.

    Additionally, New Zealand provided 0.2% of the increase, as its revenue grew by 10%. Finally, around 0.5% came from the growth of the overall market. Mr Houlihan commented that he estimated another 0.5% of market growth was wiped out by the liquidation sales at Masters Home Improvement.

    While Dulux's trade sales were only stable in overall market share terms, the company pointed out that paint supplied for the new housing market continued to grow sharply during the reported period. Dulux has only a 25% exposure to that market. So to maintain a stable trade share, this has to mean the company's net share of the trade-based renovation market would have increased.

    Introducing the results for this segment, Mr Houlihan stated:
    The modest market growth outcome reflected the last of the Masters liquidation activities, which adversely impacted sales-in activity into the retail channels in the half. Excluding this, we saw solid growth in other markets such as the do-it-for-me or trade part of the renovation market, new housing and commercial. We note also that sales-out demand through retail channels has remained solid. ["Sales out" refers to store to customer, rather than "sales in" stock purchases.]

    In terms of the ongoing effect of Masters on market size, Mr Houlihan pointed out that, as there was no longer a sell-in market into Masters, the apparent growth of the paint market might seem artificially reduced during Dulux's second half FY2016/17, as there would be less stock being held overall.

    A theme Mr Houlihan repeated several times in the presentation was that Dulux owed much of its growth to a good choice of retail channel partners.
    The positive share outcomes in Australia resulted from the decisions we made to align ourselves with the eventual winners in these segments, specifically Bunnings, Mitre 10 and Inspirations Paint Specialists.

    He added later, in response to an analyst's question:
    In terms of though the half just gone, all of the share growth came through the retail sector. So that decision to align with Bunnings, that decision to align with Mitre 10 and we've been for many years now aligned with Inspirations in the paint specialist channel, by backing those three market leaders who back us in those channels because our share in those is higher than our weighted-average share ... that's the fundamental thing driving the weighted average up. And at the same time, we've got the bias towards Dulux premium-branded products helping ultimately drive that consumption but adding to the price componentry as it goes, as well.

    Mr Houlihan also noted that the company's New Zealand operations were completing a realignment after being de-ranged from that country's Mitre 10 stores (which operate independently of the Metcash brand of the same name).
    We've... seen that business realign itself in the Paints business with Bunnings versus Mitre 10 in New Zealand, which is a separate identity to the Metcash-owned Mitre 10 here, it's now trending its way back towards similar EBIT margins to the overall Dulux ANZ segment. So certainly, it's providing profitable revenue growth, if I could describe it that way, and the fundamentals are very good there. But that's all we can comment on.

    Mr Houlihan later expanded further on the New Zealand operations:
    In terms of the exit out of Mitre 10 New Zealand, we're now in the half where we're clean in terms of comping half-on-half. So really, what you're seeing in this sort of new environment for us with what we've done there.
    On the retail side of the business, we are aligned with two key partners. We're aligned with Bunnings in big-box hardware, and we're aligned with Guthrie Bowron who are our key paint specialist partner, in the same way Inspirations is here in Australia. And as they are both growing, we've been able to drive growth through that customer alignment. Obviously, we have launched our products into New Zealand so we're getting that marketing innovation-led growth as well.
    But the trade market in New Zealand is an area where we have really, over the last 24 months, stepped up the investment. We have increased the number of trade centres we've got in New Zealand, we've refurbished some other ones and we relocated some. So I think we've taken our number of trade centres from in the order of low 20s now to high 20s. So that revitalisation of our trade network has also been one of the other levers we've been pulling, as well.
    Consumer and Construction Products ANZ (Selleys and Parchem ANZ)

    This segment includes: Selleys adhesives, sealants and other household repair and maintenance products for the consumer and professional trade markets; and Parchem construction chemicals, decorative concrete solutions and related equipment in Australia and New Zealand.

    The market for this segment is 60% maintenance and home improvement, 30% commercial and infrastructure, and 10% new housing. Selleys delivers 60% of revenues for the segment (9% for all Dulux), and Parchem the remaining 40% (6% for all Dulux).

    While the demand fundamentals for Selleys remain strong, Parchem's engineering construction markets continue to decline, though Dulux suggests they have have reached bottom during the company's second quarter.

    Setting aside inter-segment (same company) transactions, this segment delivered $121.0 million in revenue, a decline of around 0.6% on the pcp. Including inter-segment transactions, the revenue was $125.8 million, up by $0.1 million on the pcp. Selleys alone achieved revenue growth of 4.4%, according to Dulux.

    EBIT for the segment in the period was $13.7 million, up by 10.2% on the pcp. The EBIT margin was 10.89%, up by 1.1% on the pcp. While Parchem suffered a loss in revenue, Mr Houlihan stated that it did grow in EBIT, due to a combination of cost reductions, and improved margins.

    Selleys continues to grow as a product line, according to Mr Houlihan.
    Selleys achieved good revenue growth of 4.4%, with particular strength in our key retail partners. We were particularly pleased with the performance of a number of our recent premium new products, including Selleys Storm, which has become a strong SKU for us.

    (Storm is a waterproofing sealant product that can be applied even under wet conditions.)

    Mr Houlihan pointed to several reasons why Parchem has continued to perform poorly:
    The top line for Parchem was adversely impacted by two factors: firstly, we have continued to fine-tune this business by exiting low-margin commodity products, such as concrete reinforcing mesh. This contributed about half of the revenue decline. Secondly, whilst engineering construction markets have continued to decline at double-digit rates, our core Fosroc construction chemicals business mitigated much of the decline through share gains.

    He clarified this statement later:
    Parchem has been progressively exiting low-margin businesses and increasing its focus on the core, profitable Fosroc construction chemicals business. Parchem is increasingly becoming a logical product extension to Dulux and Selleys in a similar vein, the Dulux Acratex or Dulux Protective Coatings businesses. We have recently migrated Parchem onto the Dulux ERP [enterprise resource planning] system to enable it to more effectively leverage our broader Dulux trade capabilities.

    This is an introduction to this article. To read the full article, please click on the link below to download the PDF edition of our magazine, HI News:
    HI News Vol. 3 No. 7: Bunnings Strategy Day
    Big box update
    Bunnings will build a store across the road from Home Timber & Hardware in Katoomba (NSW)
    HNN Sources
    Development application for a Bunnings store has been lodged in Kingaroy (QLD)
    Lesso Home in Greenacre is located close to the Bunnings store but is only open to trade customers
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Home store in Katoomba (NSW) will face direct competition from a new Bunnings; Kingaroy (QLD) is another location for Bunnings; Lesso Home is open to trade customers in Greenacre (NSW); Bunnings Colac is up for sales; and Shepparton store officially opens.
    Blue Mountains store close to Home

    Bunnings is building a store across the road from the existing Hudson Home Timber & Hardware store located in Wilson Street, Katoomba (NSW).

    The new Bunnings store has led to some concerns about whether the market in the Blue Mountains can sustain two large hardware outlets at all, let alone within metres of each other.

    Bunnings general manager - property, Andrew Marks, said the new store will be a "small format" model. He told the Blue Mountains Gazette:
    We generally find that there is ample room in the market for both larger and specialty providers. Almost everywhere we operate we have successful competitors located close by to our stores.

    Mr Marks also referred to environmental concerns which had been raised about the site, part of the Leura Falls Creek catchment. He promised that "measures have been put in place to ensure receiving waters of Leura Falls Creek are maintained at the highest standard". He said:
    We will continue to work with the builder to ensure there is no environmental impact from construction works in and around the site.

    The Bunnings store is expected in early 2018.
    Bunnings lodges DA for Kingaroy

    Bunnings is planning a $15 million store in Kingaroy (QLD), and has lodged a development application with the South Burnett Regional Council (SBRC) for the highway frontage site on the D'Aguilar Highway (Walter Road).

    If Bunnings' development application is approved by the SBRC, the development would go ahead within sight of the Sunshine Mitre 10 store in Rogers Drive.

    According to recent editorial in, the announcement that Bunnings has lodged a development application to build a new store in Kingaroy has provoked a mixed response.

    On the one hand, some residents welcome the news that Bunnings would like to open up a South Burnett outlet. They feel the chain will offer them better hardware prices, and see the announcement as a sign the region is moving forward again after several years in the doldrums.

    Against this, some other residents feel the arrival of Bunnings could spell the end of several other "home grown" small businesses that compete in the same market, and lead to an increase in unemployment.

    The last two big retail chains to open up in the South Burnett were Harvey Norman in late 2008, and Aldi in 2009. At the time both these stores opened, the population of Kingaroy's town area was about 9154; but by the end of last year it was 10,125, or about 10.6% bigger.

    A statistical snapshot based on data available shows the first three years after Harvey Norman and Aldi were both up and running, the South Burnett's unemployment rate was fairly stable at between 6.5 and 7.5%. This was despite the 2011 floods, the 2012 drought and the flow-on effects of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

    The editorial goes on to say that while it is likely the arrival of both these large retail chains did lead to the closure of some other businesses, the net effect of these closures on overall unemployment was negligible.

    In other words, any jobs that were lost in the businesses that closed down were made up for by the jobs the new retail entrants created.

    The arrival of these businesses also seems to have had no negative effect on the region's long term growth rate.

    If anything, their arrival could be a sign that the South Burnett is a market worth investing in for the future, and people willing to back that belief with bricks and mortar.

    It would be ideal if a large retail chain that didn't compete with any existing businesses, according to the editorial That would create new jobs that really were new, and add to the local retail mix that people currently have to travel outside the region for.
    Lesso Home Greenacre welcomes the trade

    Lesso Home has opened its first overseas complex in Greenacre (NSW). It is located in a 30,000sqm building in Mayvic Street, and is what the company calls a "one stop global building materials, home furnishings and hardware trade hub". It is just blocks from a Bunnings outlet.

    The Chinese firm is part of China Lesso Group Holdings Ltd which has more than 50 subsidiaries and 22 production bases in China, North America, Asia and Africa. It manufactures more than 10,000 different products and the Greenacre display space brings some of them together in one location, the company said.

    The Australian reported last year that Lesso is expanding into the Australian market after warning of challenging conditions in China. Victor Lin, vice-president of China Lesso Group, told the newspaper:
    Our offering in Sydney is a trade-focused outlet, rather than a consumer-focused outlet, that brings more choice to Australian businesses. China Lesso Group products are already widely available in Australia from a number of outlets and Lesso Home is bringing all these products under one roof.

    The Express had a preview of the centre before it officially opened. It said the complex has a large number of displays featuring most components needed to build or renovate, including bathrooms, kitchens, mirrors, furniture, flooring, lighting, windows and doors, shower screens, beds, furniture and electrical appliances.

    Unlike other retailers, Lesso Home Greenacre is only be open to customers with an ABN and for people who join up with a free membership.

    A spokesman for Lesso Home Greenacre told The Express the centre was designed for online to offline sales and the location was chosen because it was close to both logistics and the building industry. He said:
    So many people go to China to purchase and bring here but we've tried to bring the supply here. We want to work with local people and we want to support the local retail industry and bring some new products and building ideas into the market.

    The company said over 60 tenants are currently renting spaces within the centre.
    Home designers can bring their clients here and see what's on offer. It's something very different to what the Australian market has been doing.

    The group is planning to open another outlet in Australia in early 2018, focused on lighting and furnishings, and has plans for other home building offerings in the future.

    In 2016, China Lesso bought the St Hilliers Estate in the western suburb of Auburn and a major block of land in the outer suburb of Huntingwood East, which will serve as a longer-term distribution hub. Dr Lin said the group is "currently working on plans" for its Auburn site. Melbourne is also "high on the list" for further locations in Australia.

    The company's move into Australia could be driven by hopes of diversifying from manufacturing into e-commerce, after it set up the Lesso Mall platform in China in 2015.

    If the Lesso Greenacre centre pays off, it would be a blueprint for sites in other major cities in Australia and the USA, the Middle East and Asia.

    Big box update: Another "threat" to Bunnings? - HNN
    Bunnings Colac store hits the market

    The sale of the Bunnings Warehouse in Colac (VIC) is expected to generate additional interest from international investors.

    The 6500sqm property at 130-138 Bromfield Street is located in the commercial centre of the Colac township and has a 10-year lease to Bunnings which has been operating from the site for the past two years.

    The 3912sqm Bunnings site nets $475,090 in rent and it will be sold with fixed annual rental increases of 2.75%, with options up to 2035. CBRE Melbourne agent Joseph Du Rieu said:
    We've seen first-hand over the last six to twelve months, the influx of Chinese investors into the retail investment markets ... it would suit a private investor or business owner looking for something they can put in the bottom drawer and not worry about for eight years.
    This is only the second Bunnings to sell in Victoria this year. The first one was in Bendigo for $14.5 million to a private, Melbourne-based family.
    The location is very strategic - directly opposite the new Colac Plaza - that's ultimately going to underpin the investment for years to come.
    Open for business in Shepparton

    In a few days since its opening, the new Bunnings store in Shepparton (VIC) has already had a few thousand people through its doors, according to complex manager Paul Connaughton.

    The $53 million warehouse store, is the second biggest in Victoria, and has an increase in range as well as depth of stock compared to its old location. He told the Shepparton News:
    People really have to come down and see the 18 kitchen displays and four bathroom displays, and take the time to walk through the six aisles of timber. The nursery is also the second biggest in the Victorian network with thousands of plants.

    Mr Connaughton said staff were proud to be able to offer the store to the people of Shepparton.
    We really look forward to servicing the Greater Shepparton area for many years to come.
    Indie store update
    K&D's trade stores are now owned by Clennett's Mitre 10
    HNN Sources
    Earlier this year, K&D announced store closures
    Toolies Tool Specialists in Newcastle (NSW) is closing down
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Kemp & Denning's trade stores are now owned by Clennett's Mitre 10 in Tasmania and Newcastle's oldest tools and hardware store is closing down.
    K&D trade sold to Clennett's Mitre 10

    Clennett's Mitre 10 has bought the trade division of Kemp & Denning (K&D) Limited, expanding its trade store network in southern Tasmania.

    It leaves K&D with retail sites in Hobart and Cambridge. In recent months the company has closed its warehouse in Devonport and sold its Glenorchy site to developer Errol Stewart.

    Clennett's will take over three of the K&D trade sites - in Glenorchy, Cambridge and Kingston - and continue to serve all K&D trade account holders.

    The hardware retailer, which has sold timber and building supplies since 1885, presently operates at Mornington, Kingston and Huonville.

    The K&D operation at Kingston will be closed with the Clennett's site in Kingston being retained as the centre of operations for the region.

    A number of K&D employees will transfer with the businesses, adding to the Clennett's Mitre 10 trade teams.

    Clennett's Mitre 10 general manager Will Clennett said the venture would deliver benefits to customers and fitted with the company's vision to expand its trade business. He said:
    Relationships form a large part of our business and our absolute priority is to ensure we continue to service our existing and new customers to the same high standards that we're known for. We are also committed to working together with K&D management to recognise the significant contribution of the current K&D employees.

    K&D chairman, Greg Goodman added: "This opportunity follows a strategic review by K&D management to consolidate our business. Clennett's is a successful service-oriented business and has become synonymous with trade excellence. The team has built a remarkable reputation in servicing the trade and we're thrilled to come to this agreement and ensure continuity of supply for our trade customers. I'm excited for the ongoing opportunities for many of our employees to join a thriving trade business."

    K&D loses CEO amid ongoing changes - HI News, page 14
    Indie store update: K&D store closures - HNN
    Newcastle's Toolies closes down

    Toolies Tool Specialists is the oldest independent hardware store in Newcastle (NSW), operating for 44 years. However owner Rob Chambers has made the difficult decision to close the business in the face of tough economic conditions.

    The store has been at its current site for 30 years, after Mr Chambers rescued it from liquidation in 2013.

    At the time, he was its general manager and couldn't bear to see it close, so he made the decision to buy it. He told SmartCompany:
    The process has been long and arduous - you can understand, as a business goes into liquidation or receivership there's not much left in it. But I had to try to rescue it, it really is an iconic business in Newcastle.

    The decision bought Toolies another four years serving the region's locals and customers from around the country who've made purchases from the Toolies online store.

    Mr Chambers said one of the big most important differences between independent hardware retailers and big box stores is that businesses like Toolies are focused on actually solving a customer's problem, rather than selling them a solution. He explains:
    I sent a guy home the other day with a way of solving his problem that didn't involve us selling him anything.

    Toolies is in the process of selling off stock before a June 30 exit date and Newcastle locals have been popping in to reminisce about the characters who have been involved with the business since it started in 1973.

    The business has faced a number of hurdles over the past decade, including being hit hard by the global financial crisis and a sliding coal price, which had a big impact on the region. In the years leading up to 2012, the business had annual turnover of more than $8 million and 15,000 "loyalty customers" on the books.

    Mr Chambers said a key lesson he's learned through the process of trying to save Toolies is that you need a significant amount of [money] try to turn around a business.
    The owner prior to me just didn't have the capacity to weather the storm when it came, because of the level of debt that was being carried. You can't have a business that just relies on the good times. You need to come into something like this with a lot of capital.

    While Mr Chambers says this has been a "very painful experience", he believes he has bought the business more time and continued to help customers in a way that no other hardware competitor will now be able to achieve.
    None of the others ... seem to do that. This is a problem, with the rush to sale [from big players] and all that sort of thing.
    Europe update
    Bunnings opens its third store in Hemel Hempstead
    HNN Sources
    Bunnings has poached B&Q's retail director
    More BUKI store locations are revealed
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Bunnings United Kingdom & Ireland (BUKI) has a chief operating officer; an overview of the new BUKI store in Hemel Hempstead; and 10 stores to be up and running by the end of calendar 2017.
    BUKI appoints retail executive from B&Q

    B&Q's retail director for UK and Ireland, Damian McGloughlin will become chief operating officer at Bunnings UK and Ireland (BUKI). He will report directly to BUKI managing director PJ Davis.

    According to a number of reports, Mr McGloughlin has spent 32 years at B&Q after joining at the age of 16.

    He has been placed on gardening leave until he starts his new role. This means Mr McGloughlin will stay away from work during the notice period, while still remaining on the payroll.

    A B&Q spokeswoman confirmed McGloughlin's exit and added: "We wish Damian all the best."

    Industry publication Retail Week writes that Mr McGloughlin's move to Bunnings makes him the latest in a steadily growing list of UK DIY experts to join the business.

    Bunnings owner, Wesfarmers axed Homebase's entire board - with knowledge of the UK market and replacing them with existing Bunnings staff - shortly after buying the home improvement retailer from Home Retail Group for GBP340m in February 2016. Since then, it has added many with British DIY experience to its management ranks.

    Matt Tyson, former Masters Home Improvement managing director and also ex-Kingfisher, has been advising BUKI and is understood to have been pivotal in convincing McGloughlin to switch allegiances.

    "Matt would have been instrumental in bringing Damian to Bunnings," a former B&Q colleague of Mr McGloughlin's told Retail Week. He said:
    When they were at B&Q together, Damian was a divisional director and Matt was operations director at the time. Matt was his mentor, his father figure if you like, so he would no doubt have been telling Bunnings how talented Damian is and urging Damian to come on board.

    But another former B&Q colleague believes it is one skill in particular that Bunnings will benefit from most. He said:
    Damian is really well liked by the B&Q team. His departure will be a big blow for them. He's very much a man of the people - people in stores like and respect him. They enjoy working for him and they want to work for him.
    On a broader note, he knows the sector really, really well, so he's a great acquisition for Bunnings. Their warehouses are similar in size to B&Q's Supercentres, which Damian knows inside out, so he will bring a great deal of knowledge to that format for Bunnings.
    B&Q will be smarting, without a doubt. Their loss is very much Bunnings gain.
    Bunnings Hemel launches

    The third Bunnings Warehouse in the UK has opened. It is a conversion of a Homebase store located at in Hemel Hempstead, Buckinghamshire. The Insight DIY team led by managing director Steve Collinge made a visit to the location.

    They believe "a few tweaks" may be starting to appear in some of Bunnings' in-store ranges. The hand/power tool category in the Hemel Hempstead store is "dominant", and the paint offer and gardening range are "impressive". However the same can't be said of its kitchen and bathroom products, according to Mr Collinge. He writes:
    Once again, there's a poorly represented kitchen and bathroom offer, although having spent time with PJ ... I'm beginning to understand why kitchens and bathrooms are a lower priority. However, with the increasing focus on the performance of the remaining 252 Homebase stores, I still don't quite understand why they have effectively handed all their kitchen business to Wickes on a plate.

    However Mr Collinge believes the store in Milton Keynes (scheduled to open in the first week of July), will be the "acid test".
    With 100,000sqft of space available, there are only so many BBQs the size of small family cars and hot tubs that can accommodate a family of twelve in comfort that you need to offer. We'd therefore expect a more credible offer of K&B than we've seen in any of the three Bunnings stores to date.

    In the paint category, the repackaged and refreshed Craig & Rose 1829 range takes centre stage.

    (The Craig & Rose brand is owned by DuluxGroup. To read more about its acquisition, go to /}DuluxGroup FY results 2015-16 - HNN)

    Insight DIY believes this is an "important move" for Bunnings as it provides an exclusive, premium range to deliver a key point of difference to its decorative offer. B&Q stocks the Farrow & Ball paint line. Mr Collinge writes:
    The core chalky emulsion range looks great, is well positioned on price and has developed its colour offer to reflect the whites and greys now popular in the UK. The small Artisan Decorative Effects range offers some interesting products, but at GBP49.95 and GBP69.95 for a 2.5L can, we'll be updating you on the depth of dust gathering on these tins over the next few months.

    According to DIY Insight, the other brands to get significant exposure in the Hemel Hempstead store include Monarch and Paint Partner (painting ccessories), Selleys, Ozito power tools, Kaboodle kitchens, Aqua garden watering, Matador BBQs, Trojan hand tools, Marquee garden furniture and Flexi storage.

    Insight DIY also said it has been tracking Bunnings pricing since the day the first store opened in St. Albans. According to Mr Collinge:
    The most recent audit completed on 6th June 2017, showed Bunnings was 10% lower than Wilko, 17% below B&Q and 27% lower than Wickes ... in identical or directly comparable lines. In the garden, Bunnings is 19% below Wickes, 21% below B&Q and a massive 34% below Wyevale.
    Of course, you wouldn't expect the bigger players to price match a competitor with only three stores and no transactional website, but this is clearly going to have to happen at some point.

    To read more about Insight DIY's impressions of the Bunnings Hemel Hempstead store, go to:
    Bunnings tweaks offer in Hemel - Insight DIY
    Store specifics

    The Hemel Hempstead store is on the site of the former Homebase at Apsley Mills Retail Park. At 64,000sqft, it is slightly smaller than the 67,000sqft store in St. Albans that opened at the beginning of February and much larger than the 40,000sqft Hatfield Road store that opened in April.

    In total, the Hemel store stocks over 27,000 products, all of which the team were encouraged to get to grips with during a 10-day supplier expo, where 93 of the largest brands delivered "in the aisle" interactive product knowledge training.

    To celebrate the opening, Olympic gymnast champion and Hemel local Max Whitlock MBE hosted a welcome breakfast for team members.
    Other stores

    Wesfarmers recently confirmed there will be ten Bunnings stores operating by the end of 2017, in locations that include Broadstairs and Basildon Vange.

    A Homebase store located in Sittingbourne will be the sixth to be converted to a Bunnings Warehouse. Sittingbourne is an industrial town situated in the Swale district of Kent in south east England. Insight DIY said:
    With Folkestone and Sittingbourne being only 42 miles apart, as expected the next tranche of openings by Bunnings are likely to be part of a Kent Cluster enabling them to invest heavily in local advertising to build awareness of their brand, which is unknown to UK home improvement customers.

    Europe update: Bunnings reveals its fifth UK store location
    Seeking opportunities
    A Victorian-based account manager is required for Austech's SP Tools brand
    HNN Sources
    Nubco in Tasmania is seeking a category manager for tools
    A retail manager is wanted for Southern Innovations in Fyshwick, ACT
    Visit the Mecca Website
    Austech Industries is expanding its Victorian-based sales team and looking for an account manager; Nubco in Tasmania has an opportunity for a category manager in tools; and Southern Plumbing requires a retail manager for its ACT-based showroom.

    Click on the logos to find out more about each role.
    Professional tool sales

    The account manager at Austech will apply their experience in wholesale and/or retail sales, and be responsible for proactively driving the retention and growth of business customers. An understanding of the tool industry is desirable to sell Austech's SP Tools and SP Air brands.
    A Victorian-based account manager is required for SP Tools brand
    Procuring tools

    Tasmanian-based Nubco has a role for an experienced power tool and hand tool category manager in its Devonport head office. Key responsibilities include establishing and maintaining effective relationships with new and existing suppliers; monitoring marketplace pricing; and reviewing product ranges.
    Nubco in Tasmania is seeking a category manager for tools
    Bathroom and kitchen showcase

    Southern Innovations is seeking a highly qualified retail manager to grow the sales of top international brands such as Villeroy & Boch, Hansgrohe, Catalano, SieMatic kitchens, Bette, Smeg and Asko in its Fyshwick (ACT) showroom. The job involves leveraging these brands to achieve the best possible sales results.
    A retail manager is wanted for Southern Innovations in Fyshwick, ACT
    USA update
    Lowe's experiments with exoskeletons
    HNN Sources
    Weather has a negative impact on True Value's Q1 performance
    Sears sues another Craftsman vendor
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Lowe's outsources some tech jobs to India; unfavourable weather affects True Value's Q1 results; Ace Hardware customers are highly satisfied; Sears files another lawsuit; Danik Hook product voted most innovative by independent retailers; MiTek's award winning merchandising for building products; TreeHouse opens another location in Dallas; Houzz attracts additional funds; and Kohler launches new retail concept in New York.
    Lowe's moves some tech jobs to India

    As a way to improve its profitability, Lowe's has laid off about 125 tech workers, primarily at its headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina.

    Many of the affected information technology job functions are being sent to Bangalore, India, where Lowe's employs approximately 1,000 people in information and technology and analytics.

    The layoffs are the latest in several rounds of reductions over the last year.

    Lowe's eliminated 96 tech jobs in October, then in January cut another 2,400 full-time jobs, mostly at store level. In February, it followed with more than 500 corporate layoffs, including 430 at its headquarters and 70 support staffers.

    In a memo to IT workers, chief information officer Paul Ramsay said the staffing reductions are part of planning effort that began "several years ago" to build a more diverse, global team to respond better "in this highly competitive 24/7 retail environment" and more quickly to "evolving consumer needs."

    Mr Ramsay added that the company will be providing a competitive severance package and outplacement services, including a job fair with local IT employers.
    Wearing exoskeletons

    Other Lowe's employees have been wearing exoskeletons to work. Lowe's is testing exoskeletons on four employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store to make it easier to lift objects and stock shelves. Some Lowe's employees spend 90% of their time moving and lifting everything from bags of cement to huge buckets of paint.

    Wearing the exoskeleton is somewhat similar to putting on a rock climbing harness and a backpack. The suit also includes attached carbon-fibre shafts that run down a person's back and thighs. The shafts flex and store energy as a person bends over to pick something up.

    When the employee stands, the rods straighten and the energy releases, making the task easier. The process is similar to how a bow releases energy when an arrow is launched.

    Lowe's developed the exoskeleton in partnership with Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck. For years, engineers have tinkered with exoskeletons as a way to augment human abilities with extra mechanical powers.

    Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, describes the suits as a way to better recruit potential employees and make their workdays easier.
    Weather impacts True Value Q1 results

    True Value pointed to bad weather as a key factor for a sales decline in its first quarter.

    The retailer reported gross billings of USD502 million for the first quarter ending April 1, down 1.6% from the same period a year ago. Revenue was USD347.6 million, a decrease of 2.6%. Relative to the prior year, net margin remained essentially flat.

    Retail comparable store sales were down 1.9% for the same period. Unfavourable weather patterns across the US led to a decline in retail traffic and drove lower volume resulting in decreased warehouse replenishment, the company said.

    However True Value's international business continued to see strong growth with gross billings up 13% and handled sales up 18%.

    The company's top three performing categories for the quarter were hand and power tools, hardware, timber, building supplies as well as plumbing and heating products.

    Although weather trends affected quarterly sales, True Value asserted that it made progress in the execution of its multi-year strategic plan. John Hartmann, president and CEO, said:
    We continue to put the independent hardware dealer at the centre of everything we do. Coming off a year of record growth including new stores and remodels, stores that have implemented the Destination True Value (DTV) format consistently see increased returns, experiencing comp store sales 200 basis points greater than overall retail comp.

    During the first quarter, the company added 534,930 square feet of relevant retail space through the DTV format.

    True Value is based in Chicago and has about 4,400 independently owned and operated retail stores in its network throughout the world.
    Customers satisfied with Ace Hardware, again

    The J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction Study has ranked Ace Hardware "Highest in Customer Satisfaction among Home Improvement Retail Stores" for the eleventh year in a row. Ace has been awarded this ranking by J.D. Power every year since the inception of the survey in 2006.

    The 2017 J.D. Power study is based on responses from 2,751 consumers who purchased home improvement products or services over the past 12 months. Ace ranked highest among major retailers with an overall satisfaction index score of 835 on a 1,000-point scale.

    According to surveyed consumers, Ace performs particularly well in the categories of staff and service, as well as store facility.

    This year's score is based on overall performance in the following five areas: merchandise, price, sales and promotion, staff and service, and store facility. Ace Hardware president and CEO, John Venhuizen said:
    We are truly honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious award for the eleventh consecutive year. We could have never done it without the loyalty of our neighbours, the entrepreneurialism of our local owners and servant hearts of the 100,000 red-vested heroes upon whose back these awards stand.
    Sears sues second Craftsman vendor

    Sears has filed its second lawsuit in less than a month against one of its Craftsman hand tools suppliers, alleging that the vendor is abruptly ending its relationship and agreeing to resume it only on terms "onerous" to the struggling retailer.

    It also announced that it has settled its dispute with the first supplier, One World Technologies, which it sued in Cook County Circuit Court in May. Sears will continue its relationship with One World, which makes power tools under the Craftsman brand.

    For more than 50 years, Western Forge supplied Craftsman tools for Sears to sell in its bricks-and-mortar stores and online. In 2010, Western Forge was acquired by Ideal Industries, and since July 2011, the relationship continued - until now, according to the latest lawsuit.

    Up until the end of April - when the agreement was set to expire - Ideal and Sears discussed extending the deal, the lawsuit says.

    But "after several weeks of assurances by Ideal intended to lull Sears into the belief that Ideal would agree to extend the agreement, Ideal abruptly informed Sears that it will not agree to extend the contract beyond its term," according to the lawsuit.

    Sears said in its suit that it told Ideal in late February that it wanted to extend the deal another year.

    "Despite giving Sears numerous written and verbal assurances over the ensuing eight weeks that an extension was forthcoming, Ideal waited until April 28 to tell Sears that it wouldn't extend the contract, Sears alleges.

    Ideal, under a "transition" period in the contract, however, is supposed to continue to supply products for six months, through the end of October, but Ideal did so for only one month, Sears alleges.

    Sears wants the court to force Ideal to continue providing the products through the end of October. The retailer said in court documents that it has been seeking a new supplier.

    "Ideal now refuses to provide Sears with transition assistance and has informed Sears that it will not fulfill any existing purchase orders," Sears said in its lawsuit. !Furthermore, Ideal has informed Sears that it will fulfill Sears' orders only if Sears agrees to onerous payment terms that were not part of the agreement and that were unilaterally imposed by Ideal.

    Ideal's refusal "has left Sears without the ability to sell certain of its Craftsman brand tools without supply interruption and constitutes a material breach of the agreement," the lawsuit argues.

    Sears spokesman Howard Riefs said the company "will take the steps necessary to hold vendors to honour our agreements." Sears also wants to recover damages, though no dollar figure was given in the lawsuit over what the company characterizes as a breach of contract.
    Retailers choose Danik Hook

    Independent retailers from around the US have selected the Danik Hook as the 2017 winner of the National Hardware Show's Retailers' Choice Award.

    The Danik Hook is tool that can be used to quickly tie-down anything. It was selected from approximately 500 new products as one of the most innovative at this year's event. The award means the Retailers' Choice selection panel believes the Danik Hook is unique and has the potential to be a home improvement industry best seller.

    Talks are underway with retailers from six countries, said national sales manager Greg Spangler.
    The response at the National Hardware Show tells us the Danik Hook is something different, something special. We're not just another screwdriver.

    Inventor, Daniel Austin is an avid boater and water skier, and originally created the Danik Hook to quickly and easily secure anchor or boat lines without ever having to tie a cumbersome knot. It soon became apparent, however, the Danik Hook could be used any time something needed to be tied-down.

    Customers use the Danik Hook to tie-down a tarp on the truck or trailer or to secure an awning. Outdoors enthusiasts find the Danik Hook makes it fast and easy to tie-off a tent or hammock. If a rope or bungee cord is needed to tie-down something, it can make the task easy.

    The quick release lever is the heart of all Danik Hooks. The Danik Hook Mini accepts Paracord, bungee cord or rope ranging from 5/32 to 3/8 inch diameter. The integrated ring makes securing a second line effortless. It is made of a non-corrosive, glass-filled thermoplastic which can lift and hold up to 300lbs (136kgs) under laboratory conditions.

    For bigger jobs, the stainless steel Danik Hook can attach any 3/8 to 5/8 inch diameter anchor rope line to secure any size boat or anything else up to 8000lbs (3629kgs).

    The slightly smaller composite, non-scratching Danik Hook can handle any 3/8 to 7/16 inch diameter line for items up to 500lbs (227kgs).
    MiTek reworks building products display

    MiTek USA said its award-winning "retail sets" (newly designed aisle signage, product bins, and colour-coded packaging) have recently been installed at Roadside Lumber and Hardware in Agoura Hills, California.

    The new retail sets are part of a national effort by MiTek to redefine in-store displays of building products. The company's displays and packaging recently won three awards from the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA). MiTek won a gold award for its bin display, a silver for carton display, and an honourable mention for packaging.

    At Roadside Lumber and Hardware, MiTek's retail sets showcase 650 products including fasteners, hangers, connectors, embedments, epoxies, and more. In addition to the aisle signage, product bins, and packaging, the retail sets also include end-cap graphic displays and colour-coded header boards, all designed to enhance and simplify the retail buying experience. Owen Nostrant, Roadside's general manager, said:
    Effective display of 650 products, many of which must be correlated to specific code requirements in the field, is no small task. MiTek's new retail sets not only help buyers sort through their choices using colour-coded shelving systems, its displays are uniquely eye-catching.
    Eco-friendly retailer practices what it preaches

    TreeHouse, which specialises in supplies and services that promote healthy and sustainable spaces, has expanded beyond its Austin, Texas home base, and opened in Dallas. Its new 35,000sqft outpost is billed as the nation's first energy-positive (ie. it will generate more energy than it uses) big box store. Co-founder and CEO, Jason Ballard, said:
    This building sets a completely new standard for ecological and human health and is an embodiment of what our company hopes to accomplish for homes as well. This store is a signpost to what the future will be like for both homes and retail.

    TreeHouse, dubbed the "Whole Foods of home improvement," offers shoppers a curated selection of green products, materials and technologies - some of which are not available elsewhere. It also offers turn-key services and programs, including kitchen and bath design. solar energy kits, home insulation and "smart" home installation.

    San Antonio-based architectural firm Lake/Flato used TreeHouse's approach to products and materials selection, in combination with sustainable design practices, to create the store. Mr Ballard said:
    For so long, net-zero energy was this magical aspirational goal. This building is beyond net-zero...completely new territory.

    The architecture of the store is crucial to its energy efficiency. It boasts saw-tooth roofs that are positioned to maximize the effectiveness of its giant, ultra high-efficiency SunPower solar rooftop solar array. (This feature solved the need for extra space for solar panels). The standing-seam metal roof collects rainwater and reflects heat.

    In addition, the north facing clerestory windows allow for indirect sunlight to effectively illuminate the interior without the impact of direct heat. This allows for a cooler baseline temperature in the store and minimising the use of electricity.

    A Tesla Powerpack (a rechargeable battery storage system for utility and commercial applications) is located at the centre of the store. It stores the power produced by the rooftop solar array, deploying it for evening use and allowing the building to return excess renewable energy to the city's grid.

    TreeHouse Dallas is the anchor tenant in The Hill, a North Dallas shopping centre.

    TreeHouse, green home improvement retailer - HNN
    Houzz goes fund raising

    Home improvement online platform Houzz continues is in the process of raising another round of funding. The company confirms that it is raising USD400 million in new financing, at a valuation that multiple reports peg at around USD4 billion.

    Founded in 2009, Houzz provides a platform to help users renovate and remodel their homes, as well as providing tools for finding furniture and fixtures they might want to purchase. The company operates in markets that include the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Denmark.

    It makes money mostly through paid listings for local home professionals and service providers. But it has been delving more deeply into direct commerce through the augmented reality (AR) products it has added to its website and mobile apps.

    Houzz has introduced a deep learning tool that analyses home photos added to the site and enables users to search for and purchase comparable products directly from the page. It has added an AR feature to its mobile app that allows users to preview what new pieces of furniture might look like in a certain place in their home.
    Trade program

    The Houzz Trade Program has also been launched to provide industry professionals with discounts.

    All professionals working in the home improvement industry with a valid business - including designers, architects and contractors - can apply for the program.

    Program benefits include trade-only discounts up to 50% on products, access to a support staff and free shipping on most orders of more than USD49.

    Vendors providing discounts include Baldwin, Emerson, Feiss, Flos, Kraus, Missoni Home, Safavieh and Swarovski.

    Houzz satisfies Australians' digital needs - HNN
    Kohler debuts experiential retail concept

    The first-ever Kohler Experience Centre (KEC), located in Manhattan, New York (USA) houses fully-functioning displays of Kohler's product line - including showers, tubs, sinks and "intelligent" toilets - in what is a first for the brand. The centre is open to trade design professionals and the general public.

    The 10,000sqft. store has more than 20 kitchen and bath vignettes. It includes a private "bathing space" in which customers can experience Kohler products such as its digital showering system and showerheads.

    The centre offers a new Kohler global specification service, which allows architects and designers to have instant, hands-on access to all products across the company's entire product portfolio. A Kohler team of experts will be stationed on-site to help source and resolve plumbing projects both in the United States and around the world.

    Kohler plans to open nine KECs over the next year, with London to open soon. Additional locations include Los Angeles, Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok, New Delhi and Taipei.

    Supplier update: Kohler's digital content strategy - HNN
    Supplier update
    Klein Tools buys General Machine Products
    HNN Sources
    Klein Tools entered the Australian market through a distribution deal with Mumme's Tools
    Caterpillar takes on Yard Club
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    Klein Tools gets bigger through its purchase of General Machine Products and Caterpillar diversifies by acquiring online start up Yard Club.
    Klein Tools buys General Machine Products

    General Machine Products (GMP) has been acquired by Klein Tools, a maker of tools for the construction, electronics and mining industries.

    The deal also includes General Machine's subsidiary, CBS Products, in the United Kingdom.

    GMP is a supplier of specialty cable tools and equipment, and will continue to operate in Pennsylvania, with the same management team, said Thomas R. Klein, Sr, chairman of Klein Tools.
    The brands GMP and CBS represent a long history of high-quality, innovative tools to a professional user base, consistent with the Klein Tools brand. Following the acquisition, we anticipate continued investment and development to grow the brands with new product introductions.

    Founded by engineer George M. Pfundt in 1936, GMP is a third-generation business and recognised as a major supplier of specialty cable placement tools and equipment. The company is primarily known for its premium quality cable lashing machines, cable blowing equipment and other specially designed tools for the utility, data and telecommunications markets. Mr Klein adds:
    GMP is very appealing to Klein Tools as we continue to expand our US manufacturing presence. GMP and Klein Tools have much in common, including loyal customers, go-to-market strategies and reputations for high-quality products. We believe our combined resources will present additional growth opportunities...

    General Machine has about 130 employees. With those additional employees, Klein now has a total workforce of about 1,200.
    Caterpillar gets into construction rental

    Yard Club, a startup that makes more efficient use of construction and other heavy equipment, has been acquired by Caterpillar.

    The deal came about almost exactly two years after Caterpillar announced a strategic investment in Yard Club. As part of that investment, Yard Club began working with the dealers (retailers) in the Caterpillar network and helping them to rent as well as sell equipment to contractors and construction crews.

    Since then, Yard Club has continued to grow its rental business, while also adding features for users. According to the company's website, Yard Club processed USD120 million in transactions across 2,500 contractors and rental companies in 2016.

    The company also moved from a transactional business based on taking a cut of rentals made on its platform to one that provides a SaaS platform to help customers manage all the pieces of equipment they own or rent. That includes tools for dispatch, scheduling and fleet visibility, as well as inspection and maintenance management.

    Competitors in the space include startups such as EquipmentShare and Getable. But compared to those companies, Yard Club has received a relatively modest amount of venture investment. Altogether, the company had raised USD5.1 million from investors that include Caterpillar, Andreessen Horowitz and Harrison Metal, to name a few.

    Now that it is a Caterpillar company, the hope is that Yard Club will be able to bring more technology to an industry that has sorely been lacking in technology.

    As part of the deal, Yard Club's 13 employees have joined Caterpillar and will act as the equipment maker's digital presence in San Francisco.
    Lightweight benchtop saw
    A review of the Worx BladeRunner X2
    PR Web: Worx
    The BladeRunner X2's features and specifications
    The Worx BladeRunner X2 on Facebook
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The Worx BladeRunner(r) X2 is a portable benchtop saw that does the work of multiple saws by making fast and accurate rip, crosscut, scroll, inside and mitre cuts using standard T-shank jigsaw blades. Sharon Blackwell, Worx product manager, said:
    What's nice about this benchtop saw is that it's not limited to only cutting wood. Oftentimes, homeowners need to cut aluminium, PVC, copper pipe or ceramic tile, and BladeRunner X2 handles all those materials by simply changing blades.

    BladeRunner X2's compact size makes a small footprint of 17 inches wide by 15 3/4 inches deep. The saw weighs 14.7 pounds (6.67kgs) and is 6 3/4 nches high, which makes for a comfortable work height when mounted to a workbench.

    An advantage of BladeRunnerX2 versus conventional benchtop saws is the ease of changing blades. There's no need for wrenches; just slide the blade release lever on the left of the tabletop to seat or release the blade. Once the blade is in position, guide rollers ensure accurate 90 degree cutting at all times.

    BladeRunner X2's adjustable hold-down arm matches the thickness of the work piece, and incorporates a splitter to help keep straight cuts on track. It holds the work piece against the table to minimise vibration, and flips out of the way when making interior cuts.

    The BladeRunner X2 fence has two adjustment knobs to align work pieces for straight and accurate rip cutting. Fence channels at both the front and rear of the tabletop have measurement scales for precise alignment. A mitre gauge also is provided for making angle cuts.

    This benchtop saw is powered by a 5.5-amp motor that delivers 3,000 strokes per minute. Its cutting capacity is 1 1/2 inch in wood, 1 1/4 inch in PVC, 3/8 inch in aluminium and ceramic tile, and 1/8 inch in mild steel. The blade stroke is 3/4 inch.

    The durable base is impact resistant and supported by four, non-marring rubber feet. Built-in storage is provided for the fence and mitre gauge. Other features include an on/off paddle switch with safety key to prevent unauthorised use, 6-foot power cord and built-in carrying handle.
    Shovel mounting bracket
    Rhino-Rack's Shovel Mounting Bracket is suitable for road trips
    HNN Sources
    Users will be able to mount a shovel onto a vehicle with multiple configuration options
    Rhino-Rack has a range of shovel holders
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The Shovel Mounting Bracket is the ideal accessory to keep a shovel at the ready when needed to dig snow, sand, mud or any other type of terrain, according to its maker Rhino-Rack.

    It mounts directly onto the Rhino-Rack Vortex crossbars or Rhino-Rack Pioneer systems. Rhino-Rack's Pioneer systems are designed to maximise load capability while freeing up space inside a vehicle.

    With easy installation and removal, users will be able to mount a shovel onto a vehicle with multiple configuration options. The brackets can be inverted to position the shovel above or below the tray and the hinged design allows mounting of a wide variety of handles as well. The safe and secure roof system holds tools to prevent any cabin damage from occurring.

    Constructed from steel with a high quality powder coated finish, this mount bracket is built to last and to hold a shovel in place for rough roads. It is backed by a 3-year warranty.
    HI News V3 No. 6: New HBT team steps up
    Download the latest issue of HI News Vol. 3, issue no. 6
    HI News
    The bathroom category is ripe for disruption
    There are increased home improvement sales at Amazon
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    This issue of HI News is mainly about Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) and its 20th anniversary gathering, held recently in Sydney. It is indirectly dedicated to Tim Starkey, its leader for many of those 20 years, and whose loss is still deeply felt.

    Simply click on the following link to download this edition:
    HI News V3 No. 6: New HBT team steps up

    We also take a look at the bathroom category and its emerging trends: ageing in place, polarisation in the market and "design dissonance".

    Bunnings is placing more of its stores on the market, both here and in New Zealand. Its website is the most visited Australian site.

    Building material companies, CSR, Adelaide Brighton and James Hardie report on their quarterly results.

    In other news, latest data seems to indicate that an increasing number of shoppers are using Amazon to buy home improvement products.

    On the international retail front, Lowe's is seriously getting into the maintenance and repair market, and Home Depot is building brick-and-mortar stores again at a slower rate. Ace Hardware delivers a solid first quarter result despite a slight dip in same-store sales.

    European big box retailer, Kingfisher has see also seen its like-for-like sales slow down in its first quarter.

    Innovative products from the HBT show are included in this issue along with Fiskars PowerGear[tm] garden tool range and the on-trend Reflekta round mirror.
    Australia's forgotten bathrooms
    Ageing in place has developed many solutions
    HNN Sources
    Kingfisher has defined the journey of the home improver
    How to make renovations changes for ageing in place
    Give to Amnesty International
    This is an edited version of the Bathroom feature. To read the entire version, go to the PDF magazine:
    HI News V3 No. 6: Australian's forgotten bathrooms

    While kitchens may still remain the "king" of home renovations, there is little doubt that bathrooms are rapidly catching up. Surveys in the US and the UK indicate that the two are coming closer to parity.

    A survey based on data collected from the US National Association of Home Builder's Remodeling Market Index (RMI) survey, which measures conditions in the remodelling market, showed that kitchens and bathrooms topped the remodel list for 2015, with kitchens hitting 81% and bathrooms 79%.

    Those numbers are based on home renovation businesses reporting their most common jobs.
    US National Association of Home Builder's Remodeling Market Index survey

    A UK report from MTW Research shows that spending on bathrooms has increased by GBP230 million over the six years between 2010 and 2016. UK homeowners are thought to have renovated some 830,000 bathrooms during 2016.
    MTW Research

    For Australia, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) paints something of mixed picture of the future for bathrooms overall. It predicts that when it comes to the installation of new bathrooms, these numbers will drop from 441,200 in 2015/16, to 338,900 in 2018/19, a decline of over 23%. This will occur as new home construction slows, according to the HIA.

    However, the decline in new home construction will likely support an increase in renovation activity. While the HIA does not forecast renovations, it suggests that the number of bathroom renovations will continue somewhere around 220,000 a year through 2018/19.
    Housing Industry Association on bathrooms
    Beneath the numbers

    While predicted numbers are nice to have, they don't really go that far in telling the real story of bathrooms. After a period of some consolidation in bathroom trends, from 2010 to 2016, HNN is seeing some signs of a more complex market developing. Rather than being influence by strong market signals from just a few sources, there are demographic and cultural differences starting to emerge that will change the nature of the bathroom industry as we move towards 2020.

    Of the trends that we do see emerging, it seems useful to concentrate on four of them in particular: ageing in place, the polarisation of the market, and, perhaps the most important, something that HNN is going to call "design dissonance".
    Ageing in place

    The easiest trend to spot, and one which is receiving much more attention internationally than in Australia, is ageing in place. The bathroom is a particular focus for the changes that older Australians need to make to their houses if they continue to live at home and not move to an aged care facility. Falls are a real health menace for older people. In 2011-12, 96,385 people aged 65 and over were hospitalised for a fall-related injury in Australia. This is three and a half times as many people who were 45 to 64 years old, according to statistics collated by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

    According to ABS statistics dating back to 1995, falls in the bathroom are a high risk, especially for men. Some 7.7% of all falls by men took place when bathing, showering or dressing, while the number was just 3.3% for women. For both genders, falls resulting from a slippery surface underfoot were 10.3% of the total.
    Bathrooms present risk: ABS statistics

    It would be possible at this point to quote from a number of surveys and studies which indicate that, despite there being solid evidence of the demographic increase in people over 70 years of age (something that will ramp up still further by the middle of the next decade), and lots of well-meaning plans and governmental initiatives, there is little evidence that much has been done to improve house safety for the elderly.

    Beyond these elements - the statistical weight of more older people, the lack of action, despite good intentions - there is another factor to consider, which is simply culture. Many of us have a fixed mental image of what it is to be older, which can include rapidly declining health, frailty, lack of mental acuity, and simply not being "with it".

    The reality of older people today is that there is far more variety than there once was. Fewer people have lived physically tough lives, more have had good nutrition constantly, most have received medical care far beyond what was possible a generation ago. Some people certainly do (unfortunately) age according to the expectations of past generations, but many do not, and it's quite likely that the "spritely" 75 year-old will become the usual, rather than the exception.

    Graeme Hugo writing in a "Policy Brief" for the Australian Population & Migration Research Centre at the University of Adelaide in early 2014 put it like this:
    The third dimension of population ageing in Australia is one which is often overlooked and relates to their characteristics. They are quite different to earlier generations entering the retirement stage of the life cycle - economically, socially, and in their values, attitudes and their expectations. This is because each cohort lives through quite different economic, social and cultural conditions, they have different levels of education, world experience, etc. Baby boomers will differ in a myriad of ways from the previous generation of older people. This will also have a major impact on the nature of the care and residential arrangements which they seek, prefer and can pay for.
    Australian Population & Migration Research Centre

    In terms of the bathroom industry today and how ageing in place affects the markets it serves, it's possible to see that market as splitting into two. At one end of the market - and this is, a little curiously, the part that seems to get much of the attention - are what we might call the "wise and well-off elderly". These are people who, at 65 or 70 years of age, will go systematically through the house where they live, and work out what they need to change in order to go on living there safely for another 20 or 25 years. They get the kerb removed from the shower (a major source of trip-and-fall), the bathroom floor resurfaced with non-skid rubber, install a walk-in sitting bathtub, put a bench in the shower, add brighter lights everywhere, and so forth.

    For many people, even in the bathroom industry, that is how they think of ageing in place, and its market potential. It is well-off couples or individuals who can spend $20,000 to $40,000 getting their house kitted out for a comfortable life as an older person.

    Yet these wise and well-off are, without doubt, a smallish minority, and the real need for ageing in place as it applies to bathrooms is far more general, more broad, and actually more urgent. For example, a March 2011 report for the NSW Ageing Disability and Home Care, Department of Human Services, entitled "Housing And Independent Living: Environmental and built factors for maintaining independence in older age" went around looking at where older people in New South Wales were living to assess how well those dwellings met their needs as older people. This is some of what they discovered, just for bathrooms:
  • 96% did not have a folding seat in the shower
  • 77% did not have a slip-resistant floor surface in the bathroom
  • 76% did not have a slip-resistant floor surface in the toilet
  • 40% did not have an easy to reach shower tap
  • 91% did not have a provision for a grab rail near the toilet
  • Additionally, 62% had problems because they did not have shower or bath grab rails to aid them.

  • Looking at overall conditions in these homes, the report states that 27% of them had eight out of a possible 25 potential hazards, and were thus at high risk of causing injury.

    This is not a market that needs to go out and spend $25,000 on kitting up the bathroom to a comfortable standard. Look at the list of things that are wrong: that's about $3,500 to maybe $6,000 that needs to be spent. To at the very least stop a 75 year-old getting a nasty fright and bad bruise, if not winding up in hospital with a broken limb, with all the potential health risk that come with being elderly and bed-ridden, that is not a significant cost.

    Now, here is the thing. We'll be looking at this more closely in the section on polarisation of the market, but go to the really very well done Bunnings bathroom gallery at:
    Bunnings bathroom gallery

    There are about 20 bathroom combinations on display there. Click through them all. Now tell me, how many grab rails did you see?

    Yeah. None.

    That is not in any way a dig at Bunnings. You could look at any of a half-dozen bathroom companies, and while they may sell grab rails, it's not there in the marketing.

    You simply are not going to see a bathroom visual display carousel for bathrooms that lists the Modern Minimalist Bathroom, the Timeless Allure Bathroom, the Black Vogue Bathroom, the Pamper Bathroom, and then the Ageing In Place Bathroom.

    And there is a good, solid, sound sensible reason for this. Really. We all know as retailers that if, say, a thirties-ish couple were to be browsing through an online bathroom catalogue, and they came across an image of handrails, non-slip mats and a shower with a folding seat, well, one of them at least would likely crawl under the bed with a pillow over their head moaning softly for an hour. For sure.

    This is, very explicitly, a retail problem, in the sense that it is a bit of an unthinking reflection of some outdated cultural notions about ageing itself. To be very clear, HNN is not making the kind of argument that if you don't have doggy doors specifically designed to accommodate blind, left-handed Beagles, you are somehow discriminating against their owners as a minority. Not at all.

    There is a good, solid market out there. At least for two or three years, it seems likely that if this market were properly explored, it could bump revenues from bathrooms up by around a good 3% or so. Yet even the ultimate market rationalist, Bunnings, which declares itself as being always on the look out for expansion markets everywhere, a company whose former CEO would declare he wanted to sell toilets to everybody everywhere without barrier or obstacle, cannot overcome a cultural bias from the past, and actually overtly market to old people.

    Built into this is also a reflection of just how fragmented the bathroom industry really is. Compare it to, for example, the solar power industry. Solar power went out and campaigned to get some massive subsidies from governments to help cover the cost of solar power installation in homes, both because this would be good for the environment, and because it would help with loading and resilience of the urban power grid. Estimates put the amount spent by government to subsidise solar roof panels in Australia for FY 2015/16 at $726 million.

    The case for subsidising ageing in place bathroom conversion is potentially much better than that for subsidising solar power. Increasing medical costs are of prime concern. Those costs will increase with an ageing population. Spending money on preventative measures in the home to make bathrooms safer makes every bit as much sense as spending on safety in the workplace.

    Imagine a program where trained assessors could help home owners determine what alterations need to be made, then arrange for a 20% to 30% discount on the materials and labour needed to perform the installation. Politically, looking after pensioners, reducing health care costs, just making "mum and dad" feel more comfortable, would surely be something of a winner.

    Yet it is unlikely to happen. Purely because the bathroom industry as it has developed is far more competitive than it is cohesive. There is no effective single voice to speak for the bathroom retail industry as a whole. It is a massive, wasted opportunity.
    Polarisation of the market

    In the home improvement/DIY sector, market polarisation is often masked by failure.

    That's an important statement to make, because of three major Anglo-based markets, US, UK and Australia, it applies more to the home improvement market in Australia than the other two. Can't DIY? Don't have the funds to pay for the high prices tradies charge for the work? Well, then, you are, simply, no longer part of the market.

    Think of it like this: right now, here in Australia, there are probably (conservatively) 85,000 couples under 35 years old with no DIY skills that could scrape up $4500 to spend on either a kitchen or bathroom renovation. That's a $38 million market, and almost no one is really catering to it.

    Instead, what the bathroom market in particular does, is to compete over different parts of the middle market. Reece goes after the higher end of the middle, Bunnings goes after the lower end, and IKEA flits between the two, offering some higher end features at the lower end price points. There is another half-dozen companies that would get allocated different points on that middle spectrum. The upper end of the market has its own suppliers and sources, most of the international companies that distribute directly through architectural firms and some house designers.

    The thing to really think through is this: that little money, few DIY skills market is just going to get bigger. Job prospects in Australia, even for those who go through universities, are not going to get magically better over the next five or six years. And we all know that DIY skills are declining through the general population.

    Much of Western Europe (let alone Eastern Europe) has been in a similar situation for well over a decade. It is almost normal in many countries to not get a "real", decent job before you turn 30, and only then if you've managed to find some work for the six years since you graduated from university.

    It was understanding this, and the way in which European society has developed, that made UK-based home improvement retailer Kingfisher choose to go down a particular path. When Veronique Laury took over as managing director of Kingfisher in February 2015, she was, after years of working for the company, aware of many of its operational inefficiencies, and knew some of what needed to be done to fix that: fewer SKUs, a centralised IT system, more rational staffing of various departments.

    What she also knew, and a basic fact that everyone in home improvement should remind themselves of from time to time, is that if Kingfisher was experiencing slipping sales revenue (as it was), that would come down to one thing: the company was not selling things that people wanted to buy.

    Ms Laury's response to this was to set out and to carefully study the markets where Kingfisher operated - Britain, France, Ireland, Poland, Russia and elsewhere - to discover how people lived, and how Kingfisher could help them improve their lives.

    What Kingfisher discovered was quite surprising. For example, Kingfisher found that in France, 39% of home improvers would abandon a bathroom renovation project well before it was completed. Of course, the comparable number in Australia is ... well, we don't know, do we? And that is precisely the point.

    Perhaps the best story Ms Laury tells about responding to the kind of market needs Kingfisher discovered doesn't have to do with bathrooms, but with fencing. Kingfisher wanted to offer some simple fencing solutions for people, fences that would be so easy to put together that if you could build a tower in Lego you would probably not have a problem.

    As they researched customers' needs as regards fences they discovered something very interesting: the majority of customers only had access to their backyards directly through their house. In other words, any material they used to repair a backyard fence would have to be carried through the front door, down the hallways, probably through a couple of narrow doorways in small rooms, and then out the backdoor.

    To quote Ms Laury's delightful way of describing this:
    Another one is the fence that you see here. This is not a completely new product. It has been developed on the basis on a product that was existing in France. And that was highly successful, but not democratic at all. So you will have different components: you have aluminum, you have wood, you have composite, you have glass, you have those kind of decorative panels. And you can assemble all of that.
    One of the things we learnt from our deep customer insight, as an example, in most people who have a garden, they don't have any way to go on the site. When they have to do things in your garden they have to go through the house. And when you are doing fencing, I promise you that going through your house with those big fencing is not easy. This one is completely disassemble, and you can put it in your car and easily go through your home with those parts. So, this is the kind of things that we do. This is how we are going to bring some new stuff to people in every of our markets.

    That wasn't an insight any other home improvement retailer had come across before. It meant that in designing these easy-to-build fences, Kingfisher would need to design them with smaller components that could be easily carried through a small house.

    Kingfisher has spent about 18 months now beginning to design and build a whole new kind of bathroom system, based on this research, and the kind of concerns it discovered about fencing. The goal of these systems is to embrace the needs of home improvers who have been at least partially forgotten by most home improvement retailers. The systems will be easy to design, easy and inexpensive to install, and adaptable to the very small bathrooms that most houses throughout Europe have.

    Nobody is doing anything like that in Australia. The market is not polarising here around people who have enough money to buy more expensive fittings, and those that are happy to find something that works, that looks nice, and that is easy to install and repair. In Australia, the real polarisation is between people who can do bathroom renovations because they possess the right combination of money and skills, and those who can't do bathroom renovations.

    It's another lost opportunity.
    Design dissonance

    "Design dissonance" is a term we are borrowing from the world of systems design in technology. Perhaps the best definition is this:
    Design dissonance occurs when a product or service sends out cognitive signals that run counter to the desired effect.

    What is being pointed to here is that design does a number of things. It should facilitate the use of whatever is being designed - of course. It should also, perhaps, unfacilitate a bad or unsafe use of what is being used. For example, the safety button on a power tool trigger makes it a little harder to use, but it makes it really hard to use it in an unsafe way, by accidentally starting it up.

    The other main function of design is to contain and communicate a narrative about the things that have been designed. When we purchase an object or simply go to use it, we might have no or just very little experience with that particular object, so we look at its design in an effort to determine how it might perform.

    Of course, this opens up the way for profitable miscommunications as well. A typical one is buying some product in a box, then opening up the box to discover that it is half-empty. The design of the box should have accurately described size or quantity, and instead it has been deceptive.

    Between those two extremes - design that accurately describes an object, and design that misleads - is an area where design can be somewhat ambiguous. The guy who buys a simple family sedan, but chooses the option to have racing stripes on it isn't being fooled into thinking the car is faster than it is. Rather he is expressing something that is aspirational. Either he wishes he could own a sports car instead of a family sedan, or that he could afford a faster car.

    A lot of retail has a high component of the aspirational attached to it. While there is certainly a place for that, from time to time the aspirational begins to overwhelm the basic reality of whatever is being sold. The situation often seems to become one of people buying half-imaginary products for half-imaginary uses.

    At least a part of the Australian bathroom industry seems to be developing toward this. In particular, looking through most of the home design magazines available today, it can be difficult to know what exactly it is they are describing, or, really, why. Take this sample of text from a picture caption in Real Living (ironically) magazine:
    A whirlpool bath (left) with matt black tapware sits among the urban jungle housed in an atrium. Dual sinks and round mirrors (above) provide a contrast to the grid design of the tiling. The greenery of the atrium (right) is complemented indoors with a small flowerbed of grasses that provide a handy border to hide the loo.

    It's a bathroom with a skylight, and underneath the skylight is a glass box with a couple of plants and a bunch of rocks. This sits between the bathtub and the shower. ("Among the urban jungle"? Really? You can just imagine saying to a designer, "I desire an urban jungle to be among".)

    What is just as interesting as the words, is the way the bathroom is portrayed in images in the magazine. There are four pages of content, spread out over six pages in the magazine (due to ad pages), consisting of three double-page spreads. The images on the first of these two spreads are a little confusing and disorienting, in that they make it hard to get a sense of this bathroom. It is only on the final spread that a clear, overall picture of the bathroom is shown - making possible the rather simple description we've provided above.

    What is clear is that the magazine is taking something of a cinematic approach to the architecture it describes. It's not designed, as the magazine in other ways suggests it is, to provide a clear overview of what is going on with this design so as to aid other designers. Instead it is designed to dazzle the eye, to introduce a narrative experience that has to do with "jungles", geometry, and secrets somehow concealed in a small brightly lit room that is wall-to-wall white tiles.

    Often when we venture into territory such as this, HNN falls back on finding some actual practitioners in the real world of whatever it is, the people who actually put things together. When it comes to bathrooms, and what people are really doing, we fell back on Klaus Tietz. Mr Tietz was, once upon a time, a hardware retailer, but swapped over for the other side of the counter and became a specialist in bathroom renovations for the past 15 years.

    His company, Bermagui Bathrooms, did most of its work in Canberra, but he has recently moved location to the south coast of New South Wales.

    This is an edited version of the Bathroom feature. To read the entire version, go to the PDF magazine:
    HI News V3 No. 6: Australian's forgotten bathrooms
    Big box update
    The Bunnings store in Gladesville will be on the corner of Victoria Road and Frank Street
    HNN Sources
    The proposed Bunnings store was to be located on the corner of Penna Avenue and Glynburn Road
    The newly-opened Bunnings store in Grey Lynn (NZ) is up for sale
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    A $26 million Bunnings at Glynde (SA) has been rejected by the local council's development panel; Bunnings is proposing additional changes to its store in Gladesville (NSW); the new Shepparton store prepares to open as the old one is sold; Bunnings Colac is being sold; Queenstown (NZ) is set to get another Bunnings store; and the just-opened Grey Lynne store in New Zealand has been placed on the market.
    Bunnings Glynde "knocked back"

    Plans for a Bunnings store in Glynde (SA) has been rejected by the local council's development panel.

    Bunnings lodged an application with Norwood, Payneham & St Peters Council to build a $26 million store on the corner of Penna Avenue and Glynburn Road. The site is located within a light industry zone.

    However panel members rejected the plans, saying the store would generate heavy traffic in the surrounding streets and would not be "manufacturing on a small scale".

    The decision comes about eight months after more than 1000 small business owners and residents signed a petition opposing the plan because of traffic concerns.

    Amanda Price-McGregor, speaking on behalf of Capaldo Investments, which owns Mitre 10 Glynde, said the Bunnings proposal was at odds with the council's development plan. She told Adelaide Now:
    It does not meet the intent of a light industry zone (and) it will have a significant, detrimental impact on the existing bulky-goods traders in the area. A large number of vehicles will avoid Glynburn Road and that will cause rat-running in the backstreets due to the easy access of roads.

    Bunnings property general manager Andrew Marks said he was disappointed with the panel's decision and said the company would now "evaluate its options".
    We will continue to work with authorities to bring investment and jobs to Glynde.

    Bunnings' application for the site was made in April 2016 and came after Home Timber & Hardware closed its store on the corner of Magill and Glynburn roads in 2015.

    Big box update: Bunnings planning SA store - HNN
    Design accommodations for Bunnings Gladesville

    The Bunnings store for the corner of Victoria Road and Frank Street in Gladesville (NSW) has planning approval, but the big box retailer has proposed more changes. These include greater setbacks to surrounding streets, reducing the size of the store, and vehicle access.

    Bunnings said one of the main reasons for the changes was to sit the store away from the retaining walls and batters to Victoria Road and Frank Street. The previous design required excavating the retaining walls, which could affect their stability and pose risks to public roads, according to the company. The changes would increase the setbacks and reduce the risk.

    The Joint Regional Planning Panel is expected to approve the proposed changes. Bunnings general manager - property, Andrew Marks told the Northern District Times that there are no firm timings on when building will begin or when the store will open.

    When the big box retailer first proposed the store, some Gladesville residents were concerned about builder traffic using residential streets. They successfully called for nearby College Street to be closed to through-traffic. Ryde Council put barriers in the street in November for a trial period.

    A council spokesman said the barriers will remain until Bunnings is operational for at least 12 months. The council will prepare a report on the findings of the trial period. Its traffic committee will consider the report to decide whether the barriers remain.
    Shepparton store opening, old store sold

    As preparations continue for the opening of the $53 million Bunnings Shepparton in regional Victoria, the company has been recruiting an additional 50 new team members to help run the store.

    Bunnings Shepparton store manager Paul Connaughton said the site would have an approximate total store size of more than 18000sqm, making it the second largest in Victoria. He told Shepparton News:
    It's a big investment in the region and in terms of employment for local people, with our team now 170-strong. Training is under way for our existing and new team members.

    Mr Connaughton said Bunnings would be in a better position to supply commercial products for the numerous building projects in Greater Shepparton, along with a wide range of home improvement and outdoor living products for its DIY customers.
    The previous Bunnings centre was bursting at the seams and the new store will make it easier than ever for customers to get what they want.

    The old, soon-to-be-vacated Bunnings site has been sold to a private Brisbane-based family for $5 million, in a deal negotiated by real estate services firm CBRE.

    Joseph Du Rieu from CBRE told the Financial Review it was his understanding the new owners intended to convert the warehouse into a large-format retail centre. The previous Bunnings Warehouse measured 6500sqm and stands on a site of almost 22,000sqm.
    Bunnings Mackay also sold

    Another Bunnings Warehouse located in South Mackay (QLD) has been purchased by listed property trust, Charter Hall Long WALE REIT for approximately $28.5 million, reflecting a yield of 5.95%.

    The $830 million Long WALE property trust - its acronym refers to weighted average lease expiry - was launched in November last year through a spin-off of properties held across the Charter Hall's unlisted platform.

    Charter Hall has a strong relationship with Bunnings and has an ownership stake across its managed funds platform in 34 Bunnings stores valued at about $1 billion.

    Big box update: Bunnings gets bigger in Shepparton - HNN
    Big box update: Mackay Bunnings up for sale - HNN
    Bunnings Colac on the market

    Real estate firm, CBRE Victorian Retail Investments is handling the sale of Bunnings Warehouse in Colac, western Victoria.

    Located at 130-138 Bromfield Street, the 6,500sqm property is secured by a 10-year net lease to Bunnings. The big box retailer has been operating from the site for two years.

    CBRE is selling the property on behalf of a local syndicate who have owned the property since developing the site in 2011. Justin Dowers from CBRE said:
    Bunnings Warehouse assets have been a highly sought after investment vehicle over the past two or so years - and given the fixed rental growth of 2.75% per annum and the secure lease in place, we anticipate this property to be well received.
    Proposed store for Frankton Flats, NZ

    Bunnings has plans to build a big box store on a 1.62ha site at Frankton Flats in Queenstown, New Zealand.

    Bunnings New Zealand general manager Jacqui Coombes told the Otago Daily Times the company had lodged a development application for a store, which would front State Highway 6.

    The application said Bunnings' planned 8119sqm store would be divided into a main warehouse building, timber trade sales area, outdoor nursery and a building materials and landscape yard, along with 134 car parks.

    The only other store in Queenstown of a similar size is Mitre 10 Mega, about 150m from the Bunnings site, which is 8000sqm. That opened 18 months ago.

    The application said Bunnings would help develop the construction sector "and will contribute to lowering the costs of construction, which in turn will assist in delivering more affordable housing, among other projects".

    The Queenstown Lakes District Council had "raised concerns" about the company occupying industrially zoned land. Its planner, however, quoted a report that "categorises [Bunnings] as, in many ways, akin to an industrial activity".

    The retailer is also consulting with the NZ Transport Agency. If approved, it would be the South Island's sixth Bunnings Warehouse. The nearest to the proposed store is in Dunedin.
    Grey Lynn NZ store for sale

    The newly-opened Bunnings Warehouse store located in Grey Lynn, an inner suburb of Auckland, New Zealand is on the market.

    Surrounded by some of the country's wealthiest suburbs, the 7207sqm site is one of the biggest private landholdings in Auckland's city fringe. Bunnings will take a new 12-year lease with eight six-year rights of renewal when a sale is settled. Whillans Realty Group managing director, Bruce Whillans, told the New Zealand Herald:
    [Bunnings] chose this site because of its prominent corner position and frontage to Great North Road, which is a major arterial route connecting Auckland's inner west suburbs with the CBD.

    The new store has been constructed using a steel portal frame, precast concrete walls and reinforced concrete floors to provide a building area of about 8872sqm. There are two levels of car parking with 212 bays connected by two sets of travellators and lifts to the main retail and trade areas.

    The nearby suburbs are undergoing substantial development and intensification because of the city's strong population growth. Demand for closeness to the CBD by both homeowners and businesses is pushing land values higher.

    Five of Auckland's 10 most affluent residential suburbs are within a 3km radius of Bunnings Grey Lynn. Over the past two years, about 300 apartments have been built within a 1km radius of the property, with a further 500 units under construction.

    Big box update: Bunnings NZ makes changes to Grey Lynn store - HNN
    Supplier update
    Demand for CSR's Gyprock product will continue despite peak in residential housing
    HNN Sources
    A house in Chantilly, Virginia (USA) using James Hardie fibre cement lap siding
    MTD Products will merge with F. Robotics Acquisitions to develop robotic mowers
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    CSR managing director Rob Sindel believes residential construction markets have peaked; Adelaide Brighton says the infrastructure spending pipeline remains strong; MTD Products is making a bigger push into the robotic lawnmower business; and James Hardie posts a rise in net profit.
    Housing has "peaked", says CSR boss

    In an interview with the Financial Review, the managing director of CSR says residential construction markets appear to have peaked. This led to an almost 12% fall in the company's shares, as investors concluded the record profits generated by its core building products division won't be repeated.

    But Rob Sindel, who has been running the company since early 2011, said there would still be solid demand for Gyprock plasterboard, tiles, bricks, insulation and walling systems on the eastern seaboard over the next year. He said the company is protected from a downturn in the high-rise apartment market because that only represents 12% of its customer base.

    Mr Sindel predicted a smooth landing as the Australian housing market adjusts from boom times. He said that while the high-rise apartment market would continue to slow down faster than the detached housing and low-rise townhouse type segment, only a sharp rise in interest rates for borrowers would trigger more serious issues for the broader market. He told the Financial Review:
    I just can't see that happening. Multi-residential is the one that will come off a bit quicker.

    It was important for housing markets observers to look more closely at the health of different types of segments in Australia. He said:
    It's actually a whole series of sub-markets.

    Mr Sindel said all of the individual businesses in CSR's building products division increased their profits over the past 12 months as they capitalised on the strength of the housing sector on Australia's east coast to deliver a record result.

    The building products arm lifted earnings before interest and tax by 21% to $202.8 million for the 12 months ended March 31, 2017. Profit margins in building products reached 12.9%, compared with 7.9% five years ago.

    However investors were concerned the outlook had now dimmed. Mr Sindel said the market had now likely peaked from the record levels of activity that had been happening, although there was still solid demand for construction products particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, with Western Australia still weak.

    He pointed to the strong run-up in CSR shares in the few weeks before the results as perhaps one of the reasons for the sell-off. He said:
    The market will decide what the price is.

    CSR's overall net profit was up 25% to $177.9 million for the year ending March 31, 2017. Total revenues were up 7% to $2.47 billion.
    Infrastructure spending strong: Adelaide Brighton

    As Australia's biggest cement supplier, Adelaide Brighton, believes there are at least three years of strong demand ahead for its products on the east coast, even if house prices start softening.

    Chief executive Martin Brydon said that, although housing approval figures were slowing from high levels, there was still a strong pipeline of orders in residential construction for up to two years, and then any slack would be picked up by rising levels of infrastructure spending on roads and other big projects. He told the Financial Review:
    Certainly the residential pipeline has got a year or two to run. We expect to be pretty busy in all of our products.

    Approximately one third of Adelaide Brighton's revenues from supplying the residential construction market. Chairman, Les Hosking, said even if residential housing prices did begin to decrease, it would have little impact on the construction market in the short term.
    It's not immediate. There are plenty of housing sites being developed now where construction hasn't even started.

    He pointed to the Badgerys Creek region in outer Sydney as a particular hot spot, where demand would be very robust in new housing construction. The federal government will oversee the building of a second airport for Sydney there.

    Demand for cement and other products is also very strong in Victoria, and Mr Brydon said while some parts of the Australian economy were going through difficult times, such as retail, the economy overall was able to navigate through the shifts fairly well.

    Adelaide Brighton expects profits in the first half of calendar 2017 to be below the same time last year, because of one-off restructuring costs and the relocation of a North Melbourne plant, even though sales volumes will be higher.

    But it expects profits in the second half of 2017 will be stronger than the same time last year, despite electricity costs likely being $8 million higher than last year.
    MTD Products gets into robotic mowers

    US outdoor power equipment manufacturer, MTD Products has entered into a merger agreement with F. Robotics Acquisitions, which makes a product called Robomow, a line of environmentally friendly, robotic residential lawn mowers sold mainly in Europe.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed. It is expected to close by July 2, pending governmental and other approvals.

    The transaction will "combine Robomow's industry-leading technology and award-winning robotic lawn mowers with MTD's broader outdoor power equipment portfolio and extensive global network of dealers," MTD said in a statement. CEO Rob Moll said:
    Both MTD and Robomow see tremendous opportunities to grow our brands through this merger of our products and talents.

    He said MTD plans to market Robomow technology under the company's Cub Cadet and WOLF-Garten brands.

    Mr Moll noted that technology "has already taken hold in Europe, and the market is growing globally at a rate of 15% or more annually."

    If the merger is completed, F. Robotics' operations would remain headquartered in Pardesiya, Israel. Its existing management team would continue to lead the company with support from MTD's European, North American and Asia-Pacific divisions. Udi Peless, CEO of F. Robotics, said:
    For the last 22 years we have been focused on developing innovative technologies and leading robotic mowing products. We are excited to see this investment reach its full potential in the market via MTD's leading brands and distribution.

    MTD already markets the Cub Cadet RG3, a robotic mower for golf greens. In 2015, it bought two companies that strengthened its technological capabilities: CORE Outdoor Power, which MTD says offers motor technology that "provides greater torque and efficiency than traditional electric motors in cordless battery applications", and Precise Path Robotics, which added the RG3 to MTD's offerings.

    MTD Products makes acquisitions - HNN
    James Hardie posts a rise in net profit

    Building materials supplier James Hardie has posted a 13% rise in full- year profit largely due to strong housing construction in its core US market.

    The company's bottom-line profits were $371.8 million in the year to March 31, as sales rose 11% to $2.57 billion.

    Sales of fibre cement - the group's flagship product - were up 12% in the US. Housing market activity in Australia and New Zealand underpinned a 22% rise in earnings from its fibre cement business outside of the US, including Asia and the Middle East. In reference to a drop in sales in the Philippines due to imports from competitors, chief executive Louis Gries said:
    Asia Pacific had a good year - the only bump in the road was the Philippines.

    Its Australian operations were strong, with improvements in volume, price, costs and the efficiency of its new cement plant in Queensland, he said. The performance of the Australian business is expected to be steady in the 2017-18 financial year, Mr Gries added.

    Modest growth in the US housing market is also expected to continue into the current financial year.

    A $51.74 million decrease in the value of James Hardie's estimated asbestos liabilities also boosted the company's bottom line. Claims for mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, were down 6% to 373 in 2016/17. There were two large mesothelioma settlements worth more than $1.34 million in the year.

    Total claims for all asbestos-related compensation fell 3% from the prior year to 557, and the average settlement dropped 10% in value. Large claim settlements amounted to $4.4 million. This is down from $13.3 million in the prior year and significantly lower than the company's forecast of $24 million in claims.
    Retail update
    American shoppers are increasingly turning to Amazon to buy tools and home improvement
    HNN Sources
    Bunnings beats JB Hi-Fi as the most visited Australian retail website
    Core business performance delivered record half-year profits for Ruralco
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    More US shoppers are buying home improvement goods on Amazon; new study shows Bunnings is the most visited Australian retail website; and Ruralco's core business helps to deliver its best ever half year profit.
    Amazon making inroads in home improvement

    According to research from One Click Retail, American shoppers are increasingly turning to Amazon to buy tools and home improvement, outdoor and sporting goods, and home appliances.

    In the tools and home improvement category, Amazon had an overall growth rate in 2016 of 35% over the previous year, compared to the US domestic market's total growth of 6%. Sales of woodworking items rose 30%, while sales of garage storage products increased 35%.

    Nathan Rigby, vice-president, One Click Retail, which specialises in eCommerce data measurement, sales analytics and search, said:
    Though often seen as an Amazon-proof industry, the old-fashioned American hardware store is not untouchable. Amazon has all the same advantages in the tools and home improvement sector that it has in grocery, beauty products and health care - and we've seen plenty of evidence of those industries feeling the Amazon Effect. As more uber-connected millennials enter home ownership, Amazon's share of this product group, like many others, will continue to grow at a disruptive rate.

    In the outdoor and sporting goods category, Amazon's 20% year-over-year growth in 2016 was four times the rate of the overall market, according to One Click Retail. Mr Rigby said:
    Amazon understands that it's the consumer driving the company's success. The ways they are innovating new services and offerings, they are doing so with one thing in mind: is this what the consumer wants?
    E-commerce sales near USD11bn

    Global information company, The NPD Group also finds that online sales of home improvement products have grown 41% in the 12 months ending March 2017.

    The e-commerce home improvement market reached USD10.9 billion in sales for the year, according to NPD's receipt mining service, Checkout TrackingSM.

    With the exception of outdoor living, online sales of each major segment of the home improvement market grew in the 12 months ending March 2017, and almost every category tracked within those segments experienced double-digit online dollar growth.

    The fastest growing categories last year were plumbing pipes and fittings, light bulbs, and ceiling fans, and the categories with the largest online sales gains were home decor, light fixtures and lamps, and rugs. Joe Derochowski, executive director and home industry analyst at NPD, said:
    The pace at which e-commerce is gaining acceptance among home improvement consumers emphasises the need to understand how consumers are utilising online and in-store shopping options, and how to make them work together.
    Marketers can capture the replenishment of commodity products, like light bulbs and air filters, by offering online convenience, but there are also opportunities to benefit from consumer showrooming for bigger ticket items, like bathtubs and vanities, with the in-store experience.

    NPD's Checkout Tracking E-commerce information illustrates that the online sales growth reaches across a variety of home improvement categories and consumer age groups.

    Millennials are a driving force behind this online growth, with the younger segment growing at the fastest pace, and the older portion accounting for the largest share of dollar gains. However, gen X and the baby boomer generation are also very active in online home improvement spending, representing almost two-thirds of industry sales for the year. Mr Derochowski said:
    The current demographic changes are driving increases in the number of people entering life stages that are important to home improvement categories, from first-time home-buyers to downsizing empty-nesters, the industry is in a prime position to help consumers today and develop new shopping habits that will last for decades to come.

    On Amazon now you can add tradies to shopping cart - HNN
    Retail industry development in 2017 - HNN
    Bunnings is most visited Australian retail site

    A new study into the visitation of Australian retail websites has seen Bunnings beat JB Hi-Fi for the number one spot.

    The research, by global discount platform Cuponation, found that Bunnings had 25.58 million hits to its site between January to March 2017. However, when international sites were added into the mix, Ebay was the clear winner with 215.38 million hits in the same period.

    Amazon came in at second spot, an indication that Aussies are comfortable with online behemoth.

    It follows on from reports that Amazon will "disrupt" traditional retailers such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman when it finally arrives in Australia and another study that found searches for anything "Amazon" in Australia had jumped 93% since July last year. In the research, Cuponation also noted:
    Users from Australia are big consumers of foreign webshops...It's a big challenge for domestic webshops to keep up with the foreign ones. The competition is hitting hard and consumers tend to find alternatives in other markets and through other e-commerce channels.

    The top 10 Aussie sites were the following:

    1) 25.58 million

    2) 25.06 million

    3) 19.28 million

    4) 15.90 million

    5) 14.61 million

    6) 14.54 million

    7) 13.99 million

    8) 12.37 million

    9) 11.07 million

    10) 8.98 million

    The top 10 most visited retail sites (when overseas sites are included):

    1) 215.38 million

    2) 62.13 million

    3) 36.11 million

    4) 25.58 million

    5) 25.06 million

    6) 19.28 million

    7) 15.90 million

    8) 14.61 million

    9) 14.54 million

    10) 13.99 million
    Record half-year profit for Ruralco

    Ruralco, owner of the CRT group of independent rural retailers, reported net profit after tax for the first half of the year jumped 15% to $12.4 million, up from $10.8 million in the previous corresponding period.

    Revenue of $841.4 million was up 4% on first half 2016.

    Ruralco Holdings managing director and chief executive officer Travis Dillon is pleased with the "core business" performance that delivered record half-year profits on the back of good seasonal conditions across regional Australia.

    Strong sales growth in rural merchandise, fertiliser and crop protection chemicals, high average livestock prices, recovery in the wool market and increased real estate sales volumes at higher average prices drove a strong performance by its rural services division, Ruralco said.

    Gross half-year profit for the division was $132.7 million from revenue of $697.1 million compared to $118.4 million from $694.3 million for the same period last year, it told the Australian Securities Exchange recently.

    But while higher than average rains across agricultural regions boosted rural services, it had the opposite effect on the company's water services division. Gross division profit slipped $2 million in the half to $27.5 million on revenue up from $96.7 million to $102.3 million.

    Geographical concentration of its irrigation supplies and water trading businesses in above average rainfall areas in the west and south of the country contributed to the impact of the rains, Ruralco said.

    But completed acquisitions of 14 new businesses during the half year - including Great Northern Rural Service, Geraldton (WA) - in key catchment areas and agricultural centres was expected to diversify the division's earnings base for the future, the company said.

    Company focus in the second half of the year will be to optimise operational and financial performance of its newly integrated business acquisitions and the Ausure Consolidated Brokers joint venture in its insurance business.

    It would also continue to the commercialisation of an unmanned aviation vehicle (UAV) with PrecisionHawk and UAV flight services expert The Ripper Group.
    Seeking opportunities
    An opening for an experienced CRM manager to join TTI's marketing team
    HNN Sources
    A residential account manager is wanted at USG Boral
    CSR Bradford's sales manager will be based in the Scoresby (VIC) office
    Visit the Mecca Website
    An opportunity exists for an experienced CRM Manager to join the marketing team at Techtronic Industries; USG Boral is looking for a residential account manager based in Port Melbourne; and a sales management role at CSR Bradford.

    Click on the logos to find out more about each role.
    CRM focus for TTI brands

    As the CRM manager at Techtronic Industries, the focus will be to develop, implement and manage the company's CRM strategy. This means acquiring and retaining consumers while helping the brands boost market share across the board.
    An opening for an experienced CRM manager to join TTI's marketing team
    Solution based sales

    The residential account manager at USG Boral will have responsibility to grow the market and work closely with the sales team to service residential builders and contractors. The aim is to provide sound and well-rounded options to customers.
    A residential account manager is wanted at USG Boral
    Leading insulation sales

    The sales manager at CSR Bradford will have the responsibility for both the sales revenue and profitability of their respective segment. Leading a technical team, the role involves growing the business through outstanding people and account management practices.
    CSR Bradford's sales manager will be based in the Scoresby (VIC) office
    USA update
    Home Depot is building new stores again at a slower rate
    HNN Sources
    The weather is not to blame for Ace Hardware's Q1 results
    The Bionic Wrench is at the centre of LoggerHead Tools' legal fight against Sears
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    Home Depot is opening new bricks-and-mortar stores; Lowe's is buying two companies that serve owners and managers of rental properties; Ace said Q1 same store sales fell; Reliance Worldwide is buying Holdrite to build a strong foundation in the North American new construction market; LoggerHead Tools has a legal win against Sears; and the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas has just ended for another year.
    Home Depot building stores again - slowly

    Big box retailer Home Depot is adding six stores this year, resuming modest expansion as it continues to outpace the troubled US retail sector. "We haven't opened a US store since 2013," chief financial officer Carol Tome told the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).

    Three of the new stores are in the US - locations in Florida and Texas are already open, while another is planned in Louisiana.

    Ms Tome spoke with the AJC after Home Depot reported that sales rose 4.5% to USD23.9% in the company's first quarter.

    The company virtually froze expansion during the housing crash and recession, trimming costs and avoiding the kind of over-reach and painful retreat suffered by many retailers.

    Now, Home Depot still won't build and open a new store unless number-crunching warrants the investment, Ms Tome said.

    In assessing sites, the company looks at data including the number of households in the area, the average spending of those households and the presence - or absence - of competitors like Lowe's, Ms Tome said.
    There's a lot of math [involved].

    But the math says there are still areas where Home Depot sees a "void", a spot where an extension of the big box brand would do well. Ms Tome said:
    There aren't many of those voids, but there are a few.

    Despite adding only a handful of stores, Home Depot has steadily grown revenue for the past several years.

    Home Depot recently reported that its sales per square foot of store space had climbed 4.6% from a year ago. Yet by that measure Home Depot is still well below its most efficient year of 1999, Ms Tome said.
    I want to get back to that peak. We have to just continue to do what we do.

    Company officials said they expect to end 2017 with sales about 4.6% higher than last year.
    Lowe's buys maintenance company

    Lowe's Home Improvement said it has agreed to buy two companies that sell products to apartment building managers and owners, in moves aimed at diversifying its business beyond DIY homeowners.

    The retailer said it would pay USD512 million for Maintenance Supply Headquarters, which sells appliances, flooring, lighting and other supplies primarily to apartment complexes.

    Lowe's said that in November it bought Central Wholesalers, an apartment supplier.

    The two firms primarily serve owners and managers of rental properties and other multifamily buildings.

    Lowe's has been working to make itself a go-to source for professional customers, such as contractors, who regularly place bigger orders than the average customer. Pros make up a relatively small portion of Lowe's shopper base, but the company has said the pro business is growing faster than the DIY home improvement market.

    The surge of apartment building development all over the US presents a particularly large opportunity for the company's pro customer business. Richard Maltsbarger, Lowe's chief development officer and president of international, told the Charlotte Observer:
    With the growth of multifamily (construction) that has occurred over the last decade, as well as what will occur going forward, it gives us a great chance to access the more than 30% of Americans who rent their place of residence.
    First quarter results

    Lowe's recently reported that net sales increased 10.7% to USD16.9 billion in the first quarter compared with the previous corresponding period (pcp). However, that figure fell short of analyst expectations of USD19.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    Comparable sales increased company-wide by 1.9% and by 2% in the US. It had Q1 earnings of USD602 million, compared to net earnings of USD884 million in the pcp. Robert Niblock, Lowe's chairman, president and CEO, said in a statement:
    A solid macroeconomic backdrop, combined with our project expertise, drove above average performance in indoor projects. We also continued to advance our sales to pro customers, delivering another quarter of comparable sales growth well above the company average.
    Ace same store sales dip in Q1

    Ace Hardware reported an increase in net income and a dip in comparable store sales during the first quarter. In this quarter, the retail co-operative posted net income of USD28.3 million versus USD26.1 million in the period a year prior. This represents an increase of USD2.2 million or 8.4%.

    The company noted that comparable store sales reported by the approximately 3,000 Ace retailers who share daily retail sales data decreased by 0.2% versus the same period a year before. The company stated the slight decline resulted from lower customer traffic.

    Retail revenues from Ace Retail Holdings (ie. corporate-owned stores) were USD52million in the first quarter of 2017. This was an increase of USD1.4 million, or 2.8%, from the first quarter of 2016. The increase was the result of new retail stores that have been added from the previous corresponding period (pcp).

    Within these stores, same store sales decreased 3% compared to the first quarter of 2016.

    Overall revenues were USD1.24 billion, an increase of $1.4 million or up 0.1% from the pcp.

    Wholesale revenue was flat with the year earlier at USD1.19 billion while retail revenue increased to USD52 million from USD50.6 million. Operating income was USD31.2 million versus USD28.8 million in the period a year previous.

    Ace added 16 new domestic stores in first quarter of 2017 and cancelled 21 stores. This brought the company's total domestic store count to 4,358 at the end of the first quarter of 2017, an increase of 56 stores from the first quarter of 2016.

    On an international level, Ace added 30 stores in the first quarter of 2017 and cancelled 21, bringing the worldwide store count to 5,003 at the end of the first quarter of 2017.

    John Venhuizen, Ace president and CEO, said:
    I'm delighted to report an 8.4% increase in net income, a double digit jump in accrued patronage dividends for our owners and surpassing a global store count of 5,000 stores in the quarter. While revenue improved, our increase fell short of our expectations. And despite the obvious temptation, I'll resist pinning the blame on the less than favourable weather.
    Reliance is acquiring Holdrite

    Reliance Worldwide Corp (RWC) has diversified its business with an acquisition that exposes it to the North American new construction market. The company will purchase Securus, trading as Holdrite, for USD92.5 million. The deal will be funded by debt and completion is expected by end of June.

    Holdrite has generated over 20% revenue growth in the past three years and remains a market leader in many of its product categories. The acquisition also offers additional R&D and innovation capability.

    The transaction provides the existing Reliance business with a strong foundation in the North American new construction market and the means to grow sales of EvoPex and SharkBite 2XL. Conversely, the company's experience in retail distribution should support future growth for Holdrite products through this channel.

    Holdrite provides engineered products and services such as water heater accessories, fittings restraints, fire stop systems, secondary pipe support and acoustic isolation to plumbers and contractors.

    Over 98% of the product sales are in the US and Canada, largely through wholesale distributors. Holdrite has a manufacturing facility in Tennessee and distribution centres in Tennessee and Nevada.

    Holdrite currently generates a small portion of sales through The Home Depot and Lowe's and there may be scope for Reliance to expand its presence with both retailers.

    Supplier update: Lowe's stocking Reliance products - HNN
    Supplier update: Billion dollar market cap - HNN
    Jury rules for small tool maker

    Almost five years after suing Sears Holdings for knocking off its wrench invention, a company based in the Chicago suburbs has prevailed. A jury in a US District Court in Chicago has ruled that Sears and tool supplier Apex Tools willfully infringed on the patents of LoggerHead Tools, awarding it USD6 million in damages.

    Dan Brown Sr. and his son, Dan Jr., run LoggerHead together. The company's main product is the Bionic Wrench, which the elder Mr Brown invented after watching his then-teenager struggle to loosen nuts on a lawnmower with pliers.

    The creation, which adjusts like pliers but grips like a wrench, was an immediate hit when it debuted in 2005. The Bionic Wrench sold almost 10,000 units during the opening minutes of its debut on QVC, the home shopping network, and flew off shelves at Sears and Ace Hardware. The product was also honoured by the Chicago Innovation Awards in 2006. Its success did not go unnoticed.

    In 2012, a LoggerHead customer approached Dan Sr. and mentioned that he'd seen a Bionic Wrench at Sears - but instead of the tool's trademark green packaging and accents, this one had a red-and-black motif affiliated with Sears' Craftsman brand. Was LoggerHead now making private-label wrenches for Craftsman, the customer asked? It was not.

    The real Bionic Wrench, which is manufactured in the US, costs USD24.99. The knockoff, called the MaxAxess was made in China by Apex, and cost USD11.99 at Sears.

    In addition to violating Dan Sr.'s patent, the MaxAxess also threatened LoggerHead's business model. Dan Brown Jr told Chicago Business:
    We only sell patented products. Because they're patented, we think we can get a value-added price, which allows us to pay more to manufacture in the US.

    There was no way LoggerHead could stay in business by halving its price.

    Of course, suing not one but two corporate behemoths is a daunting task for a small business. Sears booked USD22.1 billion in sales in 2016. Apex was purchased by Bain Capital in 2013 for an estimated USD1.6 billion.

    LoggerHead, which has sold about two million wrenches since 2005, isn't quite in the same league. Dan Jr. said:
    We knew we had strong intellectual property, but we also knew this was going to be a David vs. Goliath battle and that getting to a jury trial would be difficult.

    The Browns spent a lot on five years of legal costs, according to Dan Jr. In the end, though, he said both he and his father are thrilled with the result.

    Sears noted that the court previously dismissed Loggerhead's fraud claims and that the retailer was defended and indemnified by Apex on the patent claim. Nonetheless, the company said in a statement that it was "disappointed in the jury's finding".
    Suing and being sued

    Sears is also suing a major tool vendor that it says refused to honour its contract with the retailer. The lawsuit follows on from the threats that Sears CEO Eddie Lampert made in a blog post recently.

    Mr Lampert said One World Technologies was trying to "embarrass" Sears and "take unfair advantage" of the retailer by changing the terms of its supplier agreement or threatening to cancel its contract with Sears altogether.

    One World Technologies is a subsidiary of China-based Techtronic Industries that manufactures power tools and other products under the Craftsman brand.

    The lawsuit claims that the tool vendor threatened to cancel its contract with Sears because of concerns about the retailer's financial stability unless Sears agreed to cut back its orders, the Chicago Tribune reported.

    Sears says it has always paid its suppliers on time and claims One World Technologies is trying to take advantage of negative rumours and media reports about Sears' viability to change the terms of its contract.

    Mr Lampert said One World planned to file a lawsuit against Sears "as they seek to embarrass us in the media to force us to let them out of their contract. But Sears has nothing to be embarrassed about - we have lived up to our word under our contract, and we will take the appropriate legal action to protect our rights and ensure that One World honours their contract."

    Mr Lampert said Sears had helped One World "build a formidable presence in the tool industry" over their nine-year relationship. He said Sears had paid the company more than USD868 million since 2007.
    2017 National Hardware Show

    Organisers of the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA) said that over 30,000 industry professionals, including more than 2,600 exhibitors, attended this year's event.

    New Product Launch and Inventors Spotlight were once again popular areas to find up-and-coming products. One product that attracted attention was the Snapatite, a plastic multi-use utensil that includes a spoon, fork, knife and bottle opener.

    First-time exhibitor, Monkey Rung is a ladder accessory tool that can connect on just about any type of ladder.

    The NRHA Village Stage stayed busy with a number of speakers that discussed a variety of topics. The keynote speaker on the first day was Dr Kit Yarrow, with "Decoding the New Consumer Mind". Her presentation is based on a book of the same name, which discusses how consumers have changed their shopping habits over the years. Dr Yarrow said:
    The No. 1 thing customers say they want is omnichannel retailing. Customers say they prefer to go to a store, but it's just so complicated to get there. Bring technology into the store to help customers understand what they are about to buy.

    The second day's keynote speaker was retail expert Mary Walter with "Your Remarkable Service Advantage". She spoke about how independent retailers can set themselves apart through personalised customer service. Ms Walter said:
    Protect yourself by exploiting your local knowledge. Make things easy for customers. Provide easy checkouts and fast returns, and make it easy for customers to find things in your store. Make sure to provide that human connection-you win in this area, and you have an advantage no one can touch.

    Caribou Jack's Trading Co. in Soda Springs, Idaho, was announced as the winner of the Reimagine Retail program, which is sponsored by the National Hardware Show. It will give owner Robert Lau and his staff USD100,000 to build an in-store cafe, where they can host in-store BBQs and cooking events, and provide a space for locals to use at no charge.

    The North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) recognised its Young Retailer of the Year honourees the night before the show opened. These innovative retailers are 35 years old and younger and are helping grow their businesses, continuing their hardware education and contributing to their local communities.
    Europe update
    HNN Sources
    Toolstation customers are very satisfied with the DIY retailer
    Officeworks executive David Haydon is moving to Homebase
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    Corporate restructure continues at Kingfisher impacting sales in the first quarter; Toolstation has beaten larger rivals in terms of customer satisfaction among British shoppers; and Officeworks' second-in-charge moving to Homebase for Bunnings UK & Ireland.
    Slower sales at Kingfisher in Q1

    Home improvement big box retailer Kingfisher reported solid UK growth for the first quarter of its financial year, but total like-for-like sales were dragged down by continued weaker sales in France and disruption from its own restructuring plans.

    Total group sales in the three months to 30 April of GBP2.86 billion were up 5% on the previous corresponding period (pcp) but down 0.6% on a LFL (like-for-like) basis at constant currency rates.

    This compared to a fourth quarter that saw 0.7% group LFL growth and a first quarter last year where LFL sales increased 2.3%.

    UK and Irish sales were up 1.5% to GBP1.27 billion and up 3.5% on a LFL basis, with B&Q up 0.5% and Screwfix up 12.6%.

    French sales from the Castorama and Brico Depot chains rose 3.8% on a reported basis to GBP1.09 billion, but LFL constant currency sales were down 5.5%.

    Other European operations saw sales leap 18.4% to GBP0.51 billion, up 0.7% LFL at constant currencies, entirely from growth in Poland, with Russia and Spain still negative.

    Chief executive Veronique Laury, architect of the One Kingfisher transformation plan, said the business remained on track amid her sizeable piece of corporate DIY.
    We are experiencing some business disruption given the volume of change, as we clear old ranges, remerchandise new ranges and continue the roll out of our unified IT platform. However, we are on track to deliver our Year 2 strategic milestones. Early customer reaction to our new ranges is encouraging, especially in France where our new unique bathroom ranges are launching first.

    Ms Laury is planning to unify 20% of product ranges compared to the 4% last year, before gearing up for unifying 55% next year. Around a quarter of space in-store is expected to be disrupted this year, up from 3% in FY 2017 from range changes.

    Online sales should benefit from adoption of a new IT platform, which is now live in nearly a third of Castorama France stores, which Ms Laury said will enable the building of a much stronger digital offer.
    New B&Q boss

    Kingsfisher has also confirmed the appointment of Christian Mazauric as its new CEO of B&Q.

    Mr Mazauric, who has been with Kingfisher for over 16 years, was previously the financial director at B&Q and currently runs its sister company Brico Depot in Romania.

    In taking over the role, Mr Mazauric replaces former B&Q boss Michael Loeve who left earlier this year to become the head of Danish discount supermarket Netto.
    Toolstation tops customer satisfaction poll

    UK DIY store Toolstation has beaten department store Harvey Nichols and hi-tech retailer Apple, and 98 others, in a survey of customer satisfaction and how likely consumers were to recommend the retailer.

    Toolstation finished joint-top with Richer Sounds, a British home entertainment retailer, in the annual Which? magazine consumer survey. It finished joint-top for the second year in a row after sharing the crown with department store chain John Lewis in 2016.

    The joint-winners both achieved a customer score - based on satisfaction and likelihood of recommendation - of 80% in the poll of 10,214 consumers asked about their shopping experiences at 100 retailers over the past six months.

    The DIY firm's parent company, Travis Perkins, reported an increase in its retail sales of 4.4% in its first quarter for 2017. Which? editor Richard Headland told the Daily Mail:
    The best retailers, Richer Sounds and Toolstation, continue to strike the right balance by selling quality products at reasonable prices. It's a simple formula, but that's why they consistently score well with shoppers in the Which? survey.

    Toolstation marketing director John Meaden said:
    We are delighted that our customers have spoken highly of their experience when buying from us and are pleased to be named joint top of the survey ahead of some great names.
    Management move at BUKI

    Officeworks executive David Haydon has been named trading and commercial manager of Homebase, in Wesfarmers' Bunnings UK and Ireland division (BUKI). Stationery News reports that he was widely tipped to succeed Mark Ward as managing director of Officeworks,

    Mr Haydon joined Officeworks in 2013 as its director of merchandise, marketing, supply chain, store development and e-commerce. He is credited with rejuvenating the Officeworks product range, driving its "every channel" strategy, and turning it into one of Wesfarmers' fast-growth businesses.

    Mr Haydon will bring to his new role a solid background in hardware, having held senior roles for leading British hardware chains B&Q and Wickes, both of which are now competitors with Bunnings as it ramps up its store network through Britain and Ireland.

    Mr Haydon will join the Bunnings UK leadership team in late June, reporting to BUKI managing director Peter Davis. He will also sit on the company's steering committee.

    Before joining Officeworks, Mr Haydon was commercial and marketing director for Kingfisher's international businesses, overseeing commercial and marketing strategies for China, Poland, Russia and Turkey.

    At B&Q he was director of trading and commercial strategy, and has worked at other large retailers including Wickes and Superdrug.

    Mr Haydon's move to Bunnings UK follows the recent announcement by Wesfarmers that it has shelved plans for an initial public offering for Officeworks It is believed Mr Haydon's decision to leave was a personal one and not linked to the decision to pull the plug on a float for Officeworks.
    More power, less effort
    The PowerGear X loppers feature the patented PowerGear X mechanism
    HNN Sources
    The bypass pruners have three times more power than traditional pruners, according to Fiskars
    The PowerGear X shears have optimised tool balance, control and weight distribution
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Fiskars' PowerGear[tm] technology has evolved to improve on the pruners, tree loppers and shears.

    With three times more power than traditional pruners, the PowerGear X range can help tackle tough jobs with ease. The mix of lightweight yet durable materials as well as innovative design have trimmed the weight of the PowerGear X range, providing an easy, more comfortable user experience.

    3D SoftGrip[tm] contour moulding will prevent slipping and reduce fatigue for the avid gardener. It is designed for a splinter-free grip and has anti-shock surface structures.

    The PowerGear X bypass pruners are simple to disassemble and reassemble for maintenance. They are available in two sizes with cutting capacities of 20mm and 26mm.

    The PowerGear X loppers come into their own when faced with young and tough green branches. Thanks to the patented PowerGear X mechanism, users will be able to effortlessly carve through branches of up to 55mm in diameter because cutting is up to three and a half times easier compared to standard loppers, according to Fiskars.

    Its PowerGear X shears have optimised tool balance, control, and improved weight distribution. They are a powerful tool when shaping, cutting and trimming bushes and hedges.
    Secure your load
    The Rhino-Rack Pioneer Trays can fit an existing roof rack system
    HNN Sources
    The Pioneer Tray securely transports cargo and adventure gear on 4WDs or utilities
    The Pioneer Elevation is designed to transport ladders, pipes and work-related products
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Since developing the first of its kind lightweight aluminium rooftop carrier in 2010, Rhino-Rack has confirmed its reputation for durable and user friendly off road vehicle products.

    Constructed from aluminium and fibreglass reinforced nylon, the Pioneer range of rooftop accessories are suitable for both off-road enthusiasts and highway commuters.

    With a sleek and low profile design, the Pioneer Platform offers minimal wind drag and noise on the road. With a flat design and no side rails, the Pioneer Platform provides easy access to gear from all four sides. Simply slide goods on and off the roof and secure them to the bars or utilise the C-channel rail design and additional eyebolts.

    The Pioneer Tradie is a solution for the transportation of ladders, construction equipment and long loads that extend beyond the base of the platform. Fully welded rails on two sides provide a rigid tie down point, with hand grips built into the design.

    The versatile Pioneer Tray has been built to maximise load capability and provide added security against shifting loads while driving, and has a front wind fairing to facilitate a quieter drive. It also has a fully welded, closed rail sidewall.

    As a result of built in C channels running along the bars of the Pioneer range, many accessory options are available including jerry can holders, spare tyre mounts, bicycle carriers, fishing rod holders and more.

    The Rhino-Rack Pioneer Trays will fit an existing roof rack system as well as the Rhino-Rack low profile Backbone System. Finished with high quality powder coating, the racks will not rust or fade, and is backed by a 5-year warranty.
    HI News V3 No. 5: Sleeping tool giants wake up
    Download the latest issue of HI News Vol. 3, issue no. 5
    HI News
    Bosch Easy Cut 12 is part of the power tools feature on page 35
    Porters takes over four Woodman's Mitre 10 stores in Queensland
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The latest edition of HI News takes a closer look at the innovation cycles at Stanley Black & Decker (SBD), and the power tools division of Bosch.

    Simply click on the following link to download this edition:
    HI News V3 No. 5: Which power tool company gets to own 2020

    As impressive as SBD has been with its recent product developments, it is really Bosch Power Tools that has begun to show it can take advantage of the very big potential the company has, both with its stand-alone expertise and history, and through its association with the larger Bosch company, and its ongoing research into sensors.

    This issue also includes our regular, in-depth look at the kitchen category. Freedom Kitchens is launching a flatpack range, IKEA has stopped advertising, while Kaboodle has refined its digital marketing approach.

    For the first time, we have put together a guide to the HBT Conference that started on May 10.

    In terms of retailer news, Mackay-based independent hardware business, Porters has acquired four Woodman's Mitre 10 stores in Queensland. Managing director Gavan Porter Snr said the company purchased the stores located in Sarina, Marian, Proserpine and Cannonvale (QLD).

    Big box retailer Bunnings United Kingdom & Ireland has revealed its fifth store location and B&Q has finally found success in China through e-commerce.

    Outdoor power equipment maker, Husqvarna has begun a pilot project in Stockholm, Sweden, for homeowners to access pay-per-use power tools for the garden.

    Featured products in this edition include sustainable wallboard from USG Boral, Krylon's new spray paint for outdoor decor, and Kwikset's Z-wave enable locks, to name a few.
    Sleeping tool giants charge up
    FLEXVolt is Stanley Black & Decker's main innovation
    HNN Sources
    Bosch Easy Cut 12 promises to make craft tasks simpler
    Bosch has introduced professional connected grinders
    Give to Amnesty International
    This is an edited version of the story. For the full version, please go to the current issue of HI News PDF magazine:

    What is the big news in power tools for 2017? It might just surprise you.

    US/Hong Kong company Techtronic Industries (TTI), makers of Milwaukee, Ryobi and AEG tools, continues to develop its niche product line, but as HNN described in our lengthy analysis last issue, it's likely on a tick-tock-tock cycle, with strong innovation coming every third year.

    In fact, our take on TTI at the moment is that it seems that while the company's CEO, Joe Galli, is enthusiastic about more rapid future development, he's being "braked" a little by the company's investors, who don't have his appetite for innovation.

    Makita, as always, has gone ahead down its path of quiet excellence. There is something very Makita-like about its launch of a compact 18-volt cordless line of tools, making use, of course, of its standard 18-volt battery, but with a tool body size close to that of 12-volt tools.

    However, Makita is struggling with a very difficult problem: for a company renowned for its great designs and high standards of manufacture, how does it develop a less-expensive, "value" brand that doesn't cannibalise its main brand? The MT Series partially answered that question in 2016, but while parts of its range (for example, the corded routers) make sense, the cordless tools, in the Australian market, really do not. (HNN will be looking in more detail at both Makita and Hitachi in the next issue of HI News.)

    That leaves us with two remaining large power tool companies, US company Stanley Black & Decker (SBD), and the power tools division of the vast German firm that is Bosch.

    The two companies have much in common, in addition to their size. SBD seemed to emerge during the past year from a five-year process of digesting the merger between the two big companies (Stanley Tools and Black & Decker). Not only did it bring out some real innovations in its FLEXVolt range, but it has also gone on the acquisition path again, getting hold of the well-respected and familiar Sears Craftsman brand of tools.

    Its DeWalt brand also "teased" details of network-connected tools, which appeared (by a remarkable coincidence) just as TTI was releasing its annual results. The teaser was largely images, with only one sentence that declared anything definitive:
    Tool Connect[tm] updates are coming soon; including a new app, inventory management software, and 3 new ways to connect anything on your jobsite. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months.

    That was three months ago, and there doesn't seem to have been any further information released. It will be interesting to see if we learn more over the coming three months.

    As impressive as SBD has been with its developments, however, it's really Bosch Power Tools that has begun to show it can take advantage of the very big potential the company has, both with its stand-alone expertise and history, and through its association with the larger Bosch company, and its ongoing research into sensors. While it is likely that 2017 won't be an outstanding year for the company (only a good one), both 2018 and 2019 could turn out to be significant, not only for Bosch itself, but for the industry as well.
    Stanley Black & Decker

    SBD recently released its results for the first quarter of its FY2016/17. The company reported overall revenues of USD2,800 million, up by 5% over the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was the first quarter of FY2015/16.

    SBD also noted that its operations had become more profitable, with an operating margin up by 1.1% on the pcp (excluding merger costs). Gross margin was 38%, up by 1.4% on the pcp. Excluding one-off items, earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) were up by around 8.5%.

    Australia did not perform especially well, with its revenues slipping by 3%, following a similar decline in the fourth quarter to FY2015/16. North America currently accounts for 65% of the company's overall revenues, while Europe accounts for 18%.
    Tools and storage

    The company's tools and storage division outperformed other divisions, returning a net revenue increase of 6%. SBD states that overall revenues increased by 9% over the pcp, lifted by volume expanding by 6%, and acquisitions adding a further 4%. Fluctuations in currency exchange rates reduced these gains by 1%.

    Regionally, North America produced the highest level of growth at 8%, while Europe grew by 6% and emerging markets grew by 1%. The North American growth was boosting in particular by growth in the US market, with commercial (Pro/tradie) sales up by over 10%, and DIY sales up by between 7% and 9%.

    Operating margin for the division grew by over 16% on the pcp, to reach 16.4%. In discussing this growth, chief financial officer Don Allan said that every region worldwide showed positive revenue growth for the quarter in this division. He said that:
    New product introductions and successful field conversions drove growth in the commercial channel. Strong e-commerce volumes and continued momentum from the FlexVolt launch, field growth in the US retail channel as we did overcome some modest channel inventory tightening.
    SBD's backstory and FLEXVolt

    The merger between tool companies Stanley and Black & Decker was finalised in November 2009. This has been something of a vast undertaking, though also a proficiently managed one. It has also come at something of a cost, in terms of actively managing some aspects of the business, such as innovation in cordless power tools.

    Some measure of that can be seen in DeWalt's 12-volt cordless drill range. A revised version was launched in 2010, ahead of its time in featuring slide-on Li-ion batteries, as opposed to the in-handle batteries that many manufacturers still produce. However, from that time until today, this product has changed little.

    While Milwaukee, Bosch and Makita have moved to brushless motors on their 12-volt lines, DeWalt has persisted with its brushed motors. In a recent ranking of the top 10 12-volt drills by respected website Pro Tools Reviews, DeWalt came in fourth, behind the brushless tools of Makita, Bosch and Milwaukee. It's a seven year-old design.

    Innovation had slipped so far as a priority in the cordless tool business that at one point SBD management, in response to an analyst's question at a results briefing, suggested that they didn't expect much innovation in the cordless tool area. They suggested development would largely consist of the spread and commodification of existing innovations, such as brushless motors as well as larger and better Li-ion batteries.

    The focus at the company was mostly on commercial performance, which resulted in some interesting new product launches - the introduction of the Stanley FatMax range, for example, was a brilliant move in the market - but very few ground-breaking products.

    By 2014, with Milwaukee in particular continuing to take marketshare from DeWalt, and evidently starting down the path of more radical innovations, SBD realised it needed to take action. The result was what the company calls the "Stanley Fullfilment System 2.0" (SFS 2.0), which works like an "operating system" for innovation. This was introduced in early 2015.

    In its corporate financial filings, SBD describes SFS 2.0 like this:
    Entitled "SFS 2.0" this refreshed and revitalized business system will continue the progress on core SFS, but importantly, provide resources and added focus into (1) commercial excellence, (2) breakthrough innovation, (3) digital excellence and (4) functional transformation.

    SFS 2.0 is something that gets SBD executives very excited - which is great to see. It's also probably one of the few corporate innovation programs that sometimes gets marketed directly to shareholders. In a "letter to shareholders", the effort is described as "breakthrough innovation special forces teams", that
    ... have been assembled across core business units that are entirely focused on generating breakthrough ideas, beyond the incremental. These teams, modelled after the incubator approaches of standout innovators and startups across Silicon Valley and elsewhere, are delivering solutions to unmet user needs and creating disruptive, industry shaping ideas.

    FLEXVolt, a cordless tool system from DeWalt that makes use of 54/60-volt batteries that can, through switching between serial and parallel connection, be stepped down to 18/20-volt for use on the rest of DeWalt's 18/20-volt line. This system is used to power tools such as table saws, grinders and circular saws, that would otherwise have to run off of mains power. The larger units actually run off of two of these batteries, or 120-volts of current. This is the same as mains current in the US, and the tools can also be directly plugged into the mains, where it is available.

    On its launch, DeWalt released information about its considerable success that met with more than a few raised eyebrows in the industry. Really new product launches need quite a lot of what is called "sell-out" in the US, which refers to retailers stocking up on product for future sales, while "sell-through" is product that has reached the consumer.

    SBD claimed a figure of USD100 million in combined sell-out and sell-through sales for the last four months of calendar 2016 (to the end of SBD's financial year). There were concerns voiced by industry commentators that much of the apparent sales success might have more to do with sell-out than real sell-through.

    Asked about the prospects for FLEXVolt in calendar 2017, the normally quite staid executives at SBD often become very optimistic and enthusiastic. Here is the company's chief financial officer, Donald Allan, describing what he sees as the product's potential in response to an analyst's question at the company's announcement in January 2017 of its full-year FY2016 results:
    Yes, I would just add that related to 2017 your comment is correct Nigel, we do see another USD100 million of incremental revenue that is included in our guidance. Jim however did discuss in his comments that we have capacity up to USD400 million. So, in total we have USD200 million in our numbers with incremental of a USD100 million next year so there's capacity to take on another USD100 million.

    That enthusiasm has continued through to the most recent results for the first quarter of 2017. Jeff Ansell, the head of SBD's tools division, describes just how far ahead of some expectations the company sees FLEXVolt performing:
    What tends to be in this marketplace competitors are violent and if your competitors don't have a response they tend to - they have a negative view on what you - what you're doing and how it's performing. The reality is we couldn't be happier with FlexVolt and if you think of 7% growth in this first quarter 8% in North America, 6% in Europe. We're very pleased with that. But half that growth came from the core, so what it says, our core business vibrant we comped a very big quarter from last year and grew the core at the same time while allowing FlexVolt to provide the other half of the growth.
    Our retail execution of FlexVolt is now more than double-digits ahead of what the customer expectations were, which is fantastic. And the uptick and uptake in industrial channels is every bit as good if not better. So if you consider those things and you look to the fact that we are loading new flexible products as we speak in this quarter and we will continue to load new introductions throughout 2017. And as Jim said, in the next several years that has been the real, the real driver behind what you do with this breakthrough innovation team. We have to continue to keep this fresh and we feel that we are quite nicely doing that.
    The last point I would tell you is, while it takes time to introduce new systems and power tools, the fact that this does leave the old system behind has led to a much faster adoption than most new power tool platforms. As such, our growth in FlexVolt, the ramp in FlexVolt is 10 times faster than the ramp in brushless as an example. So we couldn't be more pleased and we are we know it's a competitive advantage and the average of five stars. The average user rating of FlexVolt is 4.9, so if you get the product right for the user everything else takes care of itself. So we feel great.

    Mr Ansell also explained elsewhere some of the future potential that SBD sees for the FLEXVolt line of tools:
    Well, the beautiful thing about FlexVolt is we are able to develop 20 volt tools where they're appropriate, where the max watt outperformance is appropriate. At the same time, develop 60 volt tools where the max watt outperformance is required and obviously there is a cost difference because the 60 volt tool is a more expensive proposition for the user and for us that delivers unprecedented performance, at same time the user wants the right tool for the right job, at the right cost.
    So all those things come together and what you'll see over the next 36 months we'll be presenting this to Jim and team in the next few weeks and then you'll see some of it at the May 16 session, you'll see fresh introductions of both 20 volt and 60 volt tools coming within the FlexVolt range and I will tell you that the users pick up on them has been equivalent. The user likes what they can do with FlexVolt batteries under 20 volt system but they really have also embraced the 60 volt performance. Circular saw in particular is absolutely killing it. The portable you mentioned 120 volt, the portable products like mitre saws which are 120 volt absolutely killing it. So the user has embraced all those various platforms and because it gives them the performance of corded in a cordless package. So more to follow but yes, we are very, very active in development of 20, 60 and even 120 volts going forward.

    This point about possible future developments was also made by president and CEO Jim Loree at the full-year FY2016 results announcement:
    It really is a market share gain mechanism that has enormous potential even at the voltage levels we are at today. And we haven't even talked about going up the voltage curve or the power curve, which we have the capability to do as we develop this technology. And that breakthrough innovation that we're working on will have some more surprises I'm sure, positive surprises in the future.

    Mr Allan was also clear that, as optimistic as the forecasts for FLEXVolt have been, the company sees those goals as being largely met during the most recent quarter:
    We expect the momentum surrounding FlexVolt, which by the way did meet expectations for the quarter, will be maintained and bolstered by our commercial team's launch strategy, which has a well-designed roadmap of promotions and new FlexVolt tool and accessory SKUs hitting the shelves regularly over the next few years.

    Of course, a major concern for SBD overall is the extent to which the FLEXVolt range will be "cannibalising" its standard range of tools, through replacing sales rather than being completely a matter of new sales. Mr Allan commented on this:
    The USD100 million makes sense to us right now based on it's too early to really know what the cannibalisation is going to be. And that's something we'll watch closely, but if the cannibalisation is not as high then there's certainly a possibility that we're somewhere between that USD200 million to USD400 million number as the year progresses, combined with some of the factors that that Jim just mentioned.
    The FLEXVolt market

    The success of FLEXVolt, which seems to be confirmed by the most recent results, was not that expected by most market observers. It's a product that has two "strikes" against it: it is very expensive, and it is close to being "ultra-niche", in that it appeals to a niche within a niche.

    It's not only heavy construction builders that will use most of these tools, but those builders whose business would get a big boost from the convenience of very powerful cordless products. The DCS7485 cordless table saw costs $1300, complete with charger and two 6-amp batteries, or $1000 as bare tool.

    At a guess, what is driving high levels of sales is a combination of three factors. In many world markets pressures on housing are continuing, driving up prices and pushing developers towards considering more multi-floored, multi-dwelling unit buildings. There is also an uptick in infrastructure construction projects, as government seek ways to support regions which previously relied on more outdated forms of production.

    In both these cases, the need for high capacity tools which reduce logistics support problems through being cordless would be high. The third factor is the ongoing skills shortage. Tools which help the existing workforce get more done faster are bound to be popular.

    That said, of course, there is little doubt why SBD was so enthusiastic in launching this particular product. Mr Loree explained this in presenting the fully-year 2016 results:
    And where we are really trying to attack is at the competitor's install base. And so think of FLEXVolt as a battery system that is establishing an install base as aggressively and quickly as possible that requires DeWalt tools to operate and then think of every year a wave of new tools SKUs coming in that will enhance the substitution of corded products and the ability for us to substitute corded products in the higher voltage, higher power requirements, higher duty cycle type SKUs.
    And if you think of it that way, I think it's helpful because then you will understand it really is, well there is going to be some cannibalisation of our own coated tools, it really is a market share gain mechanism that has enormous potential even at the voltage levels we are at today.

    The competitor, of course, is Milwaukee. In terms of strategy, at its core FLEXVolt is also a mirror to the Milwaukee strategy of achieving market "lock-in" not only by making high-quality mainstream products, but also by making unique "can't do without" products, that help get customers - especially large customers - to go with one particular charger/battery system over another.
    Other developments

    As mentioned in the introduction to this article, DeWalt did send out press notices about a new networked tool system it had developed in late February 2017, but, three months later, there seems to be nothing happening with this. The notices suggested it would feature three different connecting systems.

    The "Tag", which is similar to Milwaukee's "Tick", is a simple tracker that can be stuck onto any tool - power or hand - to provide tracking.

    The "Connector" looks like an adapter that fits directly to the battery slot on a cordless DeWalt, then accepts a standard battery into it, and provides Bluetooth-enabled monitoring of the battery.

    An image shows a row of four power tools, likely one impact wrench and three drill/drivers from the back, with a blue WiFi logo on the rear of the motor chassis. In front of the handgrip, on the battery connection plate is what seems like a row of four blue LEDs and a selector button. The text reads: "Tools: Integrated Bluetooth Technology".

    To be generous, we could describe these evidently mocked-up images of tools as "artist's renditions of possible future products". The control panel featured, if actually produced, would be an ergonomic nightmare, as it would require reaching around the shaft of the tool to operate. To function, the panel would have to be rotated by 90 degrees, or a full 180 degrees, facing the front of the tool - the way the actual control panels on existing Milwaukee One-Key tools, which already offer this full functionality, are positioned.

    HNN would be pretty certain both that SBD has some plans in place for developments such as these, and we also would suggest it will be very unlikely we'll see any of them before 2018. In large part that is because the efforts of the development team will be focused on building out the FLEXVolt line of tools, and SBD will likely not want anything to complicate, blur or distort its marketing messaging around FLEXVolt.

    Additionally, of course, there is the matter of DeWalt's much promoted Bluetooth-connected battery, which these proposed tools relate to. In general, most commentators (including HNN, which has tested this device) agree that this particular approach, while not without its uses, is not the best starting point to a fully connected worksite. It provided DeWalt with a connected product that could be quickly launched before Milwaukee launched its far more extensive One-Key connected tool systems.

    Given things as they currently stand, DeWalt might be better served by starting development on the next generation of connected tools. These are likely to rely on a central worksite "hub", such as a worklight or bluetooth speaker/radio, that is hooked into the internet via a 4G chipset when WiFi is not available.

    Tools would connect with these hubs via WiFi, and provide full offsite monitoring without the need for intermediate connection through Bluetooth phones. It makes sense that this will be the end point both Milwaukee and Bosch will be working towards for 2020.
    Stanley Black & Decker's DIY story

    SBD had been represented in the DIY area largely by the dark orange and black Black & Decker brand. The company's recent acquisition of Craftsman Tools from failing US retailer Sears could indicate that it is considering reviving this sector of its business.

    At the moment, Black & Decker is not competing well with brands such as TTI's Ryobi, and is constantly being encroached on by brands such as Worx, which offer innovative tools designed to make chores around the house and garden easier to perform.

    One possibility that could emerge during 2018 is the formation of a division of SBD that is dedicated to the DIY product across a range of products. For the moment, however, it is clear that SBD's focus is more on the professional market and we will probably not see much development of the Black & Decker tools.

    The apparent success of SBD's FLEXVolt system is a reminder that tools succeed through the combination of two factors: the size of the market sector they go to, and the intensity of demand within that sector. SBD through some very good research has found a niche that is of a smaller size, but has a high intensity of demand - these tools have rapidly moved to the "must have" list.

    As with many of the developments of its arch-rival, Milwaukee Tool, there is also the question of to what degree the FLEXVolt technology will create an effect on other tools in the range. For professionals who will never use any FLEXVolt tools, the only possible improvement is that they can, if they wish, buy a large, heavy battery and another expensive charger, and attach that battery to their drill or circular saw to get extended life.

    This is starkly different from the approach that Bosch in particular has taken, which is based on developing new systems that benefit a broad range of users. That said, in the process of moving from a company that saw development strictly in terms of commercial excellence, to one that now evidently values the gains that can be made from new technologies, FLEXVolt is an excellent first step. HNN is sure most of us are eager to see what comes next.

    Robert Bosch Power Tools has reported its results for 2016, and these show an ongoing improvement. Sales were a record for the division of the vast German firm Bosch, reaching EUR4,500 million. In local currencies, the company states, it experienced 7% growth over the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was calendar 2015. Taking account of currency fluctuations, growth came in at 4% over the pcp.

    To read more, please go to the current issue of HI News PDF magazine:
    Big box update
    Woolworths can proceed with the sale of Masters sites after Lowe's is forced to sell back its stake
    HNN Sources
    Bunnings is looking at building a store in Edwardstown (SA)
    Bunnings NZ has taken steps to accommodate misgivings associated with its Grey Lynn store
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    US home improvement retailer, Lowe's has been court-ordered to sell its shares in Masters; Bunnings lodges plans for $45 million store in Edwardstown (SA); Woolworths successfully appealed a Supreme Court judgement over a Masters store that was never built; the Bunnings Devenport store in Tasmania should be open in 2018; and a Bunnings NZ store in Grey Lynn is trying to blend into the local neighbourhood.
    Lowe's to sell stake in Masters: arbitration

    Woolworths recently announced that US retailer Lowe's is required to sell its 33% stake in joint venture vehicle Hydrox Holdings, the corporate entity that owns Masters Home Improvement, following court-ordered arbitration between the two parties.

    The value of Lowe's stake in the failed Masters business will be determined by a third-party independent expert, then Woolworths will be required to pay that amount to its former partner.

    The sale of Lowe's shares to Woolworths will enable the Australian retailer to then sell the business to Home Consortium. The statement from Woolworths said:
    As a consequence of [the] award, Woolworths will be able to conclude the proposed transaction with Home Consortium without the consent of Lowe's, once the final valuation and share transfer processes have taken place.

    In August last year, Woolworths announced that Home Consortium - which includes families behind Chemist Warehouse and Spotlight - would buy 40 Masters freehold sites, 21 Masters freehold development sites and 21 Masters leasehold sites.

    In addition, it said it would sell inventory for about $500 million and sell the Home Timber and Hardware Group business for $165 million to Metcash.

    Combined, Woolworths said it would reap $1.5 billion in gross proceeds from the three deals, but only $500 million after costs and prior to shareholder payments.
    Lead up to arbitration

    Woolworths and Lowe's have been arguing over the value of the latter's 33% stake. Experts hired by Woolwoths have judged the stake to be worth nothing, while Lowe's has said it is worth $654 million.

    Lowe's also accused Woolworths of acting in bad faith when it offloaded 82 sites to the Home Consortium as part of its exit from its Masters hardware business.

    The legal wrangling had delayed the completion of the $750m agreement as Lowe's was unwilling to sell its 33% stake in the joint venture.

    Woolworths said the latest development would allow the conclusion of the proposed sale to Home Consortium without the approval of Lowe's.
    Bunnings submits plans for Edwardstown

    The inner suburb of Edwardstown located 6km southwest of Adelaide (SA) could be the location of a new Bunnings store. Developer Commercial & General has lodged plans for a $45 million Bunnings Warehouse at 1028-1042 South Road, Edwardstown, the site of a former Bridgestone factory.

    Bunnings also continues to negotiate with Mitcham Council over a $42 million store proposed on Goodwood Road, Panorama. The big box retailer has not confirmed whether the latest plans are instead of or as well as those for Panorama. The two sites are 2km from each other.

    However Southern Business Connections co-chairman Phil Ransome believes the site would be better used as a start-up business hub like the former Mitsubishi factory at Tonsley. He told Adelaide Now:
    Bunnings will attract people to the area, but how many Bunnings can you go to?

    He said the area was already congested with the Castle Plaza shopping centre just to the north and Melrose Plaza on the other side of South Road.

    Mitcham Council's Development Assessment Panel rejected the Panorama proposal in August 2016 because of concerns about landscaping, paving and a lack of trees. A court appeal by local resident Neil Baron is on hold while Bunnings works out revised plans with the council.

    The 4.3ha Edwardstown site is in the Marion Council region but the development application will be handled by the State Government's Development Assessment Commission. It is still owned by Bridgestone and car parts maker Toyoda Gosei, which ended operations there in 2015.

    Mitcham mayor Glenn Spear said he would be disappointed if Bunnings did not go ahead with redeveloping the Panorama TAFE site, which was looking "shocking" because of vandalism. He said:
    Bunnings has bent over backwards to appease residents' concerns about the site. They've been very good corporate citizens.

    The Bridgestone site is still listed as for sale, and the Marion and Mile End stores will not be closing.

    Big box update: Assessment for Bunnings Panorama - HNN
    Woolies' wins appeal over Masters in Bendigo

    The Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of Woolworths in its $14 million legal battle with a landowner over its failure to build a Masters Home Improvement store in Strathdale, Bendigo (VIC).

    Woolworths successfully appealed a Supreme Court judgement that it pay $10 million in damages and $4 million interest to North East Solution Pty Ltd (NES).

    The trial judge had initially found that both Woolworths and Masters had breached the terms of an agreement for lease of a property on the McIvor Highway on which a Masters store was to be built in 2010. The judge found that Woolworths had not acted in good faith and reasonably and ordered that it pay NES damages of more than $10 million and interest of over $4 million.

    The Court of Appeal has set aside those orders and made orders dismissing the claim by NES.

    The agreement for lease provided for Woolworths and NES to negotiate reasonably and in good faith the amount that Woolworths would contribute towards the construction costs of the Masters store. The trial judge found that Woolworths had failed to comply with the obligation in a number of respects.

    In allowing the appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to prove Woolworths failed to negotiate in good faith.

    The store was to be built on the McIvor Highway in Strathdale in 2010 on land owned by NES.

    Woolworths ditched the deal with the company to chase a lease on another site in Bendigo being pursued by Bunnings.

    Landlord sues Masters over lease - HNN
    2018 opening for Bunnings Devonport

    The construction of a Bunnings Warehouse in Devonport (TAS) is continuing. The store is taking over the K&D Warehouse site at the Devonport Homemaker Centre.

    The Bunnings development was originally proposed for a site at Stony Rise Road next to the Devonport Homemaker Centre. Towards the end of 2015, $2 million was spent on site preparation for the warehouse chain and a smaller development.

    Bunnings general manager - property, Andrew Marks has not provided an update on the future of Stony Rise Road site. He told The Advocate the $19 million store is expected to open in 2018. He said:
    Construction works are currently underway and progressing as planned at the new Bunnings Warehouse Devonport site.

    Fairbrother Construction has been contracted to build the store.

    Big box update: Bunnings moving into Devonport - HNN
    Bunnings NZ makes changes to Grey Lynn store

    A controversial new Bunnings store that a group of Auckland residents fought hard to stop, has recently opened. However, the big box retailer says it will operate in a way that aims to make it less intrusive in the neighbourhood.

    Jacqui Coombes, Bunnings NZ chief executive, showed the New Zealand Weekend Herald how the chain's first inner-city warehouse would have smaller delivery trucks, an internal truck turntable to ensure delivery vehicles did not back out on to the street and lower noise levels broadcast into the surrounding areas.

    After a long battle, the Arch Hill Residents Association won concessions in the Environment Court: nearby houses must be checked for structural damage from the building work, summer trading hours are limited, loudspeaker use will be controlled and traffic slowed.

    Ms Coombes said the three-level store is a NZD42 million (AUD39.2 million) investment by the Wesfarmers, which expects 3500 customers a day. She showed how trucks arriving at the city store could not be any more than 7m long because they would not fit on the turntable.

    The nursery on the northern side has only two speakers and broadcast volumes would be controlled, she said.
    We're very conscious we're operating in a high-residential-use area so we cut down on traffic flow and noise. People will come here and we'll continue to work with the local community. We want to be part of the community.

    Ms Coombes also said the new store would be the 54th New Zealand Bunnings and the 349th Bunnings store in Australasia.

    David Batten, a Grey Lynn Residents Association board member, said:
    The store is what it is. Our views haven't changed at all, to be honest. This came out of mediation. Bunnings has showed themselves to have attempted to be good neighbours.
    Indie store update
    Porters takes over four Woodman's Mitre 10 stores
    HNN Sources
    Starcom wins Home Timber and Hardware media account
    J.A. Berry in Gunnedah (NSW) moves to HBT
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Porters acquires Woodman's Mitre 10 stores; Home Timber & Hardware's media account has gone to a different agency; and Hardware & Building Traders gains Gunnedah store, J.A. Berry.
    Store consolidation in Mackay

    Prominent Mackay-based hardware business, Porters has acquired four Woodman's Mitre 10 stores.

    Managing director Gavan Porter Snr said the company purchased the stores located in Sarina, Marian, Proserpine and Cannonvale (QLD). He and his brothers, director Paul Porter and chairman of the board Barry Porter, said their family would retain total control over all stores.

    Woodman's Mitre 10 on Nebo Road in Mackay is not part of the deal and will close to customers on May 31, according to owner Kerry Woodman. But it will remain a head office for Mr Woodman's businesses.

    Gavan Porter Snr said the company will now be part of Mitre 10's network of stores. Its existing Porters Building Supplies, Hardware and Lifestyle and Whitsunday stores will operate under the new Porter's Mitre 10 banner from June 1. He said Mitre 10 is "a buying and marketing group and they've got nothing to do with ownership". He told the Daily Mercury:
    It's all still under the Charles Porter and Sons' banner.

    Barry Porter said the trio still "want Porters to be family owned in 175 years".
    We've got fifth and six generations working in the business now and we don't want that to change.

    Gavan Porter said customers could expect "newly reinvigorated teams, wider product ranges, new loyalty programs and in-store services under the new Porter's Mitre 10 banner". He said:
    We are excited to be joining the Mitre 10 group as Australia's largest independent home improvement and hardware wholesaler to the industry; this will allow the Porters business to continue to thrive and grow for many years to come.

    The move to Mitre 10 could also see the establishment of dedicated Trade Centres in Mackay and Cannonvale.

    The Porter brothers said their company and Woodman's Mitre 10 shared similar core values. Paul Porter said:
    It's great to take over the Woodman's business, they've been a great business here in Mackay for so many years. They've decided to exit the market and we decided it was a great opportunity to take it on. It gives us a lot of strength in our buying. They (the stores) will all still be totally owned by the Porter family.

    Established in 1883 by Charles Porter, originally as a timber yard, Porters is today run by fourth and fifth generation descendants.

    Porters already employs 150 staff and once the acquisition is complete, there will be about 50 more.
    Woodman exits

    Mr Woodman said while it was "heart-wrenching" to reach the decision, he had "acted in the best interests of our staff".
    They were primary in our consideration. Some staff (at Nebo Road) will transition to Porters, some will stay with the business. We've been in business here since 1939 and our family has a long association with the industry.

    Other businesses owned by Mr Woodman will continue including the Bristol Decorator Centre, Mackay Timber and Truss, Mackay Glass & Aluminium, Woodman's Roofing Centre and Mackay Brick Sales. He said:
    It's only a partial sale of some of our stores to the Porters organisation. It was an extensive negotiation. It wasn't a simple transaction because it was only part of our business.

    Mr Woodman hopes to build up and invest in his other businesses, including his role as a distributor for Trailers 2000 and his paver and brick business.

    Indie store update: Jobs to go at Porters - HNN
    Indie store update: Mackay's Porters closes a store - HNN
    Home Timber & Hardware changes media agency

    The Home Timber & Hardware (HTH) media account has moved to Starcom Melbourne from Dentsu Aegis without the companies having to pitch for the business.

    The account includes media buying and planning and follows the acquisition of HTH by Metcash, a Starcom client, last year.

    Starcom has been the media agency of record for Metcash for more than a decade, which has Mitre10 since 2010. Metcash Independent Hardware Group general manager - marketing, Karen Fahey said:
    We've had a great relationship with the Melbourne team for a number of years, and are looking forward to extending the relationship further. As Australia's leading independent home improvement and hardware wholesaler to the industry, the quality of our partners is paramount.

    Starcom Melbourne managing director Peter Toone adds:
    To be able to work with not one but two leading hardware brands is a rare opportunity, and one we are very excited to be able to fulfil. Both Mitre 10 and Home Timber & Hardware have a strong track record in building their brands and giving them a unique role in Australia's hardware landscape.
    J.A. Berry changes to HBT

    Catalogues are dead and the future is in direct sales, according to Dave Berry owner-operator of the J.A. Berry hardware store in Gunnedah (NSW). From June 2017, it will return to its independent retail roots and become a member of Hardware & Building Traders (HBT).

    The store will no longer be part of Home Timber & Hardware (HTH) and deal directly with suppliers. Driving the change is a loss in faith in the catalogue industry. Mr Berry told the Namoi Valley Independent:
    We don't feel there is a future in catalogues anymore. There's too many people in that game now. We don't think it's financially viable.

    He said the overhead costs in the franchise were too great in today's market and the change in name will make life "a lot easier".
    We're reinventing JA Berry as a true independent.

    But it's not the first time the trader has run his own ship. The business was independent in the early days even before it was a Thrifty Link store that changed to HTH in 2011.
    Seeking opportunities
    Zenexus is a major supplier and distributor of major brand hardware products
    HNN Sources
    A.G. Pulie is seeking a WA-based account manager
    A trade account manager role is available at Hardings Hardware in Queensland
    Visit the Mecca Website
    A forecast analyst position is available at Zenexus; a WA-based account management role at A.G. Pulie; and Hardings Hardware in Queensland requires a trade account manager.

    Please click on the company logos for more information about each role.
    Demand planning team

    As one of the largest privately owned suppliers of major brand hardware products throughout Australia and New Zealand, Zenexus is looking for a forecast analyst to be located at its head office in Keysborough (VIC). Reporting to the group supply manager, the forecast analyst will provide information that will drive critical business decisions.
    Join the demand planning team at Zenexus
    Customer relations role

    Construction and building tools, machinery and equipment supplier, A.G. Pulie is seeking the services of an account manager in Perth (WA). The position involves calling on independent hardware, trade and other retail stores. It will suit a keen individual who is enthusiastic about starting or developing a sales career.
    A.G. Pulie will provide training and a company vehicle
    Timber and hardware market knowledge

    A trade account manager position at Hardings Hardware will suit an "enthusiastic self-starter with proven results in driving sales growth in a target driven environment". Reporting to the Queensland sales manager, Hardings Hadware is part of the Independent Hardware Group network of stores.
    The trade account manager will represent the Home Timber & Hardware brand to key stakeholders
    Supplier update
    Jim Bindon is managing director of timber and steel building products supplier, Big River
    HNN Sources
    Renting garden tools could be the way ahead for some consumers, according to Husqvarna
    Klika is bringing Ford Power Equipment back to Australia
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    More acquisitions planned for Big River as it heads to the ASX feeling bullish about Australia's housing construction markets; Husqvarna sees future in garden equipment rental for consumers; Klika is bringing the Ford Power Equipment range to the Australian market exclusively; and PPG makes a third acquisition bid for Akzo Nobel.
    Big River confident on detached housing

    Jim Bindon, managing director of timber and steel building products supplier Big River, believes detached housing, commercial construction, civil engineering and infrastructure projects are all poised for solid growth in the next few years, with the only the apartment market likely to slow down.

    Mr Bindon said the detached housing construction market was just running at long-term average levels, while the infrastructure projects planned by governments meant there was substantial activity.

    Commercial building activity still hasn't recovered to levels seen before the GFC.

    The renovations market was also set to strengthen as home owners, reluctant to shift, planned upgrades to their current residences. Dwelling approvals in Australia in 2016, however, were at their highest point in the past 15 years.

    Big River timber and steel products are used by about 2700 professional builders and construction companies.

    The NSW-based firm wants to wants to expand through the acquisition of privately owned timber yards and other operators in a sector where there are more than 2000 small players, as it headed towards an ASX listing.

    Many of those businesses are family owned without clear succession plans. Mr Bindon told the Financial Review:
    It's a very fragmented industry.

    Stockbroker Taylor Collison has closed off a fully subscribed $17 million raising by Big River. The company has an indicative market capitalisation of $77 million at the issue price of $1.46 per share.

    Sydney private equity firm Anacacia Capital, which acquired a controlling stake last year, isn't selling down any shares in the initial public offering, with major shareholders escrowed until late 2018.

    Sales revenue is forecast to be $201 million on a pro-forma basis in 2016-17, rising to $207.3 million in 2017-18.

    Net profit after tax is projected to increase from $5.99 million in 2016-17 to $6.9 million in the following financial year.

    The company has manufacturing facilities at Grafton and Wagga Wagga in regional NSW and runs 12 sales and distribution centres, which cover the major capital cities in Australia.

    Big River derives 31% of its revenue from customers building multi-residential housing, 29% from residential housing and 25% from commercial building projects. The remainder comes from civil infrastructure and industrial customers.

    In early March it spent about $7.5 million buying the Adelaide Timber and Building Supplies business from home builder Rivergum Homes.

    Rivergum Homes is a major customer of Big River, with the supply of building products to that firm representing about 7% of Big River's total annual sales.

    Big River is chaired by Greg Laurie, who is also a director of furniture group Nick Scali. Other directors include Malcolm Jackman, a former managing director of agribusiness and pastoral company Elders.

    A small part of Big River's timber and building products business competes against the trade part of Bunnings as well as Mitre 10, [and presumably independent retailers in the Hardware & Building Traders group and Natbuild.]
    Consumers renting tools, says Husqvarna

    Outdoor power equipment maker, Husqvarna has begun a pilot project in Stockholm (Sweden) for homeowners to access pay-per-use power tools for the garden. This eliminates the need to maintain and store hedge trimmers, chainsaws and other tools that are used less frequently.

    The project is part of Husqvarna's plans for "sustainable solutions for taking care of gardens and green spaces".

    Husqvarna Battery Box, is a "smart", 8m x 3m, unattended container with 30 electronic lockers that store battery powered garden care products. Through an iPhone app, homeowners can reserve tools, get instructions, pay, and open the locker to pick up their pre-booked power tool.

    The Box will be placed at Bromma Blocks, a shopping centre 15 minutes west of Stockholm city. Renting a garden care product will cost SEK350 (AUD54) a day. Husqvarna division president, Pavel Hajman, said:
    People are already sharing homes and cars. To share products that are only used occasionally, like a hedge-trimmer, makes a lot of sense for some users. Husqvarna Battery Box is proof of our commitment to explore new solutions that merge innovation and sustainability, benefitting the homeowner, the community and our distribution network.

    Husqvarna wants to move from petrol powered products to silent battery products with no direct emissions in urban areas. The company hopes to collect insights on market maturity, customer behaviour, and potential future revenue streams. The test period runs from May 1 to October 31, 2017.

    After completing registration in the iPhone app Husqvarna Battery Box, the customer can reserve one of the 30 available battery powered products (chainsaw, hedge trimmer, trimmer or blower). The app guides the user on how to open and close the door to the particular locker where the product they want to rent is kept.

    The app also includes how-to videos to explain how the product works. The Box, powered by solar cells, will be serviced by Husqvarna staff daily, ensuring that products are in good condition and that the batteries are fully charged.

    The connection between Husqvarna Battery Box and the customer is enabled via Bluetooth. For identification purposes, the customer uses the Swedish ID app BankID. Payments are charged to the registered credit card at the end of the month. During the pilot period, the app is only available on iOS.

    The battery series in the Box is powered by a 36V Li-ion battery, and one battery fits all the available products (chainsaw, hedge trimmer, blower, trimmer).

    UK retailers such as Homebase and Wickes offer garden tool hire services but the Husqvarna pilot takes renting tools into a new phase.
    Klika brings Ford Power Equipment to Australia

    Online retailer, Klika has been appointed Australia's exclusive distributor of Ford Power Equipment. The product range of pressure washers, portable generators, inverter generators and water pumps for both domestic and commercial applications.

    The company explains that the partnership agreement will see it "expand beyond its traditional pure-play online presence and enter the Australian wholesale distribution chain". Leo Zaitsev, director of commercial operations, said:
    Klika's partnership with one of the world's most iconic brands is true testament to the strength of our business and represents the next step in its evolution. We are now witnessing the merging of our local omnichannel offering between online retail and bricks and mortar, but rather than imitate our competitors by establishing physical pop-up stores, we will distribute directly via the national retail chains.
    We are already in discussions with a number of them which are eager to gain access to the Ford brand, which Australians have loved for over 91 years.
    The Ford power equipment range will meet the upcoming strict Australian National Clean Air Agreement standards. We were very particular during our negotiations, as stringent quality, reliability and durability requirements is paramount...

    Klika operates out of its 15,000sqm central facility in South Oakleigh (VIC) with satellite offices in two other countries. It has its own range of private labels and offers other brands such as Sony, Breville, Apple, Huawei, Disney licensed toys and bedding, Uniden and Belkin, to name a few.

    The company was founded in 2005, is Australian-owned and operated, and has been acknowledged in the list of "Top 20 Online Retailers in Australia" and Power Retail's Top 100 Retailers list.
    Akzo Nobel considers latest PPG offer

    Dutch paint maker Akzo Nobel's (Akzo) supervisory board is considering its options after deeming PPG Industries' latest USD29 billion (AUD39 billion) offer to be insufficient, according to a report in Reuters.

    Akzo believes that PPG's third acquisition bid, which was unveiled on April 24, still does not value the company highly enough, especially in light of Akzo's plans to unlock value by exploring a spin-off or sale of its specialty chemicals business, and the risks it sees in the potential deal, sources told Reuters.

    However, Akzo is studying several scenarios about how to move forward, mindful that several of its shareholders want it to engage with PPG in negotiations.

    Among the options being considered by Akzo is talking to PPG only about some of the issues that would affect the deal, such as antitrust approval risk, or rejecting it outright without any engagement, the sources said.

    This is because Akzo is concerned that engaging with PPG in comprehensive deal negotiations would weigh on its prospects of getting PPG to improve on its offer much more, according to the sources.

    No timeline has been set for Akzo's response to PPG, the sources said.

    PPG said its latest acquisition proposal was worth EUR96.75 (AUD143.46) per Akzo share, comprised of EUR61.50 (AUD91.19) in cash, 0.357 shares of PPG common stock and dividends worth EUR7.78 (AUD11.54).

    That's a 50% premium to Akzo's closing price of EUR64.42 (AUD95.52) on March 8, the day before PPG confirmed it had made a proposal to buy Akzo at EUR80 (AUD118.62) per share. Akzo has been arguing this premium does not factor in the value of its announced intention to shed its specialty chemicals business.

    PPG has said it has no plans to break up Akzo following an acquisition. It has also said it will submit a formal offer for Akzo to the Dutch financial markets regulator by June 1, regardless of whether Akzo chooses to engage.
    Europe update
    A Homebase store in Folkestone, Kent (UK) will be transformed into a Bunnings store
    HNN Sources
    B&Q has delivered its first profit from its China operations
    ManoMano refers to its first year in the UK as a success
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    A Bunnings Warehouse will replace a Homebase store in Folkestone; e-commerce delivers profit for B&Q in China; and ManoMano targets Kingfisher's home improvement sales in the UK.
    Folkestone next location for Bunnings UK

    Bunnings United Kingdom & Ireland (BUKI) is set to transform a Homebase store in Folkestone, a port town on the English Channel, in Kent, south-east England.

    The Homebase store is currently located in the Park Farm Retail Park and will move just down the road, according to Kent Online. The site formerly housed B&Q which left Folkestone altogether earlier this year. It will be the fifth Bunnings store to open in the UK. A spokesperson for BUKI said:
    We can confirm that the fifth Bunnings Warehouse pilot store will open in Folkestone. We expect [it] to open in July at a nearby site formally occupied by B&Q.

    A planning application for the relevant signage has been submitted to Shepway District Council for approval. The new store will span 75,000sqft.

    The Homebase store has been in Folkestone since the mid-80s, with planning permission first granted in May 1984. The spokesperson:
    Our team in the existing Homebase store in Folkestone have been made aware and we will be shutting the doors in July. This is an exciting development for us as our pilot programme builds momentum extending the Bunnings Warehouse offer to a new area of the UK.

    BUKI also has plans for store rebrands in Milton Keynes and Hemel Hempstead before 30 June.
    Q1 results

    Homebase/Bunnings stores in the UK saw transactions increase 2.2% in its first quarter in results.

    Total sales for the quarter (a 12 week period from 2 January 2017 to 26 March 2017) were GBP245 million ((AUD428 million). On a like-for-like trading basis across the third quarter, customer participation, as measured by retail transactions (both in-store and online), increased by 2.2%.

    For the financial year to date, total sales were GBP851 million (AUD1,489 million). Customer participation for the financial year to date increased by 6.9%.

    BUKI managing director PJ Davis said trading during the quarter was negatively affected by the continued repositioning of the kitchen and bathroom offer, while the performance across other core home improvement and garden products was pleasing.

    There were 254 Homebase stores as at the end of March 2017.
    B&Q finds China sales through ecommerce

    After operating in China for almost a decade and several strategic changes later, B&Q said it has turned a profit after nine years of losses. Home improvement sales are now largely driven through B&Q's storefront on Alibaba's Tmall online platform launched in late 2015. Shi Jun, director of strategy at B&Q China explains:
    To be frank, we are already a little bit late to the Internet. Each offline store can typically only cover the adjoining 10kms, or 20kms, at most. Customers outside the coverage area aren't aware of the store at all. Tmall helps us reach many more customers, particularly the internet-savvy, post-80s generation.

    B&Q simplified its offerings online, locking in three price points for the customer segments it was able to identify through Tmall.

    Overall, the company believes the successful marriage of its online and offline operations is behind B&Q's reversal of fortune.

    Tmall's "home" business unit includes home appliances and home improvement verticals and has partnered with 500 brands, connecting consumers with some 60,000 offline stores to facilitate omnichannel sales.
    B&Q's Chinese history

    Back in 1999, B&Q's China operations were very different when it opened shop in Shanghai. In addition to selling home building supplies, the retailer offered home decoration services.

    That was the start of an on-again, off-again relationship with Chinese consumers, who wanted value-for-money DIY prices, but preferred that somebody else do the actual renovation project for them, leaving them as little work to do as possible. With a reliance on physical stores for sales, B&Q's growth was hindered by geography.

    Traffic and sales in physical stores started to dwindle from 2007, and B&Q shut down 20 stores. In late 2014, B&Q's owner Kingfisher, sold 70% share of its Chinese business to a local partner, supermarket operator Wumart Stores Inc.

    Seeking a way forward, the retailer turned onto Tmall, offering a RMB699 (AUD136.52) per-square-metre home improvement solution for young people on a tight budget. For RMB999 (AUD195.11) per-square-metre, customers can select from four home-decoration styles: modern, European, American country-style and modern Chinese.

    At the high end, a RMB1799 (AUD351.36) per-square-metre solution targets more affluent, tech-savvy customers, providing options such as rooms equipped with smart devices.

    B&Q's online storefront makes the ordering process easy and expands its reach to more customers and cities in China. It allows customers to make their selections online before driving them to brick-and-mortar stores to complete the sale.

    Customers can view photos on the website, make their choices and pay a deposit as low as one yuan (20 cents). Then, they either head to nearby physical stores to finalise their purchases, or a B&Q store associate makes a house call. B&Q also offers Tmall shoppers an installment plan, and allows them to oversee the construction via the Tmall app.

    Customers can leave reviews online after construction or answer questions from potential customers who are curious about B&Q's service. Mr Shi said:
    ...Online and offline channels play their roles, respectively. We communicate and acquire customers online, while offering physical experiences offline to reinforce customers' confidence to shop. There is no boundary between online and offline.

    B&Q's Tmall storefront also provides a new business model for the company. Margins are tighter, but volume is higher. And, at least in its first year, it seems to be working.

    Last year, B&Q sold over 10,000 of the RMB999 (AUD195.11) design solution. Online sales of home improvement services reached RMB600 million (AUD117 million), approximately 30% of its total business in China.

    It helped B&Q's Chinese market to grow over 20% and achieve its first-ever annual profit in the country since 2007.

    B&Q is now exploring a renovation service to meet the growing sales of "second hand" apartments in China. In addition, the company plans to meet the demand from consumers in smaller cities by opening 200sqm "studios" where homeowners can connect with B&Q designers who can handle their remodelling projects.

    The company's Tmall store will be supported with physical mini-stores to display merchandise.

    B&Q owner Kingfisher exits China - HNN
    ManoMano hails successful first year in UK

    France-based online DIY marketplace, ManoMano said its first year of trading in the UK has been a success. Since entering the UK market in April 2016, it has partnered with over 100 local DIY merchants with 185,000 new products entering its listings.

    In the UK, total revenues for the year hit GBP4.4 million (AUD7.7 million), with sales volumes of over GBP214 million (AUD374 million) and over one million listings.

    Since its launch three years ago, the pure-play online retailer believes it has begun to disrupt larger players such as Kingfisher.

    ManoMano has laid out ambitious plans to triple its product offering and reach a turnover of GBP10 million (AUD17.5 million) by the end of 2017, and projecting a GBP85 million (AUD148 million) turnover by 2019. Co-founder Philippe de Chanville said:
    To disrupt such a competitive market like the UK and build a community for the long term, you need to stand out by the quality of your offer, not just by the quantity of products available or the low prices advertised on the website.

    DIY start-up ManoMano to challenge B&Q - HNN
    Z-Wave enabled locks
    Kwikset Obsidian is the brand's newest deadbolt, and it doesn't use a key
    Security Sales
    The Kwikset Convert brings keyless entry and home automation to consumers
    The Kwikset Contemporary SmartCode locks address the needs of style-conscious consumers
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Kwikset showcased five of its latest residential lock products at ISC West, a trade show for the security industry, held each year in Las Vegas. They are expected to be released in the second half of 2017.

    The locks are said to be among the first to market with the Z-Wave 500 Series chipset, which offers extended wireless range and security.

    Among the latest offerings, the Obsidian is a smart lock that eliminates the need for traditional keys. It will be available with standalone and connected options, allowing users to lock and unlock their front doors using the touchscreen exterior or their smartphones.

    The sleek touchpad of the Obsidian - just like the volcanic glass - is black and makes up nearly all of the deadbolt's exterior. The lock's all-metal interior has advanced mechanical and electronic security features. Eliminating the keyway takes away the threat of "lock picking" and "lock bumping" attacks using specially cut keys to defeat conventional pin and tumbler locks.

    Kwikset's other offerings include the following:

    SmartCode 888 Touchpad Electronic Deadbolt - A contemporary version of Kwikset's SmartCode five-button deadbolt, designed to integrate with select smart home systems. The device can hold up to 30 different user codes and delivers convenience to homeowners with remote locking/unlocking via smartphones and tablets, as well as total home control.

    Kwikset Convert (Z-Wave Smart Lock Conversion Kit) - Replaces the interior half of an existing lock, and brings keyless entry and home automation to consumers. The new kit will appeal to design-driven homeowners who want a smarter lock but want to maintain the style of the front door or match the current handleset, and don't want to change the existing deadbolt. Available in brass, Venetian bronze and satin nickel. The kit can be used on Kwikset, Baldwin, Weiser and Schlage products.

    Contemporary SmartCode 914 & 916 - These locks address the needs of style-conscious consumers with contemporary versions of the company's traditional deadbolts. The locks integrate with home security and automation systems with remote locking/unlocking via smartphones and tablets.
    Vanities blend form and function
    The Lily Vanity Collection from Highgrove Bathrooms features natural timber
    Highgrove Bathrooms
    The Lily Vanity's wall-mount designs are an alternative to the heavy, weighed down vanities of the past
    A longer vanity which is ideal for a family
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The inclusion of natural timber accents and elements helps to break up the swathes of cool, hard surfaces that have typically dominated bathroom design. The new Lily Vanity Collection from Highgrove Bathrooms reflects this trend by combining modern sleek design with a timber accent.

    The range is crafted using a seamless white gloss polymarble inset basin and a moisture resistant, medium-tone timber veneer face. The deep drawer offers generous storage and is accompanied by push-to-open technology.

    Wall-mount vanity designs have recently been welcomed into bathroom design as an alternative to the heavy, weighed down vanities of the past. The Lily Vanity Collection brings the focus up off the ground and allows the flow of energy throughout the space, adding a light airy feeling to the room. It also features metal drawer runners and door hinges.

    With two available vanity sizes, there is an option for most bathroom layouts - a longer vanity which is ideal for a family or master bathroom centrepiece, or a smaller vanity that can be doubled up to create a "his and her" vanity solution.
    HI News V3 No. 4: Inverell H Hardware re-brand
    Download the latest issue of HI News Vol. 3, issue no. 4
    HI News
    Leigh Muggleton is the owner and face of Inverell H Hardware
    A transcript of TTI CEO Joe Galli's presentation is featured in this issue of HI News
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    This edition of HI News focuses on a major store in the Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) network that undergoes a re-brand to become an H Hardware store. We travel to the bucolic regional town of Inverell (NSW) to see how it came about.

    Simply click on the following link to download this edition:
    HI News V3 No. 4: Inverell H Hardware re-brand

    On the global stage, we take a deep dive into the 2016 results of Techtronic Industries (TTI) and provide a transcript of CEO Joe Galli's presentation to analysts and investors.

    We also look at the latest reports from international home improvement retailers, Kingfisher in the UK and US-based Home Depot and Lowe's. Kingfisher's results will be in two parts.

    Local big box retailer, Bunnings continues its expansion both in Australia and the UK.

    Other news stories include Adelaide-based online business, Monsta selling paint direct to consumers; Briggs & Stratton's exclusive distribution of Billy Goat products in Australia; Tasmania's independent retailer K&D losing its CEO; and Ikea's foray into smart lighting.

    A Melbourne-made bin caddy is just one of the products featured in this issue, along with the Mirka dust-free sanding system which is new to the Australian market.
    TTI results presentation 2016 transcript
    Horst Pudwill and Joe Galli, chairman and CEO of TTI
    HI News Vol.3 No. 4
    Vertical markets serviced by TTI
    Gross margin growth at TTI
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    The following is an extract from the transcript of an address the CEO of Techtronic Industries (TTI), Joe Galli, gave to investment analysts on the release of TTI's results for 2016.

    To read the complete transcript, please click on the link below, which will download the edition of HI News which includes this article:
    TTI 2016 results presentation - HI News Vol. 3 No. 4

    We are delighted to share with you yet another record-breaking year. Sales are up 9.8% in a marketplace that is not going anywhere near that. We are totally outpacing our competitors in every geographic region. Sales of our power equipment business were up an amazing 13.3% [in local currency]. This is not just Milwaukee, this is our entire power equipment business. Our DIY business, our OEM business, our outdoor business. These results reflect just amazing performance in our local operations around the world.

    Floorcare down 3.3%, but that is misleading when you consider that the future of our floorcare business [sales of cordless] was actually up 53% [in local currency]. So our overall floorcare business needs to be improved, we recognize that we are dedicated to that. But let us not lose sight of the progress our team has made launching a very exciting stream of cordless floorcare products.

    You will see in a moment that we have an outstanding pipeline of new products in floorcare that will fuel the turnaround of the business and help it to catch up to the power tool progress that we've made. As Frank has pointed out, our sales are up double digits, gross margin up 50 basis points.

    This is the eighth consecutive year of improvement in gross margin. The eighth consecutive year. Up 36.2%, and we were able to able to leverage our sales growth EBIT performance at 12.6% growth. Net profit is up 15%, which in the environment in which we are in, with the level of investment we're making we think is quite acceptable.

    This is a chart we love to talk about. So for eight consecutive years we have driven gross margin up from a modest starting point of 30 .8% to a level now at 36.2%. As Horst pointed out at the start, we've basically doubled our output in China with the same headcount.

    So think about that: we've doubled our output with the same head count. We are uniquely positioned to transition to any geographic region such as the USA, if the legal environment and the political environment creates an opportunity or a requirement to produce there, we can move at a very quick rate. And I'll show you that in a moment.

    As Frank pointed out, working capital was better than last year at 16.4%, that's world-class, that still continues to be the best in the industry. And yet we do think there is room for improvement, in inventory as we go forward. But what we won't do is to compromise our service level to our customers.

    If you were to look at Home Depot or Bunnings or any of our other major customers, what you would see is that we are routinely awarded vendor of the year recognition for outstanding service levels. We retain and exceed the levels of our competition and we are doing it with an acceptable level of inventory. While that may come down a bit as we go forward, but never at the expense of customer service. That is a hallmark of TTI.

    So, you know, look, the Milwaukee business is one of the growth engines of the company along with Ryobi. We were able to grow Milwaukee last year at 21%. Now think about that: 21% growth in the power tool industry. We are not in Silicon Valley here, we're talking about power tools, a GNP business for years and this significant part of the company is growing at 21%. As we have shared before, our plan is to grow at a 20% clip really for the next five years at Milwaukee as we continue to take market share and stimulate market growth with our cordless strategy. I'm going to share that with you here as we go.

    The Milwaukee growth is extraordinary not only because it is at 21%, but because we are able to do it in every region that we are tracking around the world. So North America was really strong at 20.6%, but Europe was the star of the company last year with a 21% growth rate in Milwaukee.

    As you know, the European theatre is in a state of contraction, there is all sorts of concern about the economic health of the region, and yet TTI was able to build Milwaukee at 21.3% growth. That is maybe the most exciting result we had last year. Of course, rest of world is paced by Australia and New Zealand, where we have become the number one pro supplier of power tools. But also we are beginning to focus on other countries in Asia, like Korea, like Taiwan, where we've had amazing success with their Milwaukee program. Not at a discounted level, we are going in with significant premium pricing, and we are finding users willing to pay up for the quality and the safety that we provide with Milwaukee.
    Manufacturing in USA

    Horst mentioned upfront and I think that it is important to point out now, that we have never put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to manufacturing. We have an outstanding manufacturing foundation in the US, this is not something that we reacted to, this has been in place for a long time. For a lot of reasons, we always felt we should have geographic diversity when it comes to manufacturing. We also have manufacturing in Europe by the way. These decisions are made based on a strategic plan that would allow TTI to flourish no matter what local laws are passed.

    So if something happens in the US, and there's some sort of border tax, it is going to affect everyone equally, everybody manufacturers in Asia, it is not like we are the only company producing power tools in China. The great news is that we are positioned to ramp up fast in our manufacturing operations. We have two Milwaukee factories, we have a Ryobi operation, a floorcare operation, and a handtool operation. We have a lot of friendly [US state] governors that seem to be anxious to fund our decision to increase manufacturing.

    So if you say what is going to happen to TTI if we do this? Well first of course the US has higher labour rates, but you save on freight. We have learned to automate our manufacturing and we have proven that over the last five years, and we have an amazing world-class manufacturing operation in China, that is a perfect operation to supply the rest of the world. The US is, everyone is speaking about today about the US, but we are growing like crazy in Canada and Europe and Australia and Korea, and Latin America, so we have China, China is ready to go to supply the rest of the world if the US focuses on production locally.

    Again I think that you have to understand that the laws that may come across in the US will not discriminate, every manufacturer will be dealing with the same situation. It is just the winner will be the company that can move the most quickly, and I think that our execution track record speaks for itself.
    Future leaders

    Okay, so here's another interesting highlight of the company's success. We are continuing to be dedicated to hiring college graduates to provide manpower for our growth. So this year we will actually hire over 500 college graduates over 50 campuses in the US, and in another 12 countries around the world. This is a program that provides the future leadership for TTI.

    It is an interesting group that we hire. These Millennials that we hire, they are 52% female they are 18% bi- or trilingual, we look at 100 resumes and we pick one, we do that 500 times and then the top 10% of those people are promoted into the company's opportunities or product management jobs etc. around the world.

    There is no one in our industry that is remotely close to this kind of commitment to developing future leadership. It is one of the things about having so many Millennials around, the Millennials all want to save the world, but they also live on social media, and they think their iPhone should control everything. So you're going to see TTI blazing a trail when it comes to iPhone and Bluetooth capabilities on our products, whether it's in floorcare or power tools.

    This is an enormous advantage that I think is underestimated. I think to have a group of 50-year-old executives sitting in a room trying to figure out how to turn the iPhone into a device on the jobsite might not be the best strategy. And I think that our campus recruiting program is going to bear fruit as we move forward.
    Thinking about the market

    I would like to introduce today, a way for you to think about our market over the next five years. Many people have said, what are you going to do next? Horst and I talk about this all the time. Milwaukee is growing like crazy, Ryobi is an amazing success story, what is going to happen next?

    We wanted to share with you our vision about the marketplace over the next five years and to give you some confidence that we can continue to grow our company the way you have in the past and deliver outstanding financial results, in the businesses we serve today.

     And this growth we have will be fuelled by what one of the most prominent analysts of our company has coined the phrase "the growth drivers" to describe. We have Milwaukee, Ryobi are powerful growth drivers, soon to be joined by floorcare.

    Let me show you how that growth will manifest itself in the market.

    So first of all we we think in five years, we are talking about serving a market that could be USD35-USD36 billion plus. These are internal estimates, this relates to marketplace that we are in fact helping to create, and develop. So our vision is to stimulate and create a market, much in the way that Apple did with the iPhone and the iPad, and we want to be in a position to harvest the benefits of that creation.

    We recognise that we are never going to control the whole market, and I think what people miss, none of our competitors have to lose for us to win. We have some very good competitors - Bosch, Mikita, Stanley, DeWalt - these are well-managed companies ,and they are very strong in many geographic regions. We intend to be real leaders in the market, particularly in cordless, where we already are exhibiting that leadership. What we create here will benefit everyone, and the key is that we want to be the Apple, we want to be in the vanguard, and to be the company that is creating the opportunity.
    Network effects

    The power tool market has changed dramatically. The reason this is so exciting, is because of what we call the network effect in cordless. In the old days power tools was called a "best of of breed" business. So you'd walk into a Home Depot and you would buy a Milwaukee Sawzall, a Bosch router, a Makita circular saw. And you were considered to be a smart user if you knew what brands to buy for what category. And there was no interconnectivity, so your truck looked like a rainbow of colours, and it did not have and it did not matter if one tool could talk to another, because there was no synergy, no connectivity.

    That is all over now. The power tool market is going to go to cordless. In fact the whole power equipment market is going to go to cordless, including floorcare. And the opportunity for us is because we have the broadest network work the broadest range of products that work off the same battery platforms, we think that we can convince the user to buy our kits to start and lock them into our network over the long haul. And this is a way where you can build a much higher level of marketshare at a much higher level of growth than the old best-of-breed days.

    Let's take a look at this cordless market potential. So the total power equipment market potential we think is USD36 billion.

    To continue reading this transcript, please click on the link below, which will download the edition of HI News which includes this:
    TTI 2016 results presentation - HI News Vol. 3 No. 4
    Inverell H Hardware: The big re-brand
    Front entrance of re-branded store
    HNN Sources
    Leigh Muggleton, the managing director of the store operation
    The New England region of NSW has its own unique history
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    One thing that HNN's visit to Inverell, New South Wales (NSW) for the re-branding of Inverell Building Supplies as an Hardware and Building Traders (HBT) "H" branded hardware store firmly brought home to us was the isolation of some rural regions. After much scrolling around Google Maps, and rattling of printouts of train and bus timetables, we ended up doing what probably most business travellers do - paying Rex Airways more than you might expect for a ride in a twin-propeller airplane (which, fortunately, remained a twin-propeller airplane, at least for the duration of that flight).

    Yet, as it turned out, it was certainly worth it. Not just because Inverell is a lovely town well deserving of a visit for any reason, and the rebranded store - now Inverell H Hardware - is a good store, and that the owners, Leigh and Erin Muggleton, are one of those interesting, fun couples you meet in the hardware retail industry. That mattered, but what also showed up was a sense of what the future might really hold for regional areas and hardware.

    It's a future where a sense of history, the community memory and community ties continue to matter, and where, rather than inhibiting change and adaptation, they enable it, helping to promote new growth, and better prospects.

    Not, of course, that this is all a story of "plain sailing". As with almost all independent hardware retailers, the Muggleton's story is one of survival as well, getting through an event that almost certainly should have terminated their business, but ended up strengthening it instead. That's important for many reasons, not least because the store carries a staff of 16 floor reps, many of them under 30 years old.
    Opening events

    HNN had come to Inverell for the actual launch of the H branded store on 24 March 2017. The night before the launch, the store's owners, Leigh and Erin, hosted a dinner at a local Thai restaurant, mainly to thank suppliers for their support in making the changeover to the new branding. Steve Fatileh and Mike Loricco from HBT were there as well.

    The next morning, bright and early, the real launch was held. There was a large amount of eggs and bacon cooked for the brekkie, and the major suppliers set up stands where they provided advice about their products to some of the store's key customers who attended. The local radio station, Star-FM was also there, giving away doughnuts.

    Leigh made a speech to thank everyone who had participated in making the rebranding possible, and a local councillor, Dianna Baker, who was there coincidentally as a customer, gave a quick speech as well, speaking of the store's place in the community.

    Steve also spoke, highlighting how important the store was to HBT itself, a prominent presence in the New England area, and how glad HBT was to see another large store added to its growing list of H branded hardware stores.
    A little history

    Inverell is in the fabled table highlands area of New England. New England is a region of New South Wales (NSW) that stretches north to the border with Queensland, and takes in the townships of Moree, Boggabilla, Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Armidale, Walcha, Tamworth, Gunnedah and Narrabri, with Inverell a little north and slightly east of its exact centre.

    It is a region that has a long held belief in its own unique identity. In 1915, the New State Movement was launched, with the goal to separate this region from the rest of NSW. In 1934, a Royal Commission affirmed this region as distinct and separate from the rest of the state. This sentiment was revived after World War II, and a gathering in Armidale in 1948 clarified the boundaries of the region.

    Events in the 1970s blurred much of this focus on division. The agricultural sector, on which New England heavily relied, found itself in trouble. Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, which saw, for example, Australian butter exports drop by 90%. A bumper wheat crop at the end of the 1960s destabilised world markets. Regional concerns were overridden by national - and even international - ones. Once responsible for 78% of Australia's exports in FY 1952/53, the share of agricultural goods fell to 21% by FY 1995/96.
    The recent economy

    Today, with Australia placing more importance on becoming a "creative" economy, through a focus on developing services as a centre of high growth, the prospects of regional areas such as New England might seem less than hopeful.

    Yet this seems to not really be the case. US urban economists such as Richard Florida have pointed to how "creative cities" enable people from diverse fields to build temporary connections, and rapidly hook-up creative networks. In Australia, academics such as Chris Gibson, who lectures on economic geography at the University of Wollongong, have added to urban creativity the creative processes at work in regional areas.

    The difference between the two is that where in cities businesses and other creative enterprises develop goals, then build networks which can realise these, in regional areas the order is reversed. People begin with networks that have been well-established between people - and between people and institutions - over decades and generations, then develop goals based on the capabilities those networks can provide.

    Just how close the Inverell H Hardware business and Leigh are to the local community was brought home to us on our first afternoon in the town. It had been raining over the week before we got there, but the skies had mostly cleared, leaving a heavy humidity in the air.

    Leigh stood for a moment in the doorway of his store, his eyes searching the heavens above the way only the eyes of country people who live in the drier areas can, as though questioning every single cloud.

    "I like the rain," he told us. "For me, it is like liquid gold. When it rains, I know I will get paid."

    It was a quiet comment, but it spoke volumes about the links between Leigh, the store, and the community around. That willingness to carry people through the tougher times, and the ability to share in the good fortune of all when hard work and simple, enduring toughness finally get their reward.
    The Inverell story

    The story of Leigh and his development of Inverell Building Supplies, now Inverell H Hardware, is one where the presence of these networks - professional, personal and regional - can be clearly seen.

    Leigh's history with Inverell itself goes back close to 25 years ago, in the early 1990s, when he first came to the town. He was working at the time at BK Oliver Frames & Trusses, the Home Hardware store located in Inverell.

    Whatever his ambitions might have been, he didn't have an opportunity to act on them immediately, as a family illness saw him take on a job with BBC Hardware as sales a rep, in the years immediately prior to its acquisition by Bunnings. In fact, during his time there, Leigh left to go work for Bunnings, but only lasted there for three months or so. Against the odds, he managed to get rehired afterwards by BBC. As Leigh explains:
    Apparently I'm the only fella that John Reece who was state manager of BBC had taken back. You could go to work in a different industry but if you went to the opposition that was treason. That was the word he used.
    He heard I wasn't happy [working at Bunnings] so he rang me and said "come back to see me". I spent 30 minutes in this sterile office, the table had to be 12ft long. He sat there and the whole time he spoke in a very quiet whisper so I had to lean forward. John told me succinctly, but not nastily, why he doesn't take people back. Jason O'Hagan, who was state trade manager and is now the managing director of Weathertex is also sitting there. He said, "What, do you want to come back? Talk to Jason." Then he leaves his office. It was the most incredible interview that I had in my life.

    While Leigh was not fired in the general "cull" of BBC staff that took place in 2001 when Bunnings took over, he chose to leave in 2002.

    Inverell, which he had first seen ten years or so before was still in his mind.
    I thought, what can I do in Inverell? Because we wanted to come back. Then someone said, "Why don't you start a trade hardware?" Because 90% of [that business] was going out of town, and the local Home Hardware owner was very expensive. Funny how he came good when we started!
    But that's what we chose to do. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    Starting from scratch, with a minimal investment wasn't the easiest of beginnings.
    We started in about September, 14 and-a-half years ago [end of 2002], and we didn't have a shop to sell stuff. There was just a bit of furniture in the corner. When I came in and looked, my wife said, I thought you are starting a hardware store, not a flipping warehouse!

    Besides the selling space being quite bare, Leigh was also uncertain if the location was exactly right.
    Apparently the space was always here, it was the furniture place in town and it sold out to someone else. They let us rent it and I thought "this is too far out of town". Inverell is funny in that from the Main Street, even for a slow person, it could take less than two minutes to get here, and this is considered a long way to come.

    Leigh was not deterred by the lack of store fitout. In fact, he thought (at first) they might not need much.
    I told my wife it was going to be trade, and you might not need [a lot of fitout], but within two-and-a-half years [the business] went through the roof and we needed more space. At the time, we put in an extension of 8m x 30m at the back, and that's where we are up to.

    The store measures 2100sqm with another 1000sqm for land. And Leigh is pretty clear about why the store was such a success, from the very beginning.
    People drive 30km to come into town, but once they come they know they can park, and there is someone here who can differentiate from a hex bolt and a cup head bolt. [That knowledge] makes a big difference.

    Another critical element to the store's success was that it was one of the early members of the HBT buying group, from its inception. While the store was not able to meet the criteria for eligibility at the time, then HBT group manager, Tim Starkey, after "doing the numbers", realised the store had good potential.

    It turned out, like many of Mr Starkey's "gut" decisions, to be a good one. The store went on to win HBT's coveted Store of the Year award for 2013.

    It wasn't until about six years after its founding, in 2008, when Inverell Building Supplies hit its first major obstacle. And it was a really big one. This is how Leigh tells it:
    Like all things, we've had the good and bad. We had one builder who was a good friend that was buying from us. His word was his bond. But he rang me one day and said he was in a dark place, and he said, "I'll let you know soon".
    In this town everybody knows if you change your shoes, and someone said did you hear that [the builder] had gone broke? I said "You're kidding!". Because they owed $290,000.

    It was an enormous shock. Leigh faced some tough decisions.
    If we had sold up and we would have received 10% on our goods, I could have come out with a couple of thousand, or maybe $10,000 down. I could go somewhere and get a decent job and just pay it off. Yes, that can level you for some time but I am very thankful that we are still here and still going. So you can either trip your lip and carry on about that or keep going.

    In fact, what happened was a fairly astonishing series of events. The people of the town, including his bank, Westpac, and Leigh's customers, all rallied around to help support the business through its tough times.
    At first, I just sat in the chair and thought, what do you do? I called the bank manager and I couldn't believe it. The bank covered the debt within a week.
    You would not believe some of the builders. There were six of them that came in and said "Would you like us to take this to $100,000? And we'll just get that back whenever without interest." Then all the others started paying. Probably had two then 10% of them paying within 35 to 45 days. Now there were at 43% paying within about 40 days properly and 3% within about 30 days.

    On the other end of the cash flow, many suppliers helped out, extending payment terms as much as they could. HBT, hearing of Leigh's troubles, also reached out to offer help and advice.
    You know who helped us? That a fellow at Orange who is on the board, David Kent. He rang me and asked me how I was going. It was such a lovely thing that he reached out, and I think I can mention Tim [Starkey] who we obviously we miss dearly. That day, he rang and said you've got to have an "office Nazi".

    Getting the "office Nazi", who was already a partner in the business, Robin Cameron (who is anything but a "Nazi"), turned out to be just what the business needed to not only get itself out of its problems, but also to increase its growth rate.
    I am a softy although I've tightened a little bit but I didn't want to become a mongrel which is hard. We had to have Robin, our business partner who took over and since then its happy days, as they say.

    As a result, Leigh is pretty sure that the business could weather a similar setback (not that they would let that happen) without having to draw much on outside resources.
    Not a Nazi, business partner Robin Cameron looks after accounts
    Becoming an "H" Hardware

    Part of the store's ongoing growth has been its decision to rebrand itself as an H Hardware store. While Leigh and Erin had been considering the move for a number of years, the trigger was the 2016 HBT Conference in Townsville, Queensland.

    For such a large store, the task of rebranding has absorbed a considerable amount of resources and taken longer than expected. According to Leigh:
    We started at the end of January [2017] and we wanted it done by end of February but the amount of rain that we've had has made it really difficult. It's virtually done now with some paint on arrows that need to be done outside. The timeframe has been about six weeks but it's actually been about three months, to be fair. It's definitely getting there.

    While it is an expensive undertaking, suppliers rallied around, with the encouragement of HBT.
    It was really great to do even though we dragged our feet a bit but with the help of our suppliers, 17 of them really helped. You've got - just to name a few - Koala Nails, Fletchers, Macsim, Gunnersen's, Bluescope Lysaght, Soudal and at the 12th hour Romak came in.
    Haymes really looked after us. They threw in $1000 and have given me the paint [for the store] at half price.
    We got about $16,000 and it will probably cost us about $40,000. I'm just very thankful and we just need to sell a few bolts and nuts and tins of paint to get the other $25,000 back. But you wouldn't do it unless you think you could, and there are a lot of other benefits with the companies involved.
    The store before opening

    Leigh believes that the changes to the store with the rebranding have already had some positive results - though he is a bit bemused about some of them!
    The merchandising is fantastic. It's really bought an awareness, and obviously I think that will just keep growing.
    We had one fellow who came in and said "You're hardware store?" And I said, "Yeah, we've been here about 15 years." He said "You know what? I've never come in because I didn't see any signs or anything."
    He said, "Do you know what made me come in because I didn't see any signs painted?" [The new H Hardware signs were not up yet.] He said, "I saw the wheelbarrows."
    I thought "great" and we've seen him here for repeat business.
    The only thing is that every day, we've always had the wheelbarrows out there. Always.
    So he didn't pick up on the colour. Now we've got hardware in the name; I wasn't sure if it was a good move when we called it Inverell Building Supplies. We agonised over whether we should have hardware and timber in it. But we thought how long do you make the name? I'm glad now that we have H Hardware and Inverell in small because that is still our identity, as building suppliers.

    Part of the move to the H brand includes a shift a little more towards the DIY enthusiast. As Leigh describes it:
    We were once 90% trade but we are probably now whittling it that down to 80% trade and 20% retail or serious do-it-yourselfers. We are not going to get people who just want to buy one plant, and I don't want to do that. I don't want to compete with Bunnings or the Plants Plus down the road.

    The store has also been constantly expanding how much stock it carries, though the increase sometimes gives Leigh pause.
    We have 15,000 to 16,000 different items; we hit over a million [dollars in stock] the other day and it scared the heck out of me.
    We usually average now $940,000 to $970,000 but we did over $1,000,000 of stock the other day because a new line of wood-fuelled heaters came in. We've been selling heaters almost from the beginning we had mainly the Eureka range from Melbourne. You try to sell to keep Australian made stuff but at the end of the day you have to play the game to keep up and a lot of the Chinese stuff is seriously good (and getting better). I'm not against them, you just have to go the flow. This is a retail business and now it's working well.

    Leigh is particularly proud of the paint section.
    The paint section is pretty good. We've just got to get our tradesmen be more prolific but the retail side is not bad. We're getting there, our rep keeps knocking on doors, so we are trying hard.

    Leigh is particular keen to see suppliers at the upcoming HBT Conference in Sydney, especially those who will be launching new products.

    Inverell is "blessed" by the presence of a Bunnings store, though at least it's not a Warehouse, but one of the smaller format units Bunnings has in some regional locations. The nearest full warehouse is a 90-minute drive away, in Armidale.

    One of the biggest lessons other independents could take from Leigh is that he's not all that particularly concerned about competition from the Bunnings.
    It's unbelievable how much [Bunnings] helps us. Every now and again, sure they are pain with gross profit. but overall that's the only way they can sell, they can only sell on price.
    And I'll give you a great example. The other day, an older couple came in and said do you have 10mm ply? Bunnings said they'll have it up there but we said no sorry we haven't. But the boys - I've got the best crew in Australia but I'm a bit biased - they said we've got 9mm ply. The customers said, that would be fantastic. The order would have been worth about $200. And you know what was on Bunnings' shelves - 9mm ply, and they didn't know it.
    I'm not knocking the people there but they just don't have people who know, the staff who have product knowledge. I say to my guys, try not to say no - unless they ask for a Mercedes-Benz! And, with confidence, we could say no then.

    When you look closely at Leigh's really inspirational story about Inverell H Hardware, and its origins, it's clear just how important a role networks have played in its development. On the surface, many of these networks might seem to be purely commercial, linking the business to banking facilities, the supply of goods, customers, and buying group activities through HBT. In fact, though, while there are commercial aspects to all of these networks, they also operate as deep community-based networks as well.

    The main difference between commercial and community networks is that, while both work on something of a "quid pro quo" basis, when it comes to community networks the time between the "quid" and the "quo" - the length of a "pro" - can stretch out over a year, five years, or even, sometimes, 20 years. With commercial networks, the "pro" is generally about 65 days maximum.

    The currency of the community network, in other words, is trust. The currency of a commercial network is utility.

    This is clearly illustrated by Leigh's example of when his store was in trouble through a default. In this case the community network failed - a trusted member defaulted on an obligation. With a community network when that happens, most of the other members of that network are obligated to offer help and assistance, even if this means they end up "taking a hit" in the short term.

    It's easy to see how that works in a regional area. With a comparatively low population, and low resident turnover, there is a finite number of people which a business can serve. Acting inappropriately, or taking a more commercial, short term view, can result in damage to future business and growth. Plus, quite frankly, it is part of the core social values of these regional areas that you just don't do that. You just don't.

    The real question that is at the heart of the struggle of independent retailers in Australia, not only in hardware/home improvement, but also in sectors such as groceries, is whether in less regional areas, with more diverse networks, the benefits of developed community networks can outweigh those of developed commercial networks.

    It seems likely the key to this kind of success will be finding ways to overtly enhance those community networks, to make them relevant in a modern setting, and also to develop the means to effectively package and market them. To the wise people of Inverell, who are no doubt very proud of their hardware store, the benefits of the "art of the local" are evident. That is less the case in modern, urban-based communities.
    Big box update
    The Bunnings store in Lilydale (VIC) at the site of the old Olive Tree Shopping Centre
    HNN Sources
    Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman said he respected Bunnings' right to choose not to use timber from logged forests
    The Bunnings Warwick store has been placed on the market
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Bunnings to open a store in Lilydale in Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs; Dandenong store staff relocate to ex-Masters store in Dandenong South (VIC); Bunnings has ruled out sourcing timber from 356,000 hectares of forest the Tasmanian Government plans to open to logging; a new Bunnings store for Gatton in the Lockyer Valley (QLD); construction on East Albury store could start in mid-2017; a Bunnings store is planned for Westgate, New Zealand; a site in Jolimont (WA) has been purchased by Bunnings; the Palmerston warehouse in the Northern Territory will be replaced; and Bunnings puts Warwick (QLD) up for sale.
    Lilydale gets its own Bunnings

    Bunnings is building a $16 million store the outer eastern suburb of Lilydale (VIC), at the site of the old Olive Tree Shopping Centre on Main Street. The store is expected to open in mid-May.

    Yarra Ranges Mayor Noel Cliff said the opening of the retail giant would be good for the shopping precinct. He told Leader Newspapers:
    Lilydale needs to start filling that centre. It will hopefully bring activity into Lilydale and liven up the place.

    The planning application, lodged by the big box retailer in July last year, met with controversy on Lilydale Leader's Facebook page, with more than 160 comments.

    Local resident, James Head said he thought the local population was not big enough to support both small businesses and large chain stores. While Sandra Williams said plans could affect traffic congestion near the train station.

    But others thought it was a great idea. Andrew Driscoll said: "Totally a great idea. Especially if it's combined with Dan Murphy's". And Lauren Jarvis said the store was closer to her home and had extended opening hours on weekends.
    Ex-Masters Dandenong store

    In the Melbourne south eastern suburb of Dandenong, the Bunnings store is relocating to Dandenong South (VIC), formerly a Masters store. Bunnings general manager - property, Andrew Marks said the company had entered into an agreement with the landlord of a site at South Gippsland Highway and Princes Highway to convert it into a new Bunnings store. He told Dandenong Journal:
    Following necessary conversion and reformatting works, all team members from the current Bunnings Warehouse Dandenong, will relocate to the new store.

    Mr Marks said works would start in the coming months, with the store set to open in the middle of the year.
    Bunnings takes a stance on timber

    Bunnings said it will not sell timber sourced from contentious Tasmanian forests that the State Government wants to re-open to logging earlier than planned.

    Labor leader Rebecca White recently tabled a letter in State Parliament sent by Bunnings managing director Michael Schneider to Premier Will Hodgman and former Labor leader Bryan Green.

    Mr Schneider wrote that Bunnings had "no desire" to be drawn into the debate over the government's forestry Bill, but that the company had been asked to confirm its position.
    We have been consistent in stating publicly that we welcome an outcome that supports the timber industry, local communities and the environment. Our Tasmanian suppliers have advised us that they will not be sourcing our timber from outside their existing coupes.

    Bunnings had a "long-standing commitment to pursue sustainability across our operations by striving to make them socially responsible and economically viable," Mr Schneider said.

    The company had "committed a zero-tolerance approach to illegally logged timber almost two decades ago...and we can now state with confidence that more than 99% of our timber products are sourced from low-risk plantations or verified legal and sustainable forest operations".

    "We recognise consumers are increasingly aware of issues relating to procurement and expect to know the source of timber they purchase," Mr Schneider said.

    The government tabled legislation to open 356,000 hectares of forests that had been set aside under the former Tasmanian Forests Agreement, including forests on Bruny Island, Wielangta, the Tarkine and the Blue Tier, from July next year. It wants to allow logging on this land otherwise protected under a moratorium until 2020.

    Premier Will Hodgman told Parliament that he respected Bunnings' right to choose not to use the wood, but said the legislation would help end subsidies to the industry and support jobs and regional areas.
    Another Bunnings for Lockyer Valley

    Planning for a new Bunnings store in Gatton (QLD) is going ahead following approval from the Lockyer Valley Regional Council. A council spokesperson told The Chronicle planning approval was given to Bunnings in December 2015 for 289 Eastern Drive, Gatton.

    The Bunnings location sits just outside of the town, a few minutes from the CBD. The spokesperson said:
    The property is 7.84ha in size, with Bunnings to occupy 2.14ha of the total area.

    However, since the project was approved, no work has started at the site which would be the town's only hardware store after the closure of Mitre 10 in early 2016.

    The Lockyer Valley has one other major hardware store, Plainland's Hardware and Rural Centre at Plainland about 10 minutes from Gatton. The spokesperson added:
    A start date for construction is not known as there is no requirement for a developer to provide this information to council.

    The spokesperson said the big box retailer had four years to commence construction, which could push the start date to December 2019 at the latest.

    Bunnings property general manager Andrew Marks could not confirm a start date, but did confirm the approval for the new Bunnings store. He said:
    The timing and details of the project have not been finalised at this stage.

    The Bunnings Gatton store comes after the current construction of a second warehouse for Toowoomba and one for Dalby, which has yet to begin construction, but is set to be finished by the end of the year.

    The Gatton location is part of Bunnings' expansion in Queensland announced in 2014.

    Big box update: Bunnings $810m QLD expansion - HNN
    Mid-year start for East Albury store

    Bunnings is looking at a mid-2017 building date start on its East Albury (NSW) warehouse.

    A former Kimberly Clark factory site is being cleared to make way for this store. Once complete, it will be one of the biggest in Australia and replace the existing store located on Young Street in Albury.

    Bunnings' trade centre in Wodonga is also relocating to East Albury.

    Demolition work on the factory, which shut nearly two years ago, where Bunnings will be built is nearing completion.

    Ballarat-based construction firm, H. Troon, has been confirmed as the builder for the $20 million project. Troon has built Bunnings stores in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. Bunnings general manager - property, Andrew Marks said:
    The new warehouse is expected to create approximately 70 new jobs once open, as well as continued employment for team members transferring over from the existing warehouse and trade centre.
    Construction is due to commence in mid-2017...The new store is expected to open early 2018.

    Bunnings gained development approval from Albury Council last year to build the 20,000sqm warehouse plus 400 car parks.

    A 24-hour service station and convenience store is being built on the opposite side of Drome Street next door to the McDonalds restaurant. Plans have also been lodged recently with council for Total Tools to build next door to McDonalds.

    Peards Garden Centre, located nearby received development consent for a reconfiguration of the business estimated to cost almost $1 million.
    Bunnings Bendigo sold for $14.46m

    The sale of a Bunnings Warehouse located in Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo (VIC) for $14.46 million was a highlight for real estate agents Burgess Rawson recently - and not just because it achieved the top result of the day.

    The 8600sqm on the Calder Freeway looked set to be surprisingly passed in on a vendor bid of $14.4 million before the owner, 72-year-old Guiseppe Scaturchio, stood up and demanded that auctioneer David Scholes, who had been growing increasingly impatient, give him more time. Fairfax Media reports that Mr Scaturchio said:
    You spent 30 minutes selling a service station, this is a Bunnings.

    He then resumed whispered discussions with his selling agent Raoul Holderhead, who had been dashing back and forwards across the auction room at Crown casino between his vendor and the highest bidder, a local investor.

    In the end, the Bunnings sold on a relatively high yield of 6% for the Wesfarmers-leased property.

    A factor in the lacklustre bidding was the relative short length of the Bunnings lease of just five years (with renewal options) meaning an investor might be left with an empty warehouse in a few years.

    A Bunnings in Bathurst in regional NSW underpinned by a 12-year Wesfarmers lease sold for $25.5 million last December on a yield of 5.35% while Bunnings warehouses in Osborne Park in WA and Swan Hill in Victoria transacted on yields recently of 4.65% and 5.09% respectively.
    Bunnings being built in Westgate, NZ

    The fast developing regional town of Westgate, north-west of Auckland in New Zealand is set to get a Bunnings store. Plans for this Bunnings Warehouse were announced in February 2016 with an opening date in the first half of the 2017 financial year.

    Bunnings Warehouse in Westgate would be spread over a 17,000sqm site.

    But the signs on the proposed store's site had been taken down. This prompted speculation on social media that Mitre 10 Mega in Westgate was the reason the Bunnings Warehouse signs had been taken down.

    Theories included that rival Mitre 10 Mega had launched legal action to stop Bunnings operating in Westgate; an overspend at another store forced Bunnings to sell the land; that the company failed to obtain resource consent; and a rumour Bunnings had taken Auckland Council to court over proposed road changes.

    However, Bunnings Group senior public relations co-ordinator, Veronica Castro, told Fairfax New Zealand the signs and mesh hoarding were taken down because they were damaged in a storm and needed to be replaced.

    Bunnings Group general manager New Zealand, Jacqui Coombes said construction of the new store will begin in the coming months. Ms Coombes said the details of the project had not been finalised yet and an opening date would be announced as soon as possible.
    Bunnings buys Jolimont site

    Bunnings has bought a 9984sqm landmark development site on Hay Street, Jolimont (WA). Bunnings general manager - property Andrew Marks confirmed to Western Suburbs Weekly it had purchased the site. He said:
    Plans for the development of a new store are in the early stages, and will be subject to development approval. If approved, it is expected that the new site would replace the current Homebase Subiaco store...

    The City of Subiaco-owned land attracted multiple bidders at the onsite auction held by Colliers International. Agent Tory Packer said the site between Tighe and Bishop Streets had more of a commercial target market. She said:
    There were a few commercial players involved in the enquiring and bidding. And there was quite a crowd; maybe 30 to 35 people.
    Bunnings Palmerston is on the move

    The big box retailer is planning a new development about 4km from its existing site which is close to the Palmerston CBD in the Northern Territory.

    Bunnings general manager - property Andrew Marks said the company was in the process of preparing a development application for a new Bunnings Warehouse just off the Stuart Highway at Pierssene Road, Yarrawonga (NT). He said:
    If approved, Bunnings will be investing approximately $58 million in the development. This includes the fitout and stock for the new store. [It] will be a bigger and better warehouse. It will replace the existing Palmerston Warehouse on the corner of Roystonea and University Avenues.

    Mr Marks said the new Bunnings Warehouse Palmerston was expected to provide employment for more than 230 local residents, and create more than 250 jobs during construction.

    Bunnings did not say what it would do with its current Palmerston site.
    Bunnings Warwick property for sale

    The Bunnings store in Warwick (QLD) has been offered to the market via expressions of interest which closed on April 12. Bunnings Group Limited has a five-year lease through to October 2018 and are paying an annual net rental of $172,096 per annum. In his pitch to potential buyers, Markus Eames from commercial real estate brokers, Cushman & Wakefield said:
    The property offers excellent frontage in an established commercial precinct with principal centre zoning. Positioned in Warwick's CBD the property is in close proximity to other key retail and business premises...
    Not only does this asset represent a great rental return from Australia's leading hardware retailer, there is also fantastic future upside with a prime land component of 6916sqm over 10 lots combined with a 2075sqm of building which will provide a number of future alternatives for redevelopment.
    Seeking opportunities
    An area & marketing communications manager is wanted at Adelaide Brighton Cement
    HNN Sources
    Austech Industries is seeking an experienced sales representative
    A Melbourne-based business development manager is required for Sydney Tools
    Visit the Mecca Website
    Adelaide Brighton Cement seeks a marketing communications manager; experienced sales representative required at Austech; and an opportunity to join Sydney Tools' sales team.
    Customer contact role

    Reporting to the sales manager, the area & marketing communications manager at Adelaide Brighton Cement will work on direct sales activity, along with marketing and communications duties. This role is about developing strong, long-term relationships with both clients and cross-functional internal teams.
    Marketing communications position at Adelaide Brighton
    Driving territory sales

    Austech Industries is seeking an experienced sales representative with a minimum of three years wholesale or retail experience in the industrial, hardware or automotive tool industry. The right candidate will be responsible for proactively driving the retention and growth of customers in the southern suburbs and western region of Sydney.
    Austech needs an account manager in Sydney
    Melbourne BDM for Sydney Tools

    A Melbourne-based business development manager is required for the Sydney Tools business. The role is focused on developing and growing new business relationships, executing the company's long term strategy whilst supporting its Melbourne stores.
    Sydney Tools searching for a Melbourne-based BDM
    Supplier update
    Briggs & Stratton has exclusive distribution of Billy Goat products in Australia
    HNN Sources
    Echo Power Tools' campaign takes a different approach
    Newell Brands' tool divestment included Irwin Tools
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    The Billy Goat range of turf equipment products can be found at Briggs & Stratton dealers in Australia; a new campaign from Echo Power Tools; Newell Brands' tool business divestment contributes to growth strategy; Locksmiths' Supply Company is using Epicor software to manage its supply chain; and AkzoNobel makes carbon neutrality a priority.
    Billy Goat distribution in Australia

    Briggs & Stratton has begun its exclusive Australian distributorship of products from Billy Goat Industries.

    Billy Goat is a manufacturer of specialty turf equipment, used mainly by professional landscapers and gardeners. The range includes aerators, turf cutters, overseeders, power rakes, brush cutters, walk behind blowers, lawn vacuums and debris loaders.

    The Billy Goat brand will now benefit from the support that Briggs & Stratton provides its dealer network and consumers, as well as the hire and rental industry. Dean Harriott, managing director - Australasia, said:
    We are delighted to be taking on Billy Goat and the opportunity to accelerate the growth of the brand in Australia with the backing of Briggs & Stratton's resources, innovations in engines and extensive network.

    Will Coates, president and CEO of Billy Goat Industries, adds:
    It was clear to me and my brother, Drew, that partnering with Briggs & Stratton will give us the best opportunity to continue with the Billy Goat brand.

    The Australian Hire and Rental Industry Association values the hire and rental market in Australia at $6 billion annually, with the equipment hire and rental market worth two thirds of that market. It is expected to enjoy annualised growth of 2.7% over the next five years, according to IBISWorld.

    The gardening services industry in Australia is worth in excess of $3 billion annually and expected to experience growth of 2.2% over the next five years.
    Echo Power Tools ad campaign

    A new campaign from Cramer-Krasselt (C-K) pits the performance of Echo's range of power tools against forces in nature and machine, including hurricanes, muscle cars and combat choppers, instead of the typical comparisons to competitive brands. C-K creative director Nick Marrazza, explains:
    Echo is all about power, always has been. But now they wanted to own the 'power' in outdoor power equipment. So, we needed to demonstrate the power of the tools, but we didn't want to get into a comparison war with other tool brands. Because that's just boring. Instead, we showed how Echo tools out-power some of the most powerful elements on earth.

    Three TV spots for the North American market drive home the power. In one, an Echo backpack blower is shown as more powerful than the winds of a category five hurricane.

    In a spot for the Echo chainsaw, it is compared to a muscle car. "A super-charged muscle car goes from zero to 60 in 3.1 seconds. The chain of an Echo chainsaw: zero to 60 in just 1.2 seconds."

    Finally, an Echo trimmer is compared to the power of a helicopter. "The blades of a combat chopper spin at the rate of 380 RPM. Not even close to an Echo trimmer."

    While the brand previously targeted the weekend warrior, Echo is now looking to improve its market share among professional landscapers, said Wayne Thomsen, vice-president - marketing at Echo.

    While cordless battery powered equipment is growing, the professional landscaper still heavily relies on gas-powered equipment for its power and durability. Echo only makes gas-powered equipment. Mr Thomsen told Marketing Daily:
    We want this audience to take us seriously. So, we made a departure from airport TSA and trolls to change how the brand is viewed in the category. Previous campaigns targeted that weekend warrior landscape, fixing up their backyards. We still want to target homeowners but we want to elevate the brand for professionals to take notice.

    Echo will also promote this campaign through Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

    Tool sell off part of growth plan

    Newell Brands' recent sale of its tools operations to Stanley Black & Decker realised nearly USD1.95 billion for the company, including the retention of accounts receivable.

    As part of the deal - first announced in Oct 2016 - Newell sold the Irwin, Lenox and Hilmor brands of its tools business. However, the company decided to keep its Dymo Industrial labelling business.

    The proceeds from this transaction will mainly be utilised in reducing the company's debt. This, in turn, will take Newell closer to its leverage ratio target of 3-3.5 times EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) in two to three years from the merger with Jarden Corp. which concluded in April 2016.

    The divestiture forms part of Newell's "Growth Game Plan" of transforming into an operating company from a holding company, along with fresh investment plans and ideas for its combined portfolio with Jarden. Accordingly, Newell announced plans to make its operating structure simpler, by reducing its 32 business units to 16 operating divisions. Additionally, this will include the establishment of an all-new e-commerce unit that operates internationally.

    Newell has also unveiled plans to sell off its winter sports businesses; the heaters, humidifiers, and fans operations within the consumer solutions segment and the home solutions unit's consumer storage container business.

    The company recently agreed to sell the Rubbermaid consumer storage totes business and also put up the Pine Mountain and part of Diamond brands, for sale. Notably, the company is on track with its plan of exiting product lines with annual sales in the range of USD200-300 million across its combined business with Jarden, over the next two to three years.

    These changes reflect the company's focus on simplifying its operating structure, and highlights its commitment toward making prudent investments in areas with higher growth potential.

    Supplier update: Stanley buying Irwin Tools - HNN
    LSC chooses Epicor software for ERP

    Locksmiths' Supply Company (LSC) is deploying Epicor Software's cloud resource planning solution to manage all supply chain and distribution tasks.

    LSC selected Epicor ERP as part of its strategy to keep pace with the locksmithing industry as it moves from a mechanical environment to a digital one, with the company distributing over 30,000 hardware, software and service products. Paul Newton, LSC's project team leader, said:
    Security is a growth industry and technological advancements are being made all the time. Our staff are used to seeing smart technology built into the products we sell, from the humble car key right up to home automation, commercial and automotive security.
    In order to remain competitive and retain staff, the onus was on us as managers to provide modern software which is flexible, intuitive and instinctive rather than proprietary, complex and unwieldy.

    Mr Newton said LSC wanted an ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution that in addition to supply and distribution functionality would also reduce the manual sharing of information between staff and could centralise access to this information for greater transparency. He said:
    We knew we needed streamlined processes in terms of supply and distribution in order to continue to grow...We churn out huge volumes of orders and have to make sure we supply customers as efficiently as possible without introducing time delays into the supply chain. With Epicor ERP, staff will be able to complete more sophisticated demand forecasting, and also maintain the integrity of our stock and manage our national supply chain even more effectively.

    Vince Randall, vice-president for Australia and New Zealand, Epicor, said:
    The implementation of Epicor ERP will streamline functions such as sales and order management, warehouse management, inventory optimisation and forecasting. This will permit them to focus on bringing new technologies to market and training and servicing their customer base, growing even further.
    AkzoNobel commits to carbon neutrality

    AkzoNobel said it has become the first paint and coatings manufacturer to pledge to become carbon neutral and use 100% renewable energy by 2050.

    The company aims to build on a sustainability agenda which has seen its share of renewable energy rise to 40%, with almost half of the firm's global sites having improved their energy footprint last year. Chief executive Ton Buchner said:
    We continue to identify areas of opportunity which will drive us forward and help reduce our industry's dependence on fossil fuels. This new vision for 2050 will propel us further along that path, while enabling us to make a measurable contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

    The commitment will be applied throughout the Netherlands-based firm's entire supply chain, helping AkzoNobel to continue to reduce its overall carbon emissions, which fell from 27 million tonnes in 2013 to 24 million tonnes in 2016.

    In addition to its carbon reduction commitment, Akzonobel also pledges to sit at the forefront of the paint industry's transition to a circular economy. Late last year, the firm unveiled a not-for-profit paint remanufacturing facility in North West England, as part of a plan to produce 100,000 litres of remanufactured paint by the end of 2017.
    Europe update
    Bunnings UK has opened another store on Hatfield Road, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
    HNN Sources
    Wolseley will change its name to Ferguson but will maintain its name in the UK
    Travauxlib is a French startup that matches users with construction companies in the renovations market
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    Bunnings UK & Ireland launches another store in St. Albans, Hertfordshire; Wolseley will maintain its name in the UK but will be known as Ferguson in the rest of the world; and French startup company, Travauxlib matches companies and customers planning renovations.
    Bunnings opens its second UK store

    Customers have been welcomed to Bunnings' second store in the UK which has opened on Hatfield Road, St. Albans, Hertfordshire. It replaced a former Homebase store.

    This 40,000 square feet (3,700sqm) outlet stocks more than 24,000 different home improvement and garden products. The store also features timber cutting, a garden centre, a tool shop, a "colour wall" with over 3,000 tiles - as well as paint from Johnstone's Trade, Crown and Dulux.

    England rugby union legend, Kyran Bracken joined team members to celebrate the opening. Bunnings Warehouse Hatfield Road complex manager, Emma Wimble, said:
    Our team members have worked really hard to prepare the store for opening and we are looking forward to helping customers and the community with their home and garden projects. We have already helped Sandridge School by tidying up an unused area of land by repainting flower beds and creating vegetable patches so the children can set up a gardening club. And we look forward to doing more with groups in the local area in the future.

    Stores located in Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes are due to be converted by 30 June.
    Wolseley will rebrand as Ferguson

    FTSE listed plumbing and heating supplier, Wolseley, is to change its name to Ferguson, subject to shareholder approval, and exit the Nordic region.

    The group will continue to use the Wolseley name in the UK market but its name will be changed to reflect the success of its US subsidiary, Ferguson. Group chief executive John Martin said:
    Ferguson now accounts for 84% of group trading profit and we have decided to align the group's name with our most significant brand in our largest market.

    It will henceforth report in US dollars.

    The British company's announcement came as it reported trading profit rose 5% for the six months ending in January, and a change of leadership at its key US business.

    Ferguson's current CEO, Frank Roach, is to be replaced by Kevin Murphy, the company's chief operating officer. Mr Roach is retiring after 40 years with Ferguson.

    Overall, the group has struggled in tough market conditions in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. Its US business continued to grow, with revenue up 5.5% compared to 4.5% for the rest of the group.

    It faced price deflation and tough competition in the UK last year. In September, Wolseley announced it would spend GBP100 million (AUD165 million) closing 80 UK branches and one distribution centre, cutting around 800 jobs.

    Wolseley revealed that profits for the six months ended January 31 this year fell to GBP328 million (AUD542 million), compared to GBP367 million (AUD607 million) in the previous year.

    However, revenues were up nearly 7% on a constant currency basis. Changes in foreign exchange rates saw overall revenues increase by nearly 25%, rising from GBP6.8 billion (AUD11.2 billion) to GBP8.5 billion (AUD14 billion).

    Despite a rise in sales and profits, the group continued with plans to restructure its UK and European business following a decline in like-for-like revenues in both regions.

    It has now begun the process of leaving the Nordic region, having identified "few synergies with the rest of the group's plumbing and heating business", Mr Martin said.

    But share prices have risen on expectations of continued momentum in Wolseley's US business.
    Start up targets French home renos

    Travauxlib is a French startup that matches users with construction companies so they can fix up their homes. The company has raised EUR1.8 million (AUD2.5 million) so far.

    Travauxlib said it adds both transparency and a technology layer to speed up everything before and after the home renovation process.

    The company usually works on complete home renovations, kitchen remodelling, bathroom work and home extensions. On average, Travauxlib's clients have been spending between EUR15,000 (AUD21,000) and EUR20,000 (AUD28,000) on their home renovations.

    But the startup doesn't handle the construction work itself. It's a marketplace with construction partners paying to work with Travauxlib.

    For construction companies, Travauxlib helps find new clients by showcasing their work on its website. They can generate a quote using Travauxlib and bill their clients directly on the platform. It can be a big time saver as the companies don't have to take care of all the paperwork. Travauxlib also works with photographers to take photos of the construction projects.

    There are more than a thousand companies currently on Travauxlib's platform. The selection process is quite rigorous, according to the startup, as it only works with a selected and "most competent" construction businesses.

    At the moment, Travauxlib is only available in and around Paris, but the company is thinking about opening new markets.
    Mobile tool storage
    The GearWrench XL Series 11 Drawer Heavy Duty Cart Trolley & WorkStation in use
    GearWrench Australia
    Top view of the 11 Drawer Heavy Duty Cart Trolley & WorkStation
    Front view of the 11 Drawer Heavy Duty Cart Trolley & WorkStation
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The GearWrench XL Series 11 Drawer Heavy Duty Cart Trolley & WorkStation, topped by a sturdy stainless steel sheet and underlying MDF top-board, is made to withstand rough use across all manner of tasks, including tearing down heavy components such as transmissions and differentials.

    At 1.2 metres wide, 79cm deep and weighing in at 143kg, this unit is suitable as both storage and workspace.

    Each drawer features auto-return, which snaps the drawers closed within the final inches of operation. Lined with a liquid and grease resistant EVA 2.5mm liner, this will ensure easy compartment cleaning and product longevity. The open side space is capped with an 8mm anti-slip EVA mat, to ensure no sharp or awkwardly shaped tools damage the physical unit during movement.

    The 11 drawers are supported by 45mm standard ball bearing slides and formed with rolled over drawer walls for added strength and rigidity.
    Dust-free sanding revolution
    Mirka dust-free sanding systems is distributed in Australia by Tenaru
    Mirka Australia
    Mirka's products feature Abranet, a plastic-like net with thousands of holes providing effective dust extraction
    The Mirka brand is based in Finland
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Mirka provides dust-free sanding systems. Based in Finland, the brand develops and manufactures advanced sanding and polishing machines.

    Mirka's dust-free solutions are achievable through its innovative Abranet, a plastic-like net with thousands of holes providing effective dust extraction. Constructed with a dense network of polyamide fabric threads onto which the abrasive grit is bonded, this open weave net structure means no dust particle is more than 0.5mm away from a dust extraction hole.

    The use of Abranet also eliminates any clogging or dust build-up between the sanding disc and surface, providing a smoother finish more quickly and long-lasting sanding capacity.

    Designed to be connected to a commercial vacuum cleaner such as the Mirka Dust Extractor, sanding with Abranet produces 6900 times less dust compared to sanding with traditional paper abrasives, and it can last up to five times longer.
    HI News V3 No. 3: Is Metcash-IHG on the right track?
    Download the latest issue of HI News Vol. 3, issue no. 3
    HI News
    Is Metcash-IHG on the right track?
    Top independent stores are named and rewarded
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    This edition of HI News explores what the Metcash-owned Independent Hardware Group (IHG) might do with its retail brands and the potential breakaway groups that could come out of its plans.

    Just click on the following link to download this edition:
    HI News V3 No. 3: Is Metcash-IHG on the right track?

    Bunnings invited some of Australia's top retail investment analysts to see its first store in the UK. We take a look at the big box retailer's presentation to them.

    There is an extensive overview of major paint companies, PPG Industries, AkzoNobel, Sherwin-Williams and Valspar. In addition, we analyse the latest company results from Adelaide Brighton, Boral, Fletcher Building, GWA, Reece and Methven.

    The best independent stores operating in 2016 are singled out and rewarded and a Queensland-based Mitre 10 store prepares to battle Bunnings.

    In other news, the Master Builders Association appoints its first female CEO and tradies increasingly choose apps over cash.

    In the UK, home improvement retailer B&Q opens a smaller format store in London and US-based Ace Hardware announces its latest results.

    The latest outdoor power equipment from DeWalt and Greenworks Tools are also highlighted in this issue.
    Is Metcash-IHG on the right track?
    Details from Metcash Strategy Day 2014 slide
    HNN Sources
    Another slide from Metcash Strategy Day 2014
    Slide from Metcash Strategy Day 2014
    Give to Amnesty International
    Concern over what exactly Metcash's Independent Hardware Group (IHG) plans to do with its recently acquired Home Timber and Hardware Group (HTH) continues to grow. HNN has received reports of what appears to be two sub-groups planning to break away from IHG in the near future - though as this is rumour-based it could be one group described in two different ways.

    One set of rumours identifies a group that has a primary focus on the DIY market, and the other group would seem to have a heavy trade focus. There is little doubt that, if we have become aware of one or two such groups, there are likely another two or three under development across Australia as well.

    HNN hasn't been able to confirm any rumours by actually speaking directly to members of these groups, so we can only speculate about the reasons these groups have to break away. One possibility is that IHG, as HNN and others have suggested, may be planning to either eliminate the Home branding for home improvement stores, or at the very least to heavily de-emphasise the brand.

    In a recent article in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), the CEO of IHG (formerly of Mitre 10), Mark Laidlaw, is reported as saying that Metcash has yet to decide what it will do with the HTH Home brand, but it should have some idea by the end of the current calendar year.
    Brand equivalence

    As HNN has said in the past, the difficulty is that the two brands at issue, Metcash's Mitre 10 and the former Woolworths Home Hardware brand, are nearly equivalent in terms of market regard. For example, while Mitre 10 has scored some major sponsorships, most notably of Channel 9's "reality" renovation show "The Block", and has the well-known Scott Cam as its brand spokesperson, Home Timber continues to rate very highly on consumer surveys, such as Roy Morgan's Single Source Survey, where it consistently scores as Australia's best hardware retailer.

    It is no easy task for an individual store to switch from one brand to another. Aside from the cost of a new fitout - for which IHG would presumably offer some assistance - it also requires a deal of remarketing and repositioning. Stores that have used the brand difference to distinguish their offering from nearby Mitre 10 stores would be particularly affected.

    That said, there is a relentless logic behind why IHG is most likely to move to a unified Mitre 10 brand. The single outstanding reason is that if the new entity is going to be able to hold onto share in a market dominated by the Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings, it will have to spend up on marketing. If it tries to spread its marketing spend across two similar, competing brands it will dilute the effectiveness of each campaign to around 40% of the effectiveness of getting behind a single, Mitre 10 campaign (40% instead of 50% because the brands will end up competing with each other in some regards).

    Metcash's brand woes with HTH are actually even more considerable than this difficult situation suggests. There are some indications that Woolworths in selling HTH to Metcash really held the company's "feet over the fire" in extracting the maximum price.

    Just on the numbers alone, Woolworths acquired Danks in July 2009 for a deal that was valued at $87.6 million. In 2016 dollars that would be the equivalent of $102 million (according to calculations by the Reserve Bank of Australia). Woolworths then added both Hudsons Build Supplies and Hardings to those stores, which, combined would have added another $46 million in 2016 dollars at most. There were other additional, smaller acquisitions along the way that would also have added value. Being generous, it might all add up to $155 million or so.

    However, Metcash in the end paid $163 million for a property that is a fragment of a proposed hardware empire that didn't work out. It paid that money right on the cusp of the final collapse of Masters, a failure that would hand the major, dominant competitor in the market easily another 5% of market share, in a downtrending environment with substantial economic concerns on the horizon.

    On top of that, for the deal to go ahead, Metcash had to enter into a fairly onerous undertaking with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a deal that effectively opens up most of the HTH stores to access by third-party suppliers, potentially cutting directly into Metcash's profit margin.

    Further, of that $163 million, it is quite likely around $12 million to $14 million could be allocated to the value of the Home Hardware brand alone. This is value that will simply vanish from this deal if Metcash goes ahead and mothballs that brand.

    And yet, it has to be said, that from a Metcash corporate perspective, there is little doubt that it did the right thing in acquiring HTH. To understand why that is the case, it is necessary to look into the recent history of Metcash itself, to understand the role that Mitre 10 has played in helping the corporation pursue its goals.
    The inevitable

    In the end, the reason Metcash was willing to pay as much for HTH as it did, despite all the negatives and upcoming management difficulties, was because the alternative would have been much worse. That alternative would have been the acquisition of HTH by Anchorage Capital, the firm that successfully acquired Dick Smith Electronics, then listed it on the stock exchange (followed by its collapse a few years later, after Anchorage had exited its position on the company).

    If Metcash had not come up with the $163 million, it would have found its Mitre 10 division facing heavy competition from a brand that was not only just as well regarded, but was backed by enough capital to boost both its growth and its marketing.

    While that would not have done Mitre 10 itself any favours, Metcash acted because it would potentially, through a flow-on effect, have endangered the entire company's operations. Since 2014, Metcash has been in a constant struggle to secure its place as a supplier of wholesale grocery products to its IGA brand, as well as to other independent grocery retailers throughout Australia. In an effort to try to gain market share, the company has invested heavily in attempting to match key prices offered by Australia's two major grocery retailers, Woolworths and the Wesfarmers-owned Coles.

    With the collapse of Woolworths' efforts in hardware, and a subsequent shift by Woolworths to an everyday low prices (EDLP) pricing campaign to match that of Coles, this task has grown increasingly difficult, and more expensive. Added to its woes is the ongoing growth of German discount chain Aldi into areas such as South Australia, as well as US discount household bulk supplier Costco in metropolitan areas. It seems likely now that other discount grocery stores may also enter the Australian market, further intensifying the price war.

    In its most recent results, for the first half of its FY 2016/17, released in late November 2016, Metcash showed an overall decline in earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) of 4%. Food and grocery EBIT declined by 8%, while hardware (Mitre 10) EBIT increased by 8%, and liquor EBIT increased 5%. Excluding one-off items, profit after tax fell by 13.8%. Hardware contributed close to 10% of Metcash's EBIT, out of only 8.8% of its total revenue. Metcash needs hardware.

    Put simply, Metcash could not afford to find itself fighting retail battles on two fronts, both in its grocery business and in its hardware business. Had Anchorage Capital purchased HTH, it would have faced at least three years of a hard fought battle against firstly considerable investment by Anchorage, followed, most likely, by further investment from a newly listed hardware entity. Aside from the direct competition in the market, this would also have moderated investor enthusiasm for Metcash shares, as the possible sale value of its hardware holding would have been negatively affected.
    Legacy of underinvestment

    Since the mid-2014 "reboot" of Metcash there is little doubt that the company has been underinvesting, in relative terms, in its hardware division. As HNN has stated repeatedly, what Mitre 10 has managed to do with limited marketing funds over the past two to three years has been quite amazing. It has carefully selected major, cut-through marketing channels, and capitalised on both the controversy around "The Block" TV show, and the Logie-winning success of its main spokesperson, Scott Cam.

    However, at some point, the weak funding for its brand has had an effect. Had the brand received the kind of funding it really deserved from Metcash, given its great marketing team, it would likely have been considered very much a dominant brand as compared to HTH.

    Instead, starved of marketing funds, and with HTH itself doing some innovative advertising both on TV and on the internet, the two brands have stayed close to being equivalent in terms of brand presence.

    The result is that, for HTH members, there is no real "big boost" to come if they are required to re-identify themselves as Mitre 10 rather than HTH.
    The end game

    What happens next with Metcash's food businesses, and the impact this will have on its hardware business is difficult to forecast. When Metcash began its reinvestment program in mid-2014, a centrepiece to that was its "Diamond" programme which sought to, essentially, lift the standard of certain key IGA stores up to that of the new retail outlets from Woolworths and Coles. This could point to a possible future.

    While Metcash may have found itself put under pressure by Woolworths over a potential sale of HTH to Anchorage Capital, Metcash may be planning to turn the tables on Woolworths - as well as Wesfarmers - in the future.

    Its plan could be to develop its network of IGA stores to near-supermarket equivalents, then do a deal to offer them for sale. That could see Woolworths and Wesfarmers enter a bidding war, as each struggles for an advantage in a tight market.

    That would require a complex deal, as most of these are wholly or majority owned by its members, but it's likely these members would be willing to exit what has become an increasingly difficult business with an unexpectedly big payout. It is also quite likely, given the ongoing, significant competition in this market, that the ACCC would be quite willing to sign off on such a deal as being, ultimately, the best bargain that could be made. The fate of Metcash's hardware operations in that eventuality would be difficult to assess.

    Alternatively, Metcash may consider listing its hardware operations as an independent company on the Australian Stock Exchange. If it can build a successful business over the next three years, it could seek to capitalise on that investment, in order to continue funding its own participation in the grocery price wars.
    The immediate situation

    Even if IHG's statement that it is still considering its options as regards branding is taken at face value, it seems unlikely that Mitre 10 will benefit much from a delay in announcing what it intends to do with the HTH brand. Metcash would be well-advised to determine a strategy before releasing its full-year FY2016/17 results in June 2017.

    If it does hold off on saying anything until the around the time of the FY 2017/18 half year results announcement in December 2017, it will likely see ongoing fragmentation of its membership, as more small groups of retailers form, as they opt for some kind of certainty so that they can plan their businesses.

    If Metcash does choose to shut down the HTH brand, or to sideline it as a minor brand under the major Mitre 10 brand, members should expect to be informed about what the consequences will be for their businesses, and how the company intends to more effectively market its Mitre 10 brands to help them improve their sales in the future.

    Out of all this, there is one issue that could, and perhaps should, help to unite many of the different owners of home improvement retail stores in both the Mitre 10 and the HTH groups. Over at least the past five years both groups have found themselves in situations where the corporate owners of their group have simply not reinvested in their businesses to the extent that the performance numbers they have produced would warrant.

    Just imagine, for example, if Woolworths had invested as little as 5% of the funds that they lost investing in the Masters venture back into HTH - let alone 10%. Ironically, had they done so over only the past five years, they would likely have built a store network that could really bring something of a challenge to some aspects of Bunnings in the current market. It is a sadly wasted opportunity.

    Something similar could be said about Mitre 10. Metcash did provide a good refuge for the group after the unfortunate years from 2006 to 2008 when it all but handed over a leading market share to Bunnings through a poorly planned effort to match the big retailer in the marketplace which did not shift quickly enough to a more modern method of sourcing supply. It is time to move past that, and time for Metcash to make some real investments in this business that are about something more than merely keeping IHG ticking over and delivering its tithe of EBIT every year.

    Metcash half-year results for FY 2016-17 - HNN

    From the archives:
    Mitre 10: Great team that needs a voice - HNN

    Until next time,


    You can contact me directly via email or Twitter @HNN_Australia

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    Big box update
    Bunnings' new-look store in Brisbane will run over four levels
    HNN Sources
    A Warwick business owner takes the fight up to Bunnings
    Bunnings moves into 11 former Masters stores
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    A Bunnings store in Brisbane will look like no other; Bunnings makes a move into 11 former Masters sites; the Berri store is being sold; Bunnings Horsham got an expansion; expressions of interest are called for Bunnings in South Mackay; Bunnings sets up temporary store in Taren Point; and construction has begun on Bunnings Doncaster.
    Four-level Bunnings in Brisbane

    Bunnings is building a store in Newstead, a suburb of Brisbane (QLD), that will span 17,000sqm over four levels. It will be more than double the size of a typical Bunnings Warehouse.

    The mixed-use site will also feature six street-level tenancies for retail or office space, totalling just under 1600sqm in addition to a basement carpark, the main warehouse, outdoor nursery, bagged goods area, cafe and timber trade sales area.

    The Courier Mail reports Bunnings initially paid $20.6 million for a 9400sqm site in 2011, but the development application (DA) was knocked back by Brisbane City Council. A year later it bought the remaining 10,400sqm for $16 million.

    A revised DA for the new-look store was submitted in 2014 and approved last year. According to architects Thomson Adsett:
    The design of Bunnings Warehouse at Newstead relates to the fine-grain and sawtooth form typical of the historic Newstead wool stores and industrial buildings...Pedestrian linkages along the northern facade will be activated by shipping-container style cafes and will adjoin a future residential development.

    In 2012, then-Bunnings chief operating officer Peter Davis said the development "forms part of Bunnings' continuing investment and expansion in metropolitan and regional Queensland".

    Retail expert and associate professor at Queensland University of Technology Business School Gary Mortimer told SmartCompany Bunnings' latest development will see success thanks to its identity as a "destination retailer". He said:
    Bunnings is a destination retailer because shoppers are willing to take the effort to come in not just for products, but for the experience. It's for families on the weekend, wanting to have a shopping experience and a sausage sizzle.

    Mr Mortimer believes Bunnings is similar to Swedish furniture retailer IKEA, which he says helps customers get "actively involved" in the shopping experience. And this store is unlikely to be the last, says Mr Mortimer, who maintains Bunnings will continue to "selectively" place these superstores in key suburban areas.
    This store is interestingly placed, as it's right in the middle of the city, and there's a massive amount of high density and high-income living nearby. There's also not really any big hardware chain close to where they're putting it; they're tapping into the area's growth.
    I think they'll look at other areas in Sydney and Melbourne where there's a high proportion of the population in one area, with high disposable income.

    Mr Mortimer also believes Bunnings is the "clear" market leader with Masters out of the picture and does not see a local player being able to challenge its position. He said:
    Metcash is the only other player, and they have a different offer with smaller stores aligned to tradespeople. A big global retailer could have a look at the market and enter, and there's no reason why Lowe's wouldn't have another look at the market.
    Warwick local fights Bunnings' plans

    The Warwick Daily News reports that real estate agent Helen Harm will continue to fight after Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) approved the development of a Bunnings store last year on a flood plain near her business.

    Mrs Harm said she lodged a legal appeal against Bunnings Group and SDRC in the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland and has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover legal fees which she estimates could top $30,000.
    I am looking at the first phase costing about $15,000 for an independent flood study and legal fees and so far residents and business owners have donated a few thousand dollars to the fund.

    Bunnings plans to build its big box hardware store on a vacant block where Mrs Harm believes will put businesses and residents at risk during flood season. Mrs Harm's real estate business is located on the flood plain which she believes will be in jeopardy if the Bunnings complex is built.

    The proposal would see the store be effectively built on an island stretching across two acres in the middle of the flood plain.

    A hydraulic study by engineering group, Jacobs showed the development would have no major impact on water levels which SDRC based its approval on.

    But Mrs Harm believed an independent study she is seeking will show the development could put businesses and residents in jeopardy during floods. She said:
    Residents are worried the development could take up 20% of a major flood zone, and all the studies done since major floods in Queensland have said same thing,

    Mrs Harm also told Daily Mail Australia:
    There is a hardware store just down the road, we don't need this Bunnings at all.

    The development was due to start in June but could not go ahead until the court outcome, according to Mrs Harm. She has the moral support of business owners in the area including Alan Olsen of Olsen's Home Timber and Hardware.

    Mr Olsen said he backed Mrs Harm's move to take on Bunnings but did not want to risk throwing good money after bad.
    We don't like the council decision but Bunnings has experience and size and we are too small to take on its bureaucracy and lawyers in something that could get very emotionally draining.
    Bunnings expansion through Masters sites

    Bunnings has taken on 11 former Masters Home Improvement stores and announced plans to open nine new stores across NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

    The transformation of the Masters sites has piqued the interest of the competition watchdog but only in relation to the four Masters sites that represent new trading locations for the Bunnings network, Fairfax Media reports.

    Seven of the Masters stores slated for transformation are in suburbs where there is already a Bunnings warehouse and the big box retailer is shutting these stores and moving into the revamped Masters premises.

    Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said there were only a handful of new stores, most of them were "swaps" from current Bunnings stores. He told Fairfax:
    We've also got to assess how much interest there is in these stores from other hardware players. We are still looking at it but we are conscious there are only a small number of new stores and there ... aren't a lot of other people clamouring to take them over as hardware stores.

    Mr Sims said the ACCC also made a distinction between somebody who gets dominance by outplaying everybody else on the field, versus someone who does it by mergers that shouldn't happen or any "anti-competitive behaviour". He said:
    Bunnings are in the best place to buy them but they've really earned their way into that.

    In a communication sent to suppliers, which Fairfax's BusinessDay columnist has seen, Bunnings said it would be embarking on a "very busy new store opening program" from April to September. Bunnings chief operating officer Clive Duncan is quoted as saying:
    We ask that you [suppliers] plan ahead to ensure you have sufficient stock and representative coverage to support the current store network as well as the ... new locations.

    Mr Duncan also said the Masters sites were subject to Home Consortium's agreement with Woolworths and Lowe's.

    In addition to its planned makeover of the 11 Masters properties, Bunnings will open 21 new outlets by September, taking its total store network to about 335 stores.

    It's not clear what Bunnings will do with the properties it is exiting, which include two that are held by the BWP Trust.

    Bunnings re-brands ex-Masters sites in WA - HI News, page 10
    Bunnings SA store to be sold

    The Berri Bunnings store in South Australia is on the market.

    Located at the corner of Hoskins Road and Sturt Highway, the hardware store opened in May 2016 and is the first stage of a master plan for The Riverland Complex site in Berri.

    The 6,557sqm store was developed in a similar design as the Victorian Swan Hill Bunnings, and constructed with a long term view to accommodate the growing population of the Riverland region.

    CBRE is selling the property on behalf of Adelaide-based developer Pat & Co Pty Ltd headed by Tony Moro. Mr Moro said the commitment of Bunnings as the property's anchor tenant was a vote of confidence for the developing precinct.

    CBRE's Justin Dowers said the property marked the first Bunnings warehouse investment offered for sale in Australia for 2017.
    Bunnings warehouse investment properties have been a highly sought after investment vehicle over the past two or so years - a factor that is helping compress yields to as low as 5% in some instances.
    The continued lack of retail investment opportunities such as this is also driving investors to compete for assets in regional locations. Furthermore, the consistent performance and revenue growth of Bunnings has been a key attraction for private and institutional investors, along with the depreciation tax benefits associated with the new assets.

    In late 2016, the Yarrawonga Bunnings in Victoria was sold off the plan for a record yield of 4.94%. It was the first Bunnings warehouse to be sold to a mainland Chinese investor. Mr Dowers said:
    There is evidence that buyers are gaining more confidence in the performance of key regional locations, stemming from increased government expenditure in these regions, along with improved living conditions (mostly related to affordability) driving population growth.
    Bunnings investments are always highly sought after, for a number of reasons. The net lease structure and fixed rental increases are favourable; along with the strength of the fundamental real estate given the strategic site allocations from Bunnings.

    Big box update: Bunnings Yarrawonga has Chinese owner - HNN
    Bunnings Horsham is bigger in size

    Bunnings in Horsham (VIC) has celebrated its $1 million revamp. Store manager Campbell Ballinger told The Mail-Times:
    The upgrade represents an investment of more than $1 million and will increase the store size by more than 1000sqm. All our product ranges will expand including a large, brand new lighting display.

    Mr Ballinger and his team recently celebrated the store's expansion by holding family activities over a weekend. He said:
    We've been part of the Horsham community for more than four years and we're looking forward to bringing an even better store with the latest home improvement and outdoor living products backed by the best service.
    Team members continue to support a number of community groups, working together to assist in local projects including repairs made to Birchip Playgroup's playground and providing DIY workshops at Kurrajong Lodge.
    Mackay Bunnings up for sale

    Bunnings Warehouse in South Mackay (QLD) has been listed for sale via expressions of interest.

    The 13,074sqm warehouse is promoted to have a net income of $1,697,440 a year, and has a 12-year net lease expiring in 2026 with options until 2056.

    On a corner site near the airport, Bunnings South Mackay is on Maggiolo Drive off the Bruce Highway.

    Properties leased to the Wesfarmers-owned hardware chain have become the darlings of the commercial real estate market, with buyers prepared to pay through the nose for a change to secure a piece of that green and red "big box" empire.

    However Bunnings sales tend to come at a trickle, with the company's strategy to slowly divest some of the stores it owns across Australia. So when one does come to market, a lot of potential buyers tend to come from everywhere.

    Stonebridge Property Group's Philip Gartland and William Blanch, who sold the Bathurst store, say Bunnings listings tend to attract investors who might not otherwise dip their toes into commercial property. Mr Gartland told the Daily Mercury:
    It's the sort of asset that can appeal to people that are looking for more secure investments, often people who are 50-plus, that just want to put something into a blue chip covenant, effectively like a corporate bond.
    It's set and forget, because you've got fixed annual uplift, so you're not having to worry about how the turnover of the store is performing, whereas a lot of supermarkets are based on percentage of turnover above a certain threshold.

    Also adding to the attractiveness of the properties is the fact that Bunnings leases are usually long-term, triple net leases, meaning the tenant (Bunnings) agrees to pay for just about everything - real estate taxes, building insurance, maintenance and any other fees. Mr Gartland said:
    Bunnings pretty much do everything, including even the way they define the premises - it's the whole entire land parcel rather than just a pocket of the building.

    And with Bunnings' biggest competitor Masters now wiped out, the case for investing in a Bunnings has further weight, adds Mr Gartland.
    I guess it's taken away that uncertainty of competitive threat, after the store closures. Obviously they dominated while Masters was still there, but now that's been closed, it'd be a fairly brave competitor that would come in now and try to take on Bunnings.
    Recent Bunnings sales
  • Price undisclosed - Bathurst (NSW) November 2016
  • $11.59 million - Yarrawonga (VIC) September 2016
  • $6.425 million - Warragul (VIC) September 2016
  • $10.95 million - Swan Hill (VIC) August 2016
  • $7.05 million - Osborne Park (WA) June 2016
  • $43.5 million - Joondalup (WA) March 2016
  • $24 million - Eltham (VIC) March 2016
  • $40 million - Springfield (QLD) November 2015
  • Bunnings setting up temporary shop

    Bunnings has been given the go-ahead to establish a small-scale, temporary hardware shop while it undertakes a $38 million redevelopment of its Caringbah (NSW) site.

    Sutherland Shire Council approved the fitout and use of the former Cronulla Furniture store at 100-104 Parraweena Road, Taren Point, as a hardware and building supplies store for a maximum of three years.

    Among conditions placed on development consent is that Bunnings prepare a flood emergency response plan because the area is low-lying and has a history of flooding.

    Conversion of the former Cronulla Furniture store for Bunnings' use was estimated in the development application to cost $825,000. A statement of environmental effects said.
    The store will operate under the Bunnings brand [but] will be in effect more like a traditional small hardware store. There will be hardware, tools, paint, fixings, and plumbing, lighting, and garden care type products.
    The key differences [between the existing and temporary stores] are likely to be a minimal timber offer, no garden centre, and there will be a very small range of bagged goods...
    Building start for Doncaster Bunnings

    Work on Bunnings Doncaster in Victoria is set to start within weeks as the big box retailer finalises a contract to build a hardware and apartment complex next to Westfield. Local newspaper, Leader believes the building contract is likely to be finalised and signed off within a matter of weeks.

    The $73 million development will include 250 apartments - 99 flats on top of the 11,000sqm multi-level store as well as two apartment towers. There will be 350 car spaces for shoppers.

    Leader reported last year the plans were finally moving forward after a dispute between Bunnings and Westfield prevented Manningham Council from being able to sign off on permits.

    Initially the Bunnings development threatened to become a legal battle between the retail giants, with Westfield concerned it would affect future growth of its Doncaster complex after announcing a $500 million expansion.

    Andrew Marks, general manager - property for Bunnings, said recently it expected work to start in due course. He told Leader:
    We are currently in the process of appointing a builder for the development. The timing of the project has not been finalised at this stage and we will continue to update the local community as soon as timings are known...

    Bunnings first announced the plans back in 2013.

    Big box update: Bunnings Doncaster will be built - HNN
    DeWalt extends FlexVolt to OPE
    DeWalt expands FlexVolt to its 60V Max outdoor power equipment range
    Hand held blower from the FlexVolt 60V Max line
    The FlexVolt 60V Max string trimmer at work
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Featuring batteries that automatically change voltage when the user changes tools, DeWalt's outdoor power equipment (OPE) lineup will incorporate the new FlexVolt 60V Max 3.0Ah battery (9.0Ah when used in 20V Max tools).

    The FlexVolt system is backwards compatible with most of the existing DeWalt 20V Max system, which now includes over 100 products. This means that the FlexVolt batteries operate both the DeWalt 60V Max outdoor power equipment as well as DeWalt 20V Max power tools.

    The 60V Max chainsaw (DCCS670X1) is equipped with a brushless motor delivering gas performance. The low kickback 16-inch Oregon(r) bar and chain has auto-oiling for continuous lubrication and a tool-free tensioning system for quick bar and chain adjustments.

    The chainsaw delivers smooth cuts, long chain life, and does not have the engine maintenance that is required with gas-powered chainsaws. With no more cold starts and carburettor issues, this chainsaw starts easily with the pull of the trigger.

    The 60V Max handheld blower (DCBL770X1) is also equipped with a brushless motor which generates gas performance to clear jobsite debris at up to 423 CFM and 129 MPH. The handheld blower also includes a flat concentrator nozzle to increase air speed to 175 MPH for heavy duty debris. A variable speed trigger and lock allow for full throttle control without having to constantly hold down the trigger.

    The 60V Max string trimmer (DCST970X1) has a15-inch cut swath accepting DeWalt 0.080-inch or 0.095-inch lines and a gear-drive transmission. It provides amplified torque that maintains cut speed under load. Ideal for construction cleanup and maintenance, the 60V Max outdoor power equipment allows users to leave the gas tank behind and expand their DeWalt power tool and battery systems.

    For professional landscapers, the DeWalt 40V Max system offers a battery solution for day-long, heavy-duty outdoor use.
    Greenworks Tools releases 60V OPE
    Greenworks Pro 60V 21-inch mower is part of the latest line
    Greenworks Tools
    The 60V 24-inch hedge trimmer in use
    The 60V cordless electric leaf blower is available at Lowe's
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The Greenworks Pro 60V battery platform lies at the heart of its new cordless outdoor power equipment (OPE) range. It utilises lithium-ion technology in combination with brushless electric motors to provide power and torque, while reducing noise and vibration, and getting rid of emissions. President of Greenworks Tools, Chris Allen said:
    ...Each tool in the Greenworks Pro 60V line is engineered to improve the user experience. Push button start technology eliminates pull cords in every tool across the platform, while the 540 CFM Turbo Boost button provides added power on-demand in the backpack blower. Patented Smart Cut technology in the mower maximises run-time by keeping the blade speed at an optimal level based on the thickness of the turf...
    We aim to have the right tool for every consumer and by adding the 60V equipment to our 24, 40 and 80V consumer lines, and 82V commercial-grade equipment, we're one step closer to that goal.

    The core line includes the 60V mower, string trimmer, hand-held axial blower, hedge trimmer, chainsaw, and backpack blower. Additional 60V specialty tools - like the pole hedge trimmer - and other accessories will also be available.

    The same battery can power all of the products in Greenworks' 60V offering, allowing users to transition the battery between different tools in the line.

    The Greenworks Pro 60V equipment can be purchased as tool and battery combo kits or the bare tools and batteries may be purchased individually.
    Workwear category dominated by UK player
    Australian-based Prime Mover Workwear is acquired by a major UK safety clothing company
    HNN Sources
    Prime Mover Workwear was founded by Australian entrepreneur, Brett Birkill and his wife Wandy
    Prime Mover also makes workwear for women
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    The AUD1.4 billion workwear market in Australia and New Zealand has seen the entrance of a major UK safety clothing company.

    Prime Mover Workwear - founded by Australian entrepreneur, Brett Birkill and his wife Wandy as a small business above a fruit shop in Melbourne before becoming the largest privately owned workwear company in Australia - has been acquired by Irish firm, Portwest Limited, in a deal worth over 7.5 million euros (AUD10.5 million).

    Portwest is a family owned business and manufactures safety clothing, personal protective equipment (PPE), footwear and other protective gear. It employs over 2000 staff and distributes to over 100 countries worldwide.

    According to its most recent accounts, Portwest booked sales of more than 100 million euros (AUD140 million) during the financial year to the end of February 2016 and reported a profit of just over 12.5 million euros (AUD17.5 million).

    The acquisition of Prime Mover Workwear is a significant geographical expansion and marks the start of the biggest privately owned workwear brand in South East Asia. Portwest CEO, Harry Hughes said:
    We've been wanting to expand into Australasia for some time and have spent a lot of time looking for the best company in the region. We're confident we've found it and can't wait to see what the future holds for us in the territory.

    Mr Birkill will stay on with the company as CEO for Australia and New Zealand. He told Inside Retail that the workwear space is one that crosses over multiple industries.
    It's one of those industries where because it's not high fashion it often doesn't get a lot of press. But it touches pretty much every business around the country whether it's just a few hi-vis vests on the door or a full warehouse through to the general sector.
    The retail side, which services the end consumer business, is booming and has shifted a little bit in recent times by moving heavily into the construction side after housing booms, especially in Melbourne and Sydney...

    Mr Birkill said the new deal will mean a much larger range is on offer, with Portwest introducing a host of items. They include gloves, glasses, headwear and eyewear as well as more job specific items such as whites only for painters or heavy jackets for freezer workers.

    Portwest is owned by brothers Cathal, Harry and Owen Hughes. Harry Hughes said:
    As part of its expansion plans, Portwest has strategically positioned warehousing across five major global locations: USA, Dubai, UK, Poland and Ireland. The company has made considerable investment into factories in Bangladesh and there are plans for a manufacturing facility in Myanmar, where production will commence later this year.

    Portwest has been designing and manufacturing high visibility garments, flame resistant clothing, footwear and PPE for well over 100 years. It was founded in 1904 by Charles Hughes, son of a small farmer. He was determined to make better workwear and footwear when he started his first Portwest factory. His core principles of exceptional design quality, value, and service still apply at the company today.
    Deal making

    Mr Birkill told SmartCompany in a recent interview the deal came about fortuitously, thanks to a conversation that was overheard in a small Irish store. He explained:
    Portwest owns a number of smaller businesses in Ireland not related to workwear, and there was a gentleman from Australia visiting one in Westport last year. One of the owners of Portwest happened to be in that store at the same time, and was talking to a different man about expanding their workwear business into Australia.

    The conversation was overheard by an Australian who was involved in the workwear market, and this led to Prime Mover's first connection with Portwest. Mr Birkill said:
    The Australian guy overheard the conversation and mentioned he knew some people in the workwear industry in Australia, and that was our first connection.

    Both Portwest and Prime Mover Workwear were employing KPMG as consultants, and through that connection, the first talks of an acquisition were made. He said:
    Portwest wasn't actively flying to Australia and knocking on doors looking for connections, they had Australia firmly in their growth plan, but they didn't know where to start. That conversation really kicked it off.

    Along with Mr Birkill and his wife, Prime Mover's staff will keep working at the company.

    This also isn't the first time Prime Mover Workwear has fielded purchase offers from bigger companies, but Mr Birkill has previously turned them down, as they were never the "right fit". He said:
    We had other groups look at the business, but we started this business from scratch, so we wanted to pass it on to someone who could develop it and take it to the next stage.
    There have been a lot of brands bought by big public companies with models that just don't fit, like retail business buying wholesale brands. We wanted the right fit and we wanted the right people. If we had sold to one of the other offers, Prime Mover would not have succeeded.
    Indie store update
    Tenterfield Hardware & Garden Centre takes out the biggest prize in its banner group
    HNN Sources
    Loganholme Mitre 10 prepares to fight for its territory
    Busselton HTH store owners call it a day
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Time for some independent stores to take a bow and receive awards; Bunnings moving into Loganholme Mitre 10 territory; and Home Timber and Hardware in Busselton (WA) is shutting its doors.
    Top stores named and rewarded

    A number of independent stores around the country have been singled out as some of the best in 2016. Here are just a few.
    Thrifty-Link Tenterfield

    Tenterfield Hardware & Garden Centre was awarded the 2016 National Thrifty-Link Store of the Year prize by the Independent Hardware Group (IHG). Co-owner John Roberts said it was an honour to receive the industry accolade and attributed it to the efforts of his passionate and dedicated staff. He told the Tenterfield Star:
    Winning the award is a credit to the tremendous people we have working here. It's a small group of six but we work together and all have a genuine passion for helping locals. The great culture we have plays a pivotal role in the success of our business.
    At the end of the day, it's our customers who are the ultimate judge of what we do, and we're very thankful to the extended Tenterfield community for supporting us over many years.

    The win follows a significant investment by Mr Roberts and his business partners, Geoff and Linda Nye. The store has a strong focus on camping supplies, nursery and outdoor furniture. Tenterfield Hardware & Garden Centre also won the state title.
    MacKenzies Home Timber and Hardware

    Goondiwindi business MacKenzies Home Timber and Hardware has won the 2016 Queensland Store of the Year (over 1,000sqm). The win comes after a period of significant growth, the result of a renewed focus on store presentation, customer service and range selection.

    Owner Clive Quartermaine was on hand to receive the award on behalf of his family and hard working staff at the IHG national awards dinner.
    Margaret River Home Timber and Hardware

    Store manager Paul Brown from Margaret River Home Timber and Hardware collected the trophy for Western Australian Store of the Year (over 1000sqm).

    The win is the latest in a line of successes for the store, which Mr Brown puts down to a solid group of employees working together as a team, with a genuine passion for helping locals. He told Margaret River Mail:
    We have people coming into the shop who have been coming in for twenty years, they come to know the faces and the expertise of the people who work here and rely on their advice.

    The store focuses heavily on local involvement in community groups, proudly displaying a banner above the retail counter listing the various associations and clubs they support. Owners Lloyd and Anne Shepherdson said the community support is reciprocated and represents how the business is run. Mrs Shepherdson said:
    I think it's the culture of the organisation that is important. It is what we hear consistently, that the organisation is well known for having such a strong culture and that's why people keep coming back.
    This is where Paul has been fantastic, he certainly has been a great team leader and together with general manager Noelene Wilcox we have a great leadership team here.
    Cowell Home Timber and Hardware

    Owners Buzz and Hayley Fiegert of Cowell Home Timer and Hardware received the

    SA and NT Store of the Year title, for stores less than 1000sqm. Mrs Fiegert told Eyre Tribune:
    It is an honour to be recognised for the hard work our team have put into growing and improving our business. We honestly had no idea that we would be heading up to the stage.

    The store offers a large variety of building materials and tools to the Eyre Peninsula community in South Australia. It supports the town's football, netball, cricket, bowling and lions clubs, the Franklin Harbour Tennis Association, and the Eastern Eyre Football League and Cricket Association.

    The Fiegerts have owned and operated the store for more than 10 years, and attribute success and growth to their employees. There are currently four staff employed at the store, in addition to the hours Buzz and Hayley put in. Mrs Fiegert added:
    We have a great team who work well together and do whatever needs to be done. We also have the family support to help out with the kids.
    Taree Produce

    Combined Rural Traders (CRT) have awarded Taree Produce as the 2016 NSW Business of the Year. Owner Craig Allport has praised the dedication shown by staff. He told the Manning River Times:
    Being able to service Taree and the surrounding communities over many years has been a privilege. Without the great staff we have at both our Wingham and Taree stores, these kind of awards are not possible.

    Head of the CRT network, on behalf of Ruralco Holdings Limited, Greg O'Neil said the business stood out ahead of other CRTs. He said:
    It has worked hard to ensure its diversified business model covers all rural markets in the region...They continually demonstrate a deep understanding of the needs of the local community.

    The business has won this award five times as well as taking out national honours once.
    Loganholme Mitre 10 prepares for battle

    Development plans revealed that a Bunnings store would open this July at the Hyperdome Home Centre in Loganholme (QLD), where Mitre 10 has been operating for 10 years.

    The news came after Bunnings pulled back from opening at the centre last year and shocked the centre's Mitre 10 owner Ian Gill, according to the Courier Mail.

    Mr Gill's concern followed the closure of two hardware stores in the centre since 2007 and a further five stores shutting shop between Springwood and Beenleigh.

    He said the Home Centre, owned by Queensland Investment Corporation, should support and protect longstanding tenants, in particular after proposals to relax Sunday trading. He told the Courier Mail:
    It's a real concern. We already have three Bunnings located within a 10km radium of us. A store of that size in this area will have big impacts for us and most of the other tenants in the centre. We've already seen so many small businesses struggle to survive when the larger corporates open in their backyard. I'm not against competition - it's a good thing - but a business such as Bunnings has a big leg up and when there's already market saturation.

    Hyperdome Home Centre centre manager Rob Mansfield said the "small-format" Bunnings was needed to cater for the growing demand in the community. He said:
    We are excited by what Bunnings can offer our community, not only in terms of retail but potential jobs, learning and social enterprise.

    Bunnings general manager property Andrew Marks said work would start soon on the new store in Loganholme, which had been an area of interest for some time. He said:
    This tenancy is an opportunity for us to provide local residents access to the latest home improvement and outdoor living products and the best service.
    Busselton store closing after long run

    Father and son team Nick and Brian Wallace are closing the doors of their Home Timber and Hardware business after 30 years of trading in Busselton (WA).

    For the last 13 years, it had been competing against Bunnings, and saw a dramatic loss of customers over the last year which no longer made it viable to run. Brian Wallace told the Busselton Mail:
    The line in the sand got crossed and we decided to call it a day.

    Brian said his father Nick bought the business around 1986. The original store was called Prince Street Hardware. He said the business was so successful that they outgrew the building and had to look for a new location so they could meet demand.
    My father spent two or three years looking for land where he could build a bigger store and ended up buying all the houses along here. He built the building and we had one very successful year trading out of here before Bunnings opened and it has not been easy since. Unfortunately it is the evolution of the industry.

    Brian said the employees at the store were feeling a bit down and that a number of employees had been there since the business started.
    It broke dad's heart, 30 years he has been doing this, I have been in the business for more than 10 years and it has not been an easy thing.

    They expect the store to remain open until mid-April while encouraging the local community to take advantage of the closing down sale.
    Europe update
    An inside look at B&Q's new format store in London
    HNN Sources
    Bunnings is launching an online store in the UK
    Travis Perkins experiences profit slump
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Inside Retail Group takes a tour of B&Q's small-sized London store; an online store is in the works for Bunnings UK & Ireland; DIY event is renamed for 2018; Travis Perkins reveals a profit slump; and Grafton Group looks at growing its presence in Europe.
    B&Q breaks away from big box format

    Steve Collinge, managing director, Insight Retail Group takes a closer look at the smaller format 3,000sqft (280sqm) B&Q store on Holloway Road, North London.

    The B&Q "City" store occupies a former post office, and its closest competitors include Screwfix in Kings Cross (1.9kms away), Homebase almost 2.6kms away in Haringey, a B&Q mini-warehouse, Wickes and Selco in Tottenham (around 5kms) and a B&Q Supercentre in Barnet (5.9kms). The nearest independent hardware store is Woodland Hardware located 1.6kms away on Highbury Park.

    The store carries the new, simplified B&Q branding originally seen in the B&Q Cribbs store and has now been rolled out to a further seven revamped stores including the Milton Keynes warehouse.

    The team consists of 15 full and part time staff, almost all of whom are new to B&Q, but with extensive high street retailing experience. They have all been through the B&Q training programmes, which is critical in a store of this size where you have to be multi-skilled and understand all departments.

    A lot of attention is paid on the added value propositions. In this store, there is key cutting, click 'n' collect, paint mixing, Hertz van hire and customers can get a kitchen designed by a professional kitchen consultant.

    Deciding on the range to squeeze into a 280sqm store, less than 2% of the size of a typical B&Q warehouse format is a challenge. Product categories represented including kitchens, wallpaper, timber, tiles and wooden flooring.

    The Kingfisher brands tend to dominate in-store. In the categories where brands still exist, hand tools for example, the offer is very simple with brand leader Stanley and B&Q's MACAllister. In painting and decorating accessories, it's Harris and B&Q's Diall.

    With the exception of the opening offers, which run for 10 days or until stocks are exhausted, all pricing is national, both for stores and B&Q's website Dulux white emulsion, DeWalt power drill, Karcher Window Vac and bistro garden furniture are part of the opening offers..

    To read more about Mr Collinge's views on B&Q's North London store, click here to see the full story:
    A tour of B&Q's new London store: Steve Collinge, Insight Retail Group - LinkedIn

    The smaller format is part of a trial by B&Q owner Kingfisher to adapt to changing shopping habits. The company said that the trial store would provide shoppers with an offer focused on home decoration, repair and maintenance as well as having a click and collect options which will allow them access to its range of 35,000 SKUs.

    As a trial store, a Kingfisher spokesman said that it wouldn't necessarily pave the way to hundreds of other similarly sized stores opening.

    Europe update: B&Q signals a change in direction - HNN
    BUKI commits to online store

    Bunnings plans to launch a transactional online store in Britain within the next 18 months.

    In a presentation to analysts and investors ahead of store tours recently, managing director of Bunnings UK and Ireland (BUKI), Peter Davis said the retailer needed to offer customers the ability to buy online to succeed in the highly competitive GBP38 billion (AUD61 billion) UK home improvement market. He told the Financial Review:
    In this (UK) market we believe strongly we need to be transactional...We're working on that right now.

    Homebase - now owned by Wesfarmers -- already has a transactional website, which will transition to a new digital platform over the next few months.

    As Bunnings opens new-format stores under the Bunnings brand in the UK, the retailer will build out a digital eco-system that includes product information and how-to demos, mirroring its digital offer in Australia. Mr Davis said:
    We have a holding website for Bunnings UK, our next step is to really lift that and make sure it has strong pre-shop engagement for the UK. It should be transactional within 18 months, that's what I'm personally aiming for. We're not in a rush but we want to get it right.

    Mr Davis also told analysts that he recognised the UK market, unlike Australia, was not about "pergola, deck or pool'' but was "all about living inside''. He said:
    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.

    Mr Davis said sales after October 1 had been good in outdoor living, suggesting Bunnings was seeing or bringing change to UK buying patterns.

    The UK hardware market is very fractured with the top two players only having less than a 15 per cent market share.

    The Australian reports Mr Davis unveiled his plans over the next five years to expand and enrich the Bunnings UK shopping experience. He said despite the uncertainties around Brexit the fundamentals of the hardware sector remained strong.

    To back up its expansion plans in the UK, Bunnings has invested GBP130 million in fresh stock and begun renovating dilapidated Homebase stores.
    DIY event rebrands for 2018

    Taking place on 3-4 June 2018, the National DIY Show will be held at the Ericsson Hall at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry (UK). The event will switch to running the show on a Sunday and Monday.

    Formerly known as Totally DIY & Tools, the show will have the same DIY and builders' merchant visitor base, with the Sunday opening day enabling hardware retailers to attend without taking valuable time out of the business. Lucyanne Matthews, event manager of the National DIY Show, said:
    Our focus over the last 20 years has been on providing innovative and international products for independent retailers. By returning to a Sunday show opening, we are responding to demands from this key section of our visitors. The show will feature various zones and plans are moving ahead towards a special new forum for the trade.

    This year's Totally DIY & Tools show held on 14-15 February featured 80 exhibitors with a wider national and global base than ever before.

    For more information, click on the following link:
    National DIY Show 2018
    Profits have slumped for Travis Perkins

    Britain's largest supplier of building materials and Wickes DIY chain owner, Travis Perkins has posted a 67% decline in annual profits after taking hefty charges from branch closures and its troubled plumbing and heating business.

    The group, which also owns Toolstation, revealed a GBP235 million (AUD377.5 million) impairment charge largely on its embattled heating and plumbing and tile businesses, which are under review.

    Its retail chains Wickes and Toolstation are not affected by the overhaul.

    It also took a GBP57 million (AUD91.5 million) hit to cover costs of its plan to shut more than 30 branches and a revamp of its supply chain. This left bottom line pre-tax profits down by more than two thirds, at GBP73 million (AUD117 million) against GBP224 million (AUD359.7 million) in 2015.

    Revenue increased 4.6% to GBP6.22 billion (AUD10 billion).

    Travis Perkins shares also came under pressure as it cautioned over challenges for the year ahead, with worries over the impact of the weak pound and a possible slowdown in the housing market. Chief executive, John Carter said:
    The sharp decline in the value of sterling since June 2016 has created cost pressures on imported goods and materials, and the expectations for secondary housing market transactions and growth in the repair, maintenance and improvement market have weakened.

    He cautioned that rising inflation was set to hit home buyer demand, which in turn could impact builder merchant sales. Mr Carter said:
    Pressure on consumer discretionary spending from rising inflation could impact secondary housing transactions in the second half of 2017.
    Any significant reduction in consumer confidence may have a more pronounced impact on big-ticket purchases such as kitchens and bathrooms which make up around 10% of the group's sales.

    But Travis Perkins is hoping that any knock to sales will be "broadly" offset by price increases.

    Results for 2016 showed underlying earnings slumped 21.7% to GBP36 million (AUD57.7 million) in its heating and plumbing division, but its Wickes and Toolstation division saw underlying operating profits rise 6.3% to GBP101 million (AUD162 million).

    The company said it will report back on its plans to transform the heating and plumbing division at the 2017 results.
    Grafton growing European presence

    Builders suppliers Grafton Group is looking at further expansion throughout Europe.

    Chief executive officer Gavin Slark recently said the company has a reasonably healthy pipeline of potential acquisitions and significant financial headroom for such activity.

    He said that the group could comfortably spend 200 million euros (AUD279 million) on acquisitions if it so wished but will be looking for "good businesses in good markets with good management at the right price".

    Grafton will, in the short-term, mainly continue to look at bolt-on buys in the UK and further acquisitions in the Netherlands where it has largely driven growth for the group since Grafton entered via acquisition in 2015. Its main Dutch business is specialist tools provider Isero. It contributed 10.4 million euros (AUD14.5 million) to group operating profit last year.

    Mr Slark said that the medium-term objective is to expand into other European areas.

    While acquisition opportunities are low in Ireland, the group will open three new Chadwicks building supply stores there this year. Mr Slark said the gradual growth Grafton is seeing in its Irish business is a good thing as it hints at more sustainable progress.

    It owns Woodie's DIY retail chain, as well as a merchanting business. The Irish merchanting division grew revenue by 12%, last year.

    While he sees some uncertainty in the UK market, Mr Slark said that he remains largely unworried about Brexit. Grafton's main exposure in that regard is via the repair, maintenance and improvement market.

    Key to that sector's growth is consumer confidence and Mr Slark said that will only be properly gauged later in the year when there is more clarity and visibility around what a post-Brexit UK will look like.

    However, he said management anticipates further modest growth in the British market this year.
    Overall prospects for the current year remain favourable with continued growth in Ireland and the Netherlands expected to support an increase in profit in the year ahead.

    Belgium remains the only underperforming market for Grafton, with revenues falling 11%.

    Mr Slark said that the Selco merchanting business in the UK, the exposure to a recovering Irish market and having a leading position in the Dutch market are the three characteristics differentiating Grafton from its peers at present.

    Grafton's multiple markets boost revenues - HI News, page 42
    USA update
    Ace revenues top USD1 billion
    HNN Sources
    BuildDirect launches supply chain platform for heavyweight goods
    Lowe's is trialling a virtual reality service
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Ace Hardware passes the USD1 billion mark; BuildDirect's supply chain platform is suitable for heavyweight goods; and virtual reality is available in a Lowe's store.
    Record revenues, profit for Ace

    Ace Hardware Corp. reported fourth quarter revenues of USD1.2 billion (AUD1.5 billion), an increase of USD67.6 million (USD87.8 million) or 5.8% from the fourth quarter of 2015.

    Net income was USD21.5 million (AUD27.9 million) for the fourth quarter 2016, an increase of USD9.4 million (AUD12.2 million) or 77.7% from the fourth quarter of 2015.

    For the full year, consolidated fiscal 2016 revenues were USD5.1 billion (AUD6.6 billion), an increase of USD80.5 million (AUD104.6 million) or 1.6% compared to the prior year. Fiscal 2016 net income was USD161.2 million (AUD209.5 million), an increase of USD5.0 million (AUD6.5 million) or 3.2% compared to the prior year.

    The 4.4% increase in retail same-store-sales during the fourth quarter of 2016 reported by the approximately 3,000 Ace retailers who share daily retail sales data was the result of increased customer count and average transaction size.

    Same-store-sales at these stores were up 2.5% for the full year. John Venhuizen, president and CEO, said:
    To give you an idea of the success of our retail strategy, we have seen increases in same-store-sales for seven consecutive years, increases in new store growth for five consecutive years and increases in customer transactions for four consecutive years.

    Retail revenues from Ace Retail Holdings - the corporate-owned Westlake Ace Hardware chain - were USD64.4 million (AUD83.7 million) in the fourth quarter of 2016. This is an increase of 7.7% from the fourth quarter of 2015. Same-store-sales were up 3% versus the prior year with outdoor living and lawn and garden showing the largest increases.

    Ace added 152 new domestic stores in fiscal 2016 and cancelled 100 stores. This brought the company's total domestic store count to 4,363 at the end of fiscal 2016, an increase of 52 stores from the end of fiscal 2015.

    On a worldwide basis, Ace added 207 stores in fiscal 2016 and cancelled 103, bringing the global store count to 4,994 at the end of fiscal 2016.
    Platform for heavyweight goods delivery

    Canadian company, BuildDirect, announced it has become the first in the home improvement industry to open its global supply chain platform for heavyweight goods.

    The BuildDirect Gateway gives any third party the ability to access its network of warehousing services, ground and ocean logistics for any part of the shipping journey, from point of manufacture to last-mile delivery. The scalable platform ensures that parties involved in the order fulfillment process can use the most efficient and affordable options for delivering heavyweight products from anywhere in the world, to homes across North America.

    Gateway was specifically designed to accommodate the needs associated with moving heavyweight products that cause significant issues for traditional shipping providers. The platform has been tested and honed in the past several years. Currently, more than 8.2 million pounds (3.7 million kilograms) of products ship through its platform each month, travelling over 5.9 million miles (9.4 million kilometres). BuildDirect co-founder, president, and CEO, Jeff Booth said:
    The system for shipping heavyweight products has always been complex and overly fragmented, which is why it has taken BuildDirect more than 15 years to completely reinvent it.
    Our global supply chain platform and its scope of services has been rigorously refined by managing imports and exports across 35+ countries...

    Gateway offers end-to-end solutions for heavyweight shipping resulting in fewer touchpoints and less damage to the delivered product. The average consolidated BuildDirect shipment is handled 50% less than those in other heavyweight supply chain networks.

    Suppliers in the network get access to varying levels of data depending on how they have engaged with the platform. At the highest level, suppliers gain real-time access to a dashboard that leverages predictive analytics to show where demand for their products are. Products in the network are easily moved around the country to ensure they are close to customers, which closes the gap on shipping costs and offers more reliable delivery windows.

    Customers are able to choose how they would like their products delivered: white glove (ie. room of choice), first threshold (ie. inside a garage), light or heavy assembly and removal of old product, or garbage. Manufacturers and distributors can select how to manage the movement of their products (ocean and ground logistics, or warehousing services).

    Once a delivery is complete, customers provide feedback on their experiences. These ratings and reviews are funnelled back through the system, and carriers that perform well will get more business while those that receive consistently poor feedback are removed.

    All supply chain services are available to any retailer. Gateway offers flexibility for companies to enter the North American market. Alexandre Decarie, CEO of Power Dekor North America, said:
    With minimal investment, no long-term contracts, and a turn-key infrastructure, BuildDirect's Gateway offers tremendous value, convenience and savings.

    BuildDirect also launched BDPros, a service that offers home improvement professionals access to a personal concierge to help find their ideal products at the best price and ensure that goods arrive where they're needed, on time.

    When users sign up, they are connected with a personal concierge who assists them with product sourcing, special orders, partial and full returns, and more. This service allows BDPros members to benefit from delivery via the company's heavyweight shipping network. BDPros members also earn a rebate on purchases throughout the year. Mr Booth said:
    As a former builder, I know the pressure home improvement professionals are under to deliver superior quality on time for a great price, and so much of that process is completely beyond their control. We want to shift that power, putting it back into the builder's hands, so that they can truly delight homeowners.

    To get started with BDPros, professionals simply establish a customer profile that will enable them to track orders and manage projects. Through an online portal, they can shop a wide selection of products sourced from all over the world and have their concierge work directly with suppliers. This enables BDPros members to benefit from lower prices. BuildDirect is not limited by shelf space so suppliers can add products at any time, which allows it to showcase a large array of styles, materials, and price points.

    Members can compare products, view side-by-side reviews, and receive free, unlimited product samples overnight to help manage customer product expectations.
    Lowe's in-store virtual reality

    The US home improvement retailer is launching a virtual reality experience in one of its stores to give customers hands-on practice with a home improvement project. Lowe's may eventually create more VR tutorials and roll them out to more locations.

    Initially, customers at a Massachusetts store will get a lesson in how to tile a bathroom. A customer will put on a VR headset, be placed in a virtual room, and use an HTC Vive hand controller to simulate mixing mortar and placing tile. Eventually, a broader range of tutorials may be offered in all Lowe's stores.

    In a trial run, Lowe's found that customers had a 36% better recall of how to complete the project when compared with people who watched a YouTube how-to video.

    Kyle Nel, director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, told CNNTech about the advantages of VR as a teaching medium. He pointed to the tactile, immersive nature of virtual reality as allowing for better learning.

    Mr Nel noted the limitations of offering in-store clinics taught by an employee. Such classes have to be given at set times, which may be inconvenient for customers. The virtual reality experience is available anytime the store is open. He said:
    Virtual reality just happens to be the best way to give people what they want, when they want it. This is meant to be available to the entire country and Canada, not just those on the bleeding, cutting edge of tech.

    The VR experience also lends itself to improvement. Lowe's will monitor customers and see where they may be getting stuck. Improvements in the teaching process can be made. If Lowe's scales the experience to all of its stores, updates to the teaching process could be made overnight.

    Lowe's trends team has found that millennials are forgoing DIY projects because they lack home improvement confidence and the free time for a project. For Lowe's, virtual reality might be a way to reverse that trend because it can act as a digital tutorial for customers who want to learn basic do-it-yourself skills.
    HI News V3 No. 2: The new Bunnings
    Download the latest issue of HI News Vol. 3, issue no. 2
    HI News
    A look at Wesfarmers-Bunnings first half results
    (l&r) Tom Rugg and Dean Harriott from Briggs & Stratton
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The latest issue of HI News is about the new leadership team at Bunnings and its half year results. We also look at whether the big box retailer has raised its prices compared to 12 months ago and drop into its Geelong (VIC) store.

    Just click on the following link to download this edition:
    HI News V3 No. 2: The new Bunnings

    Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that building is slowing down but renovations are not.

    A round up of Bunnings store developments around the country seems to highlight the fact that not all communities are in favour of a warehouse store in their backyard.

    In Queensland, the owner of Craig's Highfields Hardware speaks out against the changes to retail hours in that state. Agribusiness Ruralco also gets the go-ahead to acquire TP Jones in Tasmania.

    Briggs & Stratton Australasia announces it has a new managing director and in the US, home improvement retailer TreeHouse will be selling the Tesla battery.

    Stihl's latest product releases and the innovative, hybrid padlock BenjiLock that uses fingerprints are profiled in this issue.
    Wesfarmers-Bunnings results 2016-17 H1
    Bunnings results for FY2016/17H1
    Peter Davis, left, runs Bunnings UK & Ireland. Michael Schneider, right, runs Bunnings Australia & New Zealand
    Video shot from drone flying through Bunnings UK pilot store
    Give to Amnesty International
    Australian-based retail and natural resources conglomerate Wesfarmers has reported positive results for the first half of FY 2016/17. Revenue came in at $34,917 million, up by 4.35% on the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was the first half of FY 2015/16. Earnings before tax and interest (EBIT) rose more sharply, up by 15.12% on the pcp, coming in at $2429 million. This produced a net profit after tax (NPAT) of $1577 million, an increase of 13.21% on the pcp.

    The managing director (MD) for Wesfarmers, Richard Goyder stated in a press release that the high level of earnings was largely due to "very strong results reported for Bunnings Australia and New Zealand, Kmart and Officeworks". He added that "The continued momentum in these businesses was particularly pleasing and reflects the strong market positions they have each established".

    Mr Goyder also called out the performance of Wesfarmers' non-retail divisions.
    Earnings for the Industrials division were significantly above the prior corresponding period, with Resources benefitting from higher coal prices and strong production in the second quarter. The Chemicals, Energy and Fertilisers business delivered a strong result for the half, primarily driven by higher chemicals earnings and growth in natural gas retailing, while earnings for Industrial and Safety also improved, benefitting from lower costs following "Fit for Growth" restructuring activities.

    The results from Wesfarmers were somewhat overshadowed by the announcement the day before their release that Mr Goyder has set a final date for relinquishing his role. A press release stated he would be stepping down from his role after the company's annual general meeting (AGM) in November 2017. Mr Goyder will be replaced by Rob Scott, who currently heads up Wesfarmers' Industrials division. Mr Scott has taken up the position of deputy MD. He will be stepping down from his Industrials position on 30 June 2017.

    This announcement followed the news released in late 2016 that then Bunnings CEO, John Gillam, would be leaving Wesfarmers before the end of calendar 2017. He has already stepped down from his role as overall CEO of Bunnings.

    In remarks made in response to an analyst's questions near the end of the presentation of these results, Mr Goyder appeared to introduce some additional flexibility into this suggested schedule. He said:
    The arrangements with John Gillam, he and I'll sit down now with Rob later in the year and determine whether they continue or not. So there's no definitive timeframe around that.... As I said yesterday one of my regrets about moving on is I'm not going to be around to see the success of this business [Bunnings UK & Ireland] directly, but I'll be around indirectly.

    Mr Goyder, meanwhile, has accepted a role as chairman of the Australian Football League (AFL) Commission. While concerns have been raised about his ability to manage both roles, he has stated that Mr Scott would be able to step in should the AFL position need a greater than expected amount of attention for any reason.

    Mr Gillam did not participate in delivering these earnings results for Bunnings. It is unclear if he will participate in the Wesfarmers Strategy Day taking place in June 2017.

    Wesfarmers has also announced it is considering the sale of its Officeworks office supplies division.
     Peter Davis, left, runs Bunnings UK & Ireland. Michael Schneider, right, runs Bunnings Australia & New Zealand

    The home improvement division of Wesfarmers, Bunnings, contributed substantially to Wesfarmers' good results. Bunnings now operates as two semi-independent sub-divisions, Bunnings Australia and New Zealand (BANZ), and Bunnings UK and Ireland (BUKI).

    Combined revenue for the Bunnings division overall was $6995 million, and EBIT was $722 million.
    Bunnings Australia and New Zealand

    BANZ reported sales revenue of $5957 million, up 8.31% on the pcp, with EBIT of $770 million, up 9.84% on the pcp.
    Bunnings results for FY2016/17H1


    The big news for Bunnings in the coming half will be the effect on sales caused by the exit of Masters Home Improvement from the market. The MD of BANZ, Michael Schneider, advised caution in predicting the outcome of this:
    It's really clear that our competitive landscape is dynamic and active. I don't think we've yet been able to clearly understand all the impacts from the Masters' liquidation but what is clear, however, is our continued strong focus on investing both our offer, in terms of network development and value creation for our customers.

    Bunnings has obtained an agreement to purchase 15 properties formerly allocated to Masters. Mr Schneider indicated that 11 of these properties would be used to upgrade and replace existing Bunnings Warehouses.

    However, as the Lowe's/Woolworths joint venture Hydrox Holdings, which operated Masters, remains bogged down in arbitration over its exit plans, it's unclear as to when this property will actually be placed under the control of Wesfarmers. In the past Bunnings has indicated that there will be a further five months of work to turn completed ex-Masters stores into Bunnings Warehouses.

    As HNN has mentioned previously, our speculation would be that the Hydrox situation is resolved sometime in June to July 2017. That would possibly give Bunnings enough time to bring extra capacity online just before Christmas 2017.

    Overall growth fell moderately when compared with the pcp, with total store sales slipping by negative 2.6% to 8.4%, and store-on-store (comp) sales growth down by negative 1.4% to 6.5%. However, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that the background number for growth in hardware was 5.9%, while for the overall household goods category (where much of BANZ's revenue is generated) the growth was only 2.4%.

    Mr Schneider suggested some possible influences which may have reduced revenue growth for BANZ:
    We were pleased with the store-on-store sales growth of 6.5% for the half given that we were cycling strong numbers from the last year, in addition to the Masters' liquidation and wet weather impacts in the current period.

    Mr Schneider also pointed to areas of investment in growth:
    Good work is being done in product innovation, range enhancements and ongoing improvements in service and services. These are providing us with ongoing positive customer engagement trends. All of these activities, of course, span across our consumer and commercial customers.

    Mr Schneider added some comments at the end of his introduction to BANZ's results which hint at the paths BANZ will pursue for growth over the coming 12 months:
    We're pleased with the progress across the agenda and more is expected here in the year ahead. I also thought it was worth noting just how strong our commercial performance continues to be. The opportunities in widening our addressable markets through range innovation, leveraging our digital platforms and customer engagement, is providing solid growth opportunities and coupling this with network redevelopment, is ensuring we're able to constantly improve and innovate our offer.
    Bunnings United Kingdom and Ireland

    BUKI reported revenue of $1038 million, and an EBIT loss of negative $48 million. It also reported that the number of transactions had increased by 9.1% over the pcp. The MD of BUKI, Peter Davis, did suggest this last number had been boosted by sales activities related to the closing out of some product lines.

    It's worth noting that the acquisition of Homebase by Wesfarmers was completed on 27 February 2016. Thus the company has owned this operation for less than a year at this point. As Mr Davis reminded the investment analysts at the presentation, Wesfarmers has planned for a two-year phase for building the basics of the business, followed by a further three years of expansion.

    The acquisition and transformation of Homebase into Bunnings might best be looked at as a long checklist of things that need to be completed. We can summarise what Mr Davis had to say by listing what has been completed, and what remains to be done:
  • Stocking: higher stock weights, wider range
  • Ranging: reduced "soft" homewares, increased core hardware offering
  • Pricing: introduced everyday low prices (EDLP) under its "Always Low Prices" branding
  • Training: heavy investment in training 10,000 employees
  • Regeared the "Bunnings approach" for a more seasonal market
  • Terminated many transitional services held over from Homebase, reintegration into Wesfarmers based services
  • First pilot Bunnings Warehouse opened in early February 2017
  • To be completed
  • Transitional services need to be moved to Wesfarmers, including home delivery, which requires development of both a call centre and IT systems
  • Ongoing removal of concession holders from Homebase
  • Continuing negotiations with suppliers
  • Completion of additional three pilot Bunnings Warehouse before July 2017

  • The completed list is well within the bounds of what Wesfarmers announced as its goal for the first 12 months of Homebase redevelopment. The pilot stores are a strong priority, as Mr Davis pointed out:
    Proof of pilot is obviously a critical step to further investment and we will take our time to get this right. The first of these stores open on February 2 as part of the plan to have at least four pilot stores opened by the end of June. We have had great customer feedback and the early results are pleasing.

    Though it was not mentioned by Wesfarmers, details of the next three pilot stores have emerged. In addition to the initial pilot store in St Albans, a second St Albans store will be opened, 5kms from the first. The third location will be at the Apsley Mills Retail Park, which is located in Hemel Hempstead. This is just West of St Albans, to the North-West of London.

    The fourth location will replace a larger Homebase store about the size of a regular Bunnings Warehouse in Australia, located in Milton Keynes, close to the UK offices of Bunnings. This is some distance North from the other three store locations.

    Mr Davis concluded his remarks by stating:
    We've talked about our long term ambitions; we've talked about the three-phase plan and we're still in phase one. This is a period of consolidation and trial. As we reset Homebase, we're working hard to establish market leading Bunnings Warehouse stores and the success of these stores, it is an absolute precursor to any further investment in the roll-out of our network development plan.
    I think in summary we've seen a solid start.
    Analyst commentary

    While several half-year reports have gone past with nothing more than a couple simple questions asked of Bunnings, at this presentation both BANZ and BUKI received some more serious questioning.
    BUKI EBIT loss

    David Errington, a senior analyst with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, asked some tough questions about the BUKI business. In the past Mr Errington has been especially forceful in expressing some negative opinions regarding this enterprise. Mr Errington began his questioning by asking:
    But UK home improvement, a loss of $48 million in the first half. Clearly that has to be a concern to you or probably given that you're [Mr Goyder] going to be leaving in six months and John Gillam's going to be leaving in six months I'd like to know whose concern that's going to be. That's probably a cheeky shot.

    He expanded on this question by asking:
    But a AUD48 million first half loss and $29 million of that, trading loss. Can you give a bit of colour as to why that is? Because the full year earnings of Homebase was AUD40 million profit. How -- where did that loss come from? That sort of like came out of the blue for me.

    Mr Davis responded by saying:
    Look, we previously advised that as we rebase the sales we'd lose about GBP200 million turnover on the old business. We also did foreshadow that this acquisition -- during the acquisition and transition there was going to be a lot of disruption as we fundamentally repositioned the business.... We've always said, early part will be significant transitional costs and swings.

    Mr Errington persisted with his question:
    But a AUD50 million loss in the first half when you've done one store and you've got another 254 to go and in a market that's really slowing and in a lot of trouble -- I mean Treasury Wines' result yesterday, they highlighted the UK as in real trouble. What's the risk that this loss just doesn't blow out of control?

    When Mr Davis explained that the $48 million loss was driven by transitional rather than foundational costs, Mr Errington expanded on his question:
    Very low prices. So transaction growth's immaterial really. It's a non-number. I'm just worried about the $50 million loss in one half that I'm worried about could blow out significantly as you really do have to transition this business in a weak market.

    Mr Davis denied that the home improvement market was weakening, and provided further detail on the costs:
    We're just resetting the cost base at the moment. We won't finish the transitional services agreement until August. They're quite a drag on earnings at the moment and we've got to re-set up -- as you know set up new IT systems, new delivery platform and we're rebasing the costs around our call centre right at the very moment. So this is a pretty big transition that we're going through.

    Mr Goyder added an additional comment to this:
    Sorry, just one other thing on Homebase. There is a seasonality to it so we would expect the half we're in now as [Mr Davis] alluded to in his comments going through the slides, going into spring and summer we'd expect that to be a stronger performing season than the half we've just been in.

    The reference to previous Homebase's earnings Mr Errington makes was for the year to 31 January 2016, in which the company earned GBP24 million on revenue of GBP1433 million, or $41.7 million on revenue of $2455 million (using current exchange rates). The point Mr Goyder introduces is that the half year being considered does not include the spring season, from March to May, which is typically the period of highest revenue for retail home improvement in the UK and Ireland.

    Mr Errington's reference to Treasury Wines is to an Australian wine company. The company has had good results in the EU and Britain, but has forecast a drop off in demand for 2017. There are mixed views as to what 2017 will do to UK retail, as Britain's impending exit from the European Union (Brexit) introduces random factors. Recent statistics for hardware indicate overall growth for the past five years. While there are signals of a slowdown in many retail sectors, it is unclear if home improvement will be affected.
    UK Office of National Statistics figures for % change volume sales in the hardware industry

    Mr Errington's line of questioning was continued later in the presentation by Grant Saligari, an analyst with Credit Suisse. He asked:
    I just wanted to explore a bit further the line of questioning that David raised earlier on Bunnings UK if I could. I mean, my take on it is that as you put through the EDLP changes in the first half, it obviously caused a trading profit drop. I would have assumed that any of the stock liquidation would have been provisioned for in the acquisition accounting, so I can't see how that would have actually exacerbated the loss.
    As you move into the second half, it looks to me actually like a lot of the concession revenue is still there, based on the GBP600 million of revenue in the first half. So I would have thought even with the seasonal swing revenue falls in the second half, as the concessions come out and then you annualize the EDLP changes. So we're going to be left with a business at the end of fiscal 2017 that could be losing GBP50 million or more before obviously you start to put the Bunning stores in or see how they trade.
    But I'd just be interested in your take on the drivers and how that's likely to evolve through the period and where we may be incorrect or too bearish on those sort of assumptions and outlook for the Homebase side of the business please.

    Mr Davis responded:
    There's a lot of seasonality as Richard has touched on. We're going through some significant changes as we went through the first quarter of this year. And obviously losing Habitat and Argos sales had a pretty big impact on the overall business.... A lot of the products sold in the previous business were very seasonal themselves. So as we moved into November and December, without the furniture and other products to offset those losses in sales, it did have a bigger impact.
    BANZ operating margin

    The questions aimed at Mr Schneider were indirectly about whether BANZ was considering an increase in margins after the departure of Masters. Andrew McLennan, a senior analyst with Macquarie, began by asking about a $30 million provision for restructuring related to store refurbishment that Mr Schneider had called out earlier. Mr McLennan asked:
    I think during the presentation there was mention of a $30 million restructuring charge. Can you confirm that was actually incurred in the half for the ANZ business? Because if that is the case then it will just effectively imply that excluding property sales your margins increased by about 50 basis points. Can you comment on that?

    What Mr McLennan is referring to is that if the $30 million is added back into the $770 million of declared EBIT it produces an operating margin (EBIT over revenue) with is more than 0.5% higher than the operating margin for the pcp.

    Mr Schneider replied:
    As I said in my comments the really pleasing thing for us in the half was also the ability to drive some very strong cost disciplines and productivity improvements as well.

    In other words, he's identifying any margin gain as coming from cost savings.

    This theme was picked up later by Ben Gilbert, an analyst with UBS, who asked:
    I understand you don't manage the business for margin, but surely that must be pushing towards the upper end of what you guys want to achieve in that business. And how do you think about that long term in terms of the trade-off in investment and price versus margin?

    Mr Schneider replied:
    Margin, we manage it for customer value and that's what we keep focusing on. So that's driving the strategic agenda to create our value, grow the market and innovate on range and other things we're focused on. And that just becomes an outcome of good work.

    Mr Gilbert asked if, with Masters' exit, margins might rise. Mr Schneider stated:
    I think it's always one of the big misconceptions that one player is going to dominate the market one way or another. We compete every day with a range of players, traditional and online and the market's competitive. So we just keep driving that agenda as hard as we can.
    EBIT margin for Bunnings

    One of the problems Bunnings has experienced with its move into the UK and Irish market is that it has not performed well in explaining to investment analysts what it is doing. For example, it is very important that the company has secured distribution of Techtronic Industries' (TTI) Ryobi and AEG brands in the UK, which are also distributed by one of its main competitors there, the Kingfisher-owned B&Q.

    In addition to that, though, Bunnings has also brought with it two of its key captive brands, Kaboodle for kitchens and Ozito for lower-end cordless power tools. It has introduced a depth and variety of ranging that has not been seen before in the UK market. As Steve Collinge, the managing director of Insight Retail Group wrote in a review of the first Bunnings pilot store:
    In terms of individual product categories, they have without doubt delivered a tool category or carale of note. A barn stormer of a department with more power and hand tools than I've ever seen under one roof. Total and utter category credibility. When the manager opens the store on a Monday morning, he'll be finding random middle aged males fast asleep in this department with their heads resting on angle grinders and big smiles on their faces.
    Commentary from Insight Retail Group

    Mr Collinge also commented on the turnaround in staff attitudes, not just at the pilot Bunnings, but throughout the Homebase store chain. This indicates the money that has been invested so far in Bunnings operations in the UK has not been wasted. Given that, it is questionable whether having BUKI run over budget by $150 million or so in the initial three years really matters so much.

    What really does matter, however, is how BUKI responds to the major competitive forces it faces. HNN has identified two key areas.

    Bunnings will need to learn how to adapt to real competition. One way the company won out over Masters was that it changed, and upped its game in a way that was unexpected. Bunnings has to realise that its competition in the UK is capable of doing the same thing to it. Already, for example, Wickes has found out about BUKI's ambition to open its fourth pilot store in Milton Keynes, close to one of its stores. It has moved to upgrade that location to one of its more premium fitouts.

    Likewise, Kingfisher's B&Q is not going to sit idly by and watch while Bunnings takes market share away from it. The company has developed its own new offering, based on making it much easier for renovators to complete their projects. This (European) spring will be its first test in the market.

    The UK is also a much more sophisticated market than Australia. Bunnings has already launched its first TV ad campaign, copying the format it used in Australia. Will that really work? Has it been tested? How is response being monitored? What mechanisms are in place to develop a more sophisticated approach if that proves necessary? Compared to B&Q's advertising campaigns, which is more effective?

    Secondly, there is ecommerce. Ecommerce for home improvement just does not make sense to Bunnings management -- and yet it makes a lot of sense to UK homeowners. It is something Bunnings may need to rethink as it grows in the UK market.

    Few retailers understand their customers as well as Bunnings understands its Australian customers. The danger is that it will assume this understanding is more universal than it really is. That relates to ecommerce features such as click & collect, and to the issue of ethnic diversity in its TV ads.

    In Australia, if there is one area where Bunnings could be vulnerable, that would be in outdoor living. A retailer that combined outdoor furniture, barbecues, gardening, and deck/outdoor room construction all together, could have a real impact on Bunnings.

    Of course, as Woolworths learned, Bunnings is a very nimble and agile competitor, and Mr Schneider was a key player in Bunnings' strategic response to Masters. It is very likely, though, that one of the key lessons he learned in that engagement is that scale, in modern retail, does not always guarantee success, not in the long term.

    Until next time,


    You can contact me directly via email or Twitter @HNN_Australia

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    Makita's business development manager for its power garden unit must focus on large business; managing a territory for E.D. Oates in South Australia; and a senior strategic retail role at Winning Appliances.
    OPE industry professional

    Makita Australia is looking to recruit a highly motivated and proficient national outdoor power equipment (OPE) business development manager to join its team. Reporting to the national marketing manager, it is seeking an experienced professional who can source and develop new business via direct channels, with an emphasis on large business.
    Makita is seeking a BDM for its power garden unit
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    E.D. Oates has an opportunity to manage a portfolio of customers within a defined "territory" that includes industrial, wholesale, commercial, retail, and independent hardware accounts. The territory sales manager must also be able to service South Australian regional customers.
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    The head of store development at Winning Appliances reports directly to the company's CEO and is both strategic and operational in nature, across 20,000sqm of retail real estate. The ideal candidate will work across functions to "drive the required outcome of delivering the world's best shopping experience from a store visual merchandise, planning and operational perspective".
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    The proposed Bunnings site is opposite the White Bay Power Station in Rozelle (NSW)
    HNN Sources
    Four ex-Masters buildings in WA will be turned into Bunnings stores
    Domain Mitre 10 owner has applied to join the fight against Bunnings in Panorama
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    A local council in inner western Sydney has rebuffed Bunnings' advances; four ex-Masters sites in WA will turn into Bunnings stores; Mitre 10 store owner applies to join fight against a Bunnings store in Panorama (SA); Bunnings Rockhampton staff are moving into former Masters site; Bunnings asks for a review of the Tura Beach site in NSW; a smaller format Bunnings store will open in Dalby (QLD); Bunnings Shepparton scheduled to open mid-2017; and Bunnings ads in New Zealand in court dispute.
  • Rozelle says no to Bunnings

  • A proposed Bunnings store in the inner Sydney suburb of Rozelle has been rejected by Inner West Council because of "multiple" flaws in planning documents, reports the Inner West Courier.

    The council gave developers until February 10 to withdraw its proposal for the $11.8 million hardware outlet on an existing industrial site opposite the White Bay Power Station.

    In a letter sent to developers, the council raised 11 objections to the proposal including increased local traffic. The council also found the development plans did not assess noise impacts on nearby homes, failed to use correct flood analysis modelling, and lacked waste management plans.

    Other objections raised by the council included a proposed loading dock and ramp that doesn't adequately service the development, impacts on heritage conservation and a "signification breach of the zoned floor space ratio."

    In the letter, the council said the application would be "refused without further notice" if developers did not respond within the three-week cut-off date.

    The proposal - which was lodged to the council in October - was developed by site owner John Lethlean in an agreement with Bunnings.

    The council said it would defend its position if Mr Lethlean appeals the council's decision in the Land and Environment Court. The proposal was also met with opposition from existing independent retailers on the peninsula, including the Hardware Store which operates 600 metres from the site.

    Bunnings general manager of property Andrew Marks said the company would continue to work with Mr Lethlean and the council to "resolve the matters raised".

    Bunnings' micro-warehouse in Balmain - HNN
    Bunnings re-brands ex-Masters sites in WA

    Bunnings has received local council approval to modify four of the nine ex-Masters buildings in Baldivis, Landsdale, Bayswater and Mandurah in WA.

    Bunnings general manager - property Andrew Marks said the WA stores were four of 15 old Masters stores it was interested in acquiring nationally. He said:
    The conversion of these sites into Bunnings Warehouses is pending the Home Consortium agreement with Woolworths Limited which is subject to the consent of Lowe's Companies, Inc..

    BWP Trust also said the Bunnings Warehouse outlets in Morley and Mandurah were among seven BWP-owned properties the big box retailer planned to vacate. These moves will see Bunnings take over the former Masters stores in Bayswater and Mandurah.

    Three other BWP sites to be vacated were in Victoria and NSW, while two others were still being kept confidential.

    The trust - 25% owned by Wesfarmers - reported a $55.5 million distributable profit for the first half, up 4%. Revenue rose 1.5% to $76 million.
    Battle for Panorama builds up

    Bunnings' plans to construct a $42 million store in Panorama (SA) has seen a Mitre 10 store owner attempting to join court action to block the development.

    Domain Mitre 10 owner Chris Wauchope believes his business will be forced to close if the big box retailer is allowed to open at the former TAFE campus site on Goodwood Road.

    Mitcham Council's Development Assessment Panel (DAP) rejected Bunnings' plans for the site in August last year, arguing the store was too big for the area and would create traffic issues.

    Mr Wauchope has applied to join the council as a defendant in the case. But the council argued his objections were based on commercial reasons, not planning issues, and should not be heard in the Environment, Resources and Development (ERD) Court.

    Panorama resident Neil Baron is appealing that decision in the ERD Court because he thinks the store is well designed and will create jobs.

    The case has been adjourned until March 7 so a judge can decide whether Mr Wauchope can join the case.

    Mr Wauchope was pleased his bid to stop Bunnings opening would be considered. He told the HillsValley Weekly:
    I am however disappointed that Mitcham Council would formally oppose our involvement, given we are ratepayers who lodged a representation in respect of Bunnings original application.

    To further complicate matters, Bunnings is working on new designs for the Goodwood Rd site which will be assessed by the council's DAP in March.

    Mitcham chief executive Matthew Pears said even if the council approved the latest plans, because of the ongoing legal action, they would need to be assessed by a court before a final decision was made.

    Mitcham mayor Glenn Spear has supported Bunnings, saying the good outweighs the bad.

    Say No to Bunnings Panorama spokesman Peter Bryant criticised Mr Spear for "barracking" in favour of the proposal. He said:
    The community spoke very loudly about the lack of transparency, and it seems that Bunnings has been given a private ear to the council process. The only time the community finds out about the next step is when it is almost too late.

    Big box update: Bunnings Panorama back on the agenda - HNN
    Bunnings relocates Rockhampton

    The Morning Bulletin has revealed that Bunnings received development approval from Rockhampton Regional Council for the Masters Rockhampton site to become a Bunnings Warehouse. Bunnings general manager - property, Andrew Marks said:
    Following the reformatting works, our intention is to relocate our existing Rockhampton warehouse, including all current Bunnings team members...We do note that the Home Consortium agreement with Woolworths Limited is subject to the consent of Lowe's Companies, Inc.

    The Masters Rockhampton site is located in close vicinity to the current Bunnings store. Mr Marks added:
    We also intend to ensure our existing location is re-purposed, which will hopefully support bulky goods retailers entering the region and creating new jobs in Rockhampton.
    Tura Beach may still get a Bunnings store

    The door has not been closed on the possibility that a Bunnings outlet may be built at Tura Beach (NSW).

    According to the Merimbula News Weekly, the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel has refused an application to rezone two parcels of land at Tura Beach to a B5 zone, to allow bulky goods or other retailing uses.

    The rezoning issue for lots 33 and 34 DP243029 has been on council's agenda multiple times since 2012 and more recently after the land was purchased by Bunnings' parent company, Wesfarmers who have shown interest in the site for some time.

    Despite council's support for rezoning the site from 1C Rural Small Holdings to a B5 Business Development Zone on two occasions, NSW Planning refused it saying it would not fit in with the "village" community of Tura and that any such development was better suited to Bega.

    More recently, Wesfarmers asked for a gateway review of the NSW Planning decision.

    The five person panel included local councillors Jo Dodds and Robyn Bain. It received presentations from the mayor Kristy McBain and representatives of the Department of Planning and Environment and Bunnings.

    Although the panel unanimously agreed that the proposal should not proceed, it recommended that the site be rezoned to R5. This zoning would still allow a small format Bunnings to be built, subject to height restrictions and building footprint.

    The panel said in its view, there was an economic and strategic benefit in allowing the use of the site for a Bunnings facility and added that it was not dissimilar to other uses such as landscape material supplies and plant nurseries that were permitted in the R5 Large Lot Residential zoning just north of the site.

    Both Crs Bain and Dodds were pleased with the outcome and stressed it was a decision about whether the zoning was correct for the area, not about the owner of the land.

    Some of the rezoning issues have come about because the strategic plan for the area was last published in 2006 when Tura Beach was far smaller. Both councillors agreed that strategic planning for the area needed reviewing.

    For the time being though the zoning issue for the two blocks is back in Bunnings' hands and the company, as the owner, will have to reapply to council for an R5 zoning.

    Big box update: Bunnings' rezoning request - HNN
    Dalby to get smaller format store

    Bunnings has been given approval for a $12 million store in Dalby (QLD). The store is expected to be completed later this year.

    McNab Constructions has been named as the contractor. Project manager Ryan Smith said the team was keen to get started on the development. He said:
    We're very excited to get under way on this Bunnings warehouse, especially considering it is so close to our head office in Toowoomba.

    Bunnings property general manager Andrew Marks said it was an exciting time. He said:
    We will continue to update the Dalby community as development progresses ahead.
    Mid-2017 opening for Bunnings Shepparton

    The Bunnings building in Shepparton (VIC) is on schedule to be completed mid-year. The store will replace the existing Bunnings Warehouse in the area.

    Intersection works at the entry to the site and the service road, including new traffic signals, are progressing well and all team members will transfer to the new premises. General manager - property, Andrew Marks told the Shepparton Adviser:
    The development of the $53 million Bunnings Warehouse Shepparton is currently on schedule for opening in the middle of this year. On-site, the construction of structural steel for the warehouse and nursery is almost complete with roof sheeting underway. Erection of the concrete wall panels is nearing completion.

    The new-look Bunnings in Shepparton will have an approximate total store size of over 18,000sqm.

    Big box update: Shepparton will be second largest in VIC - HNN
    Bunnings NZ in court over ad campaign

    The Commerce Commission has filed 45 charges in the Auckland District Court against Bunnings New Zealand, alleging the big box retailer misled consumers by advertising the prices of its goods as being the lowest in the market.

    Bunnings' advertising at its stores across New Zealand has given an overall impression it offered the lowest prices for its products when this was not true, according to the regulator.

    Some of the taglines named by the Commission as being "false or misleading" were:
  • "Lowest prices are just the beginning ..."
  • "Bunnings has the lowest price on everything you need."
  • "Everything is at the lowest price guaranteed."
  • "We've got the widest range and the lowest prices."

  • Each of the 45 offences is punishable by a fine of up to NZD600,000.

    The investigation focused on the period from July 1, 2014, to February 28, 2016.

    Bunnings said it is "disappointed" with the Commerce Commission's decision to file charges. Jacqui Coombes, NZ general manager in an emailed statement said:
    We disagree with the Commerce Commission's view of our lowest prices policy and will defend our highly competitive price guarantee.

    Ms Coombes said the company would continue the policy, backed up by "behind the scenes" processes and procedures.
    We remain absolutely committed to creating more value for New Zealand consumers and believe in the right of all businesses to compete on price.

    The case is being called to the district court for the first time on March 7.
    Indie store update
    Craig's Highfields Hardware is not in favour of changes to retail hours in Queensland
    HNN Sources
    Juncken Home Timber and Hardware is closing its doors
    Mackay-based Porters is making changes to its business
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Craig's Highfields Hardware owner speaks out against changes to QLD's revised retail opening hours; Juncken Home Timber and Hardware is shutting its doors after the owners sell the property; Porters in Mackay (QLD) restructures for growth; and Combined Rural Traders names its top business.
    Changes to QLD retail hours affects independents

    Craig Stibbard, owner of Craig's Highfields Hardware in Toowoomba (QLD), believes any reforms to Queensland's hardware store trading hours will be an another advantage for chains like Bunnings and potentially hurt independent stores.

    Mr Stibbard's store opens from 7am on week days and 8am on weekends. He said Bunnings had already claimed a number of smaller stores and deregulating opening hours would only benefit big business. He told The Chronicle:
    ...Whatever advantage we had on them would go with these changes. There're 12 of our Home Hardware group stores that have closed over 18 months and we're getting squeezed out.

    Under the changes, hardware stores would be able to open from 6am Monday to Sunday as part of an initiative to reduce Queensland's 99 trading hour zones to just six. Bunnings currently only opens at 9am on a Sunday.

    Mr Stibbard said this put small operators at a disadvantage if they could not afford to open earlier. He said:
    We would feel obligated (to open earlier) to compete...The council and both levels of government need to offer incentives. There's nothing out there for us. They should make it a fairer playing field for us.

    Mr Stibbard added there were certain things a store like his could do that Bunnings could not.
    We employ the local kids here. If we're not around, who's going to employ them? We do work experience with kids and Bunnings doesn't offer that. Bunnings won't go and run a local canteen or coach the junior sporting clubs.

    The changes to hardware store hours was among recommendations handed down from an inquiry into the trading hour issue led by former parliamentary speaker John Mickel.

    Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced more standardised trading hours across the state as part of the government's implementation of the Mickel Report into trading hours.

    She said the reforms would create jobs, help businesses and modernise trading hours.
    Store closure confirmed

    The owners Juncken Home Timber and Hardware in Nuriootpa (SA) said it will close after the sale of the property. The store will continue to trade as normal for now, as the directors of CO Juncken Builders Pty Ltd push through with the site sale to an undisclosed party. Managing director James Gerhardy told the Barossa Herald:
    The decision to close has certainly not been an easy one, but as major shareholders are wishing to scale back their business interests, we really have no alternative. This exit has been planned for a number of years.

    It was not known what the site would be used for under the new purchaser, with Mr Gerhardy hopeful the buyer may retain "some elements" of the hardware store.

    The move comes after years of unsuccessful attempts to sell the business.
    Porters appoints new COO

    Mackay-based hardware and building supplies company, Porters has undergone a management restructure. Peter Newman, previously general manager of wholesaler P & R Electrical in South Australia, has taken on the new role of chief operating officer. He told the Whitsunday Coast Guardian:
    The whole idea is that I'm doing all the operations for the business unit - the branches that Porters owns, whether it be the building supplies, the trade supplies, the plumbing, the glass manufacturing all the rest of it - those managers are reporting to me from an operational viewpoint.
    It's all about growing those businesses further and focusing more on them and driving them.

    Previously, all operational matters were handled by managing director Gavan Porter. Mr Newman will now report to him. It is hoped the restructure will allow the company to expand and move forward.

    The company employs more than 180 people, but Mr Newman expects this number to increase, although the time-frame will depend on the market. He said:
    We're not going to go out and employ 100 people tomorrow, but obviously we want to grow that as the market allows us to.

    Mr Newman said it was exciting to be joining a company that has been in the hands of a family for five generations.
    One of the reasons I was attracted to the role was from the length and longevity of this business - 130 years old. That's a pleasing thing - that they've gone obviously through the ups and downs of business cycles, but plus also, because of what they're trying to do moving forward as a business.

    Indie store update: Jobs to go at Porters - HNN
    CRT acknowledges best business

    Dalby Rural Supplies, based in Darling Downs (QLD), took out the Combined Rural Traders (CRT) National Business of the Year award recently.

    It won the national award for having high ratings with customers, suppliers and staff members, according to CRT general manager Greg O'Neil. He told The Chronicle:
    Dalby Rural Supplies is an exceptional business...It has impressed with their wide-ranging technical expertise, their constant drive to improve the business and their deep understanding of the needs of the local community.

    Dalby Rural Supplies principal John Cullen said the award came as a pleasant surprise for everyone who worked at the store.
    Being recognised for the way we have serviced the Dalby region over many years is humbling, but it has been our privilege to work with the people here. Our focus has always been to be experts on our region, the advice we give is specific to the unique challenges of farming here.
    The extensive range of services and resources we can provide as a CRT business means we can help our clients with everything from rural merchandise to insurance, but we never stop learning.

    Independent rural retail group CRT has nearly 400 stores across Australia.
    Europe update
    Bunnings managing director for UK and Ireland, Peter "PJ" Davis
    HNN Sources
    Fast and precise delivery is a priority at Wickes
    B&Q trials smaller-format store in London. Image from John Ryan Twitter @newstores.
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Insights behind Bunnings St Albans (UK) from PJ Davis; upgraded logistics for Wickes customers; a different-look urban store from B&Q; and Kingspan reports a rise in sales.
    Bunnings' entry into UK becomes real

    During a pre-opening tour for its first UK store in St Albans for mainstream media, Bunnings managing director for UK and Ireland, Peter "PJ" Davis told the Australian Financial Review:
    The format is the same. But don't think for a moment we've duplicated the range from Australia.

    He explains the range has been tweaked to take into account British tastes. For example, there is more space devoted to storage products because houses are smaller in Britain. The plumbing, lighting and kitchen sections are given greater emphasis while a "significant amount" of space is devoted to bird seed. He said:
    We will have a much bigger range of bird feed than in Australia. We'll have four stacks of shelves full of it - that is a big deal.

    The unpredictable British summer has meant there is less of a focus on outdoor living, but there is, of course, a vast range of barbecues, from small coal-fuelled cookers to full outdoor kitchens complete with a sink.

    A substantial proportion of tools at rival retailers, B&Q and Wickes come from homebrand products - the opposite approach from Bunnings, which is offering a wide range predominantly made by manufacturers such as Ryobi and Bosch. Mr Davis explains:
    We've done a lot of research...and we believe very strongly that the research shows people are after a wide choice of leading brands.
    And we also believe that innovation leads to people wanting to do [DIY] things. If you are in this market you don't just compete with other home improvement retailers...people make choices about whether they go out to dinner on a Saturday night or paint their lounge rooms.
    That's a lifestyle choice that people have got to make based on income and we are making these lifestyle choices easier and better for a customer.

    According to Mr Davis, getting people to spend money on their homes instead of going out for dinner is the biggest challenge. He added:
    We're getting to those customers by getting them excited by the choice of products.
    Customer demographics

    The St Albans store is one of four planned prototypes for the DIY chain that will replace Homebase over the next five years. The Homebase of old sought to attract female DIY shoppers with "personalised mood boards" and attractive displays of cushions, throws and other nicknacks from brands including Laura Ashley and Habitat.

    But Mr Davis has removed the chintz, bringing in a new era of basic warehouse chic, where special offers at the checkouts include incinerator bins and disposable boiler suits. He said:
    We've made the decision to be a home improvement and garden retailer and have got rid of the duvets, cushions and coffee cups. We're going back to the core of home improvement and garden. We don't want to sell the soft side. There are plenty of other retailers, like Dunelm, Ikea and Next, doing a good job of that.

    It will also hold DIY workshops for "the whole family". Mr Davis said:
    Our very first store [in Australia] had a children's playground and a cafe...because we had a belief one of our biggest customer segments are the growing family.

    In the UK, it has a similar approach towards target customers. He explains:
    People who have had their first child, bought their first home and want to improve their lifestyle.

    Unlike Australia, UK shoppers will be able to buy Bunnings goods online. It is selling online in the UK, because it has to, but Mr Davis said it won't do click and collect or "any of that rubbish". He said:
    The most obvious thing is to have products on the shelf and to come and pick them up. I think click and collect is borne from retailers not being reliable or out of stock.

    Bunnings hopes better service will help differentiate it from the competition. It has almost doubled the number of staff at St Albans to 68 - a number that includes former carpenters, plumbers and landscape gardeners.

    It has also agreed to pay all staff, including those under 25, the national living wage of at least GBP7.20 (AUD11.70) an hour.

    The Bunnings UK management team has told local media that Bunnings will axe the controversial zero-hour work contracts that leave many employees across the retail sector with no guaranteed hours of work from one week to the next. It has been blamed for the rise of insecure employment in Britain and stagnant wages.

    The decision is expected to add AUD10 million to the annual pay packets of the British staff it inherited with the acquisition of Homebase, which hired hundreds of staff on these contracts.

    Mr Davis said the decision was made in order to "build a strong culture within the company".
    It's costing us more but we thought it was a fairer way of distinguishing between staff.

    Mr Davis said that Bunnings was also overhauling Homebase staff holiday entitlements to end a so-called "use it or lose it" restrictions for a more favourable option.

    The move will add pressure of rival B&Q owner Kingfisher which has come under criticism for axing staff overtime pay and benefits in order to offset the costs of the national living wage.
    Business environment

    Industry observers see a downturn in the British home improvement market. Factors impacting the change include the availability of cheap tradesmen from eastern Europe which has created a "do it for me" culture, a lack of interest among young people in tackling home improvement projects and relatively weak wages growth since the financial crisis.

    Mr Davis agrees these factors exist but argues they should not hamper sales.
    Yeah, tradesmen are a lot cheaper here...but we want to sell to tradesmen too. They still buy home improvement [products].

    According to Mr Davis, many "do it for me" customers still purchase home improvement products such as paint or plumbing supplies themselves before paying the tradesmen to finish the job. He said:
    [Tradesman] won't often want to shop for you...'Buy it yourself and I'll put it in' is one of the bigger markets everyone forgets about. That's a market that is very strong here.

    Bunnings sees a chance to take on market leader B&Q. Mr Davis also views Wickes, Screwfix and Selco Builders Warehouse as threats. He told The Guardian:
    We think there's a real opportunity to grow in the UK. The housing stock in this country is reasonably old compared with what we are used to in Australia and the British are keen gardeners. No one has a market share of more than 15%...We think the large amount of players is an opportunity.

    Bunnings has been set a three-year target to break-even in the UK. He said:
    We hope to do better but this is a long-term investment. I plan to be here between three and five years.

    Bunnings opens first UK store for business - HNN
    Bunnings opens first UK store - The Guardian
    Wickes focuses on fast and precise delivery

    DIY and building retailer, Wickes describes the reasons for upgrading its customer logistics options including one-hour click & collect, along with same-day and scheduled delivery. Duncan Kendal, supply chain director at Wickes, said:
    Generally speaking Wickes is not at the forefront of innovation.

    Despite this, the company is moving ahead when it comes to logistics and delivery options. Mr Kendal explains:
    We're a truly multichannel business - we still have people on the end of telephones because some of the things our customers are doing are quite complex.

    Speaking at the Metapack Delivery Conference in London recently, Mr Kendal also noted how Wickes customers require more diverse delivery options than the typical retailer, from tins of paint to a 150-part kitchen.

    But while Wickes offers one-hour click & collect, day-of-choice delivery and even same-day delivery, compared to the speed of the rest of the retail industry he doesn't believe this is a huge achievement. Mr Kendal said:
    Everyone else is moving much quicker even if we're good in this sector. The unfortunate truth is all those consumers are being trained by what 'good' looks like - there's Amazon's relentless delivery achievement, Argos with its same-day delivery at a ridiculously low price, and even carriers like DPD are doing a great job with precise technology.
    It would be dead easy if we thought we had to service just our consumers in our shops - we wouldn't do anything.

    Mr Kendal described how Wickes customers are becoming increasingly specific with their delivery requirements.
    'I can't get it in my car', 'I need it tomorrow for when the job starts' or 'I want to pick it up when I'm out and about shopping' - speed and precision is the new norm.

    He said the retailer at first did not think a building materials company would need to offer the same delivery options as the rest of the retail industry. "But if you build it, they will come," he said, noting how click & collect is significantly Wickes' fastest growing channel.

    Wickes has partnered with On The Dot to provide same-day or nominated-hour delivery for 70% of its product ranges. Instead of customers coming into store within an hour to pick up a product using click & collect, On The Dot picks up the product and couriers it to the customers instead for a charge of GBP9.95. Mr Kendal said:
    We've got one process driving more than one fulfilment option. You need to take time looking at what you have, rather than looking at drones - you need to utilise your existing assets.

    He noted how a customer spent GBP1.59 on a plug and paid the additional GBP9.95 for same-day delivery when they lived less than 1.5km away, while another customer ordered GBP2,000 worth of goods for delivery in four days time.
    It's not just about speed, but precision - time is money. It would be great if we could sustain charging GBP9.95, but I expect it to be eroded away over time.

    Europe update: Wickes' DIY deliveries - HNN
    B&Q tries on a smaller size

    Home improvement retailer B&Q has confirmed it will trial its first small-format store in North London.

    Officially opening in early March 2017, the new smaller 3,000sq ft store will be situated on Holloway Road and will feature a downsized product offering, as well as delivering a focus on supporting services. A B&Q spokesperson said:
    On Friday 10 March, B&Q will open a smaller format store in Central London at 482-488 Holloway Road. The trial store will be just over 3,000sq ft in size, and will provide customers with an offer focused on home decor, repair and maintenance, with a suite of supporting services. B&Q will also enable customers access to its full range of over 35,000 products via Home Delivery and Click & Collect, all at the same great national prices.

    The DIY chain has recently reopened 10 revamped stores in areas including Milton Keynes, Bristol and New Malden, as it steps up its efforts to compete with Bunnings UK.
    Kingspan says sales up since Brexit

    Sales of building supplies in Britain have improved since it voted to leave the European Union last June and there is no evidence yet that Brexit's impact will ultimately be negative for the sector, according to Irish firm Kingspan.

    Kingspan is the largest producer of building insulation in Britain, Ireland, Canada and Australasia. It beat analyst expectations to report profits up 33% for 2016, buoyed by a strengthening of UK sales in the second half of the year.

    Trading profit was 341 million euros for the year, compared to an average forecast of 330 million in a Reuters poll of seven analysts. Chief executive Gene Murtagh told Reuters:
    Bizarrely activity has been better since June 23 than it was before. We had a particularly strong finish to the year. The foregone conclusion is it's going to be negative, but I don't know enough to say that. We've no idea what Brexit actually means.

    Kingspan's order book for 2017 is "solidly ahead" of the same point last year, he said.

    But the company is seeing evidence of a shift in economic growth patterns in continental Europe, with Germany flat and activity in Belgium and the Netherlands improving, and particularly strong growth in France.

    There is no sign yet of a boost to the US construction sector following the election of President Donald Trump, he added.

    A key challenge for Kingspan this year will be passing on recent rapid rises in cost inflation in steel and chemical, Mr Murtagh said. While the company is confident it can pass it on, it may take some time, he said.

    Supplier update: Kingspan looks to acquisitions - HNN
    Supplier update
    (l&r) Tom Rugg and Dean Harriott
    HNN Sources
    Decor has been sold to a South African company, Marlin Home
    A new technology has been developed by Vesta exclusively for HBT
    Subscribe to HNN weekly e-newsletter
    There is a change at the head of Briggs & Stratton Australasia; Decor is now South-African owned; and Vesta has customised technology for Hardware & Building Traders.
    Briggs & Stratton Australasia gets new MD

    Outdoor power equipment manufacturer, Briggs & Stratton Corporation, has appointed a new managing director for Australasia, Dean Harriott.

    Having worked for over 25 years at companies such as Milliken (Ontera), Borg Group and Alesco Corporation (B&D Doors, Parbury and Parchem), Mr Harriott brings with him vast experience with dealer networks, integration efforts, process development, operational optimisation and strategic vision. He said:
    I am excited to be stepping into this role and joining such a fantastic team at Briggs & Stratton. The Australasian team has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years and I look forward to continuing that success well into the future.

    Outgoing managing director, Tom Rugg is moving into new role as vice president -corporate development with Briggs & Stratton in the US. He said:
    Dean joins us with impressive credentials, a highly successful history of general management and great experience in leading teams in his previous roles, including heading up sales and marketing departments.

    Briggs & Stratton's senior vice president & president - turf & consumer products, Harold Redman, extends his appreciation to Mr Rugg for his leadership and vision. He said:
    I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tom, for his commitment to the business and for supporting our needs while balancing his new responsibilities with Briggs & Stratton.
    Decor brand no longer Aussie owned

    Container maker Decor has been sold to a South African company for an undisclosed sum. The homewares brand best known for its food storage boxes and drink bottles has changed hands for just the second time in its 59-year history.

    Approximately 80% of Decor's range is designed and made in Australia, with the company to retain a manufacturing plant in Dandenong (VIC).

    The company's new owner, Marlin Home, said it has its eyes on acquiring at least four more Australian brands this year, and plans to list on the Australian Stock Exchange within the next few years.

    Marlin Home managing director Greg Kerr said Decor was a staple of almost every Australian kitchen. He told the Herald Sun:
    Decor is an iconic brand, with a strong history of innovation and is a perfect strategic fit for Marlin Home, which will build a strong portfolio of Australian brands for both inside and outside the home.

    He said Marlin planned to add more products to the Decor range and grow sales here and overseas.
    Vesta creates tech product for HBT

    A new technology has been developed by Vesta Timber and Hardware exclusively for Hardware & Building Traders (HBT), and will be known as "Product Directory".

    It will be powered by the Vesta Central Data Distribution platform. The company said it will be the first of its kind in the Australian hardware industry, offering significant benefits to suppliers and members.

    Phase 1 of the project commenced early February with over 400 suppliers to the HBT group being sent an introductory email explaining the project.

    Suppliers on the Vesta Central platform can track, maintain and update product data all in one place. HBT and its Industrial Tool Traders (ITT) members will be able to seamlessly access their supplier's information for use in setting up a Vesta ecommerce site.

    Vesta is a SaaS company providing its ecommerce solutions for the industry on a subscription basis, and counts many HBT/ITT members and suppliers already as customers. Specifically suited to independent stores, the ecommerce and data distribution platform from Vesta is affordable and easy for suppliers and retailers to set up and can be adapted to suit other industries. Justin Newman, Vesta CEO, said:
    The Product Directory powered by the Vesta Central Data Distribution Platform will revolutionise how HBT suppliers share and distribute information and content with HBT members. We are very excited about this opportunity to showcase the platform and develop it for other industries outside of the hardware industry.

    Aimee Innes, HBT marketing manager sees the Vesta alliance as a competitive advantage for the group. She said:
    HBT will effectively be showcasing the group's strength like never before. The Vesta platform will show members just how much they can purchase through our group. We see this building volume for our suppliers and truly supporting a healthy ecosystem for the group, its members and suppliers.
    Ruralco can acquire TP Jones: ACCC
    TP Jones in Tasmania is just one of Ruralco's planned acquisitions
    The Land
    Ruralco managing director, Travis Dillon has donated his 2015-15 bonus to Lifeline
    Irrigation Tasmania is another business that Ruralco is buying
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    Listed agribusiness, Ruralco, has won the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) approval to buy rural merchandise retailer, TP Jones.

    Tasmanian-based TP Jones is a Combined Rural Traders (CRT) member with three other retail outlets at Longford, Campbell Town, and Latrobe. It will be absorbed into the Ruralco's Roberts livestock agency and merchandising network.

    The ACCC was required to scrutinise the deal, announced in November, because both Tasmanian businesses sell products such as fertiliser, agricultural chemicals, animal health products, and farm merchandise.

    Roberts, a wholly-owned Ruralco subsidiary with 14 outlets in Tasmania, has operations spanning merchandise retailing, wool and livestock marketing, real estate, irrigation and financial services.

    ACCC Commissioner, Roger Featherston, said while Roberts and TP Jones directly competed in all of the affected local areas, farmers in those areas had other market alternatives.

    The ACCC had spoken to farmers, wholesale buying groups, and manufacturers of rural merchandise. Mr Featherston:
    In Campbell Town where Roberts and TP Jones are the only two with retail outlets, the ACCC concluded farmers would likely be able to buy rural merchandise from other retailers located near Launceston. Farmers could also arrange to have merchandise delivered to their farms.

    Other rural merchandise retailers operating in the relevant local areas include Elders, farm services firm Serve-Ag, and various independent rural merchandisers associated with wholesale buying groups such as AIRR and NRI.
    Investment in water and merchandise

    Ruralco said it will raise up to $65 million to pay for about $60.8 million in new water businesses and farm services acquisitions.

    The company is buying Irrigation Tasmania for $19.9 million, Mildura Irrigation Centre in Victoria, and River Rain Irrigation in Renmark, South Australia. The water equipment and advisory services additions to Ruralco's stable follow deals recently locked in for Riverland Irrigation in SA and Hunter Irrigation in NSW.

    The company's retail division will expand with the purchase of CRT business, Sid Newham Rural Supplies, in Bathurst (NSW). Ruralco also recently announced it was buying Great Northern Rural Services in Western Australia.

    Its CRT wholesale business is already a supplier to the CRT member stores being acquired.

    Managing director, Travis Dillon, said by buying existing independent CRT members, Ruralco earnings from each geography would grow from purely wholesale revenue to a vertical margin encompassing wholesale and retail. He told Farm Online:
    We've identified specific geographic gaps in our rural services footprint and aligned growth initiatives to fill these.
    Investment in water business has potential to reduce the cyclical impact of rainfall and drought events on earnings, allowing Ruralco to capture a greater share of wallet in a higher margin category. It represents a significant competitive advantage between us and our peers.

    Turnaround quarter for Ruralco - HI News, page 20
    USA update
    Tesla has authorised home TreeHouse to sell the Powerwall battery
    HNN Sources
    The Home Depot is revving up its delivery options to pro customers
    Lowe's Canada said it is investing resources to support Ace retailers. Image from
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The Tesla battery for homes will sold at TreeHouse; more deliveries to pros from The Home Depot; Ace retailers will benefit from additional resources at Lowe's Canada; and a number of Home Depot stores are using renewable energy.
    Tesla battery selling through TreeHouse

    Eco-friendly, home improvement store TreeHouse in Austin, Texas is the first retailer that Tesla has authorised to sell the Powerwall, its battery for residential homes. Co-founder Jason Ballard said:
    We want to show off the Tesla power packs as the beating heart of TreeHouse, and we'll be selling a residential version.

    TreeHouse plans to open its second store in Dallas by June 2017. Its energy-efficient features are a complement to the store's mix of environmentally-friendly and healthy-living products, designs and services.

    More than 500 solar panels on a pitched, saw-toothed roof will store energy in two giant Tesla power packs that will be displayed as a feature behind glass inside the 25,000 square-foot store.

    Tesla is also opening a Supercharger station, the only one inside the city of Dallas, next to TreeHouse's outdoor living display area. Tesla's Superchargers, which are mostly located on major highways for long-distance travellers, recharge its electric car models in minutes rather than hours.

    The almost completed store and another one built inside an existing building will give the five-year-old company a footprint for how it plans to expand to other markets, Mr Ballard said.

    At the new TreeHouse store, windows in the stair-step roof will provide natural light during the day. The walls were made onsite of concrete, which Mr Ballard said, has a high thermal coefficient and holds the cool air inside when it's hot outside.

    The store will have a working kitchen in a healthy home area that will feature cooking, sleeping and lighting products. A mezzanine will house classrooms and a reading lounge area. Non-toxic paints get their own showroom. Mr Ballard said:
    The days of a retail warehouse full of products are over. I think people want a place where they can go dream and consult and create a wish list. We're not your mom's big box store.

    TreeHouse is trying to disrupt home improvement retailing dominated by big box retailers Home Depot and Lowe's. Ballard added:
    There are 100 million homes in America, and we eventually want to be within striking distance of all of them.

    TreeHouse, green home improvement retailer - HNN
    Pro delivery service expanded at HD

    The Home Depot expects to offer pros (tradies) delivery service in almost all its markets in early 2017 as it beefs up its outside sales and online capabilities following last year's acquisition of Interline.

    The plan calls for delivery promises to be phased in; first offering same-day service and a four-hour window, and eventually service within a two-hour window. In addition, "hotshot couriers" continue to be offered at 500 Home Depot stores nationwide, according to J.T. Rieves, vice president of The Home Depot's pro business said:

    He also noted that when he used to meet with customers, their number one complaint was delivery.

    Just 4% of Home Depot's customers account for roughly 40% of its USD88.5 billion in annual sales. This group is Mr Rieves' focus, and historically it has focused on maintenance crews, painters, repairmen, and small remodellers (light commercial) more than on the kinds of builders that timber and building materials operations serve.

    Very few get products delivered currently, he said. In fact, even as the delivery service gets ramped up, Home Depot continues to promote a service it calls BOPUS - Buy Online, Pick Up in Store. This system saves time for remodellers, small builders as well as maintenance and repair crews. Mr Rieves said:
    If I can get the average pro to come three more times a year, that's a billion dollars in revenue.

    The Home Depot's efforts to rev up its delivery capabilities got turbocharged in 2015 when it bought Interline Brands for USD1.63 billion and merged it into Mr Rieves' operation. He mentioned four things Interline brought to The Home Depot:
  • Interline's 700 outside sales reps will more than triple the 200-member OSR (Open Space Ratio) team that The Home Depot had been using to sell to pros.
  • Interline has 900 trucks, thus making it easier for The Home Depot to deliver goods to a job site. One of Interline's claims to fame was speed of delivery, Mr Rieves said, and its pricing was based partly on how fast it could deliver goods.
  • Products that Interline had sold via catalogue and the web will be available for order at the Pro desk inside Home Depot stores; heating and ventilation systems is one example.
  • Interline's web offerings are being merged into The Home Depot's online system.

  • The Home Depot also plans to continue the 60-day payment terms on house accounts that it implemented last year. But for the most part, Mr Rieves said, his focus is on getting Interline's staff fully integrated into The Home Depot.

    Home Depot buys Interline Brands - HNN
    Lowe's Canada to grow Ace network

    Ace Hardware retailers in Canada are poised to receive more attractive product pricing, marketing support, a dedicated website with a platform for online sales and a broader offering.

    Lowe's Canada said it is investing resources to support and grow the entire independent retailer network and to further leverage the Ace dealer support program.

    After a detailed business review that included customers, products, programs and facilities, a decision has been reached to integrate the Ace Canada distribution and business centres into existing Lowe's Canada facilities. This will allow Ace dealers to benefit from lower cost of goods and to connect to Lowe's Canada retail intelligence. Alain Brisebois, executive vice president of Affiliated Dealers, said:
    The Ace brand has a strong reputation for quality products and services. The purpose of this transition is to drive growth throughout the Ace Canada dealer network. Integrating these operations in the Lowe's Canada facilities and systems is a pre-requisite to offering dealers a dedicated website with a platform for online sales and allowing them to take advantage of an omni-channel strategy.

    Lowe's Canada said it will make every effort to ensure a smooth transition with resources that actively supports employees, dealers, vendors and customers. It will also continue to recruit and grow the Ace dealer network across the country.
    Wind energy project

    The Home Depot has made its first major investment in a wind-powered renewable energy project. The energy purchased from the wind farm is enough to power 100 Home Depot stores for a year while also providing USD150,000 in local community benefits.

    The Los Mirasoles Wind Farm, owned and operated by EDP Renewables North America, is located in Texas. Through a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA), The Home Depot's annual purchase of 50 megawatts (MW) is a fifth of the wind farm's 250 MW capacity.

    The farm utilises Vestas V110 2.0 MW wind turbines and produces enough power to provide more than 70,000 average US homes with clean electricity each year.

    As a part of its renewable energy initiative, The Home Depot's goal is to procure 135 MW of various renewable energy sources, including solar and wind, by the end of 2020.

    In addition to the wind farm, it also procures energy from solar farms in Delaware and Massachusetts with a combined annual output of 14.5 million kilowatt hours (kWh). More than 150 stores and distribution centre use on-site fuel cells that produce roughly 85% of the electricity each store needs to operate.
    Padlock uses fingerprints
    The Benjilock can be unlocked using fingerprints
    The Business Journals
    The company is preparing for a September 2017 launch
    BenjiLock was a 2017 CES Innovation Awards honouree in the smart home category
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    BenjiLock is not a traditional padlock. A key can be used to open it but it's a lock that can also be opened using one's fingerprint. It was unveiled at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

    BenjiLock was developed by the Los Angeles-based company of the same name, which was founded in 2013 by CEO Robbie Cabral.

    The lock features a 7-pin cylinder and will come with a built-in rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, charging cable and set of keys when it ships later this year at USD79.99 (AUD103.64), the company said. Consumers will be able to choose between sky white, jet black, stainless steel, copper and brass SKUs.

    There have been similar products on the market, Mr Cabral conceded. Tapplock is another padlock using fingerprint sensors. But competing devices don't tend to have a tough, stainless steel body, he said. BenjiLock also has a boron alloy shackle.

    Rival products also don't tend to provide the same "hybrid" solution for unlocking as BenjiLock. Mr Cabral notes that a key can come in handy when the fingerprint sensor isn't working for some reason.

    BenjiLock was named a 2017 CES Innovation Awards honouree in the smart home category. The Innovation Awards program is run by CES producer the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

    But it's open to debate whether BenjiLock is a true smart-home product. Smart, yes. The device is clearly designed to be used just about anywhere - from the home to the office to school to the gym. However smart-home products are also typically controlled by a smartphone or tablet app, or via a computer.

    Tapplock, in comparison, works in conjunction with a mobile app that can be used to grant access to family and friends and control the date and time the lock can be accessed. Unlike BenjiLock, the Canadian makers of that device turned to crowdfunding to help reach the market. Tapplock was successfully funded March 12 after raising USD328,959 (AUD426,397) via Indiegogo.

    The BenjiLock fingerprint sensor's ambient LED light is what makes the device smart once the user records his or her scan, according to Mr Cabral. Although the smart functionality is minimal, he said, his goal is to "build a relationship with the consumer of security," adding later versions of the device will "include apps and much more."

    The lock is charged via a Micro-USB cable and the charge "lasts a whole year with one single charge" based on tests in which it was used four times per day, he said.
    Gas-powered products for pros
    The FC 91 curved shaft edger comes with high blade speed and a low-emission engine
    PR Newswire: Stihl
    The HL 94 K extended reach hedge trimmer features a reduced-weight gearbox
    The KombiMotor has a low-emission engine that delivers 30% longer run times
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The latest professional models from Stihl will come with a host of enhancements. The string trimmers, edgers, KombiMotors and bed redefiner are designed with larger fuel tanks, providing 30% longer run times than the previous models.

    These units boast a simplified three-step start procedure enabled by the semi-automatic choke lever, saving users time on the job and reducing the chance of flooding the engine. Each product's vertical pleated paper air filter allows for better filtration, extended replacement intervals and long service life.

    In addition, the redesigned and lighter gearbox on the pole pruners and extended-reach hedge trimmers shift weight to the powerhead of the unit for balance and maneuverability. It can help users work for longer periods with less fatigue.

    The introduction of these new professional products is part of one of the largest product launches in company history. Other Stihl products to be introduced in 2017 include nine battery products, as part of the new Stihl Lightning Battery System[tm] and nine additional gas-powered models, featuring a line of Stihl pressure washers.
    HI News V3 No. 1: The retail industry in 2017
    Download the latest issue of HI News Vol. 3, issue no. 1
    HI News
    What to expect from Mitre 10 and other major retail groups in 2017
    The latest hardware retail statistics reveals the influential role of the weather
    Click to visit the HBT website for more information
    The first issue of HI News for 2017 focuses on what can be expected in 2017 from major retail groups, Mitre 10, Home Timber & Hardware (HTH) Group, Hardware Building Traders (HBT), and Bunnings.

    Just click on the following link to download this edition:
    HI News V3 No. 1: The retail industry in 2017

    The latest data on hardware retail sales from the Australian Bureau of Statistics undergoes scrutiny. Although most mainstream media outlets have seen the closure of Masters Home Improvement as casting a shadow over hardware sales in December, it's likely the weather also had an effect.

    Bunnings opens its first UK trial store in St Albans. In Australia, the big box retailer is moving into Devonport (TAS). It is taking over an ex-Masters site in Mount Gambier (SA) and undergoing negotiations for another former Masters location in Gregory Hills (NSW).

    Tasmania-based independent retail group, Kemp & Denning announced that it is closing two of its warehouse stores.

    We take a brief look at GUD Group's half yearly results, and AMES' purchase of the Hills Home Living brands that includes the iconic Hills Hoist. In other supplier developments, the Hitachi power tools unit has been sold to private equity and Stanley Black & Decker acquires Craftsman in the US.

    This edition features updates on the Grafton Group, Screwfix and Travis Perkins in the UK, and as well as US retailers, The Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement.

    Products from EGO outdoor equipment, Fiskars, Lufkin, Rover lawnmowers and Kwikset are also highlighted in this issue.

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