Regional revival

Mount Alexander H Hardware

The team at Mount Alexander H Hardware revived an older store, and in the process changed it dramatically

One of the main lessons of profiling hardware stores is that there is no real "centre" to the industry - you can't say that stores in inner-urban areas, stores in rural areas, or those in areas between these two in terms of population density and market diversity are the main sources of innovative ideas. Great stores pop up in a range of different places, and the only commonality between them is dedicated owners/managers who understand the industry and their markets.

That said, HNN does think it is worth keeping an eye on one particular demographic area for hardware stores. These are what have come to be called the "exurbs", a mix of exurban and suburban areas. Located usually around 100km to 150km from a major city, these areas are heavily reliant on that city as both a market and the provider of tools and some raw materials.

Elsewhere in the world exurbs have caused conflict between long-term residents with a small town focus, and newcomers from the adjacent city. In Australia, however, there's been a notable move to acceptance and adaptation, as these groups find shared values regarding quality of life, a desire to honour local history, as well as a love of the bush.

One area that is something of a pioneer for this kind of combination in the state of Victoria is the town of Castlemaine, located in the Shire of Mount Alexander, about 120km to the north of Melbourne, and a 90 minute drive down the Calder Freeway. Artists have long been moving to the region in search of a closer link with Australia's pre-urban history - as well as cheaper rent - while still retaining close links with Melbourne itself. More recently they've been joined by both more mature people seeking a handy retreat, and younger families seeking an alternative to the high property prices of the city.

Combined with the local manufacturing and agricultural markets, it is the kind of rich mix that hardware stores can do well in, so it's not much of a surprise to find the thriving Mount Alexander Timber & Hardware (known to locals by its acronym, "MATH"), a Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) H Hardware store located there.

MATH is interesting for reasons that go far beyond its location, however. Just as the Castlemaine area may presage a change to the way Australian cities work (especially post-pandemic), so does MATH offer a glimpse into a new and different way to think about hardware stores, both from a business/economic outlook, and from a community involvement outlook.

Insights into these areas has never been more important than they are now - and we mean, frankly, never before in the post-World War II history of Australian hardware retail. With an economy that will have a difficult job of spurring its recovery, the need to create better businesses by improving productivity has never been greater.

Trevor Butcher, a long-time builder in the region, is one of the founding partners of MATH. Alongside him is a couple of married accountants, Lachlan Maltby and Jenna Maltby (nee Harding), and a very experienced hardware retailer, Rodney (Rod) Hickey.

As Lachlan explains the situation:

So I don't actually work here, this is Rod's sort of baby, you know. The other investor is a builder by trade, he doesn't work here either. But between the three of us gives us a good balanced approach. Plus, my wife Jenna Harding, she's also a CPA, with an IT background, which is interesting.

Right from the start, of course, that's just a little bit of an unusual combination to find running a hardware store in regional Victoria. Lachlan and Jenna continue to work at an accountancy firm in Castlemaine, Smith & Maltby Accountants, and Trevor continues his building firm, Trevor Butcher Builders.

Rod, as you might imagine, is constantly hands-on at the store, managing its daily operations. However, after five minutes or so of talking to Lachlan and Jenna, it is pretty evident that this is also something of a "passion project" for them. There are not only tales of just how much hard work and direct, physical effort they have put into the store, but a real sense of personal investment as well.

The idea of entering into the hardware business by launching a new enterprise in Castlemaine was actually Rod's to begin with:

I worked at another hardware store. I didn't actually know Lachlan prior to this venture. The key here, was Trevor. I knew Trevor. I first threw the idea at Trevor one day, when I saw him. With the other hardware store going [out of business], it seemed Castlemaine needed a hardware store. He said that he knew someone who might be interested. Then, it just sort of snowballed from there. So, here we are, two years later.

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ABS retail stats: March 2020

Victoria gets big boost

March retail surged by 18%

Over the coming year, statistics has a particular role to play in Australia's efforts to recover from the pandemic. While we are likely to receive indications of shifts in hardware retail from anecdotal sources first, stats provides us with a broad-based background to see what really is happening.

The big question that many hardware retailers have at the moment is how widespread and strong the initial surge in sales by hardware stores was at the start of the social distancing and shelter in place policies adopted across Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its 8501 series on retail revenue for March 2020. This at least gives us a glimpse of those retail numbers, as the "lockdown" got underway in March 2020.

Chart 1 compares the historical sales for hardware retailers across Australia, solely for the month of March. Unfortunately, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are excluded, as neither of those two areas were able to supply the ABS with the required stats in a timely manner. As the chart indicates, across Australia sales increased at an unusual rate. The median year-on-year increase for March is 6.57%, but the increase from March 2019 to March 2020 was 18.05%. (The ABS does –- a little confusingly –- make the numbers for Tasmania and the Northern Territory available in total Australia numbers, and when those are included the increase from March 2019 to March 2020 is 17.95%.)

As the chart also indicates, these increases are not evenly distributed through the states and territories. Victoria had by far the largest dollar value increase, of $109.4 million, up by 23.72%, though the Australian Capital Territory, had a higher percentage increase at 25.0%, which equates to $7.6 million.

New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD) had a nearly equal increase in dollar terms, at $57.5 million for the former, and $57.3 million for the latter. This equates to an increase of 12.42% for NSW, and 18.46% for QLD.

Chart 2 shows the historical March-on-March percentage increases across all the states and territories. To some extent, the increases for March correlate with the degree to which each state and territory was affected by COVID-19 infections.

In a broader historical view, Chart 3 shows the comparative retail sales for the trailing 12 months to March. Even with the boost from March 2020, the year ending March 2020 only managed an increase of 2.98% over the year ending March 2019. Victoria performed the best, with a 6.83% gain.

Chart 4 shows these growth figures for the comparative retail sales over the trailing 12 months to March. This very tight clustering of growth indicates there are prevailing national economic concerns that have outweighed concerns local to states and territories. Only Victoria seems to have broken away slightly from the pack, growing faster than the other regions.

Analysis

The period of the pandemic for Australia is likely to have three distinct phases. In the first phase we have just gone through, we've had intense shelter in place lockdown and rigorously applied social distancing measures. In the second phase, while there is no vaccine or even an effective viral treatment available, the shelter in place is being eased, and we will likely see some variance in how social distancing is applied. A third phase, when a vaccine is developed and distributed, is highly unlikely to begin until the second calendar quarter of 2021. One other possibility that could happen before the end of 2020, is the development of an effective treatment for COVID-19.

The question that remains is how each of these phases will effect each individual state and territory. Looking at how the beginning of the first phase affected retail sales, we can see two influences. The first influence was how a region was performing prior to the pandemic, and the second influence was how much the pandemic directly affected the region.

Victoria performed best because that has been its pattern for the last six months and more, but it was probably also boosted because there were fewer people coming down with COVID-19 during March 2020. NSW had been trailing Victoria in hardware retail sales for some time, and was also hit with more infections. QLD is somewhere between those two, with moderate past performance in growth, and moderate per-capita rate of infection.

Chart 5 shows how these factors have already played out in the initial phase of the response to the pandemic. Victoria has garnered a large share of the boost to hardware sales in March. Part of that is the momentum the state has developed, but it is also likely to be due to a lower incidence of infections and a higher level of confidence in the actions the state government took in imposing restrictions.

In the next phase, there will be two duelling economic factors to contend with. The first factor is the rapidity with which each region chooses to ease restrictions. The second factor is going to be, unfortunately, the rate at which infections begin to increase. The health services in all regions are geared up now to cope with more patients, but an infection rate of 50 or more a day is likely to trigger re-imposition of more restrictions.

This is further complicated by the factor of the rapidity and effectiveness of responses to infection clusters in each region. For example, Victoria has received some criticism for not responding well to some early clusters, but the fact that it has pursued signs of clusters and followed this up with at least some effort at contact tracing may, in the end, be a good sign.

It is a quite bewildering process for each state to judge just how much to ease restrictions, to maximise recovered growth, while maintaining a margin of safety in terms of the number of infections. It's pretty evident that at the moment the regions will thrive where individual businesses do everything they can to limit risks, and carefully balance risks versus returns. At the moment, in May 2020, caution seems natural, but there are questions whether after a couple months, a degree of reduced caution will set in.

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COVID-19 retail economy

What shape will hardware retail assume?

A V-shaped recovery is unlikely

How will the novel cornonavirus SARS-CoV2 (which gives rise to the COVID-19 disease) affect hardware retail during 2020/21?

Underlying every question about Australia's economic future under the pandemic are two related queries: how bad will the initial hit be to the economy, brought about by the urgent need to self-isolate and shut down most business activity? And, secondly, how fast can the economy come back from this self-imposed slowdown?

In terms of hardware retail, it is important to look across a wide range of areas in order to effectively answer that first question. Those areas would include:

  • the overall economy
  • the housing market
  • the employment market
  • how retail overall is being affected
  • changes to markets
  • In effect, though, at the moment most of what we can say about all of these areas amounts to speculation.

    Most forecasters see Australia's gross domestic product falling by 4% to 6% for 2019/20, with a further, perhaps deeper fall for 2020/21. While there have been some "scare" figures suggesting urban house prices may fall by as much as 30% by 2024, a more reasonable view from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia is that there may be 11% property price falls from March 2020 to March 2023, followed by flat to mild price increases - providing the overall economy returns to growth.

    In the period from mid-April to early May, according to Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures there has been a massive job loss in areas such as hospitality, with over 240,000 jobs, or 25%, gone, while retail has seen a decline of 2.5%, or 34,000 jobs. Construction saw 63,000 jobs go, a loss of 5.3%. Other hard hit areas include real estate and the professional/scientific/tech sector.

    It is still too soon to really gauge the overall effect on the retail sector. Obviously, a number of categories have been hard hit, such as restaurants, fashion and personal services. At the same time, however, others have seen a considerable boost, including supermarkets, pharmacies, and - for the most part - hardware retail.

    The IHG position

    The Metcash-owned Independent Hardware Group (IHG) did release some information about its prospects in the immediate future, in a presentation it prepared for a round of equity raising, and released on 20 April 2020.

    HNN collated the points it provided about hardware throughout the document:

    Trading update - five months ended March 2020

  • Hardware sales declined 1.3% in the five months ended March 2020, which is an improvement on the decline in 1H20 of 4.2%
  • In March there was an increase in demand across both the Trade and DIY segments. The increase in Trade can be attributed to pre-purchasing based on concerns about COVID-19 restrictions being introduced for Hardware retailers
  • Ongoing

  • Full IHG store network continuing to trade (some restrictions in Tasmania)
  • Growth in DIY categories (paint, accessories and garden)
  • Demand continues to exceed supply in certain categories (personal protection equipment, cleaning products, seeds & seedlings)
  • Significant online sales growth, launched 'Click & Deliver' to DIY customers
  • Outlook

  • The stronger DIY sales in March have continued into early April, particularly in the paint and garden categories
  • There is uncertainty as to how long COVID-19 related buying behaviours will continue to impact demand
  • COVID-19 trading restrictions have, to date, not materially impacted the ability of Hardware stores to trade
  • Trade sales in FY21 are expected to continue to be impacted by a slowdown in construction activity. There is the risk of a further decline in construction activity related to COVID-19, however this is not expected until 2H21
  • The business continues to have a strong focus on costs to help offset the impact of any reduction in sales volumes
  • There seems to be a sharp contrast in these comments to what HNN is hearing from other independent retailers. Certainly, there is not a similar level of pessimism about trading conditions prior to February 2020, and many hardware retailers saw sales in March increase substantially over prior years.

    It is also just a little bit difficult to parse exactly what is meant by the notion that construction activity is set to slow down in 2020, but not due to COVID-19, while a slowdown in construction activity in 2021 will be due to COVID-19. The second point is valid, but it seems likely there will be a slowdown in 2020 that will be directly attributable to COVID-19.

    Analysis

    Most hardware retailers are aware that, while things have so far been OK, and many have enjoyed a boost in sales during a season that is usually a bit quiet, this is unlikely to continue. While much attention is spent on how businesses will open, the larger question that looms in the immediate future is not whether there will be an overall downturn in the economy, but just how deep that downturn is going to be.

    HNN has deliberately not added much comment about the future of the building and construction industry, because we are not convinced that anyone has a clear idea about how that will travel through the rest of 2020. Perhaps the best such analysis available at the moment comes from the RBA minutes from its May meeting. In terms of the housing and construction industries, those minutes note:

    Social distancing restrictions on home inspections and in-person auctions, as well as heightened uncertainty about the future, had significantly reduced turnover in the established housing market. Members noted that some of the concerns that construction activity could be severely affected in the near term by supply chain disruptions and health-related site closures had not been realised. However, contacts in the liaison program had reported that demand for both new and established housing had fallen.
    Lower incomes and confidence, as well as lower expected population growth, were expected to affect demand for new housing for an extended period. Members also discussed the effect of a possible increase in the number of people moving back home or living in larger households for financial reasons. At the same time, the supply of rental housing had been boosted as properties that had previously been offered as short-term accommodation were shifted to the long-term rental market.

    House prices are likely to continue to fall. Accommodation rental prices will also fall, as the Airbnb and other short-term rental markets collapse, along with tourism as an export market. On the other hand, it seems likely there will be substantial state government expenditure in infrastructure.

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    The Insider

    Having the right salesperson can be transformative

    For most businesses in the hardware retail industry, growing sales usually starts with prospecting

    Looking at salespeople, most businesses find themselves having to choose between generalists who have a good understanding of the sales process and wide experience, and specialists who have deep industry knowledge, but a more limited grasp of general sales principles.

    Jason Howes is that rare individual with a great deal of experience in the timber and hardware industry, but who has also reached out to gain a broader understanding of what sales is, and how it really works.

    Given that, it is hardly a surprise that he has chosen to bundle that knowledge up, and offer his services as an executive "sales coach", with his own company, Arrow Executive Sales Consultants.

    The issue he has had to tackle is this: If sales are so crucial to the success of most businesses, why do so few of them spend sufficient time engaging in developing the best sales team right from the outset? Businesses can often be ultra-rational about supply chain, distribution, and even marketing, but when it comes to sales, they revert to "gut instinct" and taking bets on their assessments of individuals.

    Everyone knows a great salesperson when they meet him or her. But finding someone who has the potential to be great, or who can become a reliable top performer in a consistent environment is actually a lot harder - and it is unlikely that pure gut instinct, on its own, is going to get you there.

    While Jason's early working life seems on the surface to be like many people who gained their experience in the hardware retail industry through trade training as a young person, one element that shifted him towards broader and more senior roles was the opportunity to work with a number of industry mentors. His mentors have included such industry stalwarts as Peter Dallimore, Peter Hyne and ChrIs Woodhouse.

    Not surprisingly, Jason has deep roots in this industry with some connections going back almost 30 years, almost to the beginning of his career. This is something he remains quite proud of and draws on frequently for his own business.

    Background

    The path Jason has taken to where he is now has not always been smooth, but resilience and a strong survival instinct helped him to reach a place where he can offer his clients valuable advice on how to enhance their sales function.

    Jason also knows how to appreciate a "full circle" moment. He started his first job as a sales rep when he was 19, at Coastway Timber, where he looked after builders in his home town of Tathra (NSW). That followed on from his time as a sales and merchandising trainee. Placed on TABMA (Timber and Building Materials Association) training, he had learned how to provide detailed estimates for frames and trusses.

    When Hyne Timber purchased the company in 1990, it saw potential in Jason and offered him a number of different roles. He soon moved to Brisbane to start a new job in wholesale. It was there that he began selling on the road and discovered exactly what prospecting was all about, through experience. He said:

    I remember going into places cold calling and a) I didn't know exactly or as much as I should have, and b) I was doing something that I'd never done before.

    It is something of a poignant memory today, because now that he has his own company he finds himself, in a sense, right back where he started: prospecting once again. As he describes it:

    ...Lately, I've been able to look back and ask myself, 'Right, what did I do well then? And where did I struggle?' And ... I made a lot of mistakes, in particular, not qualifying [sales leads] enough or quick enough. But I was persistent. I'd keep coming back ... and I've always been competitive and that flowed through to my work as well. When it came to prospecting, I was pretty average. [But] the more I prospected, the more success I had.

    Self improvement

    Persistence and self-development have played a big part in his life. After gaining a diploma in marketing to expand his skillset, he applied to be the key account manager at Hyne Timber. After missing out on it that first time, he stepped into the position a year later. It was a senior managerial role, and significant achievement for someone who was only 30 years old.

    While he was working there, Hyne Timber was expanding into Victoria and the southern markets. Jason had responsibility for the buying groups. He said:

    It was a fortunate time. There was a lot of growth with Mitre 10 and Home Timber & Hardware ... Natbuild became a lot bigger and so did HBT, I dealt a lot with Tim Starkey at HBT, another great legend.

    To help take better advantage of the growth, Jason segmented the different accounts as a way to make better use of them. He explained:

    As a project, we classified each of the stores into classifications based on: Do they fit our preferred client model for supply and distribution?

    This led to better performance by the sales team, because they could focus their efforts in areas which would provide the best result. As part of that process, he saw himself as an active manager:

    I worked very closely with the sales team to support them. I also liked to get out and spend time on the road with the reps and work with them to ... develop and prospect new business.

    In addition to the independent groups, Jason dealt with Bunnings soon after it took over BBC Hardware. He worked with senior merchandising, buying and category managers on behalf of Hyne Timber. During this period, Jason believes he won major contracts using consultative selling techniques, finding gaps in the market and providing solutions.

    His time at Hyne Timber proved to be productive because he was involved when both the Tuan and Tumbarumba Mills expanded, and the T2 launch. At the Tumbarumba Mill, Jason was part of the senior management team during the upgrade.

    Winning major contracts attracted the attention of Woodhouse Timber. Woodhouse offered Jason an opportunity too good to refuse so he became the company's national sales manager.

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    Pandemic opens up new markets

    Panic buying found its way into Bunnings' tills

    Many of the products the big box retailer sold were seen as essential for trade customers, emergency services and home maintenance

    The Covid-19 economic climate has led Bunnings to offer products such as treadmills and exercise bikes. The retail chain said it teamed up with third-party sellers to expand its online offer, according to an announcement on its website.

    Bunnings launched its online marketplace, MarketLink, in December 2019 to sell products not traditionally sold in its bricks-and-mortar stores including whitegoods, furniture, bedding and manchester, kitchen and tableware, home decor items and even fresh flowers.

    Bunnings' own online store was also rolled out across the country last year and it now offers click and deliver live in every state and territory.

    Smart home security is another category that has had a boost in sales during the pandemic. As government restrictions set in and more employees are forced to work from home, householders are looking for ways to make their homes safer.

    Bunnings has witnessed steady foot traffic through its doors since the new year and the coronavirus pandemic, with vegetable seedlings and garden products selling well at the moment. Products for jobs seen as "essential services" for trade customers, emergency services and home maintenance such as plumbing, water systems and electrical work are popular.

    Generators, torches, batteries, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and barbecue gas have also been in high demand.

    Bunnings chief executive Michael Schneider exclusively told The Australian:

    ...Things that keep your home clean and safe are certainly what customers are looking for, and more broadly than that, my sense is that there has probably been an increased focus on the home because customers have a little bit more time they are spending there at the moment than perhaps they otherwise would...
    If you sit at home for a bit longer you start to see some of the things you wanted to do in your home that you haven't done. There is also an element in Bunnings where urgent home repairs, access to wiring, to pipes, hot water systems for tradies, are all very important and a reliability of supply is important.
    The same is true for DIY jobs for changing a light bulb or replacing a smoke alarm. These are all something that might seem little but actually are very important.

    He doesn't believe Bunnings is too exposed to any possible downturn in the large construction market as fears of a national recession grow. He said:

    Our exposure to the heavy construction industry is very low ... smaller tradies, a lot of those business people are operating one, two-people businesses and are providing an essential service to homeowners in particular with repairs and maintenance, whether they are plumbers, electricians or locksmiths. So they play a really important role in the community anyway and we don't anticipate a significant change.

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    Hardware store sales in self-isolation

    Covid-19 sparks a sales surge for many retailers

    Painting and outdoor landscaping top the list of current home improvements as homeowners use their time in isolation to give their living spaces a makeover

    Across Australia, demand for small jobs and DIY maintenance - such as repairing dodgy door hinges - from homeowners in isolation has gone through the roof. As a result, hardware and home improvement stores have benefited from a boost in sales.

    Tasmania

    Clennett's Mitre 10 managing director William Clennett told the Sunday Tasmanian that this past Easter had been busier than usual, during what is traditionally one of the busiest times for hardware stores.

    Following an initial few weeks when the store experienced an intense period for people buying products like seedlings and methylated spirits and greenhouses, the store remains busy and more orderly with people buying more traditional DIY products.

    Mr Clennett said painting appeared to be the number one job on people's lists, with interior paint being snapped up in huge quantities.

    Bathroom products - including tiles, toilets and vanities - were also among the top sellers across his four stores in Kingston, Huonville, Glenorchy and Mornington in Tasmania. And outdoor makeovers are also in high demand, with paving, fencing, cubby houses and gardening projects all popular.

    Power tools, chicken wire, pots, seedlings and timber for building backyard vegie gardens have all been strong sellers, as people look for easy and relatively cheap projects that kids can help with.

    Clennett's Mitre 10 also launched a free "dial and deliver" service, to ensure Tasmanians who don't feel comfortable going to a hardware store can still access supplies, with 20-30 deliveries made each day.

    Like many other retailers, Mr Clennett's stores have implemented social distancing strategies and are encouraging cashless payment.

    Victoria

    In regional Victoria, WB Hunter Home Timber & Hardware general manager Paul Serra said a range of measures had been introduced, including home delivery options, cancelling outside visitations, social distancing and staff disinfecting surfaces. Prior to the Easter break, he told Shepparton News:

    We also have good drive-through facilities.

    Mr Serra said the company's sole focus was to ensure the local rural industry and food producers had access to their products. He said:

    Our stores are very safe, they're very big, and if people aren't sure we can do deliveries.

    Mooroopna Hardware store manager Joey Campanelli said in a bid to encourage people to use their home delivery services, delivery fees had been reduced. He said:

    We're applying the 1.5-metre rule as much as possible, we have hand sanitiser and wipes at each counter, and encourage people to use them after each transaction.
    We're still open for trade and, in the event of a shutdown, we're still happy to do home delivery service.

    Seymour Timber and Hardware store manager Richard Morris said there was huge demand for garden equipment, plants and paint as people made the most of isolation. He told the Seymour Telegraph:

    We will keep operating as long as the government let us ... The team are still offering deliveries, but we are taking all the necessary social distancing precautions.

    Queensland

    Taylor's Hardware has been operating in Bundaberg for the past six decades and with two generations working within the business. It offered free timber offcuts for kids to keep their minds occupied during isolation and school holidays. Store manager Adam Taylor explained to NewsMail:

    We started giving timber offcuts to customers with young kids when they came in to the store to pick up some hardware supplies. Eventually it turned into a really fun activity for the school holidays, where the kids can get creative and they send photos into us of what they've made.

    Store managers at Home Timber and Hardware Biloela and Mitre 10 Biloela said staff had been "flat out" and were struggling to stock some products. HTH store manager Tim Kessler told the Central Telegraph that his store had had 33% customers in the month of April.

    People aren't allowed to travel so they are being forced to shop in town which has been a benefit for us and other businesses. People are taking the chance to do home renovations. Painting and gardening seem to be the two biggest ones as well as other little home renovations.
    Some customers have already said that the money they put aside to go on holidays they can't use, so they are using the money for renovations.

    Mr Kessler said paint supply companies had been working around the clock and his supply warehouse in Brisbane was up 40% in output. He said:

    If we'd known six weeks ago we'd be this busy we'd have put on extra casuals. When our stock comes in, getting it on the shelves has been hard because we're constantly serving customers.

    Mitre 10 Biloela store manager Warren Cullen said the industry as a whole were seeing a busy period nationally as residents stuck at home were spending money on their homes to stay productive. He told the Central Telegraph:

    We get one main delivery a week from our biggest supplier (and) we have had to increase volume on that. We have also had to do more orders with individual companies, the frequency of ordering has been higher than normal.

    Mr Cullen said that with Chinese exports closed from January to March, there had been a shortage of stock Australia wide and in his store on some products. He said:

    One of the areas that's been heavily affected is gardening, it has been heavily affected by the shortage of seeds nationally ... There's a number of products that are out of stock until June and July.

    Dalby's Sunshine Mitre 10 retail manager Lena Taylor said despite initially fearing the coronavirus restrictions would cause a downturn, the shop had been extremely busy (from early April to mid-May). She told the Dalby Herald:

    It's like everyone thinks doomsday is coming. People are buying gardening products, timber, paint. Paint is the big one...We have been having trouble keeping up stock because everybody has been hit and we're just starting to get more supplies in.

    Roma Home Improvement Centre owner Tony Lambert said it was an unusually busy time which had taken him by surprise. He also told the Dalby Herald:

    Store traffic is certainly up and sales are up because people can't go anywhere on holidays, there's no junior sport and people can't do the stuff they normally do. So they are just doing stuff around the house. Gardening is an area that has had a vast increase.

    Mr Lambert said he was fortunate to be maintaining his business at a time when many retailers were hurting. But he said it was inevitable that the demand for DIY materials would drop back to normal when restrictions are lifted.

    When we go back to normal life people will get back to their usual activities in due course.

    New South Wales

    Sydney residents have also been using the extra time spent at home to spruce up the garden, fix a crooked door or paint the walls. Sammy Sciglitano from Booth and Taylor Hardware in Annandale (NSW) told the Sydney Morning Herald:

    We've never seen business like this in our lives.

    Mr Sciglitano, who has worked at the store for 13 years, said customers first started stocking up on potting mix, fertiliser and fruit or vegetable seeds before turning to paints and outdoor decks. Sales were surging "at least 50%" on weekends as homeowners turned into DIY tradespeople, he said.

    Deniliquin Mitre 10 has seen an influx of customers since restrictions came into effect. Business co-owner Katrina Knuckey told the Deniliquin Pastoral Times that plants and paint have been the most popular items purchased since lockdown.

    People have been coming into the store all the time getting what they need to start or finish their renovations and DIY projects. A lot of people are painting indoors and outdoors, as well as perfecting their gardens and building new things with the kids which is great to see.

    But the pandemic has also brought on supply issues. Ms Knuckey explains:

    Supply is now returning to normal with most of the items in demand back on our shelves.

    While the lockdown has placed significant pressure on the economy, Mrs Knuckey said she has been pleasantly surprised that the store could continue operating through such a difficult time for all business.

    We thought we would need to close our doors and do what we could to keep our employees in a job. However we have been lucky in that coronavirus has had a positive impact, not just a negative one...

    Mawhood's Mitre 10 has been busy delivering gas bottles, gardening products and timber products, and has seen a "huge increase" in home deliveries, according to the Oberon Review.

    Ynez Campos, a staff member at Inspirations Paint, said interior and exterior paint had been flying off the shelves at the Haberfield-based store. She said:

    A lot of people are redoing their [house] exteriors and there's a lot of DIY. And people have kids at home so they're getting the kids to help.

    She said fewer time pressures meant customers had "a bit more time to fuss over the different tonnes of white".

    Western Australia

    Peel Paint Place owner Allan Elliott has had more people through the doors since social distancing restrictions began. He told the Mandurah Mail:

    [In April] our Mandurah and Rockingham stores both had a 30 per cent increase in foot traffic ... Covid-19 has definitely impacted our business positively...
    We offered deliveries or drive-thru services as we have an eftpos machine we can just take out to their cars.
    People appreciated the extra service in the first two weeks of social distancing but now more customers are coming into the store as the fear factor surrounding Covid-19 has dissipated.

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    retailers

    Coronavirus and supply in building materials

    Builders and tradies could be the next supply chain risk

    The coronavirus impact on industry supply chains could create new opportunities for local businesses as companies search for alternatives to China-sourced products and start to rethink their dependence on imports from the country

    The move from disrupted supply chains to the restrictions of movement and group gatherings as a result of the global pandemic has significant economic consequences for property development and construction, according to Property Council of Australia chief executive, Ken Morrison.

    Mr Morrison said the opening of some factories in China - after they were closed to control the spread of the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus - had eased concerns about building materials shortages.

    However, the industry is facing a greater test than the supply issue as the expected shortage in workers on site fall ill or need to self-isolate. Mr Morrison told The Australian Financial Review:

    Empty workplaces will have a big impact on the economy. Some roles can be performed at home, but you can't construct a building from home.

    Australian Construction Industry Forum chief executive James Cameron agrees the risks for Australia's construction workforce were broader ranging than just to supply chains. He said:

    If the coronavirus takes hold in Australia, construction projects may be further affected with sick staff and others staying home due to fear of infection. The construction industry labour force is highly integrated, and one missing link can mean that projects cannot continue.

    Brickworks

    Businesses responding to COVID-19 are prioritising staff and customer safety. At Brickworks, Australia's largest brickmaker, all workers at its plants are having daily temperature checks and there are stringent hygiene and cleaning programs in place.

    The company believes the federal government must do even more to keep people in jobs because a sharp climb in the unemployment rate will trigger much deeper housing market downturn.

    Managing director Lindsay Partridge said preventing a big blowout in the jobless rate well beyond 10% was crucial to housing and construction for the later part of 2020 and beyond.

    He said Brickworks, which operates 26 sites in Australia with a workforce of 1300 people is ready to curtail production if demand starts to fall as the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic accelerates in the short term. He told The Australian Financial Review (AFR):

    If there was going to be a downturn, then we would no doubt adjust production.

    The company made three large acquisitions in the United States in a year from November 2018 across 13 sites with 890 staff, according to the AFR report. These include Redland Brick Inc based in Maryland and Sioux City Brick in Iowa. Its first acquisition, Glen-Gery has 10 plants and is the fourth-largest brick maker in the US.

    But it was recently forced to shutdown of five manufacturing sites in Pennsylvania as local authorities tried to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

    Since then, Mr Partridge said the Governor of Pennsylvania loosened the restrictions slightly to allow the five factories to keep selling bricks from their yards, even though production was still halted. In late March, he said:

    We've probably got three or four months of stock on hand.

    Local supplies

    The coronavirus pandemic has led many companies in the construction and building sector to review their reliance on single-source country supply of materials in the face of project delays and resultant contractual disputes.

    The ACIF lobby group has identified that Australia's building industry imports more than 60% of its annual $6 billion of materials from China.

    Until now, construction companies have opted for mostly cheaper Chinese suppliers without a back-up plan, creating the problems on both residential and commercial sites, according to Dean Haritos, managing director of SOLOS Glass.

    He writes in The Sydney Morning Herald they also face a longer-term problem when the quality of imported materials fail the test of time or compliance with Australian Standards, not to mention the sometimes dubious compliance certificates provided by overseas suppliers.

    Mr Haritos said the supply-chain problems were prompting a rethink by builders of how they sourced materials. He said:

    People are now starting to ask, 'What's the real cost? When you look at [the per-square-metre-cost] in isolation China can be more competitive, but when you add up the cost of delays, quality issues, of not being able to talk to someone locally and not necessarily having technical expertise to support you, it starts to change. The local supply chain comes into its own.

    Non-conforming building products has been a hot-button issue across Australia over the last 18 months, with quality and efficacy being the key issues, while the virus crisis has brought supply certainty also into play. These issues represent a stark reminder to the construction sector that there are key advantages in supporting the local supply chain.

    Many local building materials producers and processors have some the most technologically-advanced plant in the world, while also being reliable, accessible and accountable in supply, Mr Haritos adds.

    Ian Lomas, principal at global architectural and consulting practice Woods Bagot, said that while there was no panic in the construction industry yet, there was also a growing awareness that the just-in-time inventory system, where supply is readily available to meet demand aimed at increasing efficiency and reducing costs, may have failed. He said:

    So much of building today is done on that just-in-time system because nobody wants to store anything and nobody will pay before they receive the goods. Now that's being exposed because building sites and projects are running out of materials very quickly because they have no buffers.

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    companies

    Ikea Australia to sell solar panels

    The range was initially introduced to international markets seven years ago

    The payback time in Australia when investing in a full solar system is the fastest payback time of any other Ikea country, according to Ikea Australia chief executive Jan Gardberg

    Home improvement and furniture retailer, Ikea has begun a trial to sell solar panels. The idea is for Ikea staff to test out the offering, provide feedback, and ensure any bugs are ironed out by the time the product is launched to consumers.

    Ikea's business leader for Home Solar, Petra Toth said Australia is the first country outside Europe to be offered panels. She said:

    Our strategy globally is to make solar more accessible for people to live a sustainable life every day. It has been going really well in Europe.

    Ikea has partnered with local solar panel supplier, Solargain, that has more than 20 years' experience in the market. The solar panels will not be offered as a DIY product but are designed to take the complexity out of installing home solar systems by establishing a one-stop shop model. They are expected to be available in all states by June or July. Ms Toth said:

    This product is not about picking up flatpacks. We will be focusing on quality and we have a range of warranties to back that up.

    Ikea will be the first point of contact, with trained staff collecting data such as the number of people in the household and booking quotes, while Solargain installs the solar panels, inverters and mounting systems backed by Ikea warranties.

    The Solstrale package includes a custom rooftop solar design, full installation (by Ikea's partners, not the homeowner), PV panels, inverters and mounting systems - with an option to add battery storage if so desired.

    Ikea said pricing in Australia would vary from region to region - depending on any local and state government incentives and rebates - and depend on the size of system purchased. Ultimately, the company hopes to expand Solstrale sales to all of its markets by 2025.

    According to Ikea Australia retail manager and chief sustainability officer, Jan Gardberg, the move to solar is ideally timed for the current conditions in Australia. He said:

    We know the unlocked potential that awaits with democratising sustainable solutions through renewable energy. Our climate is perfectly suited for Australia to be a leading market for the Ikea home solar offering.

    Ikea has already spent more than $4 billion on making its stores focused on cleaner energy, powering its buildings across the globe. In Australia alone, 20,000 solar panels have been installed across its sites, contributing to a total of 900,000 worldwide.

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    retailers

    For Ace Hardware, mobile means loyalty

    Engaging customers in the channels they prefer

    The hardware retailer has discovered that customers want in-store, mobile and online shopping experiences to be individualised

    Data from B2B platform, Payments News & Mobile Payments Trends (PYMNTS.com) suggests retailers that focus on innovating only one sales channel will likely squander opportunities and have difficulties generating consumer loyalty.

    Retailers should instead take hybrid approaches to customer relationships, maintaining both the speed expected from online and mobile platforms as well as in-store shopping's convenience and tactile advantages, according to Deanna Moreno Hernandez, mobile marketing senior manager at hardware retailer Ace Hardware. She said:

    We are in the process of enhancing our data capabilities to see a more holistic view of our consumers and their shopping journeys to better serve their needs [on] whichever channels they prefer to [use].
    We lean on our IT team to help develop in-house technologies to serve our retailers so they can provide memorable experiences in-store.

    Ace Hardware is revamping its rewards system and mobile channel but the company is also making sure its new experiences work with its existing physical locations and consumer shopping patterns. It believes consistently seamless experiences are key to retaining customers regardless of where they shop.

    Omnichannel ease of use

    Retailers that want smooth omnichannel experiences must harmoniously maintain three distinct shopping channels that serve shifting payment and customer needs, all without distracting consumers. Shoppers are expecting increased personalisation as well, so retailers must carefully consider how to foster customer trust and satisfaction.

    Mobile is thus emerging as a top channel for today's retailers - and not just because of its ease of use and popularity among younger consumers. This channel can also bridge in-store and online experiences, improving personalisation at brick-and-mortar stores and allowing shoppers to track purchases and loyalty points on the go. Ms Hernandez said:

    The [new Ace] mobile app is enabling this [convenience] by offering personalised experiences. The questions that a store owner would ask to get to know customers better are replicated in the mobile app.

    Ace has also grafted this mobile experience into its delivery options, allowing customers to mix and match where they make purchases, she added. App users can shop products and schedule pickups at particular locations or search for the nearest stores, and all can offer promotions directly within the app. Ms Hernandez said:

    Your purchases, whether in-store or online, are reflected on acehardware.com and in the app and can easily be repurchased.
    The fulfillment options of buying online and picking up in-store, assembly and delivery from your local store leverages our retail footprint of more than 4,500 stores to ensure the customer has a positive experience shopping in-store or digitally, in our new app or [on] acehardware.com.

    Using mobile to connect online and brick-and-mortar sales can also help retailers maintain consumers' trust. All purchases are categorised and maintained on devices that typically never leave shoppers' hands, encouraging them to head back to familiar brands.

    Loyalty in new retail age

    Ace Hardware is relying more on mobile as an integral part of its loyalty strategy. Ms Hernandez added that the retailer is implementing app features to simplify the purchasing process. She said:

    The integration of our loyalty program, Ace Rewards, will allow members to easily access their membership cards, coupons, rewards and birthday offers all in one place.
    Long gone are the days where customers will need to carry the coupon around to ensure they use it.

    Developing this mobile loyalty has its own obstacles, though. Smartphone real estate is finite, and brands stake their claim by creating easily navigable and convenient mobile apps. Ace Hardware is hoping its offerings will entice consumers and boost customer conversion, as such offerings - especially those tailored to mobile - may enable retailers to build trust with brand-agnostic consumers.

    Merchants will have to continually update their strategies, however, if they want to maintain customer relationships and satisfy new generations. Brick-and-mortar, mobile and online channels will likely experience major shifts in consumer behaviours over the next few years, and successful retailers will be the ones that engage consumers and anticipate what they want.

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    retailers

    Kingfisher negotiates rent as B&Q stores reopen

    The home improvement group drops out of FTSE 100

    It has also donated personal protective equipment (PPE) critical for frontline healthcare workers fighting Covid-19

    B&Q's network of 288 stores in the UK are now open to the public, albeit with strict new safety measures in place. The DIY chain is classed as an essential retailer under the British government's lockdown rules, but it shut up shop in March before making a staged return with an initial 155 stores opening first.

    It has limited the number of customers in stores, switching to card-only payments and installing perspex screens at checkouts. Owing to the bulky nature of some DIY materials, the retailer is allowing two people to shop together so that they can "self-serve" larger items.

    Parent company, Kingfisher has been negotiating its rent payment terms as it tries to save cash amid the coronavirus crisis. It has asked to pay rents across its 950 UK stores on a monthly basis, rather than each quarter, according to Sky News.

    If the home improvement retailer is given the go-ahead to pay monthly - rather than three months upfront each quarter - it will be able to keep the extra cash on its balance sheet during the coronavirus epidemic.

    Kingfisher is not seeking rent cuts and has no plans to suspend payments. A spokesman told CityAM:

    We are looking to work constructively with our landlords to successfully navigate our way through these extraordinary times.

    In early March, the company said supply chains in China and the Far East, which make up 25% of total goods sold, had started to reopen. Products from Italy were also still flowing, with factories remaining open.

    Prior to negotiating its retail rents, the home improvement retail group was relegated from the FTSE 100 following a quarterly reshuffle of the sought-after stock market ranking.

    The Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index, informally called the "Footsie", is a share index of the 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with the highest market capitalisation.

    The news comes after a tough trading period for the group, which has so far seen new chief executive Thierry Garnier attempting to revitalise the company. However, it saw demand for DIY and garden equipment surge – up 38% in March – in the weeks before the coronavirus lockdown.

    Over the group's fiscal first quarter to April 30 total sales fell 24% to GBP2.16 billion pounds, with like-for-like sales down 24.8%, reflecting COVID-19 related disruption. It did not issue profit guidance for the 2020-21 year.

    Kingfisher also announced a donation of protective medical equipment to health services across Europe worth GBP1 million when demand for the items soared in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Since the COVID-19 crisis hit Europe, Kingfisher and its businesses have ringfenced all their remaining stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) so it can be donated to frontline healthcare workers.

    Kingfisher confirmed it ordered a further three million face masks from suppliers in China and Israel. These will be for donation to the health authorities in the UK, France, Poland and Romania, or to equip staff who are facilitating its online and click & collect orders in stores.

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    retailers

    Expanding deck possibilities

    It has been developed to be compliant in bushfire zones

    The use of multi-level decks and floating steps also helps to create visual interest and define different areas of an outdoor space

    Fibre cement products can open up new configurations including fire pits, BBQ surrounds, and poolside paths for today's homes.

    HardieDeck[tm] is a timber and aluminium alternative made using premium fibre cement, which is resistant to fire, rotting, splintering, and warping. With a higher level of durability over traditional materials, it can be finished in a range of colours.

    Its smooth finish is nail, splinter free and prevents wide gaps between boards. Made using an enriched composite of materials, HardieDeck is resistant to damage from moisture, heat, and sun, in addition to being deemed bushfire zone safe.

    With adequate cross-flow ventilation and a concealed fixing system, it is designed to increase the performance of low set decks and withstand the elements.

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    products

    ACCC queries Adelaide Tools acquisition

    Fears Bunnings will control too much of the Adelaide market

    The ACCC is considering only Bunnings' influence on the Adelaide market, not wider issues regarding the Australian market

    The ACCC has advanced its enquiry into the acquisition of Adelaide Tools by the Wesfarmers' owned Bunnings to a second stage. On 14 February 2020, the ACCC released a "Statement of Issues" related to the acquisition. The main issue the ACCC has chosen to pursue is this:

    6. The ACCC is concerned that the proposed acquisition may substantially lessen competition in the retail supply of tools, equipment and outdoor power equipment (collectively, T&E) in the Adelaide metropolitan region.

    Later in this document, the ACCC clarifies that this is its primary focus:

    54. The ACCC's preliminary view is that the proposed acquisition will increase concentration and may substantially lessen competition in relation to the retail supply of T&E to customers in the Adelaide metropolitan region.

    One reason for this is that the ACCC sees Adelaide Tools as being an effective competitor to Bunnings:

    57. The ACCC's preliminary view is that Adelaide Tools provides an important competitive constraint on Bunnings in the retail supply of T&E in Adelaide. Market inquiries indicate that Adelaide Tools has a strong reputation and competes aggressively on price, brand and product range, quality of service and a range of other factors, particularly for supply to trade customers.

    Bunnings, however, has responded that its offer differs substantially from that of Adelaide Tools:

    58. Bunnings submitted to the ACCC that it does not compete closely with Adelaide Tools due to the limitations of its big-box store format. In particular, Bunnings submitted that it cannot effectively compete for supply to trade customers because it has less floor space for T&E, it does not stock the highly specialised trade quality T&E, its sales team has less technical expertise and it does not offer the same level of after-sales service and support.

    The ACCC is not persuaded by these arguments:

    59. ... the ACCC considers that there is a significant proportion of trade customers who require less specialised (but still trade quality) T&E and do not require much advice as they are frequent and informed users of T&E. Therefore, these customers may be likely to readily substitute between Adelaide Tools and Bunnings for their trade quality T&E purchases. Bunnings' significant sales to trade customers reflect this.

    It is perhaps worth noting that the way in which Bunnings has characterised itself here is somewhat at odds with the way the company self-describes in another recent submission to the ACCC. The other document is in response to a "Resale price maintenance notification", where Stanley Black & Decker (SBD) is seeking to prevent resellers from advertising prices below the non-discounted invoice price they are charged (representing the net price, but not the net net price). The Bunnings submission opposing this states in part:

    Bunnings agrees with SBD's claim ... that Bunnings is not a 'low service' retailer, and provides a significantly higher level of service than many other retailers.

    To be fair, Bunnings sees itself as a "mid service" retailer rather than a "high service" retailer, offering limited help on demand.

    Market complexity

    The ACCC has been very careful to explicitly state that in looking at this acquisition it is solely concerned with matters local to the Adelaide market. The Statement declares, in paragraph seven:

    The ACCC's preliminary view is that the proposed acquisition is unlikely to result in a substantial lessening of competition in the wholesale supply of T&E in Australia.

    Even with this more limited view of the issues to be considered, it is not clear that the ACCC has entirely grasped all the forces at play in considering the market for trade-oriented tools. What is important to realise is that not only has this market changed substantially over the past 10 years (even just the past five years, in fact), but also that there is ongoing change and development at work as well.

    The move to cordless power tools has made power tool brands more important than ever. Tradies do not so much buy individual tools as "subscribe" to a brand's battery/charger system, then buy tools that match up with this. You need only look at the website home page for Adelaide Tools itself, which banners the brands Milwaukee, Makita and Festool, to see how important these have become.

    In fact, HNN would suggest that it is difficult to understand the Bunnings/Adelaide Tools situation without knowing about the conflicts around one brand in particular: Milwaukee, which is manufactured by the Hong Kong-based Techtronic Industries (TTI).

    Bunnings has a deal with TTI to be the exclusive distributor in Australia for two of its power tool brands, Ryobi and AEG. It has, however, been completely locked out of any distribution arrangement for the Milwaukee brand.

    Ryobi is regarded as something of a "DIY" brand, but it is more complex than that. It's the only global brand that manages to crossover between DIY and "pro" brands. It is a favourite with the slightly more serious home handyman, but it is also popular in areas such as repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI), as a reliable, low-cost alternative with some fleet characteristics (such as six-battery chargers).

    Similarly, AEG is a popular brand with tradies who use a limited range of power tools, but it also crosses over into the "prosumer" end of the DIY market. Its tools are often slightly unique (for example, AEG offered a heavy-duty oil-pulse impact driver before that became a more common product) and feature more attention to aesthetic/functional design than many trade tool brands.

    Milwaukee, however, is without doubt TTI's leading brand when it comes to technical excellence. There are four major generalist trade brands: Bosch's "blue" tools, Stanley Black & Decker's DeWalt, Makita and Milwaukee – five if you include Hikoki/Metabo. Makita is the most unique of the three, following a pattern of innovative tools that rely on values of balance, sturdiness and a high degree of repairability. The others compete on the basis of providing the power of corded tools in a cordless package, ever-larger batteries, compact size, wide range of speciality tools, and, increasingly, data-sharing through Bluetooth connectivity with smartphones.

    Milwaukee has been the major pioneer in that last category. In terms of the future of this part of the power tool industry, that advantage is likely to be crucial. The construction industry, especially for government-funded projects, is likely to see enhanced building information modelling (BIM) requirements come into force in the near future.

    For example, Hilti has introduced a range of concrete anchors that are laser-etched with unique visual codes, similar to QR codes. These can be scanned at the time of installation to record details. In the near future we are likely to see record made of the tool used to install the fastener, the time, the day, the subcontractor, and the tool settings. This will significantly contribute to construction auditing, diagnosis of later problems, and eventually liability as well.

    While in the past Bunnings has largely accepted being locked out from the Milwaukee brand, what has changed recently is that the Metcash-owned Independent Hardware Group (IHG) has gained access to Milwaukee for its Mitre 10 brand.

    In that context, part of the significance of Adelaide Tools is that it represents a way for Bunnings to gain access to Milwaukee. This casts a different light over the market situation that the ACCC has outlined in Adelaide.

    Breaking down the ACCC analysis, it basically states that, while the trade market Bunnings services is much wider than that serviced by stores such as Adelaide Tools, there is significant overlap. Another way to examine that situation is to look at the areas where retailers such as Adelaide Tools do not overlap with Bunnings and provide a unique offering. That is partially through offering tools from more specialised brands such as Festool, but a significant part of it is also through having had semi-exclusive access to the Milwaukee brand.

    Where assessing the competitive situation gets complicated is that the argument could be made that this semi-exclusivity to Milwaukee enjoyed by many independent tool stores has been broken by TTI granting access to that brand by IHG's Mitre 10 retailers. In that case, the move by Bunnings into Adelaide Tools does not specifically target the independent tool stores, but is a competitive move in reaction to IHG.

    From yet another viewpoint, independent tool stores are now coming under increased pressure from IHG. That could be one of the triggers that made Adelaide Tools more willing to sell its operations than it might have been in 2018, for example. The acquisition of Adelaide Tools by Bunnings, then, is a continuation of this change in the market, not its instigation, or even the most significant shift.

    Margin quest

    While the ACCC seems to have concentrated mainly on sales, it is also the case it might do well to consider margins as well. It has become something of an assumption that most independent hardware retailers do not manage to make all that much margin on the power tools that they do sell to tradie customers. The general feedback HNN receives is that low prices that Bunnings charges can keep margins down.

    That is one reason why there has been steady growth in tool specialist retailers. The power tool companies do see them as key to market access, and they seem to have been able to negotiate better margins. It's also the case that their speciality lines fall outside of those offered by Bunnings, so that the resulting margin from the mix of sales is better.

    The picture is very different, however, when it comes to power tool accessories. There is a far wider range of suppliers for these, and competition is intense enough that even those ordering smaller volumes can expect prices low enough to guarantee decent margins.

    Thus many of what the ACCC terms "multi-category retailers" carry power tools both for completeness of range, and to help ensure sales of accessories. They certainly participate in the market, but they tend not to compete that much on either price or service.

    Online

    If there is one area where the ACCC's analysis of the trade tools sales does not seem to be well-considered, it is in its approach to online sales. This is a little puzzling. The Statement declares:

    29. Market inquiries indicate that online sales act primarily as a complement to in-store sales. Customers use online stores to conduct research, compare prices and check stock availability. Information obtained by the ACCC indicates that online sales typically constitute less than 10 per cent of most retailers' total sales and growth of online sales has not been significant to date.

    This is a statement that seems to discount the importance of online sales. There would be very few retailers that would see a sales channel that generates 10% of revenue as not being significant. It's also worth noting that Bunnings has only recently launched its online sales capability, and that there are other significant players in that market, such as Amazon. Not to mention a range of suppliers selling solely through their own web and eBay stores, such as Trade Tool Supplies.

    There is a rather obvious bias problem if the ACCC is relying for its forecast of future online sales of trade tools on information from retailers operating physical stores with relatively inactive online stores. It might have done better to consult current online-only retailers to obtain a more balanced view.

    The "Resale price maintenance notification" lodged by SBD with the ACCC mentioned earlier also plays into this. It has been something of an open secret for some time that other power tool companies have had both formal and informal processes in place to get the same result - control over prices advertised online. Some of these are of rather questionable legality. This situation speaks to the overall power of online in influencing sales in this area.

    Finally, the ACCC has identified that Bunnings does service a range of tradies who are happy to buy a wide range of tools from that retailer without much in the way of customer service or advice. That is partly because, for those who care to do a bit of research, there is a wealth of information available online, from websites wholly devoted to tools, to reviews of tools by actual users on YouTube, not to mention social media, and so forth.

    Analysis

    HNN would suggest that this objection by the ACCC to the acquisition may go somewhat beyond what it appears to be on the surface. There are, after all, something like over 12 hardware stores, excluding Bunnings, in the greater Adelaide area, plus three Total Tools stores, a Hilti store, and few more tool stores.

    Among those hardware stores are five of IHG's Mitre 10 stores. IHG was formed through the ACCC giving the go-ahead for Mitre 10 and the Home Timber & Hardware Group to merge - in large part justified by this creating an independent group that could compete more effectively with Bunnings. There is little doubt that IHG gained the rights to sell Milwaukee tools largely as a consequence of that amalgamation. We could say that this merger is working as expected by the ACCC when it comes to fostering effective competition with Bunnings.

    Adelaide Tools is certainly a well-known and much respected retailer, with a large footprint. However, the most likely outcome of Bunnings acquiring the store is that there will be some additional investment into the region, and the store might expand its range and lower some of its prices.

    So, from the immediate perspective of the trade tool consumer, it seems unlikely that there will be much harm done and some benefits may be delivered. That leaves us to consider, from the point of view of the ACCC's remit, how competition and the market itself will be affected.

    In HNN's opinion, the ACCC is aware that in trade tools (and elsewhere in hardware as well) the market has actually become dysfunctional. As HNN has suggested before, historically what has happened to the market is that in the early 2000s Wesfarmers and Bunnings realised that the supply chain offered strong prospects for growth. Other firms, such as pre-Metcash Mitre 10 and Danks, saw strong prospects in improved retail outlets.

    Both were, in a sense, right - but Bunnings was more right, with the growth that was delivered through the supply chain turning exponential, outpacing the growth that came through improving stores. Coupled with everyday low pricing (EDLP), the Bunnings model effectively reduced margins to the extent that its competitors were not able to fund the research and development needed to develop innovative approaches to the market.

    Bunnings certainly has taken advantage of a central fragility in the trade and also DIY markets. That fragility is that it turns out pricing as a marketing signal can outweigh almost every other signal, including pre- and post-sales service, and even relationships. However, the company did not create that fragility.

    The real surprise in these markets is that they have not been able to develop counter-strategies that could overcome the current market situation. One of the features of modern retail and other businesses as they have evolved in the 21st Century is that we see a move from products to services, with services proving more profitable.

    We need to ask why these smaller trade tool businesses have not evolved a model of "tools as a service", where they effectively leased a fleet of tools to trade businesses, providing more flexibility, and eliminating problems for their customers such as a lack of tool availability during repair cycles.

    The real question faced by the ACCC is actually a much larger one than just whether the oversized market presence of Bunnings needs to be braked and inhibited in some way. It is, rather, whether the market benefits from supporting businesses that are at risk because they have not been able to evolve their business models.

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    bigbox

    DeWalt seeks to control dealer ads

    ACCC could give DeWalt permission to place a floor on prices in ads

    Stanley Black & Decker has applied to the ACCC for permission to limit prices dealers display in advertising

    Stanley Black & Decker Australia (SBD) has lodged a resale price maintenance (RPM) notification with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) as of 17 October 2019, with specific regard to its DeWalt brand of products. RPMs allow the ACCC to relax regulations in consumer law which forbid suppliers from imposing pricing conditions on resellers, such as limiting their consumer prices to a set minimum.

    SBD is not seeking to set limits on the extent of price discounts at which resellers can sell its DeWalt products. It is, however, in broad terms, seeking to establish a floor price for advertising for each and every DeWalt tool. Under that arrangement, SBD resellers could price DeWalt tools below that floor price for in-store sales, but they would be contractually prevented from advertising or otherwise communicating a price that was below the floor price.

    We do want to go into some detail as regards this move by SBD. Many people would agree that the power tool market suffers from some unfortunate distortions, and this is a genuine effort by SBD to find a way to correct some of these. The difficulty, of course, is that it often seems to be the case that in making an effort to solve one problem, you create others.

    However, HNN does believe we should start by mentioning that there really are grave doubts that this particular approach - limiting the communication of price discounts, but not the discounts themselves - really has much chance of working on a practical level in 2020.

    The proposed restraints on true pricing information would be contractually declared between SBD and its resellers. This means that third-parties, who were not contractually bound to either SBD or the resellers, would be free to communicate the true discount prices of DeWalt products, in any way they chose.

    The reason this point is so important, is that the reseller that would be most affected by restriction of advertising through floor prices would be Bunnings. The Bunnings website generates huge volumes of traffic. Should there be a restriction put in place that meant Bunnings could not communicate the true prices of DeWalt products on its website, it would be a very tempting proposition for a third party to set up a website that did provide the true pricing for DeWalt products at Bunnings – along with the true pricing at other retailers as well.

    At a guess, within a couple months after such a restriction went into place, there would be fifty or so websites offering that information, and earning money from the traffic they attract (really siphoned off from the Bunnings website) via Google Ads.

    It is also highly likely that it would not be possible to restrict Bunnings and other resellers providing that pricing information to these sites, as these would be journalist enquiries, and it seems unlikely that could be contractually restricted. Even if such a restriction were possible, it seems likely Bunnings and other resellers could effectively "leak" that information without fear of detection.

    This is also a kind of activity that would attract a good deal of journalistic interest and publicity. It seems likely that in reporting on this situation by the business and consumer press, SBD would find itself portrayed in a negative light, which could have ongoing consequences.

    These are, however, only speculations about implementation, and really do not play a part in SBD's more theoretical interactions with the ACCC.

    Background

    To understand what SBD is doing, it is necessary to first take a close look at the background to the changes the ACCC has made to RPM recently, and how the ACCC has acted so far.

    The RPM process is one that is relatively new to the ACCC. It was first comprehensively described in November 2017, and has been successfully applied to the products distributed by one hardware company. This was Tooltechnic Systems (Aust), which is the main distributor of Festool and Fein power tool products in Australia.

    Essentially, the RPM process enables companies that wish to impose price and price notification restrictions on resellers of their goods to obtain an exemption to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, under which such activities are normally forbidden. As the ACCC describes the situation in its guidelines:

    In broad terms, Resale Price Maintenance (RPM) occurs when a supplier of goods or services (e.g. a manufacturer or wholesaler) specifies a minimum price below which a reseller must not on-sell, or advertise for sale, those goods or services.
    RPM is a per se breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Act), which means it is prohibited outright, regardless of whether it has the purpose, effect or likely effect of substantially lessening competition.

    Attempts by distributors to set prices for resellers is generally disallowed, because it tends to have detrimental effects. As described by the ACCC:

    RPM can cause harm to the competitive process by reducing or eliminating price competition between resellers. This can result in resellers selling goods or services at prices higher than they would otherwise and consumers paying more for those goods or services without receiving any additional value. In some circumstances, RPM may also increase the risk of collusion between competitors.

    However, the ACCC also admits to there being circumstances under which RPM may produce beneficial effects as well as detrimental effects. As such there may be times when the market and consumers will derive overall benefit from allowing RPM. As the ACCC describes this balance:

    The ACCC recognises that, in certain circumstances, RPM can result in benefits, including by promoting competition. For example, producers of complex goods or services may seek to engage in RPM to create incentives for a reseller to invest in pre-sales services such as demonstrations and advice that are valued by consumers. Without RPM, other resellers could 'free ride' on these investments by setting lower prices.

    Test case: Tooltechnic

    The ACCC offers up its first ruling on the new approach to RPM as a test case. This was the case of Tooltechnic, which are the current sole distributors for the Fein and Festool products in Australia. The ACCC introduces the case:

    Festool products were expensive and complex, and Tooltechnic encouraged its dealers to provide high levels of pre- and post-sale services to customers. Tooltechnic was concerned that there was a risk customers would access pre- and post-sale services from one retailer but purchase the product at a discount from another retailer who did not provide the services, thereby reducing the incentive to provide the services.

    The ACCC agreed to grant the RPM request, noting that:

    [A]s a result of the RPM conduct, retailers would be likely to invest in pre- and post-sale services, as the risk of free-riding would be addressed. Such an increase in service was likely to generate public benefits including that some customers would make more informed decisions in purchasing quality power tools and customers would continue to receive the choice of a premium trade quality power tool product which is accompanied by a high level of pre- and post-sales service.

    An important element of that ruling was that the size of Tooltechnic meant that while there would be detrimental effects, these would be relatively minor. As the ACCC stated in its announcement:

    Further, while there is clear detriment in this case, it is likely to be reduced by the fact that Festool and Fein have relatively low market shares and face numerous competitors.

    That last point is quite significant. The ACCC is saying that it may be more willing to grant RPM for smaller companies as the total extent of disadvantage will be small.

    This becomes something of a key point, as SBD does draw some parallels between its circumstances and those of Tooltechnic. It is worth pointing out that, globally, SBD is a company with a market cap of USD24.5 billion (approximately AUD37 billion). Techtronic Industries (TTI) has a market cap of USD16.5 billion (AUD25 billion) and Makita has a market cap of JPY1160 billion (AUD15.6 billion).

    The DeWalt case

    The SBD submission to the ACCC is 32 pages long, though some pages do have considerable redactions in the public version to protect commercial-in-confidence communications. The submission consists of a standard form from the ACCC, followed by an appendix, which SBD refers to as "Annexure A". There are additional documents as well, including SBD's response to submissions made by Bunnings and TTI among others.

    The submission is quite discursive and, as is common in many such submissions, somewhat repetitive at times. As a consequence of that, the best way to present the information is to take the most representative extracts from different parts of the SBD notification and supporting documents.

    What SBD wants

    The notification document sets out what SBD is seeking in section 3.1:

    Specifically, SBD proposes to amend its dealer agreements to impose a requirement that dealers do not advertise the DEWALT Products:
    (i) below the "invoice price" for those products, being the standard SBD price charged by SBD to dealers for the products excluding any rebates or discounts offered by SBD off that price to individual dealers; or
    (ii) where a reseller elects to participate in a special price promotion that is funded (in part or whole) by SBD, below the promotional price specified by SBD.
    The proposed amendment to SBD's dealer agreements will only involve specifying a minimum advertised price (MAP) for the DEWALT Products. It will apply to all advertising, including online and in-print. It will not apply to in-store activity and will not restrict or prevent SBD dealers from selling the DEWALT Products at a price below the MAP to customers who negotiate a discount directly with the reseller.

    To clarify what is going on here: a reseller might decide to sell one model of DeWalt drill at $200 in its store, but SBD might set – for all resellers – a limit of $250 for the minimum advertised price of that product. The reseller is free to sell the drill for $200, but will only be able to advertise that drill for the price of $250.

    That $250 price (which SBD calls the "MAP" price) will be the standard invoice price for that model of drill across all dealers. MAP excludes rebates and any other discounts. If the final price that dealers pay is called the "net net price", the invoice price is basically the "net price".

    In terms of the promotional price, SBD provides an example of the situation this is designed to remedy.

    This issue is illustrated by a recent DEWALT promotion, where customers were given the opportunity to purchase a DEWALT FlexVolt drill and charger for $199, compared to the recommended resale price of $459. For SBD, this promotion, provided the opportunity to encourage customers to try the FlexVolt platform by offering them a 'kit' (i.e. product, battery and charger) at a heavily reduced price.
    ...
    One reseller ... promoted the kit online at $189, $10 below the recommended promotional price. This resulted in two of SBD's largest resellers, who had made significant investment in the promotion, reducing their promotional prices to match this reseller and not earning an acceptable return on this promotion.
    This type of incident means that dealers ... are much less likely to support promotions in the future as there is no guarantee that they will obtain an appropriate return for their investment and involvement.

    Advertising, not price

    It is worth noting at this point that the notification provided by SBD is unique in one point, in that it separates advertising from pricing. SBD claims that it is not inhibiting the actual act of discounting, to any amount, but seeks to prevent resellers from advertising a discounted price that goes below a level that SBD itself has set.

    That splitting of concerns is not a possibility that is clearly mentioned by the ACCC. The relevant definition section in its guidelines states:

    RPM may arise in several ways, including if the supplier makes it a condition of supply that the reseller must (or threatens to withdraw supply if the reseller does not):
    -sell the goods or services at a certain price
    -not sell below a certain price
    -only discount to an extent that is 'agreed' or not discount at all
    -comply with a recommended retail price (RRP) or not price a certain percentage below it.

    The lack of a separate specification of advertising/publicity from actual price does not mean that it is not contemplated in the ACCC's interpretation of what is quite loosely written legislation. However, this split is likely to give rise to additional concerns.

    SBD's motivation

    The motivation for SBD seeking this remedy from the ACCC is most clearly laid out in sections 3.3 and 3.4 of Annexure A. Prior to this, SBD has established that it sees pre- and post-sale service as being a critical part of its product offering. Here it outlines the factors that it sees as inhibiting this in the market.

    3.3 However, in a market with very aggressive pricing behaviour, dealers are often not prepared to invest in such service if they are not going to earn a sufficient return on their investment. Ever increasing price competition for trade quality power tools has meant that dealers have been continually undercutting each other on advertised prices. Margins on DEWALT products are considered by many dealers to be too low, particularly when compared to the margins that they earn on products from competitors such as Makita, Milwaulkee and Festool which margins are perceived by resellers to be protected (whether by reason of manufacturers' actual or understood policies on discounting, or ACCC notification).
    3.4 The price competition and comparatively low margins on DEWALT products has been largely driven by two inter-connected factors: the significant growth in the online promotion and sale of power tools (including the growth and use of price comparison websites) and the price guarantee policies of various dealers whereby they promise to beat a competitor's lower price. These price guarantee policies mean that dealers with these policies will reduce their prices to match another reseller's online advertised price to so avoid having to offer additional discounts under their price guarantee policy.

    Benefits

    SBD describes the benefits it sees as flowing from introducing a floor advertising price in section 10 of the formal statement of notification. These include:

  • improved retail services for customers, resulting from better trained staff, wide range selection, and what the company describes as "increased non-price competition between dealers".
  • support for future investment by SBD, through training and supporting the sales team.
  • level playing field for "smaller specialist dealers"
  • better consumer choice through fewer range reductions
  • support for promotions by SBD
  • Detriments

    On the other hand, listing what is detrimental, in the following section 11, SBD simply states that this will be minimal, and refers the reader to Annexure A, section 10 for further details.

    Section 10 of Annexure A begins by stating in section 10.1:

    SBD considers that any public detriment, particularly in relation to any impact on competition will be limited.

    Sections 10.2 through to 10.6 list reasons why the MAP scheme would not have a deleterious effect, including: that as the MAP price would be below the RRP, dealers could still discount; that it does not restrict in-store competition by dealers; and that SBD would be happy to supply the ACCC with details of pricing and margins.

    Section 10.7 then lists all the bad things that SBD says will happen if its request is refused by the ACCC. This includes limiting the distribution of some product, dealers de-ranging and decreasing their investment in DeWalt, and SBD ceasing to invest as much as it has in the brand. Section 10.7 ends on point (f), which states:

    All of the above risks resulting in the DeWalt brand becoming weaker in the market and market concentration increasing, with the two major suppliers (Makita and Milwaukee) accounting for a greater share of professional power tool sales.

    The Bunnings response

    SBD has opted to not really provide a clear listing of the detrimental effects of the RPM it is seeking. However, we can turn to the submission provided by Bunnings to get some view on these.

    The Bunnings submission is in the form of a letter to the ACCC from Phil Bishop, who is general manager - merchandising for Bunnings. His letter is a model of clarity. In it he clearly and simply lists what he sees as the potential detrimental effects of the ACCC granting SBD's RPM request.

    As a national retailer of Dewalt Products, Bunnings does not consider that any purported public benefit associated with the Proposed Conduct outweighs the obvious public detriment that will arise as a result of the Proposed Conduct. This public detriment includes:
    -the reduction of intra-brand price competition for Dewalt Products;
    -the likely requirement for end-customers to pay higher retail prices for Dewalt Products than they otherwise would in the absence of the Proposed Conduct; and
    -lower incentives for retailers of Dewalt Products to invest in cost-saving initiatives.

    Mr Bishop goes into some detail in his letter to describe Bunnings' approach to both the supply and sale of DeWalt products. One part of this that is of general interest to the industry is section 5, where he describes some of the ways in which Bunnings works to cut supply costs of DeWalt products. These include:

  • direct import, with Bunnings obtaining the product directly from the country of production;
  • automating in-store replenishment, so avoiding paying for SBD staff to assess supply;
  • changing the makeup of some tool kits, to achieve better cost and market fit;
  • buying large quantities, thus reducing supplier risk, and benefitting through cost savings; and
  • buying products that are produced in volume for other, larger markets, thus benefitting from borrowed scale.
  • The point to this, of course, is that these actions are directed towards being able to sell DeWalt products at the lowest possible price. If the ability to market these products at that low price is removed, then the incentive to pursue these efficiencies is reduced, and the Australian consumer loses out.

    Mr Bishop is more explicit about these concerns in section 7 of his letter. Under the heading "No public benefit in higher prices", he clarifies what the detrimental effects of RPM would be:

    Bunnings does not consider there to be any inherent public benefit in systemic prohibitions on advertising prices below a certain level. Bunnings considers that any such conduct of this nature deprives customers of price competition between retail channels. It also stands to prejudice customers who are unable to purchase Dewalt Products in-store (perhaps because they are geographically distant from a store or are time poor), as these customers will only be able to purchase Dewalt Products online or by ordering them at or above the MAP.
    Further, Bunnings considers that the Proposed Conduct would deprive customers of the ability to self-select between paying a higher price in exchange for higher levels of pre-sales service or advice, or purchasing the same product online. In this regard, Bunnings notes that the public version of Dewalt's notification does not provide any evidence to suggest that so-called 'high-service' physical retailers do in fact offer Dewalt Products at higher prices than online competitors. In fact ... Bunnings considers that it has been able to offer both sustained low prices and a good degree of product expertise simultaneously.

    The SBD response to these objections by Bunnings is provided in a supplementary submission. SBD begins by denying that the RPM would have the result of "chilling price competition" as Bunnings stated. It goes on to state, in part:

    First, the scope of the Notification is limited. SBD's proposal will not eliminate advertised price competition for DEWALT products. Under the notification, the MAP will set an advertising floor price but this will be set at a price that is below SBD's RRP. Accordingly, the notified conduct will still allow dealers who wish to compete on advertised price by advertising below RRP to do so. As a result, DEWALT expects that there still will be competition on advertised prices for DEWALT products and that retailers like Bunnings will continue to monitor and respond to competitor's advertised price changes.
    Further, the Notification also does not prevent in-store discounting.

    Finding the balance

    It is perhaps useful to look at two more quotes from the SBD Annexure A to gain some more insight into the reasoning that SBD is using.

    This is statement 1:

    4.3 While the MAP Conduct will prevent dealers from advertising DEWALT branded power tools, accessories and attachments below the MAP if they wish to receive additional discounts from SBD, as discussed further below, dealers will not be adversely impacted by this. The MAP is set at the SBD stockist price, which is below the RRP, and accordingly dealers will be able to continue to advertise discounts on the DEWALT Products below the RRP. Dealers will also be able to sell the DEWALT Products for prices below the MAP to customers who seek to negotiate a better price directly with the reseller.

    The following is statement 2:

    4.6 As discussed further below, end-user customers will not be adversely impacted by the MAP Conduct. SBD will continue to face strong price competition from competing brands which will prevent SBD setting the MAP at a non-competitive level. Further, as the MAP sets a floor on the advertised price that is below the RRP for the product, it will not eliminate intra-brand price competition on DEWALT branded products. In addition, end-customers will still be able to negotiate discounted prices below the MAP with dealers.

    The part of statement 1 that stands out is the declaration that "dealers will not be adversely impacted by this", the "this" being the restriction on publicising prices discounted below the MAP set by SBD. Then, in statement 2, SBD declares "end-user customers will not be adversely impacted by the MAP Conduct".

    It is very difficult to understand this. If dealers such as Bunnings have worked hard to make it possible to sell DeWalt products at a price discounted below the MAP, then not being to advertise those products at the true, discounted price would, common sense indicates, disadvantage them. Those dealers would miss out on sales that they would otherwise have attracted through offering such low prices.

    Similarly, if consumers are unable to locate the lowest possible prices for products due to restrictions on advertising those prices, and they end up purchasing DeWalt products at a higher price, then it would seem fairly natural to see them as having been disadvantaged.

    The best that we can do in trying to follow SBD's thinking here is the consider that the company does not consider the losses the dealers might suffer to be material, as balanced against the gains made by correcting a market that has, in SBD's view, focused too much on price at the expense of service delivery.

    The same balance might be seen to be applied as well to the disadvantage the consumer suffers. SBD might regard the extra expense the consumer accrues as being balanced by encouraging higher levels of service by removing some of the advantages of higher levels of discounting.

    Analysis

    That balance, as is made clear in the ACCC guidelines, is what the ACCC must adjudicate on. Are the advantages real, and do they come at too great a cost for whatever the projected benefits are that they may produce?

    This must be further balanced by the issues of practical implementation we mentioned at the beginning.

    And there is an additional issue that arises from the structure of the RPM SBD seeks. Should the ACCC really be seen to promote retailers providing consumers with information about prices that is actually misleading? It is possible that in doing so something of an informal breach of trust occurs, between the retailer and the consumer, but actually also between the ACCC and the Australian public.

    SBD is certainly correct in its view that the current market for tools suffers from some unfortunate distortions. In particular, the practice of high levels of discounts coupled with adequate but not outstanding service in hardware retailers has, in HNN's opinion, had a severe impact on the introduction of innovative products.

    To take an example outside of SBD, Bosch's nanoblade technology in its EasyCut saw range never really stood much of a chance in Australian hardware stores. While it is a fantastic product, and a real solution for casual DIYers and craft people, it is also the kind of product that needs to be properly understood and sold. The same could be said for much of the new and innovative Bosch DIY range.

    That said, however, the reality is that the market continues to tell companies – including SBD – that the services model they have been pursuing is not the one a large percentage of end-users want to invest in. In HNN's view, this is because the services offered are simply not enough. If Bunnings represents the optimal low-end of service, providing just enough to keep customers happy along with low prices, then the rest of the industry has yet to find the equivalent position when it comes to high-end service. Services have to produce value, and they have to work to eliminate ongoing concerns that trade and DIY customers may have.

    The industry just isn't there yet, and the pressing concern is that there are so many forces at work to make innovation difficult for smaller businesses, that it may never get there. We all must work harder to ensure that the independent hardware store survives

    It does seem to HNN, however, that the answer to the industry's problems is more likely to be found in innovation by individual businesses, rather than in exceptions granted by the ACCC to consumer legislation.

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    companies

    Bunnings in brand refresh

    "Lowest prices..." tagline being dropped

    The big box retailer said it is about simplifying its message to customers but is yet to reveal the new slogan

    Even though Bunnings has been synonymous with the slogan, "Lowest prices are just the beginning", the hardware retailer recently confirmed it has been phasing it out since 2018.

    The 25-year-old slogan no longer appears on the company's website and is not being used in new advertising campaigns or on its warehouse stores, and it will be removed from the green aprons worn by staff. Bunnings managing director Mike Schneider said in The West Australian:

    After 25 years, customers understand our lowest prices policy and price guarantee, so we thought it was timely to update and refresh our branding.
    We are incredibly and genuinely committed to our policy of lowest prices. We invest over $5 million a year in a very robust system to constantly check competitor's prices online and in store - nationally and regionally.
    In stores, we have pricing integrity team members who check the local market.

    Marketforce Group chief executive Adam Marshall said seeing the iconic slogan disappear would change consumers perceptions of what that brand stands for. He told The West Australian:

    This is a big deal. In the past when major brands have changed things like taglines, it often comes with a huge amount of advertising and PR support. This one is a bit of a stealth change that they're trying to sneak through on people.

    Mr Marshall said Bunnings expanding its online presence could complicate its trademark use of the slogan.

    The risk is if you're going to stick with it, then you've got to be able to back it up. And that means you're going to have to constantly price check, you're having to constantly lower prices. So your profit margin is constantly going to be under threat.

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    bigbox

    Mining boosts Thrifty-Link store

    Kapunda mine site depends on local businesses

    Store manager Peter Duregon has been instrumental in acquiring materials for the Kapunda Mine project

    The ongoing copper recovery project at Kapunda Mine in South Australia has delivered economic benefits valued at around $25,000 to regional businesses including the Kapunda Hardware & Garden Centre, a Thrifty-Link store.

    Works at the historic mine site, headed by Environmental Copper Recovery (ECR) Pty Ltd, were done to validate research performed by CSIRO and Adelaide University.

    Kapunda Thrifty-Link Hardware was able to order in materials crucial to the work carried out by ECR. Store manager Peter Duregon said there was "no doubt" money was spent in the region. He told The Barossa Herald:

    They've (ECR) certainly been supportive as just one transaction alone for a bore casing was about $1000. Mining is not a cheap game, so it was nice to know they called on us when they could have gone elsewhere.

    Peter's knowledge and resourcefulness to quickly access the necessary hardware was referred to ECR by Drillsmith which is also involved in the project. DrillSmith is another Kapunda-based company that specialises in geotechnical investigation, drilling of earth stakes, environmental drilling and project management.

    ECR managing director Leon Faulkner said it was always the company's intention to rely on regional businesses. The financial benefits were further spread to Kapunda's hotels, accommodation and food outlets.

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    retailers

    Emerald could be a Bunnings location

    Bunnings anchored retail complex sold

    The site in Emerald is currently owned by Spotlight and the Rockhampton complex was sold by Charter Hall

    Bunnings has not yet confirmed an agreement is in place for a store in the rural town of Emerald (QLD) despite a tender description suggesting one may be built, reports Central Queensland News (CQN).

    In January 2020, Hutchinson Builders were calling for tenders to deliver a site near the Central Highlands Marketplace to include a 8011sqm Bunnings store, a 270sqm United petrol station, along with large and small retail tenancies.

    The site is located on the corner of Capricorn Highway and Chalcedony Road, which a Bunnings spokeswoman said was owned by Spotlight. The project has a budget of $5-10 million and tender applications closed on January 14.

    Bunnings director, property, Andrew Marks, said Emerald was an area of interest for the hardware chain to expand into, but nothing had been set in stone. He told CQN:

    We can confirm Emerald is a possible location of interest. However, no agreement is in place for a Bunnings in Emerald.

    In other store development news, an application has been lodged for a new Bunnings store in Ulladulla (NSW), according to the Milton Ulladulla Times.

    Rockhampton complex sold

    Real estate fund manager MPG has purchased the Bunnings complex in Norman Gardens near Rockhampton (QLD) for $43.5 million. The 18,319sqm site also includes speciality retailers Autobarn, Petstock and Freddy's Fishing and Outdoors, and 1060sqm of vacant space is supported by a three-year rental guarantee. The Bunnings store itself is 13,242sqm.

    MPG chairman Trevor Gorman said in The Mornington Bulletin that the MPG Bunnings Warehouse Rockhampton Trust closed two times oversubscribed. In a letter to investors, Mr Gorman wrote.

    With the Australian sharemarket at record highs and with RBA cash rates at historical lows, the income characteristics of property with cash returns in the vicinity of 6 to 8% are looking very attractive to investors compared to most cash and fixed interest investments.

    The Bunnings complex is 94% leased with an 8.5 year weighted average lease expiry. It is expected to meet its 6.5% distribution yield for the 2020 financial year.

    The site was originally tenanted by Masters, which closed its doors for the last time in December 2016. The site sold in 2009 for $11.2 million and again in 2017 for $37.5 million. It has a land valuation of $5.2 million, zoned as a retail warehouse.

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    bigbox

    Cowdroy's app visualises virtual screens

    Launched for new insect screen products

    The company also developed a website for the range which was unveiled at the IHG Conference and Expo

    The Screenview app developed by Cowdroy showcases its latest innovative offering in a virtual setting that helps make selection easy for end-users.

    Now live in the app store for download on iOS and Android devices, Screenview illustrates Cowdroy's nine advanced mesh screen products as well as over 20 accessories. The app is designed to help customers find the most suitable product by enabling them to preview the entire range and their options.

    Screenview provides the user with additional information on each specialty screen before they buy. It allows them to make informed comparisons by visualising products both in static and live formats, giving them a clearer picture of how the screen will look in reality.

    The Cowdroy insect range suits a wide variety of window and door screening needs, offers simple installation, superior airflow, pet friendliness, smaller insect protection, rust proof stainless steel and temporary screening. With the broad choice of screening options that is also supported by accessories available via the app, the assembling of new screens or the refurbishing of existing screens including aluminium frame, spline, frame buttons, corners and spline rollers are made easier. Peter Doyle, business development manager for Cowdroy Retail, said:

    Our extensive insect screen range is designed to offer a solution to meet any combinations of construction needs and building regulations, regardless of the type of opening, climate or usage.
    The new app brings our products to life and provides detailed information to help DIY-ers and tradespeople with the information to choose the right screen for them.

    One of the biggest considerations when designing the app was ensuring the right product was used in the right location to meet building requirements and help ensure consumer safety.

    The Screenview app and website includes product and accessory images, descriptions for each type, pricings, stockists and nearest retailer.

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    companies

    Nowra loses local hardware store

    Taffa's Hardware site being sold

    James Stewart is moving on after the closure of his store and Taffa's Hardware is expected to sell for about $4.5 million, according to its real estate agent

    Stewart's Hardware in Nowra (NSW) will close at the end of February 2020. Owner James Stewart has spent 25 years in the local hardware industry, starting with North Nowra Hardware as a teenager. He worked for Walsh's Mitre 10 prior to taking over the business and re-launching it as Stewart's Hardware in March 2016.

    Mr Stewart cited online spending and high rental rates in Nowra's CBD as the main reasons for the store's closure, as well as the South Nowra Bunnings store doubling its size. He told the South Coast Register:

    Many of these factors are forcing a variety of different types of stores to close, or many are moving out of the area, largely to South Nowra.
    I felt obligated to take on and take over this business to continue the Walsh's family hardware business with good old-fashioned hardware knowledge and service that has been provided to this area since 1877. I couldn't just let it close. I wanted to take it on to continue to provide service to the community, conveniently located in town as an alternative to Bunnings.
    A lot of our customers are elderly and rely on public transport. I feel for them. We survived as long as we did, due to their support.

    After a short break following the store's closure, Mr Stewat plans to start Stewart's Handyman Business.

    West Ryde store for sale

    Taffa's Hardware, considered an iconic store after 64 years in the Sydney suburb of West Ryde, closed at the end of last year. Its 403sqm site, located in the heart of the suburb's CBD, is set to be auctioned in March 2020 through Ray White Commercial.

    Anthony Taffa worked alongside his dad and founder of the store, Ron, and has been managing the store that became Taffa's Mitre 10 with his sister Julianne. He told the District Northern Times:

    It was very difficult for us and took us a long time to come to that decision - it is in the long term the right one.

    Taffa's Hardware first opened its doors back in 1955. In the mid-1970s the store's floorspace was expanded and a second level was added.

    The business, which had operated independently, became part of Hardex Hardware, a co-operative of similar businesses created by Ron Taffa. In 1980, he left the group and joined the Mitre 10 group and remained part of it for the next 40 years. Anthony Taffa said:

    It was important to keep evolving and refreshing the business - we have four different logo sets for Mitre 10.

    Changes within the local area, increasing costs and decreasing margins led to the decision to stop trading. Ron Taffa passed away aged 90 in December 2018. In Commercial Real Estate, Anthony said:

    It was amazing when we closed down. We had so many people come through and say their grandparents used to do their shopping there, and then their parents after them, and now they did. It was incredible. They were thanking us for being such a great community service, and for everything we had done, and a couple of customers were in tears.

    The Taffa family have always been community-minded, and sponsored local football and cricket teams, and donated merchandise to local schools and groups to help them raise money for various charities and organisations. Anthony said:

    It's been a wonderful 64 years, but times have now changed and local community desires have changed too.
    It's very much part of our family history so closing the business and selling it are difficult things, but we have to move with the times. It's amazing how many people built their homes with what my father sold them, and their response when they heard we were going was very touching.

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    retailers

    Bisley Workwear knows lady tradies

    It asked women want they want in workwear

    The company has discarded the typical ways of how some workwear brands tried to cater to female tradies

    The team at Bisley Workwear led by managing director David Gazal, is launching a workwear range designed for women from the ground up, not just tweaking of men's traditional styles.

    According to Ragtrader magazine, the new range comes after Bisley's Workwear Tradies Report 2020 found that almost half of the female tradies surveyed have worn casual or non-safety clothing to work because of a lack of options available to them.

    The research also discovered that 40% of female tradies feel less safe at work wearing ill-fitting garments, with three in five admitting they have worn workwear designed for men.

    The ill-fitting garments are impacting their ability to work hard, with 33% indicating they can't work as hard as they want to in incorrect clothing, while 45% feel more self-conscious and 20% feel like they don't belong.

    In response to these findings, Bisley consulted five Australian female tradies to uncover the real needs for women's workwear to design a range specifically for them. Mr Gazal said in Ragtrader:

    When our research revealed that tradeswomen were feeling unsafe and uncomfortable on the worksite, we realised the need for a new industry-wide approach to women's workwear.
    For our new range, we developed a three-dimensional fit model with our consulting tradies based on how tradeswomen move and work, variations in fit and size, and the best silhouettes for functional, professional, and safe workwear.

    And unlike some industries where the woman's version of the same item or service costs more than that for a man's (ie. haircuts), the Bisley female workwear range is priced the same as that for the men's range. Mr Gazal exclusively told The Weekend Australian:

    When we put this range together, we put it together knowing that the garment needs a completely different silhouette, and completely different fabric.
    Fabric needs stretch, it needs wearability, and functionality in the workplace. It needs to be durable and not be restrictive.

    Bisley has already road-tested its first workwear range with five female tradies - a paver, landscaper, chippie, plumber and sparky - and the feedback was supportive. It said it has received large orders from companies involved in construction, mining and infrastructure.

    Scott Cam, host of the Nine Network's The Block and a brand ambassador for Bisley for the past 20 years, told The Weekend Australian that feeling comfortable in work gear on a site was crucial, and for too long women tradies had been forced to wear men's gear.

    If you are climbing on the roof, in roofs, under floors etc, if you haven't got a stretchy and comfortable material then it is unsafe. I was a carpenter for 40 years and I spent half my life on my knees.
    The fact is female tradies are getting so many more roles, which is outstanding, and still have nothing to wear. It is imperative that someone has done something about it, which Bisley has.

    To read the latest edition, please download HI News:

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    companies

    Blundstone celebrates 150 years

    Milestone for Australian boot brand

    The company has reached a landmark in its history, making sturdy, comfortable and stylish boots

    Established in Tasmania in 1870, Blundstone remains 100 per cent family-owned, and continues to be shaped by the vision and values of its founders and owners.

    John Blundstone started making fit-for-purpose footwear that could withstand the cobbled city streets, rugged farmland and factory floors of Hobart, Tasmania in the late-1800s.

    The company said this philosophy has allowed Blundstone to adapt to an ever-changing environment and 150 years later, its commitment to durability, quality and innovation has not wavered. CEO Steve Gunn said:

    There are only a handful of brands that have been in existence for 150 years and an even smaller number that remain family-owned. The success of the Blundstone brand is that we have always remained true to our heritage.
    Blundstone boots were born tough to weather the untamed terrain of Tasmania, they have marched in armies and dug deep on Everest. Today, our boots continue to work hard, exploring the world while simultaneously pounding the pavements of fashion capitals globally. We're really excited to mark our 150th milestone with new partners, campaigns and products.

    Known for its popular elastic-sided Chelsea boots, Blundstone footwear is instantly recognisable for its tough, no-nonsense style that can be dressed up or dressed down. And these boots have endured the Great Depression, both World Wars, and a continuously evolving fashion landscape, from the swinging '60s to '90s grunge.

    The brand's history is a constant inspiration, but its ethos and focus remain the same - to produce boots that can take people anywhere. Blundstone believes its products have stood the test of time, garnering cult status among creatives, adventurers, and tastemakers around the world.

    Throughout 2020, Blundstone will reveal a yearlong series of activations and a creative campaign celebrating those who have worn the boots in the past and those who wear them today, encouraging the next generation of Blundstone wearers. A new microsite showcases the brand's history and the campaign creative and will as serve as a platform for a UGC (User Generated Content) competition taking place early in the year.

    The digital cornerstone of the campaign can be seen at the following link:
    Bundstone 150 website

    In honour of its 150th anniversary, Blundstone will release a limited-edition #9150 safety boot and a limited-edition #150 casual boot in 2020.

    To read the latest edition, please download HI News:

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    companies

    Delko Tools expands into DIY

    Geelong-based tool company

    The patented products have been servicing the plastering industry around the world

    Delko Tools has extended its product range and is looking to broaden its reach into the DIY market.

    The business was founded on owner Daniel Owens' worldwide patented design for a taping applicator that makes drywall plastering easier and more efficient for professional plasterers. After its initial release in 2009, the concept was further improved and packaged into a larger kit with a complementary tool.

    Mr Owens told the Geelong Advertiser that Delko Tools have been sold in more than 1000 stores across 20 countries, with sales reaching 20,000 units a year for the past couple of years. The original product served a niche professional plastering market but he said the brand was starting to be stocked in larger stores, which opened up the DIY market. The extended range includes a mixer paddle and a dual-purpose knife, both protected by patent.

    He said about 50% of Delko Tools products were sold in Europe, 30% in North America and the other 20% around the rest of the world, with Australia accounting for just 1% in sales.

    Mr Owens said the first shipment of new products heralded an exciting time. He told the Geelong Advertiser:

    It's when the tools are actually on the shelf, and people are using them, that is when we see the spike.

    The early years of the business were difficult and took their toll with he and wife Kirsten deeply invested until the original product started to pay its way, creating the opportunity for Mr Owens to go full-time as the business started to turn the corner about five years ago. He said in the Geelong Advertiser:

    It was dark times before it got good. All the money was going out with the R&D, tooling and prototypes, the marketing and the patent fees.

    But he said the patent protection, and persistence, were the keys to putting a successful product in the market.

    To read the latest edition, please download HI News:

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    companies

    HI News V.6 No.1: Hardware helps bushfire recovery

    Exploring POS and data analytics

    Grant Crowle from The Hardware Store tells us how he feels about Bunnings gaining DA approval for a store nearby

    This edition was not originally what HNN planned to release for the first issue of 2020. We decided we could not ignore what was happening around the country: the bushfires. Thank you to Andrew from H Hardware Traralgon and Peter Hunt from Corryong Building Supplies, as well as senior executives from HBT and Bunnings for making it happen. Independent Hardware Group declined to participate.

    Simply download the latest edition here:

    HI News Vol.6 No 1: Hardware helps bushfire recovery

    Merlin Software and one of its very satisfied retail customers, Michael Kubank from Merino Engineering Supplies is profiled as part of the POS and data analytics feature.

    In our sought-after statistics section, we forecast hardware retail sales in 2020.

    We also take a closer look at the approval for a Bunnings store in the inner Sydney suburb of Rozelle (NSW) and speak to Grant Crowle form The Hardware Store. It's a classic story of an independent hardware store versus a big box home improvement retailer.

    Plus, Metcash is reportedly no longer interested in buying Total Tools; The Home Depot launches a flat bed distribution centre; and Screwfix opens stores in Ireland.

    Other companies featured in this edition include Reece Group, Blundstone and Linkware International, to name a few.

    editorial

    Hardware helps as Australia burns

    Severe fire season taxes community resources

    Across Australia, as the recovery kicks in, hardware stores help rally homeowners with practical and community support

    There has been a worse bushfire season in Australia, in 1974, but while that fire burnt 15% of the land mass (117 million hectares), in terms of economic and social impact, the 2019/2020 season is the worst ever. For the financial year to date, it is estimated that over 17 million hectares have been burnt.

    This includes nearly seven million hectares in the Northern Territory, which is regarded as a fairly average annual burn. The additional 10 million hectares in the other states combined is, however, a significant increase, with nearly half of that burn taking place in New South Wales.

    Some 2779 homes have been burnt down, along with over 3000 other buildings, it is estimated. Very sadly, around 34 people are thought to have perished as a result of the fires.

    In terms of pure dollars, the 2009 Black Saturday fires of 2009 are estimated to have cost $4.4 billion. The 2019/2020 fires will likely end up costing the Australian economy over $6 billion. The worst part of that cost is that the brunt of the disaster will be borne by regional and rural areas that were already doing it tough, strongly affected by an ongoing drought, and the shift in the economy towards growth in Australian cities rather than in less-densely populated areas.

    While all that seems to be pretty bad, there is an even greater danger lurking in the future. Australia's history is peppered with recurrent natural disasters, from which it has successfully recovered, learnt some lessons about how to limit future damage, and moved on. The real risk is that these bushfires are not a one-off event, but instead signal a trend that could see future fires put lives, buildings and the overall economy in greater peril than in the past.

    Directly, if we see a similar fire season during the summer of 2020 or 2021, there is a strong potential that the need for a reset in terms of spending, housing, support services and investment risk could see the Australian economy lurch into recession.

    Economist for Moody's Analytics, Katrina Elli, was quoted in The Guardian newspaper as stating:

    But the risk of there being broader macroeconomic spillovers this season are high given the scale of the fires, as well as the fact that it is still early in the bushfire season and the existing fires are yet to be contained.
    Economist for Moody's Analytics in The Guardian

    Ms Elli cites a range of adverse effects, including health problems from smoke decreasing worker productivity, high insurance claims increasing overall premiums, declining consumer confidence, lower crop yields, and an overall reduction in revenues from domestic and international tourism.

    A survey by Australian consumer statistics company Roy Morgan found that overall 24% of businesses had been affected by the bushfire, with the percentage rising to 35% in New South Wales. Some 11% of businesses in New South Wales self-identified as being affected by "a great deal".

    In a separate survey, Roy Morgan reports that only 12% of Australians believe 2020 will be better than the previous year, meaning the country now shares 43rd place out of 47 countries who participated in the survey on optimism, splitting that ranking with South Korea.

    The hardware industry

    One of the myths that we sometimes encounter is the notion that natural disasters are somehow "good" for hardware retailers, in terms of increased sales. While there is a little justification for this belief, it really only applies to limited events that affect prosperous urban and suburban areas.

    In contrast, bushfires in particular are one of the worst possible events for hardware retailers (indeed all retailers) in rural and remote regional areas. The effect of fires on these regions is just staggering. An entire slice of the economy simply goes missing, not just for a year or two after the event, but for around three to five years. Government spending and charitable donations can help ease recovery but the financial (and personal) costs remain very high.

    Hardware retailers, for example, may see increased sales of some products during and immediately after bushfires, but very few would regard this as a great time to ramp up margins - if anything, most will be doing the reverse. Once those emergency products - in particular fencing - are sold, there follows a long period of reduced economic activity, slowing growth, and a lack of capital for further investment. After essential repairs are completed, building activity can slow dramatically, as some homeowners do not even move to replace houses, and the fire risks cause prospective builders to at the very least delay construction, if not cancel it altogether.

    A good example of that kind of loss of sales is presented by Corryong Building Supplies (CBS). Corryong is a small Victorian town, with a population under 1400, close to the New South Wales border, about 120km east of Albury. It was at the epicentre of where fires in Victoria joined up with fires from New South Wales, creating a wide area of devastation. The store has been owned and operated by Peter Hunt for around 25 years. While the store and Peter's own house were spared from the fire - which swept over the 300 acres of land he owns - trading volume in the aftermath took a steep dive.

    Everyone's been fighting fires, everyone's fixing fences, no one's building. I haven't sold insulation, plaster, rainwater products, Gyprock, Hardieflex. We haven't sold any. Traditionally we sell a lot of paint Christmas to New Year. People decide that relations come up, or their brother-in-law or son-in-law, and they just decide they are going to paint the bathroom or the kitchen or the verandah. We usually sell about $22,000 worth of paint and painting accessories, rollers, brushes, etc. Well, we haven't sold any. That stock is still sitting there.

    One reason this is so important is that businesses like Peter's need to be there to provide support in the longer term. While the area has quite a few rural supply outlets, CBS is the only local store to supply crucial goods needed for recovery, with even the nearest Bunnings more than 120km away.

    Other places might just shut, but I can't afford to shut. I'm the only one up here that supplies all the building sort of stuff, whether it be screws, bolts, nuts, and any other building things. You want a new shovel, there's other people that sell shovels, picks and that sort of thing. There's other people that sell rural stuff, but your building stuff, that's really our stuff.

    The reliance on CBS as the main supplier of building materials meant that Peter needed to reopen the store even when the electricity was cut off - which meant having to do without a working point of sale (POS) system. To cope with that situation, the staff tore off the labels on goods sold, and made a note of to whom they had been sold. Later on, the staff went through these "records", and entered the amount owed for each account into the POS.

    Peter was lucky to escape with his properties intact, but many hardware retailers will have suffered direct property loss and damage. If they themselves are not directly affected, then their staff may be, as well as local and regional suppliers of goods, the local logistics networks, and the local business community in which they operate.

    To read the full article, please download HI News:

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    editorial

    POS and analytics

    POS has high potential

    While all POS systems collect data, that data is typically underutilised

    Point of sale (POS) software has spent much of the past 20 years in an environment where its development has progressed, but not at the same pace as much of the rest of the software industry. In part that has been because it is a type of software that benefits somewhat, but not significantly, from internet connectedness. As HNN has described in the past, cloud-based POS can offer some real benefits, but given the parlous state of internet connectivity in Australia, those benefits come with considerable risks attached.

    That said, this situation could easily change. It turns out that the real future gain in benefits for POS is likely to be very connected. POS data from independent retailers could be some of the most valuable data available to Australian businesses, but in order to be truly useful, it needs to be consolidated in bulk, where it can have data analytics applied to it.

    History

    While during the 1980s and 1990s much of the rest of the business world was more affected by the development and spread of systems such as spreadsheets and inexpensive database software, for smaller retailers POS came as a real boon. Combined with barcodes and scanners, it helped revolutionise the industry, to such an extent that retailers today would not cope easily with the way stores were managed prior to the introduction of these systems.

    In fact, the availability of POS systems radically altered the way familiar business processes could be managed in small and medium sized retailers throughout the world. This helped to fuel a surge in smaller retailers. It seems difficult to recall now, but during the 1980s small businesses in general were seen as some of the most dynamic and innovative, while larger businesses were slower to react to a changed environment.

    For retail, this was only halted and reversed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as both advanced logistics and the global supply chain shifted the advantage back to larger retailers. Writing about this situation in the UK in their 2010 paper, "The Role of Small and Medium Enterprise Retailing in Britain", Ogenyi Ejye Omar and Peter Fraser had this to say:

    The UK economy is characterised by many unique relations between retailers and their suppliers. The "balance of power" in this relationship has changed significantly in the past four decades in favour of the largest retailers, and this trend has been highlighted particularly in the grocery supermarket field.
    In a realistic sense, SME retailers have not benefited much from such a shift in power relationship. The largest supermarket operators have been able to take advantage of their structural market power, the use of information technology, and generally increasingly sophisticated management to achieve considerable cost savings, not just in traditional merchandise purchases, but also in newer areas such as fresh produce and petrol, as well as in the area of retailer-dominated physical distribution management. It is, however, debatable whether the development of such retailer-supplier relations is beneficial for consumers.

    More recently in Australia, smaller retailers in hardware have managed to regain ground, largely through a great deal of self-discipline which brought them together into successful buying groups, such as Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) and the Independent Hardware Group (IHG).

    But today data analytics is posing a new threat, which could grow to be as significant as the one previously created by logistics and global sourcing. To date, the rising field of data analytics has favoured big companies more than small ones. Larger retailers have the scale to deliver significant amounts of data, and the capital necessary to really get into data analytics. Wesfarmers is the prime example of this, but companies such as Woolworths and Coles are also active.

    However, small retailers can fight back in this area, just as they fought back against the logistics revolution and global supply, and in much the same way. By putting aside some of the competitive opportunities, and instead pursuing the advantages of the community of retailers, they can stay "in touch" with the larger leading companies, and make better use of their natural advantages in the Australian market.

    That said, there are two key factors which are holding back retailers from making this kind of change when it comes to data. The first is one purely of conception: when we think "data analytics", we think in terms of those analytics which are most suited to larger retailers. The kind of analytics that will help smaller retailers are really very different.

    The second factor is that if small retailers are limited in their access only to the data that they themselves produce, analytics is of very little real use. In order to succeed, small retailers in similar and adjacent sectors will need to find ways to consolidate and share data.

    That is going to prove to be quite difficult. Even if smaller retailers are ready and willing to share data, there are a number of key questions that first need to be answered. Who will be responsible for consolidating the data? How will data privacy be protected, both for customers, and for the stores which provide the data? Given that the data could be on-sold to third parties, how will that be controlled sensitively, how will those data products be developed? How will the resulting profits be distributed?

    The companies in the best position to answer most of those questions and the ones best suited to set up implementation are actually the POS developers. But while they are the best implementors, the basic organisation of such a movement would have to originate with retailers.

    The difference between big and small

    The field of data analytics has itself been dominated by companies and organisations large enough to offer very wide and deep sets of data - which is only natural. However that has meant that much less attention has been paid to the kinds of analytics that will be more useful to smaller retailers, and to the ways in which those smaller retailers might make the best use of that data.

    For example, when it comes to larger retailers, one of the terms we've seen cropping up more often over the past couple of years is "unified" retail. The best way to think about this is as something like "omnichannel+". In addition to making products available across a wide range of channels, providing an ideal "path to product" for the customers, unified retail also seeks to merge the data streams created by all customer interactions. This includes physical and online stores, email and social media.

    The end goal of these efforts is to create the most accurate picture of each customer, and the customer's interactions with the retailer. This will then enable the retailer to target that customer with the best possible marketing messages, as well as providing, in aggregate, a view of the markets the retailer is reaching.

    In fact, when we refer to "omnichannel+", the + part is really data analytics. Omnichannel is seen as a customer-facing strategy. Data analytics is its internally-oriented complement. It is, in fact, establishing a universal "path to data".

    Key to these unified commerce efforts is customer identification. That identification is easily achieved online, through the use of user logins and tracking cookies. In the physical store, however, it is more difficult to achieve, and has been a major driver behind rewards programs such as Flybuys.

    For smaller retailers - especially in hardware - this particular analytics approach does not make all that much sense. Grocery stores and clothing stores, for example, may benefit from understanding individual customers, as their purchase patterns tend to be repetitive and predictable. In hardware, it would be a big mistake to note someone is purchasing bathroom fittings or a power drill, then try to sell them the same products three or six months later.

    What would be of far more use would be the ability to spot aggregate trends rapidly and effectively, as they develop and spread. Detecting these trends is less about individual purchases, and more about what is being purchased in a single transaction, and in what sequences those purchases occur. While the data from individual customers would be helpful, linking that data to the identity of a specific customer is not really necessary.

    To read the full article, please download HI News:

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    companies

    Bunnings gets go-ahead for Rozelle store

    Heavy concessions

    While Bunnings has won its application, will the store actually work?

    The long-running saga of efforts by Bunnings to open a kind of mini-warehouse store in the inner-Sydney suburb of Rozelle has finally concluded its first phase. After several years, a refusal to grant a building application, and a successful appeal to the New South Wales Land Court, Bunnings now has a go-ahead to build the store.

    The judgement in the case Artazan Property Group Pty Ltd v Inner West Council [2019] NSWLEC 1555 is available online at: bit.ly/2Uq9it3 . Artazan pushed forward the case for the Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings. The development company has honed its skills at helping some less popular projects past council objections, most notably with the expansion of the Stiletto brothel in Camperdown, which one Sydney councillor dubbed "the Westfield of brothels".

    There are a number of features that make this case compelling. On the town planning, and local independent store versus corporate giant angle, the town council has had its hand forced to permit the construction of a large retail premise is an area that is basically industrial in nature. One question that gets raised by this is exactly how fair other planning decisions will now look in retrospect. Will the council need to slacken some restrictions, so that smaller retailers can compete at the same level as Bunnings?

    From the perspective of Bunnings, this kind of development has the potential to serve as a model store for a new strand of development, as it seeks to reach deeper into highly active areas of inner-cities with smaller format stores that are almost tailor-made of click-and-collect/home delivery operations.

    Objections

    In the end, the objections came down mainly to issues related to traffic and congestion. Additional matters considered included trading hours, secondary effects of traffic congestion, issues related to flooding and to pollution.

    The traffic issue was examined from a number of perspectives. According to Section 20 of the ruling:

    Council's traffic-related concerns can be summarised as follows: (1) negative impacts on local traffic system (here I also consider traffic-related amenity concerns), (2) inadequate parking and (3) inadequate loading and unloading arrangements.

    The first point came down to these three concerns:

    (1) expected traffic generation of the development, (2) capacities of existing network to accommodate expected new traffic; with the ultimate point of attention the capacity of the Parsons/Mullins Street intersection to accommodate the additional traffic, and (3) residential amenity implications of additional traffic.

    Expected traffic generation

    This portion of the discussion was further divided into three parts:

    (1) supply side predictors of traffic (in particular considering gross floor area (GFA) of the outlet, and product/service offerings (in particular the attraction to professional tradespersons), (2) demand side predictors (eg considering geographic sales catchments and relevant competition), and (3) proposed or induced constraints (eg specific conditions imposed by regulators or adopted by proponents).

    In terms of supply side, this largely came down to trying to find comparable Bunnings stores which could be used to infer the traffic load the store would attract, which was expressed as the "peak traffic generation rate", given in vehicle trips per hour, per 100 square metres of floor space. Four locations were used: Fairfield, Victoria; Lilydale, Victoria; Artarmon, New South Wales; and Kent Town, South Australia.

    Artarmon had a higher level of traffic generation than the other sites, but the Bunnings side countered this by suggesting this was because it had a larger catchment area.

    The point was also made by the Bunnings side that the store did not feature a tradie loading area for utes, which would reduce vehicular traffic.

    In terms of the demand side, Bunnings represented that the measure it used to determine catchment was the number of households within a 10 minute drive from the store, and suggested that stores such as Kent Town actually had a higher number of households than the store at Rozelle would have.

    In terms of constraints, the Bunnings side agreed to a number of constraints in terms of its delivery vehicles. These would be limited to 15 vehicles per weekday, except in the month of December, when this would be increased to 20 per day.

    The size of these vehicles was also restricted. There would be limited to medium rigid vehicles, up to 8.8 metres in length, excluding the 12.5 metre trucks previously proposed.

    The representatives for the Inner West Council did suggest that, while there were restrictions on the use of the loading dock for tradies, continued market demand might see this change. However, this concern was not agreed to.

    Capacities of existing network to accommodate expected new traffic

    This discussion largely devolved to the matter of whether the Mullins/Parsons Street intersection immediately in front of the proposed store location would be adversely affected to a critical extent. Expert opinion, modelling and video-based evidence was submitted by both sides.

    The critical factor considered was whether traffic at the intersection would back up so far as to block the actual exit and entrance to the proposed store. That entrance is set back just 30 metres from the intersection.

    It was found that in the end, the added traffic level would be acceptable.

    Local traffic impacts

    Here the Court chose to rely heavily on evidence tendered by the Bunnings side using traffic modelling through SIDRA (Signalized Intersection Design and Research Aid). This is a software package developed by the Australian Road Research Board as an aid for capacity planning.

    Modelling through SIDRA showed that the effect on local traffic of building the Bunnings store would be minimal. As a secondary point, the Court also noted that as the area was zoned light industrial, it did not have the same expectations and restrictions as a pure residential area might have had.

    Parking

    As regards parking, the decision followed the same pattern as that for traffic generation. The Council suggested a higher rate of parking per 100 square metres, the Bunnings side suggested a lower one, and the Court agreed more with the Bunnings modelling than the Council's. This was largely because the Council modelling was derived from parking at larger Bunnings warehouse store, and the Court accepted Bunnings' argument that customers parked for shorter periods at smaller stores.

    Summary

    One way of looking at the case for the Bunnings store in Rozelle is that it is a unique store being built in a somewhat unique location. While many locals do not think that the modelling presented by the Bunnings side will reflect the real traffic situations in the long term, the Court really had no choice but to accept the data tendered and regard it as reasonable.

    This does mean, however, that this development will be closely monitored into the future. If the Bunnings modelling proves correct, then the Rozelle Bunnings could serve as the basis for the construction of similar projects in other inner-urban areas. If it instead turns out that the modelling is quite wrong, Rozelle will form a strong basis for Councils elsewhere in Australia to reject similar planning permissions.

    To read the full article, please download HI News:

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    retailers

    Forecast 2020

    Housing and hardware retail sales

    While the Reserve Bank of Australia sees a modest recovery, there is little to support that

    February is the traditional season of calendar year forecasting. This is the month when we get just enough stats about the previous year to work up a picture of what has happened, so that we can consider more clearly what might happen next. One of the main activities is, a little paradoxically, looking at everyone else's forecasts, in large part because those forecasts indicate what type of action the government and other entities might be taking.

    Many people who keep watch on the economy have been puzzled about the direction the current federal government is moving Australia in. The centrepiece of this has been the apparent "need" to balance the budget. There have been increasing calls for more stimulus spending to be delivered by the federal government. These have largely been ignored, as increased spending would "unbalance" the budget. Instead it has largely fallen to the states, with Victoria being the most successful, to use infrastructure spending to help trigger more growth in the local economy - though the picture is more complex than that, as we will see.

    One clue to the government's reluctance on stimulus has emerged from recent forecast statements made by Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) governor, Philip Lowe. The first was Mr Lowe's Statement on Monetary Policy Decision, which explained why interest rates were kept unchanged, published on 4 February 2020. The second was his speech to the National Press Club on 5 February 2020, entitled "The Year Ahead".

    In the first, this slightly curious statement appears:

    The central scenario is for the Australian economy to grow by around 2¾ per cent this year and 3 per cent next year, which would be a step up from the growth rates over the past two years. In the short term, the bushfires and the coronavirus outbreak will temporarily weigh on domestic growth. The household sector has been adjusting to a protracted period of slow wages growth and, last year, to a decline in housing prices, with the result that consumption has been quite weak. Following this period of balance-sheet adjustment, consumption growth is expected to pick up gradually. The overall outlook is also being supported by the low level of interest rates, recent tax refunds, ongoing spending on infrastructure, a brighter outlook for the resources sector and, later this year, an expected recovery in residential construction.

    These themes were picked up and to some extent amplified in the second speech:

    As I have been saying for some time, we are passing through a gentle turning point for the better.
    There are a number of factors contributing to this outlook. The expected pick-up in world growth should help us, the resources sector is in expansion mode again and we are expecting consumer spending to pick up. The outlook is also being supported by ongoing high levels of investment in infrastructure and the likelihood that the downswing in residential construction will come to an end later this year. Further increases in resource exports and continuing solid growth in public demand will also help.

    Later in this same speech he delves deeper into consumer spending.

    Looking back at last year, economic growth was weaker than we had expected. The global slowdown is part of the story, but the most important factor is a domestic one, and that is subdued consumer spending as households adjusted to slow wages growth and falling housing prices. The downswing in residential construction was also a factor.
    Over 2019, household consumption looks to have increased by only around 1 per cent. Given that Australia's population is growing at 1.5 per cent a year, this represents a decline in per capita terms. This is a highly unusual outcome in an economy that has recorded the type of strong jobs growth that we have experienced in Australia.

    It is very difficult to share even the mild optimism that Mr Lowe expresses in these statements. We can say that one of the things that have made him a very good RBA governor is that he has been careful to not set the RBA needlessly at odds with the policies of the government of the day. In that sense, what these statements may give us a read on the government's thinking, as well as an analysis of the potential for 2020 by the RBA.

    Downsides

    To start with, there are quite a number of negative signs in the business statistics. Elsewhere in the second statement Mr Lowe mentions the importance of businesses investing in productivity improvements, and yet business investment as a share of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) is down to levels not seen since 1994 (Chart 1). Business confidence, as measured by the National Australia Bank, is in negative territory (Chart 2). GDP growth has not met forecasts or targets, languishing below 2% (Chart 3). And the tax cut delivered during 2019 did not stimulate the economy by much, being used mainly to pay down household debt.

    Probably the most curious idea to emerge from these statements is that the problem with low wage growth has not been low wage growth, but rather the expectation that higher wage growth is the norm. Wage growth has been below 2.6% for around six years (Chart 4), while for most of the preceding 20 years it was above 3.5%. Any acclimation should have happened before now.

    If this approach is one which has been somewhat foisted on the RBA by the government, and if it matches up with the insistence on a balanced budget, what is the real, perhaps unstated, economic policy of the government?

    In brief, it is likely that current economic policy is to accept what has been dubbed "the new normal" by economists. This is about accepting that growth in GDP is unlikely to exceed 3% for the foreseeable future. The cause of that limit is a global decline in productivity that has been around since about 2005.

    That is a complex topic, but perhaps it is enough to say that it seems likely the current Australian government has simply accepted slow productivity growth. In that context, balancing the budget does make sense, as the alternative is stimulating the economy so as to help investments that improve productivity.

    Risks

    If we forecast this as the approach to the economy we will see through 2020, it seems unlikely Australia will reach even the modest goals the RBA has suggested. GDP growth is more likely to remain under 2.2%. Figuring into that is that the RBA sees the Coronavirus as being the equivalent of SARS. It is far more severe, and is affecting China at a time when that nation is more central to the global economy. Analysts JP Morgan, for example, have predicted the virus will take 0.7% off of forecast Chinese GDP growth, bringing it down to 5.0%. That will have a global flow-on effect.

    The RBA also sees the net effect of the bushfires as being minimal, which dismisses the possibility that December 2020 could be as bad as December 2019. In addition to the negative business statistics we've cited, we would also note that a Roy Morgan poll has determined that Australians are among the most pessimistic nations globally at the moment.

    Residential housing recovery

    The element of the RBA forecast that is of specific interest to the hardware industry is, of course, the state of the residential dwelling market. In the first RBA statement, reference is made to a "recovery". In the second statement, this is moderated to 2020 seeing the end of a "downswing", which arrives late in the year.

    The RBA has published an interesting paper entitled "A Model of the Australian Housing Market", by Trent Saunders and Peter Tulip. One of the most interesting aspects of this paper is that it makes use of building approvals as its major metric. As the paper states, among other factors, approvals provide a better basis for early forecasting.

    One of the paper's conclusions is that the construction market is highly influenced by direct changes, rather than a sustained positive level of crucial factors, such as interest rates or house prices.

    It is changes in interest rates and in existing housing prices that drive construction, not their level. So the direct effects of these variables are temporary. Although discussions of dwelling investment often emphasise levels, our attempts to include these in the model did not fit the data. For example, the ratio of approvals to income has been below average over the past decade, even though the level of real interest rates has been unusually low and the relative price of established housing has been unusually high.

    The irony to this situation is that what creates a bubble in the residential dwelling market is not a growing economy, but one that is in a state of steady decline. The RBA responds by dropping interest rates, this increases house prices, and if that increase is sufficient, it becomes self-sustaining for a time.

    If the RBA's forecast is for a very gradual improvement in the economy, then it is likely that the housing market will remain very subdued. Hence the central bank's very mild suggestion that the decline evident during 2019 might diminish by the end of 2020.

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    statistics

    Adelaide Tools deal delay, says ACCC

    It has been looking at the deal since November 2019

    The ACCC typically takes eight to 12 weeks to release its findings, and each merger has different factors that need to be taken into consideration

    The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has delayed its decision on Bunnings' acquisition of Adelaide Tools to 14 February, from 7 February. The competition watchdog said it needs more time to consider the matter. It also said the provisional decision date may be a final decision or release of a statement of issues.

    The ACCC's investigation is focused on the impact of the proposed acquisition on competition in South Australia and nationally. In particular, it has sought views on:

  • how closely Bunnings and Adelaide Tools compete with each other and for which products/services
  • which other retailers compete with the tools, hardware and power equipment offerings available from Bunnings and Adelaide Tools
  • the likely impact of the proposed acquisition on prices and/or service quality.
  • As HNN has reported previously, the Adelaide Tools acquisition sees Bunnings set to sell Milwaukee brand tools. At the time of the acquisition, Bunnings managing director, Michael Schneider said in a statement:

    The acquisition ... will allow us to improve the way we connect, serve and engage with trade customers and is aligned with our strategy to accelerate the growth of the trade business.

    Other key points about the acquisition are:

  • Bunnings will not change the name of Adelaide Tools
  • Adelaide Tools is a family-owned business that has five tool stores in Adelaide, plus a mower store
  • Its online store lists over 8000 products
  • The company has an established reputation, built up over 70 years
  • Bunnings' deal to buy the Adelaide-based business is worth an estimated $30 million. It is expected to be approved. But Bunnings' size in the industry means the ACCC looks at any of its acquisitions to assess any potential breach of its provisions.

    Related:

    Adelaide Tools acquisition sees Bunnings set to sell Milwaukee brand tools - HNN

    Sourced from the Herald Sun and Inside Retail

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    bigbox

    Metcash no longer into Total Tools: report

    A deal could be confirmed soon

    Its focus on tradies - rather than mum-and-dad shoppers - was pitched as a selling point to prospective buyers

    The Street Talk column in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) has reported that Metcash, owner of the Independent Hardware Group (IHG), is no longer in the running to acquire the Total Tools business.

    Sources told the AFR that Metcash had decided the tool retail group was not for them - or perhaps did not meet the price expectations of the group's owner.

    According to the AFR, Total Tools is said to be more focused on holding discussions with private equity companies in the hope of having a deal confirmed by February 2020. Sources speculate it could be Quadrant Private Equity which was involved in the sale of Burson Auto Parts (now Bapcor) and taps and water systems company Zip Industries.

    The tradie-focused tools retailer said its stores have 7,000 products on hand with access to over 60,000 SKUs on its online store.

    Analysis

    With IHG recording negative sales growth for its most recent half, and Annette Welsh set to take over from Mark Laidlaw in May 2020, it's likely the Total Tools acquisition proved to be too uncertain a risk. Ms Welsh will be only the third CEO for Metcash's hardware business, and she will inherit a retailer highly attuned to Mr Laidlaw's aggressive style of doing business in what is largely a cooperative enterprise.

    Mr Laidlaw had personal ties with the leadership team at Total Tools, but Ms Welsh likely would prefer not to add a tricky acquisition to the set of tasks she faces moving into 2021.

    Related:

    Metcash 2019-20 H1 results: Hardware sales (including charge-throughs) fell by 4.2% over the pcp to $1040 million - HNN

    Sourced from Australian Financial Review

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    retailers

    BuildTuff gets US deal

    Brisbane-based company exports to the US

    The company's products replace heavy concrete blocks used in a floating foundation block system

    A proprietary deck post support system made from recycled plastic, manufactured in Brisbane (QLD), is expected to be sold through US home improvement chain, Lowe's. BuildTuff, the company behind the product, has a deal to supply the retailer.

    The product was developed by Brisbane-based industrial designer Mayer Jung as an ultra-lightweight alternative to concrete. It was already being sold in Bunnings, Mitre 10 and other Australian hardware stores. But BuildTuff general manager Alan Brady said the US deal would take the company to a whole new level.

    Mr Brady said the product, known as TuffBlocks, are designed to support the weight of decks and does away with the need for concrete pylons that could crack or move. The system can support decks up to 1.5 metres in height, adopting a building method called a floating foundation. He told the Courier Mail:

    Floating foundations where the supports are laid directly on the ground were first developed in the US in areas where weather or ground movement would crack concrete foundations.

    The original floating foundations used concrete blocks placed on a level surface whereas TuffBlocks are made of a plastic material that is stronger and longer lasting. He said:

    TuffBlocks have been break-tested to five tonnes.

    Mr Brady also said that using recycled material was an important part of the manufacturing process given the increasing focus on environmental protection.

    Every shipping container of TuffBlocks contains the equivalent of 3.2 million plastic bottle caps. Mr Brady explains:

    The clear focus in manufacturing is on recycling because companies don't want to be contributing to plastic waste. We certainly don't.
    We are taking something like a bottle cap that is thrown away after one use and turning it into something that is going to last for years.

    Mr Brady said he hoped 100 shipping containers worth of TuffBlocks would be exported to the new US client in the coming 12 months, requiring an upgrade of the Crestmead factory where the products are made.

    TuffBlocks won a product design ward from Good Design Australia in 2015. Its main features and benefits include:

  • 100% Australia made and owned
  • Designed to suit metric standards, TuffBlocks will accept 35-41mm or 41-47mm joists and bearers as well as 90x90mm or 100x100mm posts
  • Ultra-lightweight with each block weighing 680 grams
  • 28 times lighter than standard concrete
  • Each block will support up to 770 kilograms and tested to over 5,000 kilograms
  • Popular alternative to digging holes, mixing concrete and waiting for it to set
  • Sourced from The Courier Mail

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    companies

    Amazon Australia lockers through Stockland

    Located at malls across NSW and Victoria

    It has also partnered with Commonwealth Bank and the Victorian Association of Newsagents to host locker banks

    Stockland has brought the world of online shopping into the heart of its bricks-and-mortar retail centres by installing Amazon delivery lockers at malls in NSW and Victoria.

    The self-service kiosks for parcel pick-ups are located at Stockland's Piccadilly Centre in Sydney's CBD, Green Hills in the Hunter Valley's Maitland and The Pines in Melbourne's Doncaster East. Stockland chief executive of commercial property Louise Mason said:

    Offering Amazon Locker in Stockland retail town centres provides greater convenience for our customers who are not home for the delivery of their purchase and ensures they can pick up.

    It provides another option for those living in high-rise apartment blocks where packages can't be easily left at the door, or for those who don't want expensive items left on their doorstep during the day, tempting so-called parcel pirates. It's all about providing consumers with "more flexibility and control over their deliveries," Patrick Supanc, director of delivery technology at Amazon told Yahoo News Australia.

    When choosing a locker at the Amazon checkout, users will get a code used to open the locker. When it arrives, they will be notified in an e-mail and will have three days to collect their item.

    If shoppers decide to pick up from a staffed storefront which has partnered with Amazon, they will have 14 days to collect it. These stores will have signage denoting them as part of Amazon Hub.

    As well as providing another option for customers, it should help boost overall delivery times. Mr Supanc said:

    We also think about how can we make the experience easy for drivers who are delivering items.

    There are two options, a locker system as well as storefronts such as newsagents where customers can choose to pick up their items. Amazon has also partnered with Commonwealth Bank and Victorian Authorised Newsagents Associations for its automated locker rollout.

    Sourced from Urban Developer and Yahoo News Australia.

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    retailers

    Home Depot's DC made for trucks

    Piloting visual search kiosk machines

    It is revamping distribution to better serve its professional end-users, while the kiosks scan and locate parts for in-store customers

    The US home improvement retailer is developing more ways to better serve its professional customers, and has created a flatbed distribution centre (DC) where large semi-trucks and rail cars roll through the building.

    The new 800,000-square-foot facility opened in Dallas, one of its largest markets. It plans to open similar ones in other cities as part of a USD1.2 billion, five-year investment in its supply chain. (See One Home Depot article.)

    While only 4% of the company's customers are professionals in the remodelling and maintaining the residential market, they represent 45% of Home Depot's annual sales. Stephanie Smith, Home Depot's senior vice president of supply chain told The Dallas Morning News:

    Customer expectations are definitely rising, and pros want speed and reliable service.

    In the DC, flatbed trucks can roll through the middle of the massive building as heavy products such as timber, ladders, pipes and roofing materials can be added from either side.

    Flatbeds can hold multiple deliveries, and the facility can handle up to 65 to 75 trucks going out per day. That's thousands of deliveries per week to customers within a 75-mile radius of Dallas, Ms Smith said.

    That compares with smaller trucks loading a couple of orders from each store and then returning and doing it again and again. Stores try to make next-day deliveries, she said, "but now we can guarantee it."

    Home Depot has discovered that as the largest purchaser of timber in the US, it can leverage its position to manage the rail and truck inbound deliveries to DCs.

    The flatbed fulfillment centre in Dallas is on a rail line that's been extended into the building and can hold 10 railcars. An outside yard can handle 20 more railcars. The system allows Home Depot to take control of that entire supply chain, from the timber mill all the way to the customer, according to Ms Smith.

    Bill Lennie, executive vice president of outside sales and service for Home Depot, said the pro customer in the old days operated with a tape measure on his belt, but today's pro is shopping online and looking for reliable deliveries. He said:

    The younger pro in the market is coming in with their touch screen devices. And with a shortage of people in the trades such as plumbing, everyone is trying to make their crews more efficient.

    The retailer is also building a 1.6 million-square-foot fulfillment centre for online shopping next to the Dallas flatbed facility. When completed, Home Depot will have 4.5 million square feet of distribution space in Dallas, Ms Smith said.

    Kiosk trial

    In another initiative, Home Depot is piloting four "part-finder" kiosks at a store in Philadelphia that will scan, identify and illustrate exactly where in the store to find a certain product.

    Customers seeking a replacement screw, hinge or bolt, for instance, can place the part in the kiosk to find out which aisle and where in that aisle to find the part.

    It is working with Slyce, a company that makes visual search software for retail, that developed the kiosk machine.

    Slyce CEO Ted Mann said while its retail-focused technology is cloud based, the kiosk is programmed to know the specific store's inventory of products. That means someone has to take a bunch of photos of every one of the about 5,000 screws, bolts and nuts in Home Depot's fasteners section, which the kiosk is servicing at the moment.

    At first, Home Depot shipped Slyce a bunch of products to photograph. But that was not the most scalable way to do this, Mr Mann said.

    So Slyce built a training mode into the kiosk that will allow someone in the store to scan a product and upload it to the cloud along with its barcode and location in the store.

    The company has also pushed these "learned" products to the machine's cloud, so all four kiosks currently being piloted have knowledge of the department's full inventory.

    Sourced from The Dallas Morning News and Technical.ly

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    bigbox

    Screwfix store rollout in Ireland

    The Irish network could grow to 40 stores

    With over 40 years of experience, Screwfix expanded its portfolio with bricks and mortar stores to complement its online business

    After launching three new stores in Ireland, trade specialist Screwfix wants to maximise the opportunities in the building and renovation boom with a plan to expand to 40 branches.

    The brand is already familiar to tradespeople and home renovators through its online operation, Screwfix.ie.

    Each of the new stores will stock about 10,000 products including power tools, workwear and heating and electrical parts. Customers can also place orders online or through phone for items from a catalogue of 24,000 products. Screwfix CEO John Mewett said in a statement:

    We're extremely excited to be launching Screwfix stores in Ireland to help tradespeople get their jobs done quickly, affordably and on time.
    The creation of bricks and mortar stores in Ireland is a major milestone for us and a direct result of the increasing demand from Irish tradespeople ... Our Irish customers are already committed to our Screwfix.ie website, but we know the convenience a Screwfix store provides their local town.

    The three new stores are located in Sandyford and Swords in Dublin and Waterford. Another store will open in Ennis, Co Clare.

    Screwfix is part of home improvement group Kingfisher which also owns B&Q and Castorama and Brico Depot.

    Sourced from Irish Times and Retail Insight Network.

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    retailers

    Women's specific safety boots

    Bridging the gap between safety and style

    They provide a sturdy, reliable and fit for purpose boot designed for optimum support, protection and comfort for women working on job sites

    Blundstone's Women's Safety Series boots provide an extra level of support and cushioning with the company's SPS Max Comfort system, featuring XRD(r) technology.

    XRD(r) Technology offers repeated impact protection by absorbing up to 90% of energy with every step taken. This changes the level of performance, comfort and confidence for the wearer and reduces fatigue and orthopaedic issues.

    The boots are designed with moulded TPU bump caps to avoid abrasions, built-in steel shank for maximum torsional stability, impact-resistant steel toe caps, and rubber outsoles specifically designed to increase slip resistance in varied environments.

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    products

    Metcash 2019-20 H1 results

    Company stutters due to major client losses

    IHG parent company Metcash has suffered writedowns of $500 million since June 2018, while IHG itself has continued its downward trend in both earnings and EBIT

    Australian-based Metcash, the owner of the Independent Hardware Group (IHG), has released results for the first half of FY2019/20. Prior to the release of results, Metcash announced a $237.4 million writedown against its major food division just days after revealing 7-Eleven would not be renewing its $800 million supply contract. According to the ASX announcement:

    This impairment follows the company's review of the carrying value of its assets undertaken as part of its process for preparation of the 1H20 financial statements. The review has taken into account the information contained in Metcash's ASX release dated 22 November 2019 concerning 7-Eleven's advice that it will not be renewing the current supply agreement with Metcash following its conclusion on 12 August 2020. This advice is expected to result in the loss of ~$15 million EBIT (annualised) in the Food pillar, after adjusting for mitigating costs savings.

    Total impairments for Metcash since June 2018 have now exceeded $500 million. Unfortunately, the results from Metcash for the half did little to allay the sombre outlook conveyed by the ASX announcement. Post the results presentation, the share price for the company fell precipitously. It ended far below its mid-year high of $3.17 at $2.70, a drop of close to 15%.

    Overall Metcash sales revenue was $6289.8 million, up from $6189.2 million in the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was the first half of FY2018/19, an increase of 1.6%. Earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) was down by $8.4 million to $149.7 million, a drop of 5.3%. Underlying profit was down 4.6% on the pcp to $95.7 million, and net profit fell substantially due to the write off.

    Hardware sales (including charge-throughs) fell by 4.2% over the pcp to $1040 million. EBIT fell by 1.3% to $37.3 million. Like-for-like (comp) sales were down 2.6%, while retailer sales through the IHG banner stores were down 3.2%.

    IHG expansion

    The media release which accompanied the financial report stated that the losses would have been worse, had the sales balance not lifted from 35% DIY/consumer sales, to 36%. The Sapphire program is seen as playing a role in this, along with growth in sales through IHG's digital platform.

    In his opening remarks during the presentation to analysts, Metcash CEO Jeffery (Jeff) Adams emphasised many of the ways in which IHG has continued to expand. He began by mentioning Sapphire, the store enhancement program that originated with Mitre 10, and now includes stores operating under the Home Timber & Hardware (HTH) brand.

    Total stores through the program and in progress has increased to 75. So we are still targeting 200 stores to be upgraded by 2022. And we still continue to see strong retail sales growth in those stores that we've refreshed of greater than 15%.

    IHG has also moved to acquire more frame and truss businesses, he noted.

    In build trade, we've acquired two frame and trust plants through the acquisition of Keith Timber in [South Australia]. Frame and truss offers are now available in all of our states.

    The company has also continued to build closer ties with construction services.

    We've increased the number of supply and install alliances to 15, and those alliances are now in place with key players across all of the stages of a house build.

    The Hardings plumbing business also continues to be a bright spot for the company, as IHG rolls this out through the network.

    Another initiative that continues to grow is the move towards better use of technology. According to Mr Adams, online sales increased by 50% over the pcp, and the number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) increased from 3000 to 11,300 listed online. Meanwhile the use of technologies such as Truck Tracker continues to grow.

    IHG has also continued its move towards more direct ownership of the stores that make up its network.

    [In] our retail network, our retail and joint venture company-owned stores has now increased to 102. So in the first half of last year, that was 92. And we've got 37 company-owned stores and 65 JV stores ... And our company-owned and JV stores now represent about 15% of our total stores, about 40% of our total IHG sales, so quite significant for the network.

    Losses and efficiencies

    Mr Adams stated that the losses in hardware were "mainly reflecting the impact of the slowdown in construction on trade sales". He also pointed out that without the loss of hardware and timber business Bretts, the decrease in sales would have been on the order of 2.5%, which he said was "a pretty good result in a tough market". He went on to praise the work of IHG CEO Mark Laidlaw in managing to limit the decline in EBIT, saying:

    EBIT decreased by $0.5 million to $37.3 million, impacted by the decline in trade sales, and that's been partially offset by Mark and the team by improved DIY sales. Very good work, I would say, from the team on cost efficiencies and full - and some synergy benefits still flowing through on the HTH acquisition.

    Later in the presentation, Metcash's CFO, Brad Soller, in response to an analyst's question, quantified the contribution from the HTH acquisition:

    So there was some roll forward in terms of the HTH synergies that have actually come through from last year. We would have carried forward - benefit was about $2.5 million to $3 million actually coming through. So that actually has flown through into this rate - into our results this period.

    Mr Soller, in the same response, went into the negative factors that affected hardware sales in more detail:

    We have a big presence, as you saw, in terms of the corporate stores, so we actually got quite impacted on that. And that was the key delta in terms of our numbers. So [with] the offset from the lower sales and lower margin, I think Mark and his team have done a fantastic job in taking costs out, to actually limit the decline to where we've actually got to.

    What Mr Soller is pointing to, is that as IHG increases its direct control of more stores in its network, it stands to benefit from the "complete stack" of margins, including wholesale, retail and service. However, when the market goes negative, as it has during 2019, this also increases the direct impact on the business.

    Mr Laidlaw added to Mr Soller's statement by pointing out that the continuing benefits from the HTH acquisition had mostly come from new efficiencies in the supply chain. This included reducing the total of seven warehouses that HTH combined with Mitre 10 previously had, down to just four, with one further warehouse (in Western Australia) due to close during 2020.

    Closing out his introductory remarks, Mr Adams painted a less than positive picture for the remainder of the financial year:

    In Hardware now, trade sales over the remainder of financial year '20 are expected to continue to be impacted by the slowdown in construction activity. Our non-trade sales are expected to be less impacted than trade sales due to the level of DIY activity and acceleration of the Sapphire store upgrade program. The business continues to have a strong focus on costs to help offset the impact of the slowdown in construction activity.

    Like most in the hardware industry, however, Mr Adams points to the fundamentals of the Australian market as underpinning opportunities for future growth:

    The medium to long-term market fundamentals remain positive, with construction activity expected to be underpinned by population growth and an undersupply of housing.

    Total Tools

    The Australian Financial Review has reported strong rumours that Metcash is in takeover discussions with trade power tool franchise retailer Total Tools, though this has not been confirmed by Metcash. Bryan Raymond of Citigroup asked a question that seemed to touch on this matter:

    Just in terms of the trade market within Hardware, obviously, it's a bit of a tough spot at the moment. Just wondering about your appetite for further acquisitions there. There's obviously some mention about it this week in the press with you connected to it. Just wanted to hear - see if that's something you would entertain, or if other acquisitions would be on the radar that are a bit more sizable than what you've done today within that business, excluding HTH, of course?

    Mr Adams responded:

    Well, look, I think, as we said, we're very positive about the long term, even the medium- and long-term aspects in that business. And it is still a relatively fragmented market, particularly on the trade side, which is where our strengths are.
    We don't comment on rumours. But obviously, we're willing to talk. And if we can find a deal out there that helps us accelerate on our strategy and it's done at the right valuations to add value for our shareholders, then we'd certainly be interested in doing it.

    Bunnings competition

    With Bunnings continuing to ramp up its competition in trade, Johannes Faul of Morningstar asked the question as to whether that might have had an effect on IHG's results:

    I understand that the trade sales account for a bit less sales than they have last year and also cyclical factors are at play there. But also the leading hardware retailer has said it's trying to pivot or pivoting to the trade side as well. Have you seen more competition on the trade side? Or put differently, are you losing share in trade? Has that impacted that as well?

    Mr Laidlaw was emphatic that IHG had not lost market share in trade.

    We're clearly not losing share in trade. It's a lot of market-related factors. I think we all know this. October last year, we're very concerned, and we saw new housing approvals go from 230,000 down to 190,000. So there was a 20% drop in new housing approvals. And some of our competitors have actually reported in that trade space that they are down 20%. So we are very encouraged, I must say, by the result that we've reported at the half.
    I must say, we don't see - we see there will continue to be headwinds ahead for the next 12 to 18 months, so all we can do at this stage - we've got a good business here. All we can do is continue to tighten the belt and wait for the market to go on that cyclical upswing, and we'll be ready to take full advantage of that when it happens.

    Analysis

    Metcash has portrayed the results from IHG as being a good result in a down market. IHG has denied that market share has been lost to Bunnings, despite the major investment that company has made in acquiring more of the trade market.

    Does this portrayal really stand up? How tough has the hardware retail market really been during the period May 2019 to October 2019? HNN's own calculations point to a different situation than that outlined by Mr Adams and Mr Laidlaw.

    To start, Mr Laidlaw is roughly correct in pointing to a 20% drop in building permits (it's actually around 19% when comparing FY2017/18 to FY2018/19, but a 22% drop when comparing the numbers for Metcash's current half to the pcp).

    However, building permit statistics register intent to build rather than actual work. We need to look at a different set of statistics to see what is really happening in the construction industry.

    Chart 1 shows the numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 8755: Value of construction work done. It is evident from this that the area most hit by the slowdown has been dwellings other than houses, which is mostly multi-dwelling construction, particularly apartments.

    Mr Laidlaw and others have often commented that IHG is much less affected by changes in construction on multi-dwelling than on standard single dwellings. So the most important numbers relate to houses. In terms of houses, work done has fallen for all three quarters of the current calendar year when compared to the previous year, down by 13.2%, 5.4% and 5.2% for March, June and September quarters respectively.

    However, if we compare the current year to two years ago, specifically the first three quarters of 2017, the results are interesting. The percentage change for the three quarters are positive for the first two, at 3.8% and 2.8%, and only negative for the September quarter, down 1.5%.

    Chart 2 illustrates this point. If you look at the pattern of the blue line representing work on houses, you can clearly see that the pattern in 2017 is nearly identical to that for 2019.

    In more normal times, we might think of 2018 as something of a "bubble" year. The picture is a little more complex than that, but it does seem clear there is a degree of overstatement in many analyses of how dire current conditions are.

    Chart 3 shows the value of construction work commenced. Again, there is a steep fall in multi-dwelling builds, which began in mid 2018, but a far more moderate fall in new house builds.

    Chart 4 shows the percentage change in the numbers from Chart 3. This illustrates more clearly the sharp decline in multi-unit, and the slower decline in building work on house commencements.

    Chart 5 illustrates what many see behind this behaviour, house prices in Australia's capital cities. This chart shows the percentage change in the price index compared to the preceding quarter (not the corresponding quarter in the prior year). Sydney entered negative territory in mid-2017, and Melbourne two quarters later, but both have had only three quarters of fairly steep falls in prices. Both have recovered in the second and third quarters of 2019.

    Chart 6 shows the price index numbers themselves. In terms of homeowners expecting a reasonable return from their investment over a reasonable period of time (such as eight to ten years), the market that has existed over the past eight years has certainly treated them better than at any prior period in Australian history.

    To sum up all of the above stats: 2019 is the third year of a housing market that has trended down, with subsequent major reductions in construction activity related to multi-unit dwellings, and comparatively mild reductions in construction related to new houses. 2017 saw the beginning of falls in construction activity. While 2018 reversed some of these falls, they were still present in the early part of 2019, with some signs of a late increase in activity.

    What the ABS terms "alterations & additions" (A&A) is an added revenue stream for retailers outside of new constructions. In the past, retailers have indicated that when house prices declined, A&A activity has increased. What we are seeing across the three major states is a split in this behaviour. Arguably, as Chart 7 indicates, Queensland has followed this pattern to some extent, Victoria has followed it to a reduced extent, and New South Wales has seen declined in both building activity and A&A activity.

    In fact, if we compare Chart 7 with Chart 6 we can see that the most recent peak in A&A activity coincided with a peak in capital city house prices. That is made more clear by Chart 8, which traces the extent of change between comparable quarters.

    What this suggests is that there is a second connection between house prices and A&A: when house prices reach a point where they are excessive, renovation activity picks up. That could be a signal both of homeowners' reluctance to enter an inflated market, and of the potential for increased value being applied to renovation activity itself.

    Finally we come to Chart 9, which shows the change in retail sales over the second and third quarters, backgrounded by the total retail sales for these combined quarters across Australia. The two quarters do not quite match up with the Metcash/IHG first half, but this is close enough to give a good indication.

    We see here the same story repeated from the building activity numbers. 2018 was a better year than either 2017 or 2019, but, importantly, 2019 still shows growth, with Queensland being the slightly surprising exception, and Victoria providing a strong showing.

    Summary

    In HNN's opinion, what Mr Adams termed a "tough market" for hardware is more illusion than reality. Being as generous as possible, we can look at the background numbers across the Metcash/IHG FY2019/20 H1 as being neutral. It's also arguable, from what HNN knows, that the removal of Bretts accounted for a loss of less than 1.7% of IHG revenue (1.5% is a more likely number). But even if we accept this, we're left with IHG down by over 2% from where it should be.

    There are a number of potential reasons behind that. One of the most prominent is increased competitive activity by Bunnings in the trade sector. It seems entirely possible that Bunnings took about 1% of market share away from IHG over the half. That's $10 million or so, which is certainly more than a rounding error for Bunnings and Wesfarmers, but also not a surprising gain.

    A second potential to consider is that IHG's "whole of house" strategy - positioned at its March 2018 Expo as a means of coping with a slowing market - has not been as successful as expected. That doesn't mean it is a failed strategy, but it is a program that would really take three years to fully implement. And the reason it was not implemented in 2018, for example, is that IHG was busy with the acquisition of HTH.

    Finally, though, we really do need to consider if some parts of IHG's core strategy should be revisited. The hardware retail pattern that we've seen over the past three years in terms of fluctuations that include gains and losses is likely to continue for the next three to five years. This is what Bunnings and Wesfarmers realised two years ago, hence a move into increasing trade sales, launching online commerce, and starting up MarketLink.

    There really has not been an equivalent move by IHG. One problem that HNN has seen for some time in IHG is that there is a little too much of what we sometimes refer to as "supermarket thinking". Supermarkets are one of the very few retail industries that actually can grow through cost-cutting - because they sell "must buy" staples, and consumer price is a major purchase trigger in those categories.

    About the only thing that approaches a "must buy" in hardware retail is exterior paint. For almost everything else, it's necessary to inspire the consumer to make the purchase. Upgrades such as those the Sapphire program offers are neat and convenient, but do they really inspire consumers?

    In short, there is a real need for more innovation in IHG retail, if it is to continue to grow in a market that has more subdued growth. Just waiting to see if the market goes up so that your results can go up is not a strategy, it's an admission of strategic failure.

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    Metcash rumoured in bid for Total Tools

    Metcash & Total Tool CEO links could seal deal

    Total Tools is up for auction as an acquisition, with Metcash rumoured to be competing with a private equity firm

    The Australian Financial Review has revealed some information about the potential acquisition of power tool franchise provider Total Tools by Metcash. Presumably, if acquired, Total Tools would be merged with Metcash's existing hardware operations in the Independent Hardware Group (IHG).

    The AFR article was put together by journalists Sarah Thompson, Anthony Macdonald and Tim Boyd, and published on 2 December 2019.

    Metcash potential bidder for Total Tools - Australian Financial Review

    The article indicates it does not have definitive information, but suggests a high probability of likelihood about the following:

  • Metcash is one of several bidders in an auction for Total Tools managed by Miles Advisory.
  • The two most likely winners are Metcash and an unnamed private equity firm.
  • The sale is being made at the behest of existing Total Tools franchise holders, each of whom own up to 5% of the company.
  • The sale comes after rumoured moves by Total Tools to consider a listing on the Australian Stock Exchange during 2018.
  • Miles Advisory was hired to explore alternatives after listing was deemed unsuitable.
  • Earnings for Total Tools are estimated at $25 million a year.
  • The winning bid is expected to reach up to ten times those earnings, or $250 million.
  • Total Tools has 26 stores in Victoria, 18 in both New South Wales and Queensland, nine in Western Australia, six in South Australia, two in Tasmania, and one in both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory - making a total of 81.
  • The CEO connection

    One element to consider in the competition for Total Tools is that the company's current CEO, Paul Dumbrell, previously headed up the automotive division of Metcash, both prior and consequent to its sale to the Burson Group in June 2015. He took over as CEO of Total Tools in August 2018 - most likely with a mandate to realise the company's capital.

    That association could enhance the attractiveness of Total Tools for Metcash, as the CEO of IHG, Mark Laidlaw, has worked with Mr Dumbrell in the past.

    Competition

    Some commentators, including the AFR, have mentioned the acquisition by Bunnings of Adelaide Tools as being possibly related to Metcash's interest in Total Tools. That seems unlikely, as a possible strategy of Bunnings with that acquisition is to develop its own version of UK retailer Kingfisher's Screwfix. Total Tools for IHG is more in line with its current strategies, adding scale, breadth and depth.

    Total Tools history

    Total Tools was started in 1989 as a cooperative, and grew to 39 stores by 2014. It then expanded to its current 81 stores, including 26 stores in Victoria, 18 in both New South Wales and Queensland, nine in Western Australia, six in South Australia, two in Tasmania, and one in both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. Today there is also an extensive range of tools sold through its online ecommerce website.

    The company's expansion has been extensive, matching its goal of achieving over 75 stores by 2019. That said, its 2014 strategy was to eventually have 113 stores Australia-wide, indicating room for further growth.

    In 2012, the company was basically 50% cooperative, 50% franchise. The journey to being more of a franchise company was something of a struggle for many of the earliest participants. In 2014 then-CEO Tim Cockayne described that process in CEO magazine:

    I think in the early days it thrived as a cooperative because that was the way a lot of businesses were built, but the secret was really unlocked when it became a franchise and introduced standards around compliance and discipline. For those stores that were cooperative, that change was difficult and they had to give up a lot of things. They gained a lot, but they also had to give up a lot. In doing that, the discipline of making sure our stores looked the same and felt the same and were all open at the same hours has been the real point of difference.

    Analysis

    Metcash has something of a history of making acquisitions and divestments at critical moments in the development of its mainstay businesses. In the past it has used these as a balancing mechanism, to indicate new channels of growth, or to realise profit during a difficult phase.

    On average, Metcash generally performs OK, but after its one disastrous plunge in share price, when former CEO Ian Morrice announced the cessation of dividends and a one-year turnaround program (that eventually ran for four years), the company has gone to extraordinary lengths in developing creative messaging about its performance.

    Total Tools could be more of a strategic acquisition than an exercise in future messaging. A major feature of the hardware industry since around 2005 has been Bunnings' dominance in the power tool area. That dominance is built on the basis of very low prices, and this means that many hardware retailers are not able to sell power tools for a reasonable margin. From a business perspective, they essentially sell power tools so as to sell power tool accessories, which continue to have high margins.

    Bunnings is almost completely dominant in the DIY/consumer power tool market, as well as in mid-range trade tools. The one major weakness it has is it does not distribute Techtronic Industries' (TTI) Milwaukee brand - despite being the sole distributor in Australia of TTI's Ryobi brand. Instead of Milwaukee, Bunnings does offer Stanley Black & Decker's DeWalt brand, the Bosch "blue" trade tools, and is the exclusive distributor in Australia of TTI's other trade brand, AEG.

    TTI has, a little surprisingly, allowed IHG to sell some of its Milwaukee range in 2019, mostly through regional Mitre 10 retailers, such as Hume & Iser Mitre 10 in Bendigo, Victoria. Previously TTI has limited the Milwaukee range to smaller independent retailers. It may be that the growth of some of these once small companies, such as Sydney Tools, has forced it to reconsider how it distributed the Milwaukee brand.

    If Metcash went ahead with the acquisition - which remains a big "if" - IHG could make use of the tool retailer in one of two ways. The first way would be to continue with Total Tools "as is", perhaps adding on more fully IHG-owned stores to the existing network. This would enhance its ability to obtain better deals on tools through volume purchases, and those benefits would flow through to all IHG members, potentially "rescuing" the category from break-even to profit. It is IHG's "core ranging" strategy writ large.

    Alternatively, though, IHG could adopt a very different strategy with Total Tools. What if Total Tools became the IHG brand for all tool sales? That could see the power tool section of IHG's joint venture and wholly owned stores rebranded to Total Tools.

    It would even be possible, at the furthest stretch, for Total Tools to operate as small franchises inside existing IHG stores, operated by the store owner, or by a third party, leasing store space from the store owner.

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