ABS hardware retail stats: April 2024

April 2024 is average (but good average)

While the ABS reports that hardware retail turnover throughout Australia was basically flat for April 2024 as compared to April 2023, results for states were more mixed. NSW continues to show negative growth, while VIC continues to grow.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its retail turnover figures for the period up to April 2024. For hardware retail they have largely continued the trends of the previous three months, which is to say that while there is limited positive growth, there has also been limited negative growth as well.

In looking at this data we consider them in terms of "periods" running from May to April. So "p2021" refers to the period from May 2020 to April 2021.

Contrasting p2023 with the current p2024, Australia-wide there has been only 0.03% of growth. That's basically flat, with the added caveat that inflation is running at an annualised rate of over 3.5%. To that we can add a "reverse" caveat that some building supplies are going through disinflation, which means the inflation rate for hardware retail is difficult to determine.

The largest percentage gain in revenue for hardware, contrasting p2024 with p2023, was Western Australia (WA), which increased by 3.3%, with revenue up $88.9 million for a total of $2824.2 million. In revenue dollars, Victoria (VIC) was the strongest state, increasing by $136.0 million, or 2.1%, with total revenue for p2024 of $6633.1 million.

Negative growth in percentage terms peaked with Northern Territory (NT), down by 8.0% or $22.5 million to $259.3 million. In dollar terms, New South Wales (NSW) had the steepest fall, down by $208.4 million to $7547.6 million, a drop of 2.7%.

Both Queensland (QLD) and Tasmania (TAS) were close to flat. QLD had a loss of 0.6%, or $30.0 million to $5323.9 million, while TAS had a gain of 0.6%, up by $3.3 million to $607.9 million. South Australia (SA) rose by 1.8% or $30.6 million $1769.7 million.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) managed a gain of 1.9% or $9.8 million to reach $538.7 million.

As mentioned above, Australia saw overall revenues lift by 0.03% or $7.7 million, to reach over $25.504 billion. This represents a gain of 24.9% from p2020 to p2024.

New South Wales

The April 2024 result for NSW could be seen as a slight improvement over the March 2024 result. It manages to be above the result for both p2023 and p2021, though it is below p2022.

The weakness in p2024 originates in the four key months from September to December 2023. For the rest of the 12-month period results track closely to p2023.


As with NSW, the VIC result for April 2024 falls within the range of the past three years, slightly above the turnover recorded for the same month in 2021 and 2023.

In some ways, VIC has had the most unique pattern of pandemic and post-pandemic retail turnover. The peak period for VIC was p2021, whereas for most states it has been p2022 - the second pandemic 12-month period. For VIC both p2022 and p2023 saw a contraction in turnover. In fact, it is the state that has benefitted - in percentage hardware retail turnover growth terms - the least from the pandemic.


The April 2024 turnover number for QLD has proved surprisingly positive, just nudging above the April 2022 result, to produce an all-time high for this month. Similar highs were reached in both January and February 2024.

South Australia

For SA p2024 has been very positive. Out of the 12 months, only four have trailed behind results for p2023, with the other nine months setting all-time monthly highs for the state. This includes the result for April 2024, which just bested the April 2023 result.

Western Australia

As with SA, WA has seen significant growth in p2024. In fact, every single monthly turnover result has set a new monthly high for the state. Contrasting with p2023, the April 2024 result - which was flat to the March 2023 result - exceeded its p2023 equivalent by the largest margin for the period.


Ever since October 2021, hardware retail turnover in TAS has followed a very tight pattern. Results for p2024 closely matched those for p2023 from May 2022 through to November 2022, then underperformed for December 2022. Since February 2024, the results have improved over p2023, with its April 2024 result setting a new monthly high.

Northern Territory

For NT p2024 has performed significantly below p2023, though somewhat in line with p2022. The April 2024 result has shown a significant improvement, after low turnovers from January 2024 to March 2024.

Australian Capital Territory

While p2024 started off well for the ACT, with new monthly highs set from May 2023 through to October 2023, November 2023 through to January 2024 saw it underperform both p2023 and p2022. However, from February 2024 through to April 2024 the results have been very close to those for the two previous periods.


The general news reflected by the ABS hardware turnover results for April 2024 is that there has not been much of a significant shift since the previous year. Any real economic news for the sector will emerge with the results starting from August 2024. Those stats won't be available until October 2024.

The April results, however, provide an ideal position to look at the pandemic-based performance of the states and territories. While the initial pandemic surge in sales did take place in March 2020, April 2020 was the first full month in which the pandemic had its effect.

Also, it's arguable that FY2024/25 will be the first full year that isn't pandemic or post-pandemic. Instead, this financial year represents something of a switch back to "normal" - whatever that is going to mean. Which is to say that the traces of the pandemic in the economy - including higher commodity prices - are no longer transient and based on misalignment of supply chains. Instead, they are at least semi-permanent.

We can also reasonably expect the current elevated spending on hardware, the legacy of the pandemic "jump" of around 25% in topline turnover, to continue for at least over the next couple of years. Turnover might drop back to FY2020/21 levels, but even that seems unlikely with the ongoing demand for housing, and the centrality of dwellings in Australia's culture.

This focuses attention away from the fortunate increase in overall revenues, and towards the prospects for future growth. From that perspective, we begin to see the immediate future does not seem so bright as the immediate past.

Take, for example, the chart of period-on-period percentage increases for turnover:

Comparing the pre-pandemic growth for p2020 with the most recent period (p2024) there is a definite downwards trend (with the exception of TAS).

This can be further clarified by the chart showing these percentage change in a stacked bar format:

One surprise is the extent to which VIC has not benefitted as much from pandemic growth as the rest of Australia in percentage terms (excepting NT). But it is also evident that we are seeing a dynamic slowing in growth, and this seems likely to continue through FY2024/25.

From the immediate perspective of independent hardware retailers, this is concerning, but probably not so consequential. The increase in retail sales has given them a much needed lift and enabled smaller stores to reinvest so as to improve their businesses and reduce ongoing operating costs.

It is a different story, however, for the two major retail operations, Bunnings and Metcash's Independent Hardware Group (IHG). Bunnings in particular is under pressure not only because growth has slowed, but because other retail segments is parent Wesfarmers - notably Kmart - have managed to find growth even in a flattening market.

As HNN discusses in more detail in the upcoming issue of HI News, the core problem with Bunnings is that it has reinvested its "windfall" earnings boost from the pandemic, but those investments - Tool Kit Depot and Beaumont Tiles - are longer-term investments, and unlikely to generate contributory returns before FY2026/27. (That's actually a general problem that Wesfarmers is experiencing.) While additions such as a pet food and accessories line are helpful, rejuvenated growth in 2025 will likely require structural change.

For IHG the picture is somewhat different. With the exit of Annette Welsh as CEO of IHG, and the advent of a new (and highly competent) CEO for Metcash overall, much of the "moral imperative" to retain the initial framing of the acquisition of Home Timber & Hardware Group (HTH, aka Danks) in late 2016 has been lost. That framing was that the acquisition would be more about preservation than transformation.

In the new environment, with decreasing growth per-store, it's likely that IHG will increase its acquisition and joint-venture activities in its lead brand, Mitre 10. While this is, to some extent, "non-organic" growth through simple acquisition, it is also a structural shift from wholesale-only to wholesale plus retail margins.


Does renovation spending increase when housing markets fall?

The answer is: yes and no

The legacy view on housing and renovation markets is that when housing goes down renovations go up. That still remains true to some extent, but there are important exceptions. The exceptions point to a more complex market situation.

A somewhat feisty debate has developed about what happens now and in the near future with renovations in Australia. The conventional view is that when dwelling construction activity declines, spending on alterations & additions (alt-adds) increases.

However, as we've often pointed out at HNN, we are not currently living in conventional times.

One factor that seems difficult for many to acknowledge is that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is determined to bring the inflation rate down to something under 3.0%. That means slowing the economy, and part of slowing the economy is slowing the rate of value growth in the housing market, as this represents inflationary consumption.

This struggle with inflation is something of a global condition, and includes the US, much of the EU, and the UK. One important contrast with economies such as the US is the rate of productivity growth over the past few years. To quote from a US Bureau of Labor Statistics press release dated 6 June 2024:

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, as output increased 0.9 percent and hours worked increased 0.6 percent. (All quarterly percent changes in this release are seasonally adjusted annual rates.) From the same quarter a year ago, non-farm business sector labor productivity increased 2.9 percent, the largest four-quarter increase since the first quarter of 2021, when the measure increased 5.9 percent.

Meanwhile, in Australia, according to a summary from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for March quarter 2024 national accounts:

Labour productivity was flat. Output per hour worked was largely unchanged compared to the previous quarter and the March quarter 2023. Overall, we worked similar numbers of hours as the previous quarter, although hours worked in government-supported industries like health, education and social assistance grew faster.

Productivity is important because it represents the best "exit strategy" for inflationary economies. If you can make more for less, you gain growth without the creation of scarcities, and growth is likely to be channelled towards activities with higher productivity. Overall, that tends to be deflationary for prices.

Poor productivity growth narrows the options available to the RBA. It is perhaps worth remembering that in mid-2008, with the consumer price index (CPI) indicating that inflation was up around 4.5%, the RBA set interest rates at over 7.0%. What seems to have wiped this from collective memory is that from December 2011 through to March 2021 - just shy of 10 years - inflation as measured by the CPI remained below 3.0%, and from December 2014 to December 2019 it was mostly below 2.0% as well.

Given this history, current interest rates could easily be somewhere around 6.0%. The reason such aggressive interest rate rises are not in play is that the Australian economy overall is not doing well. That relates to the gross domestic product (GDP), which grew at just 1.1% quarter-on-corresponding-quarter for March 2024 - the continuation of a slide that started in December quarter 2022, and well below a desirable rate.

In close to simplistic terms, looking after the economy can be seen as something like looking after a lawn. If you put on lots of fertiliser (economic stimulus), the grass (economy) grows, but so do the weeds (inflation). If you put on weedkiller (higher interest rates) to get rid of the weeds, then the grass will also start to die. What works (somewhat) is a combined weed-and-feed supplement (productivity).

However, that weed-and-feed supplement seems to be in short supply in Australia. At the moment the only way forward for the RBA is to continue to apply the weedkiller in judicious amounts, so that the grass, though affected, does not actually die out.

A second factor at work is that since 2020 Australian society has come to - culturally - place a higher value on housing. The extreme COVID lockdowns were something of a shock, and it will likely be another couple of years before people stop - at least unconsciously - planning for the next pandemic. In particular, that has reduced the attractiveness of multi-unit dwellings, and thus created an even tighter market for detached houses.

Given all this, it would seem evident that the convenient cycle of "house construction goes down, alt-adds go up" is unlikely to be as much a given as it was in, say, the 2010s.

The dwelling market

What is the current state of the dwelling market? Perhaps the best stats to look at are from the ABS dealing with capital city dwelling markets. In this case we're using periods that consist of the June, September, December and March quarters, so p2022 runs from June 2021 through to March 2022.

Median house prices

Let's start by taking a quick look at the median house price for capital cities.

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane
  • Adelaide
  • Perth
  • Hobart
  • Darwin
  • Canberra
  • To summarise these charts briefly, there are two separate trends evident. For Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, median house prices have continued to rise. For Sydney and Brisbane there was a decline in median values, or at least a flattening of growth, for p2023, but this has to some extent reversed for p2024. Both Adelaide and Perth show continued growth straight through both p2023 and p2024.

    For Melbourne, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin, there was a similar slowdown in p2023, followed by further falls for p2024.

    Transfers of established houses

    The ABS stats for the number of transfers of established houses (excluding new builds) gives an overview of market activity.

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane
  • Adelaide
  • Perth
  • Hobart
  • Darwin
  • Canberra
  • Looking at these charts from the perspective of comparing the number of transfers from p2023 with p2024, the first thing to notice is that with the exception of Darwin and Adelaide, the number of transfers for the most recent March quarter is below the number for March quarter 2023.

    Broadening that regard to the entire p2024, Canberra, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth all show at least two quarters in p2024 where transfers were below those for the previous corresponding quarter. On the other hand, Sydney managed to set a seven-year high for transfers in September quarter 2023.


    There is variance between the different geographical markets - as you would expect. Overall though, the alarming trend is that, despite the additional increase of 0.25% as recently as November 2023, higher interest rates, comparing p2023 with p2024, have become "normalised" in the markets.

    To give some idea of just how "out of kilter" things are, we can look to a speech by the RBA's Jonathan Kearns, head of domestic markets, entitled "Interest Rates and the Property Market", which he delivered in September 2022. He stated:

    In the April [2022] FSR [Financial Stability Report] we used a user-cost model to estimate that a 200 basis point [2.0%] increase in interest rates - which increases mortgage payments and so the cost of owning - would lower real housing prices by around 15% over a two-year period. While this 15% decline was commonly reported as being a forecast for housing prices, it was not actually a prediction of how much housing prices would change. Rather it was an estimate of how sensitive housing prices are to interest rates , assuming that all the other costs and benefits to housing don't change with interest rates.

    Between April 2022 and September 2022 interest rates increased by 2.25% with little real discernible medium-term effect on house price growth in markets such as Sydney through to 2024. The reason for this likely rests with that last phrase by Mr Kearns, the caveat "assuming that all the other costs and benefits to housing don't change with interest rates".

    As mentioned above, one factor that continues to dominate the housing market is the aftershock of COVID. Added to a period of very low interest rates, against a background of three decades of poor management of housing in most states, you end up with a housing market that is somewhat out of control.

    The renovation market

    How has all this played out in Australia's renovation market? As HNN has discussed in the past, measuring alt-adds is something of a difficult task. In this case, we're looking at three sets of ABS stats. The first and simplest is the stats from ABS building approvals, the original monthly data that relates to approvals granted through to May 2024.

    The second set of stats is from the same basic series, but instead of original data, it is quarterly data for chain volumes. Chain volumes adjust for price differences (brought about by inflation and other causes). Chain volumes thus tend to provide a more "pure" reflection of demand.

    The third is derived from the National Accounts stats relating to final state/territory demand. For those stats we're also using chain volumes.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • While these charts tend to look both dynamic and confusing, in the end this chart shows that the value of alt-add approvals for NSW has been relatively stable over the past three periods. There was a decline of just 0.3% for p2024 over p2023, and an increase of just 1.6% for p2023 over p2022.

    That said, the manner in which that value is delivered is radically different, with the noticeable spike in December 2021 probably a consequence of influences related to COVID lockdowns.

    Equally, the activity for April and May 2024 (not covered by the other quarterly stats) is interesting as it suggests an increase in these approvals.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • Dealing with much of the same data (excepting April and May 2024), this shows a quite different outlook, with the value for approvals in p2024 falling somewhat below those for p2023, and p2023 very much below p2022.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volume
  • This shows roughly the same situation as the previous chart, though the increase from p2022 to p2023 is moderated, and the decrease from p2023 to p2024 is much larger.

  • Conclusion
  • As the Sydney market has shown ongoing increases in house values, this supports the legacy forecast that an active house market will see a decline in spending on alt-adds activities.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • Again, while this chart looks slightly chaotic, p2024 is only 1.3% above p2023, and p2023 has lost just 1.0% on p2022.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • This shows the extent of the actual decline in alt-adds from the highs of p2022, though there is an uptick for p2024 for March quarter 2024.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volumes
  • Looked at through the lens of national accounts, there is far more synchronicity between p2022, p2024 and p2024. The decline for p2024 is also more marked, especially for December quarter 2023.

  • Conclusion
  • Here we see something of a contradiction to the legacy analysis of countervailing markets for houses and alt-adds. Even as the housing market declines, so too does the alt-adds market.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • The original data for QLD shows that new highs were achieved in six of the 12 months of p2024. That's despite the fact that median house values continued to increase. Overall, approvals for p2024 were 8.0% up on those for p2023, while p2023 were up 1.3% on p2022.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • In this case the chain volume measurements reflect the original data, with p2024 following a similar pattern to p2023, but at a higher value level.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volumes
  • There are broad similarities with the previous chart, but with an interesting lift for activity in the December quarter.

  • Conclusions
  • Again, this broadly supports the legacy view regarding countervailing markets.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • It seems evident looking at this chart for SA that p2024 was a year of high growth for alt-adds. Seven months show new highs, and one month matches the previous high. In fact, overall p2024 grew by 12.8% over p2023, while p2023 grew by 4.1% over p2022.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • In this case, the chart for chain volumes casts the previous chart's data in a new light. Overall for p2024 there was a 2.0% decline over p2023.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volumes
  • This chart essentially corroborates the previous chart, cancelling out the lift for December quarter 2024

  • Conclusion
  • Given the ongoing strength in the SA housing market, this again supports the legacy view that housing and alt-adds markets are countervailing.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • As this chart clearly indicates, alt-adds have grown significantly in WA. For p2024 the state grew by 31.4% over p2023.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • That picture of growth is moderated using chain volume measures, but it still remains significant, with p2024 growing by 17.4% over p2023.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volumes
  • National accounts using chain volume measures moderates this increase slightly, but still shows a breakaway December quarter 2024.

  • Conclusion
  • WA represents a different departure from the legacy view. The house market is flourishing, but so is the alt-adds market.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • This shows a general increase for alt-adds in p2024 of 8.0%.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • This chart largely accords with the previous chart. Adjusted for chain volume, the increase in alt-adds for p2024 over p2023 remains around 8.0%.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volumes
  • Again, this chart broadly reflects the two previous.

  • Conclusion
  • The data for TAS broadly supports the legacy view. With a declining house market, alt-adds spending has increased.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • The sharp rise in October 2023 all but guarantees alt-adds for p2024 are above those for p2023. In this volatile market the increase for the 12 months is 27.9%.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • The chain volume measure is more clear, indicating p2024 outperformed p2023 outside of the December quarter.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volumes
  • The national accounts do show a more mixed picture, with p2024 underperforming p2023.

  • Conclusion
  • Darwin and the NT are difficult markets to understand. Both the performance of the overall housing market itself and alt-adds are somewhat mixed.


  • Alt-adds building approvals original
  • With alt-adds building approvals touching on seven year lows for seven of the 12 months, it's clear that this sector is performing below p2023 during p2024.

  • Alt-adds building approvals chain volume
  • This chart largely supports the conclusion above, but with unexpected strength in December quarter 2023.

  • Alt-adds national accounts chain volumes
  • This chart draws a very clear picture for underperformance for p2024 as compared to p2023.

  • Conclusion
  • With the ACT housing market in decline, this goes against the legacy view of how that market relates to alt-adds. However, as with NT, this is a highly volatile market.


    What these stats for alt-adds demonstrate is that this area is somewhat complex to understand and forecast at this point. It is certainly the case that the pattern which has dominated much the 2000s and the 2010s - of dwelling investment shifting between house building and renovations depending on market conditions - still has a major effect on the market.

    However, it's also true that a range of other forces are likely at work as well, as in demonstrated by both VIC and WA, as well as the ACT. HNN would speculate that in some markets, expenditure on alt-adds has increased due to the ongoing surge in the housing market. At some point, the price of new houses becomes simply inefficient, and homeowners realise they can obtain the features of a new house on their existing property at a lower cost through alterations and additions.

    Similarly, given high average house prices and increasing cost of living pressures, alt-adds have become the best coping mechanism for many homeowners. Economic uncertainty has enhanced the value of taking a more conservative approach.

    All this means that alongside the behaviour in some markets of switching between the housing and alt-adds markets based on current prospects, there is an additional behaviour where when the housing market surges, the alt-adds market does as well - though to a lesser extent.


    Big box update

    Bunnings Wagga store plan at a standstill

    The hardware retail chain will not be classified as a retailer under the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct but is "on notice" to negotiate a fairer trading environment for greenlife growers

    The local community in Wagga Wagga (NSW) continues to wait for new plans for Bunnings' relocation to one of the city's busiest intersections, according to a report in The Daily Advertiser.

    In late 2023, plans were rejected by Wagga councillors for Bunnings' proposed move to 64 Pearson Street.

    Car Wash owner Steve Kenyon - whose business is located on Person Street - said he has been talking directly with Bunnings over recent months, and there have been meetings with various stakeholders. Mr Kenyon is waiting for Bunnings to come back with a new plan that no longer include a traffic light outside his location's driveway. He said:

    We have no objection to Bunnings going there, but we just want to make sure that the traffic movement doesn't affect the businesses on Pearson Street. The ball is in Bunnings' court as to going with a few of our wishes and changing their application.

    The $25 million move that was initially approved with conditions by Wagga City Council in 2021. The rejected plans by Bunnings included traffic lights, a median strip, a Pearson Street exit and reduced on-street parking.

    However discussions are continuing between Bunnings, council and regional transport and roads minister Jenny Aitchison, according to Wagga City Council general manager Peter Thompson. He told The Daily Advertiser:

    While there has been some progress in relation to the issue, the concepts under discussion still present challenges. Discussions will be ongoing between all parties, including the community representatives and the businesses in the area.


    Bunnings loses bid to change access plans to new Wagga site - HNN Flash, November 2023

    Greenlife suppliers

    The federal government recently announced it would adopt every recommendation from the independent review of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct led by economist and former Labor trade minister Dr Craig Emerson.

    However, plant growers were disappointed the review decided Bunnings should not fall under the code alongside other big retailers such as Woolworths and Coles.

    Greenlife Industry Australia (GIA) CEO Joanna Cave told The New Daily while she was pleased the code would be strengthened, the decision to leave Bunnings out was "deeply disappointing". She said:

    The issue's acknowledged, but greenlife growers are left out in the cold. They're effectively the only growers within the whole of the horticultural sector that don't benefit from a code of practice protection, which is why we were asking for them to be included in the first place.

    The review has recommended Bunnings work with GIA to develop a document setting out expectations about the supply of nursery plants, and progress of the relationship could be reviewed in two years' time.

    The government's response to the review also outlined concerns about allegations of retailer conduct towards nursery plant suppliers, and said it would "continue to monitor conduct in the nursery plants industry".

    Ms Cave said GIA would approach negotiations with an open mind, and she hoped Bunnings would do the same. She said Bunnings had placed some rebates under review, including one in which the volume of plants it bought had a direct effect on the discount growers were obliged to give it.

    They've been very careful to say that any measures are likely to be temporary. We're interested to see what sticks now that the government has made its position clear that they won't be admitted to the Food and Grocery Code.
    Will Bunnings breathe a sigh of relief and go back to business as usual? Or have they learned their lesson and are they willing to make some changes for the benefit of the greenlife growers?

    In a statement to The New Daily, Bunnings managing director Mike Schneider said the company welcomed the recommendation that retailers outside the supermarket and grocery industry are not be taken into the code.

    We note the report's suggestion that we work collaboratively to set out expectations relating to the supply of nursery plants, and we look forward to continuing to engage with suppliers and relevant industry associations.
    We recognise that good supplier relationships are essential for the continued success of our business.

    New code mooted

    Ms Cave said GIA had been approached by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to discuss potential nursery code of conduct. It is likely it would emulate the food and grocery code, but be more specifically tailored to the needs of greenlife growers.

    Ms Cave said one of the areas in most need of attention included stronger commitments between the retailer and greenlife growers. A common complaint from growers is that Bunnings would not commit to buying specific volumes of plants, leaving many out of pocket.

    A nursery code of conduct would also need to include an anonymous complaints mechanism, similar to the one that will become part of the food and grocery code, thanks to the review's recommendations.

    In the current situation, Ms Cave said growers had little to no avenues for recourse when facing problems.

    Bunnings does operate a complaints procedure of its own. But you can understand why growers would feel very reluctant to use a complaints procedure managed, funded and organised by the very organisation it wants to complain about.
    And [regarding] the [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission], for example, the burden of proof is on the growers. It's very hard to successfully make a claim through that avenue. It takes a long time, costs money.
    That's why we've been lobbying for a code that contains within it decent dispute-resolution mechanisms, because without that the growers really have no way of raising concerns.


    Growers and supermarket code - HNN Flash, April 2024
  • Sources: The Daily Advertiser, The New Daily and The Mercury
  • bigbox

    Retail update

    Sydney Tools soft launches in Wodonga (VIC)

    Reece has relocated its Darwin (NT) plumbing branch to a new premises, and leading bid for the Tradelink retail network

    A Sydney Tools outlet has opened next to Wodonga Homemaker Centre in Victoria. Store manager Jerico Johns said there has already been a positive reaction to the "one stop shop".

    A rival Total Tools store is being built less than one kilometre away adjacent to Bunnings, but Mr Johns is not concerned. He told The Border Mail:

    One hundred per cent we will beat anyone's price. But we shouldn't really have to, we have the market covered.

    He said customers, particularly tradies, are enjoying the range of "exclusive products".

    Albury-based customer Kurt Jensen was searching for a nearby Sydney Tools and was excited to see one had opened in Wodonga. He said he saved "a few hundred dollars" by shopping at the store.

    It's good to have a bit more competition. A bit more range, variety is always great.

    Local resident Eckhard Greiner said the store looked good but "just like anything, it will be interesting to see how long they last". He said there seemed to be enough tool stores on the Border but he did walk away with a purchase of drill bits.

    Sydney Tools has more than 90 retail stores across the country including one in Wagga (NSW), just over 134kms away.

    Another customer Jason Toogood had previously shopped at the Wagga store and said it was great to see they were now on the Border as well. He said:

    Competition is what we need.

    A grand opening for the Wodonga store is tentatively scheduled for July 18, according to The Border Mail.


    Plumbing supplies group Reece has opened one of its largest multisite locations with four different branches - Plumbing, HVAC, Fire, Irrigation and Pool - in Berrimah (NT), close to its previous premises, at 47 Pruen Road. It will be the first time Reece's Fire and Irrigation and Pool have been available in the Territory.

    Reece general manager Ben Counsel said Territorians had previously been serviced by individual outlets.

    Prior to the opening of Berrimah, Reece primarily served the Northern Territory through our network of eight plumbing branches across the Territory.
    The investment to expand Reece Fire and Reece Irrigation and Pools into the Territory represents our commitment to continue investing in and supporting allied industries that maintain and support the development of essential infrastructure in the Northern Territory.

    Centrally located, the new multi-site is designed to provide Territory customers more access to a wide variety of quality products, convenient delivery to site, and a dedicated team of experts across different industries.


    Sydney-based private equity firm Allegro Funds is believed to be in a strong position to buy Fletcher Building-owned Tradelink, according to a report in The Australian. This comes after an earlier report that Los Angeles-based Pacific Avenue Capital Partners submitted a non-binding indicative bid in The Australian Financial Review (AFR).

    It is now understood that Pacific Avenue Capital Partners has fallen away from the sale process. Also no longer believed to be bidding is turnaround specialists Anchorage Capital Partners.

    Sources told the AFR that offers for the underperforming plumbing and bathroom supplies division have come in between $150 million and $175 million.

    Fletcher Building is due to release its full-year results on August 21. Sources say binding offers for Tradelink are due to be collected at the end of July, with a signed deal expected to be signed in the first half of August.

    Tradelink was placed up for sale by Fletcher Building after the company started wrestling with large debt levels of about $2 billion against a $2 billion market value and lower earnings as recessionary conditions in New Zealand and a weaker trading environment in Australia affected its bottom line.

    Any buyer for Tradelink would want to know the extent of liabilities connected to the company's leaky Iplex pipes in Western Australia, as Fletcher Building negotiates a settlement over liability. WA builder BGC has blamed the pipes for the leaks, but Fletcher Building claims the problem rests with the installation.


    Fletcher Building launches sale process for Tradelink - HNN Flash, May 2024
  • Sources: The Border Mail, The Northern Territory News, Australian Financial Review and The Australian
  • retailers

    Category update: Building products

    Big River Group acquires Specialised Laminators

    WA builder BGC has made new claims about the Fletcher Building Iplex product involved in Perth's leaky pipe problem

    Big River Industries recently announced the acquisition of Specialised Laminators (SLQ), a Queensland-based panel products company. The move enhances Big River's panel product offerings and adds to its presence in the industry.

    Established in 1977, SLQ has earned a reputation for producing high-quality decorative and functional panel products. Now it is part Big River's Timberwood Panels division across Australia. John Lorente, CEO of Big River Group, said:

    Bringing SLQ into the Big River family is a significant milestone in our mission to offer top-quality panel products to our customers. This acquisition allows us to expand our specialised panels division, providing customers with a broader selection of innovative and high-performance panel solutions. The synergies between SLQ and Big River create exciting opportunities for growth and product development.

    John Closter, one of SLQ's founders and general manager Wayne Austin, will continue to lead the business under the Big River umbrella, ensuring continuity and leveraging their expertise to drive future success. Mr Closter said:

    Joining Big River Group is an exciting new chapter for SLQ. We are confident that our combined expertise and resources promise enhanced product availability, improved supply chain efficiencies, and innovative panel solutions tailored to meet diverse construction needs.

    Big River has been operating for over 120 years, manufacturing and distributing timber and steel formwork products, timber flooring, building products, structural plywood and related timber products. It also distributes MaxiWall and MaxiFloor, primarily to the commercial, residential and infrastructure construction market segments.


    Big River Group: New look, confirmed values - HNN Flash, February 2024

    Fletcher Building and BGC

    Fletcher Building has accused BGC of a "crude attempt" to pressure negotiations to resolve the bursting water pipes crisis in Perth (WA).

    As the manufacturer of the controversial Iplex piping, Fletcher Building released a statement to the stock market rejecting BGC's claims the rate of pipe bursts was getting worse. It said:

    The public claims made by BGC are a crude and apparent attempt to place pressure on those negotiations. The conclusions shared by BGC have not been verified, shared with Iplex and are, in many respects, inconsistent with evidence we have gathered first-hand or been provided by other parties.

    The West Australian revealed BGC's claims, which included that bursts were over 20% higher than the same period (June) last year.

    BGC is the largest builder to use the "defective" Iplex piping, accounting for about 65% of installations in new homes. It claims the pipes were faulty and has blamed the manufacturer, which in turn denies the claims and says incorrect installation is the cause of all the leaks.

    In its statement, Fletcher Building said it hadn't changed its view.

    Fletcher Building stands by its views on causation shared with the market previously.

    Both companies are participating in mediation organised by the WA State government to find a way out of the impasse, with affected homeowners calling for their houses to be re-piped. The dispute is over who will wear the steep cost.

    As revealed by The West Australian, the State Government has put $30 million into a fund, that has so far accumulated $130 million to $150 million to remediate homes. BGC had earlier walked out of negotiations, but was persuaded to return.

    In its statement, Fletcher Building said it remained "committed to a sensible, data-led and proportional solution from all parties and to playing its part in that process".

    We continue to participate in mediated discussions alongside the WA Government and many WA builders, including BGC, to finalise an industry response to the plumbing failures occurring in Perth. These negotiations are confidential and have not yet concluded.

    On average it cost AUD80,000 (NZD86,000) to do a full pipe repair in BGC homes, and it was a pipe manufacturing problem, according to BGC's general manager of strategy and commercial Sam Gray.

    However some estimations put the cost of replacing all Iplex piping at more than $1 billion.


    Iplex ongoing dispute with BGC Housing in WA - HNN Flash, November 2023
  • Sources: Big River Group and The West Australian
  • companies

    Retail update: Pet supplies

    PetO buys up PETstock outlets

    Many of these stores currently trade under the Best Friends, My Pet Warehouse and Pet City brands, which PETstock had previously acquired

    Sydney-based independent pet retailer PetO has tripled its business and taken on 66 new branches, following Woolworths successful bid to acquire 55% of pet goods business PETstock.

    The deal was scrutinised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and ultimately gained approval in January 2024 after PETstock offered to divest 41 stores and 25 vet clinics. All of these have now been bought by PetO, a network of 17 stores that began in Sydney's northern beaches, for an undisclosed sum.

    With PetO's acquisition, its revenue triples to about $200 million and its store footprint expands out of NSW to Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.

    At the time of the acquisition, PetO co-founders and brothers Nick Greenhalgh and David Rowe had not decided whether to rebrand all the stores to PetO or retain some existing brands. In WAToday, Mr Greenhalgh said:

    We've just got to evaluate the brand equity and how it resonates with the customer. We really want to go through that process first just to see what it tells us, and it will give us some clarity once we've done that.

    PetO's core range will be introduced to the newly acquired stores, while retaining well-performing product lines that are popular among certain locations or demographics. Mr Greenhalgh said:

    We're really quite comfortable and confident we'll get to the point where we're crystal clear about what's ahead of us in phase one, which is about stabilising the business. Phase two will be to harmonise the business. The third phase, or the third horizon, is to launch our road to even more growth.

    Mr Greenhalgh, whose role focuses more on people and operations while Mr Rowe oversees store rollouts, product, finance and forecasting, said the acquisition had removed a lot of uncertainty for store staff who had already seen at least one ownership change less than two years ago when acquired by PETstock.

    They've gone through quite a lot of turmoil and in a relatively short period of time ... People want a sense of belonging, they want to be supported.

    Although the ink has barely dried on the paperwork on the acquisition, the co-founders are already looking at future expansion to be a "credible third player" to compete against Petbarn and PETstock. Mr Greenhalgh said:

    If we can put another 100 stores on it from 60, let's say to 160, we still wouldn't be the equivalent of number two. So there's a lot of runway.

    PETstock, Australia's second-largest pet retailer with more than 200 stores, was also founded by two brothers, Shane and David Young, from Ballarat. The $10 billion pet sector is led by Petbarn (owned by TPG's Greencross).

    The sector is considered a crowded space after a COVID-19 puppy boom. Not only has Woolworths entered the sector, Wesfarmers' Kmart also sells a huge amount of pet products, and Bunnings has expanded significantly into food and accessories for cats, dogs and birds. They compete with e-commerce players such as Pet Circle, owned by TDM Growth Partners.

    Mr Greenhalgh acknowledged the tighter market conditions, but said it was immaterial in pet supply given PetO sells essentials, "and people do not cut back on kids and pets". PetO offers two-hour deliveries and 30-minute click-and-collect as well as dog washing and harness fittings in store.

    Mr Greenhalgh said the expansion came at the perfect time for PetO. In The Australian, he said:

    Australia is right now experiencing record levels of pet ownership and increased demand for pet products. We couldn't think of a more exciting time to be expanding across the country.
    At PetO, we think of ourselves as the cat and dog specialists. We know your furry friend is more than just a pet, they're a member of your family - that's why our business is centred around exceptional customer experience and expert advice.


    Big box update: Woolworths and PETstock - HNN Flash, January 2024
  • Sources: WAToday, The Australian Financial Review and The Australian
  • retailers

    USA update

    Lowe's tries out Apple Vision Pro for kitchen design

    Home Depot has a partnership with Instacart that allows consumers to order home improvement products and have them delivered the same day, in some cases within an hour, the companies said

    Home improvement retailer Lowe's has piloted an Apple Vision Pro-powered kitchen design experience at three locations across the US.

    The Lowe's Style Studio app enables viewers to explore kitchen projects with Apple's new mixed-reality headset and design a kitchen while immersed in a virtual 3D environment.

    During the free, 45-minute one-on-one appointment with a Lowe's kitchen specialist, customers are set up with an Apple Vision Pro headset so they can personalise their kitchen using Lowe's Style Studio.

    Users can explore preset styles curated by Lowe's professional designers as well as customise hundreds of real-world materials, fixtures and appliances all available at Lowes.com or in store.

    Then, customers can save their selections or share them with friends, designers and contractors (tradies). They can additionally shop the products they selected to build their real-world kitchen.

    Lowe's executive vice president - chief digital and information officer, Seemantini Godbole said:

    We believe Apple Vision Pro can enhance in-store kitchen design experiences, empowering our customers to visualise their dream kitchens using advanced spatial computing technology.

    Following the pilot program, the Lowe's Style Studio app will still be available for free for Apple Vision Pro.

    Home Depot

    Home Depot's delivery partnership with Instacart is being made available at 2,000 of the company's stores. In a statement, Jordan Broggi, president of Home Depot's online division, said the aim is to give customers "a seamless interconnected experience".

    We're increasing flexibility for our customers ... no matter how they choose to shop.

    The deal allows an Instacart customer to order items of modest size that Home Depot sells, "from garden essentials and building supplies to light fixtures" but also to use a special Instacart service that specialises in items up to 60 pounds (27.2kgs), such as BBQs, ladders and large boxes, said a Home Depot spokesman.

    Customers who have "Instacart+" memberships will have free delivery. Others will pay a delivery fee.

    The partnership, one of many Home Depot has with companies that provide deliveries, was finalised after the companies ran pilot projects of the arrangement, the spokesman said. He said the trial programs were conducted for several months in three markets, but declined to say which ones.

    Online transactions accounted for 14.8% of Home Depot's business last year, about USD22.6 billion, the company said.


    Hardware retailers look to delivery partnerships - HNN Flash, April 2024
  • Sources: NJBIZ and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • bigbox

    ABS Construction inputs price indexes

    Most categories remain high

    While structural timber and steel beams have declined in price, most categories have retained the highs reached through the pandemic years

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its Producer Price Indexes through to March quarter 2024. The charts in this series are taken from statistics for "Input to the House construction industry, six state capital cities".

    As the main chart above shows, the general trend has been for housing construction inputs to begin a steep rise in June quarter 2021, which continued to around December quarter 2022, and then have increased at a slower rate.

    Timber categories

    The chart for the timber categories, as a weighted average of the six state capitals, shows three trends: the standard trend described above, an extreme increase that has been maintained, and a sharp increase that has trended down since December quarter 2022.

    Timber windows follow the extreme trend, with an extreme rise that has not declined, while structural timber rose to a high index, before continuing to decline through to March quarter 2024.

    Tile and brick categories

    The chart for the tile and brick categories, as a weighted average of the six state capitals, shows a range of trends. Ceramic tiles, it turns out, saw milder price rises than other categories, and a decline during both September and December quarters of 2024, before rising again in 2024.

    Terracotta tiles were relatively stable through to September quarter 2021, then rose sharply in price through to December quarter 2022. The other three categories began a more gradual price increase in June quarter 2021, and have continued to increase in price since then.

    Building materials categories

    The chart for building material categories, as a weighted average of the six state capitals, shows three unique trends.

    Sand has seen the steepest rise, cement a more moderate increase, and ready-mixed concrete a more subdued lift. The increases came later than in other categories, beginning around June quarter 2022.

    General materials categories

    The chart for general materials, as a weighted average of the six state capitals, shows a constant, continued increase in price indexes September quarter 2021 onwards.

    Plumbing materials categories

    The chart for plumbing materials, as a weighted average of the six state capitals, shows three sets of trends.

    Sheet metal sanitaryware shows the sharpest increase, which began in September quarter 2022. Taps and valves, as well as copper pipes and fittings, shows the least rise in price index. Plastic pipe and fittings remains relatively subdued until March quarter 2022. The rest follow a relatively slow and gradual increase in price indexes.

    Metal materials categories

    The chart for metal materials, as a weighted average of the six state capitals, shows a basic trend, with two exceptions.

    The general trend sees the upswing in the price index start in September quarter 2021 and continue through to March quarter 2023 before flattening out. The two exceptions are steel beams and sections, as well as metal garage doors.

    The former starts to rise steeply in June quarter 2021, hist a peak in September quarter 2022, then declines through to December quarter 2023, and is almost flat for March 2024.

    The latter rises very steeply in June quarter 2022 through to September quarter 2022, then rises more gradually through to December quarter 2023, before flattening into March quarter 2024.

    Electrical materials categories

    The chart for electrical materials, as a weighted average of the six state capitals, shows some distinct trends.

    While switches and distribution boards, as well as the "other" category, have been relatively stable after a price index bump in June quarter 2020, electrical cable and conduit also rose in June quarter 2020, then started a very steep climb in June quarter 2021 through to June quarter 2023.


    The good news here is in structural timber and steel beams and sections, both vital categories for dwelling construction, which came down in price through calendar 2023. However, other construction input prices have remained stubbornly high. Some, like metal garage doors, and speciality items, but others, such as timber windows, are common to most construction jobs.


    Big box update

    Senior executives exit Bunnings

    The Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices Inquiry report included a recommendation that another committee examine the role of multinational food manufacturers and Australia's big box retailers - notably Bunnings - in price setting

    Bunnings recently made an internal announcement regarding changes to its executive team that led to the departure of its chief commercial officer Ben McIntosh, chief transformation officer Leah Balter, and general manager of corporate affairs Maria McCarthy. It was first reported by the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

    Other changes include chief customer officer Ryan Baker being appointed as chief operating officer, while current chief financial officer Rachael McVitty will become chief customer officer. Michael Howard, currently at Wesfarmers, has been appointed chief financial officer from July 1.

    Director of merchandiser Jen Tucker has also decided to leave the business following a family bereavement. Managing director Mike Schneider told the AFR:

    I would have said it's a reshaping, rather than a restructure ... This is not a cost thing.

    Mr Schneider said the reshuffle was designed to bring the commercial and customer teams closer together, and the cost savings would be minimal.

    We want to stay laser-focused on customers.

    Mr Schneider also dismissed any connection the "restructure" was part of a succession plan that involved his potential departure. In the AFR, he said:

    I've got really, really strong plans. I'm a Bunnings lifer through and through.

    The changes come in the wake of what many have seen as an underperforming first half for Bunnings in FY2024. Revenue grew by just 1.7% over the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was FY2023 H1. Store-on-store revenue increased by 1.2%, versus 2.8% in the pcp, while total store sales growth came in at 1.9%, versus 5.1% in the pcp.

    This comes as its fellow Wesfarmers retailer, Kmart Group, increased earnings before taxes from $475 million in the pcp to $601 million for FY2024 H1.

    As Mr Schneider has pointed out, the Bunnings model has now been in operation for 30 years. Many of the challenges the hardware retailer faces actually originate in its outstanding success over the decades.

    As Wesfarmers managing director, Rob Scott, pointed out in his opening remarks for the conglomerate's Strategy Day in early May, the market retailers operate in is now splitting between cashed-up baby boomer and Gen X retirees, and the ever-growing base of Gen Y and Gen X, who are struggling in a tough economy.

    The challenge for Bunnings is how to keep the "rusted on" deep fans of Bunnings from older generations happy, while reaching out to the new market represented by younger generations. This is likely one of the reasons for Bunnings' expansion into the pet category - aside from the very good margins - as pets reach across generations.

    Much of Kmart's success has been put down to its successful Anko home brand, which has managed to have that broad appeal across generations, offering a value/price combination that has proved popular. In contrast, it's clear that the basic Bunnings store concept may be in need of revitalisation. It has also not succeeded in better integrating newer categories, such as Smart Home, into its overall offerings.

    That said, the company has managed to improve its very popular website in ways that bring it into best practice for online retailers. It is also reaching out into new forms of advertising and marketing, including a TikTok campaign aimed to better acquainting tradies with financial complexities such as depreciation.

    Bunnings employs more than 55,000 people across its stores.

    Supermarket prices review

    Bunnings has argued its sales of flowers and plants, and some grocery items don't warrant classifying it as a supermarket retailer following the final report released by the Greens-led Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices Inquiry.

    The report also suggested that the Food and Grocery Code, which is currently voluntary, should be made mandatory and expanded to include greenlife industries and all retailers stocking food and groceries. Both suggestions would bring in Bunnings, given its large greenlife offer and its recent push into home cleaning products such as dishwasher tablets.

    However, Bunnings managing director Mike Schneider said there could be unintended consequences of including it with the supermarkets and placing it under the Code. He told The Australian:

    We note the recommendations in the select committee's final report but maintain our view that as the Food and Grocery Code was tailored for the supermarket and grocery industry by Coles, Woolworths and the Australian Food and Grocery Council, it should not be extended to retailers in other industries.
    We agree with Dr Emerson's comments in the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct interim review report, that there could be unintended consequences. We operate in the home improvement, building materials and lifestyle product sectors, which have fundamentally different characteristics to the supermarket and grocery sector.

    Although Bunnings was outside the terms of reference when it was invited to contribute by the Senate committee towards the end of its process, the hardware retailer fully engaged. It made two written submissions to respond to the evidence from Greenlife Industry Australia (GIA) and aggrieved greenlife growers. Mr Schneider said:

    We appeared at the hearing, responded to questions on notice and invited the committee to ask further questions if it wanted more information.

    But the final report noted that Mr Schneider did not personally appear before the inquiry:

    The committee was disappointed that the Bunnings chief executive officer did not appear personally to give evidence.

    In response to some of the claims made by nursery owners, plant growers and greenlife industry body GIA at the Senate inquiry, Mr Schneider said he had written to all of Bunnings suppliers to get their feedback.

    We highly value our suppliers and work hard to build enduring relationships. On hearing GIA's concerns, I wrote to each of our greenlife growers inviting their feedback as we know we can always learn and improve.
    We have engaged with many of them through the forums we run annually across the country and spoken with a number of industry associations. It's been heartening to receive positive and helpful feedback. I'm proud of the relationships we've built with our greenlife suppliers and over half of them have been with us for more than 20 years, which demonstrates the strength of our commitment to achieving shared success.

    GIA chief executive Joanna Cave applauded the recommendation that "growers be protected from unfair trading practices via Bunnings' inclusion", saying it brought them a step closer to "a decent and equitable trading relationship" with Bunnings.

    The Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices Inquiry report made 14-recommendations designed to tackle the price of food and reign in the power of Coles and Woolworths through increased competition, new legislation and strengthened regulations.

    Dr Craig Emerson is due to present his review of the Code by June 30. An ACCC Supermarkets Inquiry is also expected to table an interim report no later than August 31 with a final report due next February.


    Big box update: Growers and supermarket code - HNN Flash, April 2024
  • Sources: Australian Financial Review, The Australian, Good Fruits & Vegetables and Country News
  • bigbox

    Retail update

    Vadoulis Garden Centre closure

    Fletcher Building is understood to have launched the sale process for its plumbing supplies business Tradelink: report

    Milton Vadoulis, owner of Vadoulis Garden Centre, recently announced on social media that his Gawler-based garden centre in South Australia is shutting down for good. In the Messenger-Eastern Courier, he said:

    After 64 years, three generations and two sites, it is with a heavy heart and mixed emotions that I have to announce the closure of our Gawler operation.
    I'd like to thank you, all our beautiful loyal customers, our fantastic staff and wonderful suppliers for a great journey and wonderful memories.
    For me personally, after running the business for 47 years, it is time to hang up my secateurs.

    Vadoulis Garden Centre has been in operation since 1960 and a fixture in the local community since 1969 after growing too large for its original Barossa location. The 4000sqm site is stocked with a range of plants, outdoor furniture, giftware, books and jewellery and has been staffed by a team of 15 full-time and casual workers.

    The social media post received hundreds of likes since it went live, with customers and other businesses offering words of support and sharing their sadness at the community's loss. Amanda from Barrow and Bench Mitre 10 wrote:

    You should be proud of the welcoming garden retail experience you created over many years Milton.

    McCourts Garden Centre described Mr Vadoulis as "a leading light in our industry and inspired and mentored our business from when we started 26 years ago".

    Mr Vadoulis is regarded as Gawler's unofficial mayor and said "red tape" behind the scenes of the business was becoming impossible to keep up with. He told the Messenger-Eastern Courier:

    It's very difficult to run a business currently ... all businesses like myself, small businesses, not garden centres, we're always saying 'the red tape is killing us'. Everyone says, 'yeah, yeah, yeah' but then they keep putting more and more on us, it's just the reality.
    It's just too hard, I think that we will be lucky to have a small business around in five years, because they're just putting too much compliance and red tape in front of us all the time.

    Mr Vadoulis didn't dispute that rules relating to health and safety were important but said the vast difference between large businesses and small ones made it hard to cope. He said:

    If you're a big multinational, you've got a department that can handle that, but you know, a small-business person is sitting around a kitchen table trying to sort all these papers.

    Mr Vadoulis said many of his friends in business were experiencing the same difficulties, with some already closing and others considering the "emotional" choice.

    I think in the next year, maybe even 18 months there is going to be a lot go through (closure), and there is many reasons for that, but the main one - it's just too hard. And it's a shame ... I mean we have been here 64 years, we're in the third generation.

    Choosing to close affects owners, staff who lose their jobs as well as loyal customers. Mr Vadoulis said:

    I've had customers coming in [since the announcement] and hugging me and crying every couple of minutes, saying 'Where am I going to go now?'
    When I closed up last night, I walked through and shed a tear because it's what you've worked your whole life for - and it's disappearing before your eyes. Unfortunately, I doubt very much that another garden centre would take over from us in Gawler, who knows, but in my experience it won't happen.

    The centre is running a closing-down sale and offering product discounts, while the cafe will continue to operate as usual until June 30.


    It is understood information memorandums have been sent out by Miles Advisory which has been hired to sell the Tradelink business by New Zealand-based owner Fletcher Building, according to a report in The Australian.

    Tradelink has over 100 showrooms and more than 230 branches across the country, supplying products such as vanities, bathrooms, toilets fixtures and fittings for bathrooms, kitchen and laundries.

    It is valued at about NZD150 million, but some in the market say it could possibly sell for more, with such businesses selling for seven to eight times their annual earnings before interest and tax. Yet NZD122 million was wiped off its carrying value in February this year.

    One prospect which could be pitched to prospective buyers is the opportunity to gain a distribution network where sites could be repurposed.

    The view is that Metcash will take a look, with the business potentially a good fit with its hardware division including Total Tools and Mitre 10 stores. It is understood industry groups Reece and GWA have already passed on the Tradelink opportunity. But it is believed both trade groups and private equity firms have already expressed interest.


    Tradelink up for sale - HNN Flash, April 2024
  • Sources: Messenger-Eastern Courier and The Australian
  • retailers

    Supplier update: Tilling Group

    New branch in Townsville, QLD

    The family-owned timber wholesaler recognises the potential for strong construction growth in the region and has returned to the city after several decades

    Tilling Timber Townsville territory manager Rita Fisher said Townsville and Newcastle had been selected as the first locations for an ambitious regional expansion by the company.

    A long-term lease was signed for the former Bunnings Trade Centre warehouse at 8-16 Jay Street, Bohle in the northern part of Townsville. It opened in the new location just before Easter and recently held its official opening. Ms Fisher told the Townsville Bulletin:

    They've identified Townsville as an area that's going to grow quickly once building starts picking up again.
    We're really supporting the timber retailers ... [like] Cleveland Trade Centre, Parkside Timber and Hardware Parks, Big Hammer Building Supplies, and the Bunnings network ... It's probably more for builders and homeowners looking for a lightweight, renewable and energy efficient option instead of concrete for their subfloors.

    According to its website, the Tilling Group is Australia's largest wholesaler of engineered wood products including the SmartFrame range of timber I-Joist, laminated veneer lumber and glued laminate beams. Ms Fisher said Brisbane had previously been the nearest distributor for engineered wood products.

    [Townsville's] an area that's very under serviced by the industry at large. [If] something went wrong on a building site, it would take weeks to fix it, whereas now we can get someone sorted out within a couple of hours.
    It's about servicing the industry, making sure that when work picks up, we're ready and we're organised, fully stocked so that builders can worry a little bit less about lead times and running out of materials like they were dealing with after COVID.

    Ms Fisher also said there were "great signs of life" that building was starting to pick up in the region, with confidence growing and "a lot of high-end construction underway".

    Once interest rates level out, I think Townsville will kick on really quickly and we'll start seeing a lot more building happening.

    Established as a small factory in Eltham (VIC) by Norm and Judy Tilling in 1963, the business initially set up in Townsville in the late 1980s, where they imported solid timber products like Douglas fir from the US. They made the decision to relocate its business to Melbourne and shift focus on engineered wood products.

    Today, the company is under the management of the Tillings' son Glenn.

  • Source: Townsville Bulletin
  • news

    USA update: Home Depot

    Interest rates hurt bottom line

    The home improvement retailer is seeing customers defer major home projects due to high interest rates. It is continuing to focus on building its business with professionals.

    Home Depot posted a bigger-than-expected drop in quarterly same-store sales as cautious US consumers spent less on big-ticket items while focusing on small-scale home repair and maintenance tasks.

    Customers have cut discretionary spending and put expensive, large-scale renovations on hold as they adjust to higher borrowing costs and elevated inflation.

    As interest rates remain high, consumers have been reluctant to move out of their homes and into new ones - the kind of turnover that often inspires home improvement projects.

    In the fiscal first quarter that ended April 28, customers made fewer visits to Home Depot's stores and website and tended to spend less when they did. Customer transactions declined 1% to USD386.8 million and average ticket fell 1.3% to USD90.68.

    Comparable sales of items priced higher than USD1,000 were down 6.5% in the quarter.

    Inflation may also be playing a role in that pullback, as consumers spend more money on essentials and have to make trade-offs when spending discretionary income.

    Home Depot reported revenues of USD36.4 billion for the first quarter of its fiscal year, down 2.3% from the same period a year earlier. It had net earnings of USD3.6 billion during the three months, roughly 7.7% below a year ago.

    However, chief financial officer Richard McPhail said Home Depot is not seeing customers trade down to cheaper items, like less expensive power tools or appliances. He reasoned that the company's softer sales in large part on consumers' "deferral mindset" and a housing market that has slowed dramatically. He told CNBC:

    When we have seen mortgage rates decrease slightly, as we saw at the beginning of this quarter, the housing turnover seems to respond quickly and sharply in a positive direction.
    And so we think that's an indicator that there is a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for household formation and housing turnover and the larger projects that are associated with housing turnover.

    Weather pressured sales, too, in the recent quarter, he said. Spring is the biggest sales season for home improvement retailers. Yet customers delayed outdoor purchases because of colder and wetter weather in many parts of the country. Those spring purchases have begun to pick up as the weather improves, he said.

    To overcome slower sales, the home improvement retailer has revved up its strategy to attract professionals, since they tend to buy larger quantities and offer a steadier source of sales.

    Home Depot has a growing network of distribution centres across the US that can store and deliver roofing shingles, insulation and other supplies straight to job sites.

    It also announced in late March that it would acquire SRS Distribution, a Texas-based specialty distributor of roofing, landscaping and pool supplies, for USD18.25 billion in the largest acquisition in the company's history. Mr McPhail said the deal is still on track to close this fiscal year, which ends in early February 2025.

    Along with targeting professionals, Home Depot is trying to drive growth by opening about a dozen new stores this year and adding features to improve its online and in-store experience.

    Mr McPhail also said Home Depot stores are fully staffed and have the best in-stock levels they have had in years. Transportation costs have fallen. While organised retail crime remains a challenge for the industry, he said shrink, a term that refers to items lost, stolen or damaged, declined at Home Depot year over year, too.

    Home Depot has also added technology to make sure it has items on shelves when customers need them. For example, it is using computer vision to make sure that products for sale are damage-free and to prevent theft when customers use self-checkout, said Ann-Marie Campbell, senior executive vice president who oversees US stores and operations.

    Home Depot has a workforce of about 465,000 operating 2,337 retail stores.


    Home Depot's latest acquisition targets tradies - HNN Flash, April 2024
  • Sources: Atlanta Journal Constitution, CNBC and Reuters
  • bigbox

    Supplier update: Briggs & Stratton

    Australasian division sell off

    Briggs & Stratton is known as the world's largest small engine producer, and a leading manufacturer of power generated lawn and garden turf care products

    US-based Briggs & Stratton is understood to be exiting the region and placing its Briggs & Stratton Australasia arm for sale. It is the owner of heritage power tool brand Victa, maker of petrol-powered walk-behind mowers, blowers and chainsaws and accounts for 43% of its net sales, based on a report in The Australian Financial Review (AFR).

    Any sale will include exclusive distribution rights for other Briggs & Stratton-owned brands such as ride-on mower maker Ferris and specialty turf equipment brand Billy Goat, and the right to distribute third-party brands including Echo, Shindaiwa and Oregon.

    Briggs & Stratton's customers include a 1300-strong network of dealers, original equipment manufacturers and retailers such as Bunnings and Mitre 10.

    In the sales documents seen by the AFR, details of Briggs & Stratton's top-line financials feature $115 million in net sales forecast for this financial year. But its earnings are in single digits, forecast to hit $7 million this year.

    The decision from US headquarters to exit Australia is driven by the company's desire to focus on its core business. In 2023, Briggs & Stratton divested its North American retail-facing business in an attempt to simplify operations.

    The Australasian arm comprises a local management team, 100 or so staff, a main distribution facility in Sydney and smaller operations in Melbourne, Auckland and Kuala Lumpur. The company said:

    Given the AusAsia business is largely stand-alone and has the capability to continue to distribute Briggs & Stratton brands outside of the group's ownership, the priority is to simplify global operations.
    In addition, while trading performance is still rebounding, there is a recognition that the business will also benefit under new ownership with greater levels of support than the current group strategy affords.

    Briggs & Stratton hopes to return pre-COVID sales levels and double-digit earnings next financial year. It experienced a significant revenue boost from COVID-19 as cashed-up consumers focused on beautifying their homes. However, softer macroeconomic conditions have impacted the category.

    The Australian division acquired the Victa lawnmower brand in June 2008 from ASX-listed GUD Holdings for $23 million.

    At the time, then-GUD chief executive Ian Campbell said Chinese small-engine manufacturers with cheaper products had affected Victa. He said the drought meant Victa sales had also declined.

    More recently, the sector has been challenged by gardening services such as Jim's Mowing and growth in the number of people living in apartments in Australian cities.

  • Sources: Australian Financial Review and Herald-Sun
  • companies

    ABS hardware retail turnover

    March 2024 numbers from Australian Bureau of Statistics

    Hardware retail turnover for March 2024 mostly came in slightly below March 2023 and slightly ahead of March 2022. There appears to be a shift of revenue from March to the preceding February.

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released retail turnover for hardware stores through to March 2024. We will review the data in terms of trailing 12-month periods, from April to March. So p2022 will refer to the time span from April 2021 to March 2022.

    Growth in the most recent period was subdued overall. The highest percentage growth was from Western Australia (WA), with 2.4%, an increase of $64.5 million to $2.806 billion. The highest value growth was in Victoria (VIC), with a gain of $94.0 million, representing a lift of 1.4%, to $6.618 billion.

    South Australia (SA) was not far behind WA, with an increase of 2.1% or $36.9 million to $1.767 billion for p2024. Australian Capital Territory (ACT) grew by 1.9% to $0.539 billion, a gain of $9.9 million. Tasmania (TAS) was close to flat, lifting 0.1% to 0.606 billion, up by just $700,000.

    The largest percentage loss was from the Northern Territory (NT), which was down 7.2% or $20.1 million to $0.260 billion. In value terms, New South Wales (NSW) lost the most, down by $260.8 million or 3.4% to $7.527 billion. Queensland (QLD) fell by 1.3% to $5.304 billion, down $71.5 million.

    New South Wales

    The NSW chart for hardware retail sales shows that while p2024 did manage to set two all-time highs - for September 2023 and (curiously) January 2024 - it did trail significantly behind p2023.

    While the March 2024 result is below those for both 2022 and 2023, it is still above that for 2021.


    While p2024 was not quite as good as p2022, it did improve on p2023.

    The sales for March 2024 were nearly identical to those for both 2021 and 2023, but well below those for 2022 - as well as 2020, the initial COVID-19 spike.


    For QLD, the March 2024 result came in below March 2022 but above March 2023.

    The lift from February to March 2024 was smaller than in the two previous years, but February 2024 sales set an all-time record in sales as well.

    South Australia

    As with QLD, the lift from February 2024 to March 2024 was subdued in SA, while February 2024 set a new sales record for that month.

    Up until February, except for the peak in December, p2024 closely followed p2023.

    Western Australia

    WA's performance for p2024 is somewhat unique. With the exception of April 2023, it set new eight-year local records for every month.


    Since October 2021, TAS has seen sales for each period closely follow a narrow track. While p2024 was substantially down on the two preceding years for December, it managed to set a new high for February 2024, and finished up on p2023 in March.

    Northern Territory

    Overall, p2024 was down from p2023, but slightly improved over p2022.

    The March 2024 sales, however, were closer to the pre-COVID-19 results.

    Australian Capital Territory

    As with TAS, the ACT has established a fairly narrow post-COVID-19 track, and p2024 closely followed this.


    The chart for hardware retail sales across Australia provides a good reference point.

    For p2024 hardware retail turnover Australia-wide fell by 0.6% to $25.425 billion, a drop of $146.3 million. It's a result that is safely between the results for p2022 and p2023. In terms of general trends p2024 does seem a further advance on a slightly reduced seasonality, with an increase in both January and February sales resulting in less of a lift in March. Similarly, the end-of-year surge is drifting out early to September. Of course, weather patterns also play a part in these shifts, but some of these weather patterns may become more permanent.

    Somewhat revealing is the chart for percentage change in hardware retail over the past six years.

    Glancing over this chart, it's evident that the unusual state/territory is actually VIC. It's the only region where the yellow bar, marking p2023, shows negative, and the only actual state where the light blue bar, marking p2022, is negative (as it is for both NT and ACT as well).


    Big box update

    Bunnings Ashfield store set for rebuild

    A Bunnings Trade Centre has been approved for a site at Noosaville (QLD) adjacent to the existing Bunnings Warehouse

    The Bunnings store in Ashfield, an inner west suburb of Sydney will close for a major redevelopment that will cost an estimated $60.6 million. Plans have been lodged with Inner West Council and are currently under assessment.

    Development plans show that almost all sections of the Ashfield Bunnings store could be demolished as part of a rebuild that will involve almost doubling the amount of retail space, reports the Inner West Courier.

    The redeveloped store would span 17,518sqm, a 96% increase on the 8896sqm size of the current warehouse. It would span three levels including two underground carparking areas with 431 spaces - almost 169 more than the current 262 spaces. The third main level retail area would include a cafe, playground, garden centre, back of house facilities and amenities.

    The expansion would be accommodated by moving the existing ground level carparking spaces, located at the rear of the store, to underground carparking areas.

    Plans also indicate the distinctive clock tower on the corner of Parramatta Road and Frederick Street would escape the wrecking ball. The tower - which records show was built sometime between the mid-1940s and 1950s - would be incorporated into the new development.

    In the plans, Bunnings stated the development would address the ageing state of the current warehouse which it described as "functionally sub-optimal" with a "collection of disparate components which results in inefficiencies" and a "diminished customer experience".

    According to the plans, the redevelopment would also negate the need to permanently close the store and relocate to another site. It will replace the outdated facility with a contemporary style warehouse with significantly more efficient functionality and improved energy efficiency.

    Bunnings has consulted with Transport for NSW to discuss traffic impacts from the redevelopment and there was a "general agreement" that the proposal could be supported.


    Known as the Noosa Trade Centre in Noosaville, the new Bunnings Trade Centre will be located on the same block as Bunnings Warehouse on Eumundi-Noosa Road, on a currently vacant portion of the site. It will have separate driveway access to the existing Bunnings Warehouse, via Gateway Drive, and include its own car park, reports Sunshine Coast News.

    The development was initially approved by Noosa Council last year, with amended conditions carried unanimously at a recent Planning and Environment Committee meeting.

    A report presented at this meeting recommended that a negotiated decision be issued based off the conditions. In Sunshine Coast News, the report stated:

    An application for a hardware and trade supplies store was approved by council at its Ordinary Meeting on October 26, 2023, subject to conditions, including required plan amendments regarding the northern exit driveway design, the proposed building's height and provision of an awning to the front facade.
    The applicant suspended the appeal period and made representations on December 4, 2023, to the development approval conditions.
    Following discussions with the applicant, further plans were subsequently provided to council on March 4, 2024, with the time frame for a negotiated decision extended to enable the application to be reported back to council.

    The councillors unanimously agreed upon the amended conditions, which included reducing the building height from 12.14 metres to 10.94 metres. The report stated:

    While the proposed building still exceeds the code's acceptable outcome for building height of 10m, the proposed height of 10.94m to the roof pitch is compatible with the height of buildings in the area and will not visually impact on the streetscape.
    Some minor amendments are however recommended to the conditions regarding external colours, performance bond, street trees and acid sulphate soils.

    There is currently only one other Bunnings Trade store on the Sunshine Coast, located at Kunda Park.


    Bunnings development in Noosa - HNN Flash, November 2023
  • Sources: Inner West Courier and Sunshine Coast News
  • bigbox

    Retail update

    Envy Lawn Garden Legend

    Positioned as a premium lawn and garden care retailer, the North Queensland store recently opened to cater for "grass fanatics"

    Envy is a concept store, owned and operated by Zac Holm, a Townsville-based golf course greenkeeper turned store manager who has extensive expertise and passion for outdoor spaces. He is supported by an agronomist (lawn scientist) and a groundskeeper for Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

    Mr Holm said the store caters for "lawn fanatics", along with those wanting to take lawn care more seriously, often inspired by a neighbour's lawn. He told the Townsville Bulletin:

    [We offer] products and services where people can come see, touch, feel the different varieties of grass, and also use the equipment that we've got for sale, and see the different fertilisers that we have.
    It's a premium store for lawn and garden care, at the other end of the spectrum from Bunnings.

    The business's own-label fertiliser has been popular in preparation for the cooler months. Mr Holm said:

    {We have} a lot of knowledge, paired with commercial grade products (and equipment) aimed at the retail market.

    The Envy store is one of the first tenants in a newly constructed shed featuring an industrial exterior and retail interior. RWC Townsville leasing agent Troy Townsend was excited about the new addition to Townsville's retail landscape. He said:

    Envy brings a unique offering to our community, filling a gap for premium lawn and garden care needs.

    Ray White Commercial (RWC) Townsville director Stacie Stockham said Envy Lawn purchased 336-342 Ingham Road, Garbutt in October 2022 before local builder Paul Raiteri of Raiteri Constructions carried out extensive upgrades. It has signed a five-year lease.

  • Source: Townsville Bulletin
  • retailers

    New product: WallWeb

    Developed in Toowoomba, QLD

    A DIY repair kit - currently available in Mitre 10 stores - is about to be launched on a global scale

    The WallWeb product braces the wall from the inside and provides a flat surface to place putty over. It was created by Toowoomba-based Arron French. He said the product came about when he had to fix a doorknob-sized hole in the wall of the investment property he was selling at the time. He told The Chronicle:

    It was a nightmare (to patch the hole) - I didn't know how to backbrace it, it kept falling in on the inside and it kept drying and cracking and falling inwards.
    We initially thought we'd have it for the DIY market, but tradies use it because it's always a solid repair. Not only are you getting a speedy fix, it's a strong and durable repair.
    I can do it within 30 seconds - get the device out of the box, adjust it, lock it in, put the putty in and let it dry overnight.

    Mr French said the product was not just designed in Toowoomba, but Toowoomba was also the first place it was sold through stores.

    I took this to America with Lowe's and it won a medal for innovation, but the first store to take this on was the local Mitre 10 hardware store...Rodney Bird (of Mitre 10 Toowoomba) was the first person to look at this and realise what we had, and it just morphed from there.
    It's just started spreading across Australia - we've sold 10,000 units so far and there was a big order that just came in with Mitre 10 for 6000.
    They get made in China. We kept everything else in Australia, the artwork, all the attorneys have been Australian, the pack-and-sends have been Australian. We've been using as many local people to keep it as Aussie as we can.

    Mr French said Amazon US had made a second order of WallWebs after the first run sold out, and the company has just secured a European distributor. He explains:

    We've sold 500 in six weeks on Amazon, and that's pretty unheard of - it usually takes months for the first sale.
    We've got a European distributor on board that's going to take on that whole continent. In larger cities, everyone is in their own world, but in smaller communities, people rely on each other to keep their businesses afloat.
    You would never get the same level of help and vision outside of a city like this, everyone we've spoken to in Toowoomba has been excited and want to be a part of it.

    USA update: Costello's Ace Hardware

    Generational leadership

    The family-owned hardware retail business has grown from a single hardware store to a network of 48 locations across five states: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia

    The company's success began with the sheer determination and passion of founder, Vincent Costello. Having been forced to close his air conditioning business during the oil price recession in the 1970s, Vincent was presented with an opportunity to take over ownership of a small, fledgling hardware store in Deer Park, a suburb on Long Island in New York. With ten children to provide for, he took the risk, despite the challenges of the economy and having no previous retail experience. Michael Costello, Vincent's son, and current CEO, told Store Merchandiser magazine:

    It was his strong values and hard work that guided him through the years that followed. Over the course of five years, he transformed that 2300-square-foot store from dismal sales to a thriving location that offered extraordinary customer service. He was a genuine problem solver and 'people person', always advocating for the customer and helping them in whatever ways he thought best. There was an era of consistency about my dad. He was great at building strong and trusting relationships, which led to an incredible alignment between him, customers, vendors, local businesses, and the community.
    Dad was driven by the idea of growth, both personally and for the business. He was compelled to make himself smarter every day by taking risks and learning from mistakes, as he knew that growing the business relied on the personal growth of himself and his employees. He built a rapport with his landlord, who then acquired another commercial building and offered him the chance to open another location.
    By refinancing his home, he opened the second store, a 5000-square-foot industrial space, in 1982. The same thing happened for our third and fourth stores too, as the landlord developed shopping centres in the little-known town of Nesconset, and then Farmingdale. We were not well-funded back then. Success came through hard work, patience, and doing more with less. Eventually it paid off, which fuelled further growth into larger outlets.
    Aside from stores, a major turning point in our history occurred when we became Ace Hardware (Ace) retailers, which was in the early 1980s as we were opening the second store. The partnership had multiple benefits, as being associated with a successful brand gave us instant credibility, lower cost of goods, and freed my dad from the heavy demands of product sourcing, which freed up time for him to do what he enjoyed - helping customers. Also, while Ace was well-known in other parts of the country, ours was only one of two stores on Long Island at the time, so our partnership had opportunities for mutual growth.

    Michael has learned first-hand from his father. He said:

    I was just ten years old when my dad took over the first store, so although I was too young to work, I hung around - probably causing a nuisance - and helped out where I could with cleaning and putting away stock. I spent a good chunk of my childhood like this, which looking back, gave me an opportunity to learn from scratch and has shaped how I lead the business today.
    I have nine siblings in total, with six of us currently involved in the business. My three older siblings had already established their careers or were at college by the time our dad had taken over the first store, so they didn't have the same opportunity to get involved as some of us younger siblings did. With our dad's support and guidance, myself and my siblings, Michael, Jaime, Tim, Dan, Joey, and Bobby, became owners in 2001, opening a 24,000-square-foot home centre, our largest store to date. We have maintained our leadership structure since his passing almost eight years ago.
    We are all equal owners and are all active in the day-to-day operations of the business. My sister is our president, my brothers occupy the roles of marketing director, merchandising specialist, district operations director, and IT director. We also have some from the next generation involved too, not in leadership roles just yet, but learning the ropes from their parents as we did from ours.

    New growth

    While Michael, Jaime, Tim, Dan, Joey, and Bobby have retained their father's hunger for growth, they have changed the company's approach to opening new stores.

    Our early growth has historically been ground-up stores, or in other words, leasing an empty building and building a team from nothing. This was fuelled by population growth and changes in competition, which led to the demise of many regional home centre brands.
    However, there aren't nearly as many open markets in the areas we operate, so we have shifted our focus over the past ten years more towards acquisitions of existing stores. Growth through acquisition serves us in two ways. Firstly, it decreases risk. We are not starting from the ground, we have a team, a customer base, and history, as in many cases we are acquiring businesses that have been around longer than we have.
    Secondly, we get to provide a succession plan for a business that doesn't yet have one, which provides our business with a strong social purpose. We are passionate about helping fellow small business owners in our industry, and we want to continue the legacy they have worked so hard to create, supporting the local community and economy.
    We recently acquired Smith's Ace Hardware (Smith's), which saw us take on an additional five Ace stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This was our largest acquisition to date, but it was a successful transition. As Smith's already operated Ace stores, we had many similarities like using the same computer platform and technology, which allowed for seamless integration...

    The conversation turns to the current activities of Costello's Ace and how Michael is planning to take the business to further heights of success. He said:

    We're currently in the process of relocating one of our stores, as well as building a new site from the ground up in New Jersey. There are a lot of moving parts and we're also preparing to announce another New Jersey acquisition, which is super exciting.
    Our growth has historically been one step at a time, so there are always ongoing conversations about growth, whether through additional stores or acquisitions. We have ambitious plans to double the business over the next five years and grow our family to more than 75 stores by 2030 while developing a world-class team and maintaining the high level of customer care we have become known for.

    Visit the website here:

    Costello's Ace
  • Source: Retail Merchandiser
  • retailers

    USA update: Loud Mouth Barbeque

    Ace Hardware home brand

    The hardware retail co-op has launched a line of BBQ sauces and seasonings as part of its aim to be the "BBQ destination in all neighbourhoods"

    Ace Hardware's range of private label Loud Mouth[tm] BBQ sauces and rubs is designed to give the hardware retail group's members a proprietary assortment that enhances their product mix in this category.

    They were developed exclusively for Ace retailers and takes its private label product development efforts in a new direction. Brian Wiborg, senior vice president of merchandising for Ace Hardware, said:

    [We're] not just introducing a new product - we're igniting a flavour revolution in the world of BBQ ... Our decision to develop Loud Mouth Barbeque was reinforced by the desire for bold, high-quality BBQ products at an affordable price point.

    The assortment includes Boom Shaka-Laka - Apple Habanero BBQ Sauce, Kaa-Blamo! - Hot n' Spicy BBQ Sauce, That's Poppin' - Savory Blend Rub, Mmmm Baby! - All Purpose Rub, Whoa There! - Smokey Sweet Rub, Uhh-Huh! - Hot n' Sweet Rub, and Zowie! - Hot n' Spicy Rub.

    Melanie Hill, director of advanced concepts and retail innovation at Ace Hardware spoke with Store Brands about the development the range.

    Ms Hill said that the job of her team is to think ways of amplifying the Ace brand to build demand and loyalty among consumers. Knowing that Ace is established as a destination for barbecue products, the retailer already carries a lot of top brands but the team were aware that its lineup was ready for something new and "fun". It is always looking for new ways in which Ace can create differentiated and exclusive products.

    Ms Hill explained it was a collaborative effort across the company. She said:

    Legal helped us with trademarking, our IP and creative teams worked to create the brand, and our marketing team has put together a really awesome launch plan. We took great care to make sure that we included consumer insights by doing taste tests and 'shop alongs' with customers. We partnered with Old World Spice as our vendor that created the product line. They worked with us to make sure the flavour profiles and the formulations would be products everyone would enjoy.

    In terms of coming up with the name "Loud Mouth", Ms Hill said Ace wanted a brand that expressed the idea that barbecue is fun and associated being loud with it. The name tapped into the insight that good food can make you want to get loud, and it wanted the brand to have a little bit of attitude and excitement. She adds:

    That's what barbecue is all about. You're grilling for family and friends, you're outdoors having a great time.

    The Loud Mouth products will be carried in the Ace Hardware warehouse so retailers can select what they need as they need it.

    In-store, Ace has created eye-catching point of sale signage that allows consumers to see and experience something new and see what's different about Loud Mouth. It is also doing email marketing, social media, digital marketing and direct-mail pieces to our customers. There will also be demonstrating and grilling with the products as part of Ace's 100th anniversary block party celebration.

  • Sources: Ace Hardware and Store Brands
  • retailers

    ABS Building Activity - Commenced stats

    Residential commencements fall through 2023

    If the stats from the ABS indicate anything, it is that the number of residential construction commencements in 2023 continued to fall, while the value of work yet to be done mostly rose.

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its Building Activity stats through to the end of December quarter 2023.

    As the big question for hardware retail is exactly where the residential construction industry is headed in 2024, the numbers of most interest are those for building activity commenced and building activity not yet commenced.

    The first - commenced - gives some clue as to how much housing activity actually got going during the most recent quarter. The second - not yet commenced - indicates how much work is in the pipeline.

    The data is presented in calendar years.

    New South Wales

    The first chart for New South Wales (NSW) paints a fairly clear picture of a slowdown.

    In the first two quarters of 2023, the number of commencements remain above only the initial COVID-19 year of 2020, then dive still lower in the third and fourth quarters, to set a seven-year local low record.

    Turning to commencements for other residential, the picture is slightly better, but not all that encouraging.

    While June quarter 2023 shows an encouraging upwards spike, this is followed by a sharp decline to September and only a mild recovery in December quarter.

    Building activity not yet commenced is a more complex measure to understand.

    While the continuing gain seems encouraging, given the context of work commenced, it probably is not. Given the low level of commencements, this is less likely to be due to overload of the construction industry resources, and more due to delays from other sources.


    As with NSW, houses commenced for Victoria (VIC) shows a clear slow-down, setting three local seven-year lows for 2023.

    For other residential commencements are more nuanced. While a seven-year local low is reached in June quarter 2023 follow more of the trajectory of 2021, lifting above the numbers reported for 2022.

    While there is a degree of seasonality to the increase in the value for not yet commenced building for VIC, it's also likely we are seeing some of the same non-construction factors at play in the increase through the September and December quarters.


    While Queensland (QLD) shows a counter-seasonal lift in the number of commencements for June quarter 2023, this quickly slides down to seven-year local lows for both the September and December quarters.

    Other residential might look to be in similar dire straits, but that's not really the case.

    The number of commencements for 2023 is around only a 100 less than for 2022, showing ongoing demand.

    Again, for not yet commenced there is an increase.

    In this case, the full year of 2023 sets a local seven-year high for every quarter

    South Australia

    While the commenced houses for South Australia (SA) numbers could not be described as "optimistic", they certainly tell a better story than those for the east-coast states.

    More or less 2023 is basically a return to pre-COVID-19 levels of commencements.

    The story is a little less sanguine for other residential commencements. While the sharp spike for September quarter 2023 is impressive - and shows a degree of resilience in the market - in fact the overall level of commencements is nearly equal to those for 2020 (the green line).

    We see the same pattern - even exaggerated a little - for net yet commenced value during 2023 for SA: a set of new local seven-year highs.

    Western Australia

    For Western Australia (WA) the best description of the number of houses commenced stats might be that it has not only fallen back to pre-COVID-19 numbers, but low pre-COVID-19 numbers.

    That's less the case for the number of other residential commencements, which are hitting local seven-year lows in the second half of 2023.

    Not yet commenced values are again slightly contradictory, increasing despite the drop in actual commencements during preceding quarters.


    For number of house commencements, the most noticeable number for Tasmania (TAS) is the drop to a new seven-year local low in December 2023 quarter. That runs counter to seasonality, as well.

    For other residential commencements, TAS really hit back to pre-COVID-19 numbers in 2022. In 2023, it has further dropped below that.

    And yes, again, the steep rise in the value of not yet commenced work.

    Northern Territory

    Interpreting residential construction stats from the Northern Territory (NT) is always difficult, as its economy is highly affected by local factors. However, we can see that numbers of houses commenced has fallen sharply in the second half of 2023.

    Likewise, numbers of other residential dwellings commenced have equalled all-time lows - inasmuch as zero is about as low as you can go.

    Value of not yet commenced work spiked for December quarter 2023.

    Australian Capital Territory

    While the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), like the NT, has something of a partially insulated economy, it still does respond more to national influences. That is certainly the case with number of houses commenced.

    That's a very definite low for 2023.

    Numbers of other residential is really quite interesting. It's low, but just how low is it?

    As it turns out, the annual total for 2023 is lower than the other six years displayed - though not that much higher than 2019.

    Value of not yet commenced again shows a new set of highs for 2023.


    Has the overall economic analysis of the housing industry really been complete? Not really. There is one key element that seems to be consistently missing.

    It's fairly evident from these charts that 2023 has seen a reduction in the number of building starts for both houses and non-houses, well the value building work not yet commenced has increased. As a helpful summary, we can review the charts for house builds commenced on an annual basis across the six states.

    New South Wales



    South Australia

    Western Australia


    With the exception of SA, the states show that 2023 comes in below the numbers for five years previously, in 2018. That would indicate that there is a real slowdown underway, and not just a more relative reduction.

    The other interesting factor is that, despite the high interest rates and growing price of houses, the market is indicating that there has not been much a shift to non-house dwellings. That's partly a cultural bias, but it also has to do with the construction industry itself: unlike in the US and much of Europe (including the UK), Australian architects and builders are not adept at building higher-end apartments.

    But there is something more going on here. In the US, for example, the last couple of years has seen a big surge in the construction of apartment blocks, to such an extent that rents in 2025 are expected not just to stabilise, but to be reduced as well (especially as "move-in" incentives are offered).

    Beyond cultural pressures there is another key factor at work here: The US economy is quietly booming. Even with high interest rates, there is a lot of money washing through the economy looking for tax effective investments. The economy grew at a rate of 3.3% in the last quarter of 2023, even as inflation diminished.

    The reason for that, more than anything, is the role of "post-industrial" industry such as technology. While technology firms contributed something like 10% of gross domestic product (GDP), the are also though largely responsible for the unexpected high growth in US productivity - which reached 4.7% in the September quarter of 2023.

    While we can certainly point to inflation-busting high interest rates, poor city planning, Australians' rampant "NIMBYism" and high levels of migration to city centres as all contributing causes to a confined housing market, the really major, underlying reason is that the Australian economy is not doing well.


    Supplier update: Plumbing

    Reliance Worldwide acquires Holman Industries

    The acquisition will give the company a bigger footprint in Australia, and provides an opportunity for its products to gain a presence in Bunnings

    In February 2024, Reliance Worldwide Corporation Limited (ASX: RWC) announced it entered into an agreement to acquire the Holman Industries business (Holman) for AUD160 million.

    As a leading independent manufacturer and distributor of branded plumbing and watering products sold through retail and wholesale channels in Australia, approximately half of Holman's revenues are generated from sales of "water-out" plumbing products focused on drain, waste and vent (DWV) solutions, stormwater fittings, and PVC pressure fittings.

    The remaining revenues are generated by sales of watering products including a range of hose systems, fittings, timers, and garden products in retail and hardware. RWC's announcement also said:

    Holman is a long-term supplier to this segment with strong retail fulfilment execution expertise.
    Holman's PVC plumbing products for DWV solutions are manufactured at its plants in Western Australia and Queensland. Other products are sourced from trusted international suppliers. Holman has a network of seven distribution centres across Australia to service its channel partners.
    Holman recorded net sales of AUD192 million and Adjusted EBITDA of AUD22.9 million in the 12 months ended 31 December 2023. The acquisition of Holman is expected to double RWC's annual net external sales in its Asia Pacific (APAC) region to approximately AUD360 million.
    RWC expects the acquisition of Holman will be EPS (earnings per share) accretive from the first full year of ownership, and the return on capital employed (ROCE) to exceed RWC's current level.
    RWC estimates that APAC segment net sales for the current financial year ending 30 June 2024 will increase by approximately AUD50 million reflecting a part period contribution from Holman. Holman's trading pattern has a higher seasonality than RWC's existing APAC business, with around 75% of operating earnings occurring in the period from 1 July to 31 December.


    Holman's founder Wally Edwards has agreed to remain with the business for two years following completion of the acquisition.
    RWC believes the acquisition of Holman will provide additional sales growth opportunities from an expanded product portfolio coupled with a much broader retail channel partner distribution footprint in Australia. In addition to revenue synergies, RWC also expects to achieve cost savings of approximately AUD5 million p.a. on a run rate basis by the end of Year 3 through distribution footprint rationalisation and optimisation.
    RWC chief executive officer, Heath Sharp said the acquisition of Holman aligns with RWC's growth strategy and will enhance its market position in Australia.
    "Product innovation coupled with high levels of customer service have been instrumental in driving Holman's growth. This is strongly aligned with RWC's approach to growing its business.
    "The acquisition of Holman provides RWC with immediate and substantial access to the Australian water-out segment, allowing us to strengthen our overall offering and be an even better partner to our core plumbing wholesalers in Australia. Entering the water-out market is a strategic priority in each of our three regions. While we have looked at other opportunities globally, Holman marks our first foray into this end market. We expect it will help lead and catalyse our approach in other markets globally.
    "Holman also gives RWC significantly expanded access to the retail channel in Australia. This will provide us with the opportunity to grow our legacy RWC products within retail while also putting more scale and manufacturing capability behind Holman. We believe Holman's success is linked to its genuinely world class execution capabilities into retail and hardware.
    "This acquisition will allow us to utilise Holman's retail operational capabilities in other parts of the world, while also enabling us to look for opportunities to bring our US retail market expertise to Australia.

    RWC is a maker of water heater pressure values and the SharkBite push-to-connect plumbing supplies operates in the US, Europe and Australia. It delivered a 23.4% fall in net profit to USD51 million for the six months to December compared to the previous corresponding period, but the result was better than expected, and its adjusted net profit was flat.

    In The Australian, Mr Sharp said across the US, Britain, Europe and Australia customers were putting off projects, which was especially acute in the UK and Europe, where homeowners were deciding not to install underfloor heating in backyard conservatories and offices were opting against installing beverage dispensers in office kitchenettes.

    This was having a flow on effect to demand for RWC's portfolio of plumbing products, from pipes and connectors that carry water and heat, to plastic outlets that deliver water, air and gas. Mr Sharp said:

    We plan that there is no recovery for the whole calendar year.

    But he believed "we must be getting pretty close to that point" where those repair jobs to plumbing infrastructure would be vital, at which time RWC, which had restructured parts of its business in light of lower volumes, would be ready to "rock and roll".


    Reliance grows with EZ-FLO International - HNN Flash, March 2022
  • Sources: RWC and The Australian
  • companies

    Retail update

    Hammonds Paints reaches major milestone

    It was established when the population numbered just a few thousand in Warrnambool (VIC), then a fledgling settlement and still nine years from being officially proclaimed a town

    This year, Warrnambool-based Hammonds Paints, marks 150 years of continuous trading by a family now in its fifth generation. Managing director Nick Rule is justifiably proud of the business founded by his great-great grandfather Joseph Charles Hammond in 1874.

    It held a function in early April at Warrnambool racecourse for hundreds of former and present staff and their families to celebrate its long-standing success, according to The Warrnambool Standard. Mr Rule has overseen the business for nearly 30 years, taking over in 1995 from his father John Rule whose own tenure spanned 44 years. He said:

    We really wanted to acknowledge the achievement with all our staff. It's rare that we all get together.

    There are approximately 50 employees and contractors working across Hammonds Paints' five branches located in Warrnambool, Portland, Hamilton, Ballarat and Colac, in regional Victoria. Mr Rule said:

    All businesses are reliant on their staff and staff are reliant on businesses for their livelihood. You put a lot of trust into your staff and they respond. It's a two-way street and it works. I really care about our staff and in return they care about our business. We have had so many people who've worked for us for 30 to 40 years.

    The resulting wealth of knowledge and experience after so many years has been the linchpin of Hammonds' well-known marketing slogan: "Should've gone to Hammonds".

    Coined by advertising creative Marcus Tarrant in 1998 as part of a rebranding, it's a simple message, said Mr Rule, but one that encapsulates the Hammonds' point of difference. He explains:

    All of our marketing is centred on the fact that we are an independent paint specialist, as opposed to a mass merchant. We trade on having the right staff and expertise, not on a price point. We haven't waivered from it, we haven't altered the message. It gives the business an identity.

    It has also helped the business to survive in a dramatically changed retail landscape, he said, referring to the advent of big box retailer Bunnings. Mr Rule said:

    When I first started in Warrnambool there were 11 or 12 paint outlets in town. Bunnings has had a massive impact. We are now the only dedicated paint store in town.

    These days, Hammonds' market is split 60:40 between decorating (trade and DIY shoppers), automotive and industrial.

    Catering to the home building market, it is also the district's biggest painting contractor of large commercial works such as schools, factories, offices, hospitals, theatres and law courts. He said:

    Warrnambool has been pretty lucky over the last 30 years. We have a strong economy and there have always been some reasonable-sized construction jobs on the go.

    Mr Rule also stressed that a healthy automotive sector is vital to underpinning the business.


    In 1874, the business was known as Hammond & Sons, providing signwriting, painting and decorating services. Thomas Samuel Hammond was the next in line, taking the reins after founder Joseph's death in 1932, before third generation Frank stepped up in 1945 for the post-war period.

    With Frank's health failing, the call went out to his 19-year-old nephew John Rule who was then in Melbourne studying accounting and doing an internship with Dunlop. Frank's sister, John's mother Grace and a cousin took over book-keeping duties.

    Returning to Warrnambool to take on the role in 1951, John came into a business that was primarily a paint contractor. In the pre-DIY days, retail trade was minimal. Now 92, John recalls the shop back then as "basic". He told The Warrnambool Standard:

    Dirt floors and lined with bales and bales of wallpaper and lining paper. There were also gallons of Rickshaw Red roof paint, made in Scotland, it was the best roof paint you could get then.

    Glazing and picture framing were also services provided by the business, both of which were later sold off.

    Paint was made from white lead, with colour choices limited to "PWD brown which was used on all the public works department buildings, a dark green, a white and a black. That was it," said John Rule.

    When Hammonds secured the distribution rights for a plastic paint called Spread Satin a few years later, it became a game-changer for the business and the start of a booming retail trade. John Rule recalls:

    Because it was cleaner and easier to use, this really unleashed the DIY sector. Soon after they launched rollercoaters, another boon for the DIY sector and Hammonds were early adopters.

    Expansion followed with stores opening in Portland in 1974 and Hamilton in 1988. When John's son Nick and wife Fiona took over the business in 1995, Hammond & Sons became Hammonds Paints and technology was rapidly changing the way the business operated.

    The business widened its reach with the addition of stores in Swan Hill, which has since been sold, Ballarat in 2014, and most recently, the Rules' son Jeremy has joined his father in a Haymes Paints franchise in Colac.

    While he's happy to have his son on board, Nick Rule said there's no pressure on any of his three children to continue the Hammonds family dynasty. And he is not planning on stepping away from the business just yet.

    The business is solid and from a management perspective, I'm happy to continue on. I love coming to work.
  • Source: The Warrnambool Standard
  • retailers

    Supplier update: OPE

    EGO outdoor power equipment and power tools

    Outdoor power equipment (OPE) and power tools from EGO is being made available in John Deere dealerships, as part of a partnership with parent company Chervon

    The EGO range of products including its line of battery-operated gardening equipment is being distributed through John Deere dealerships in Australia and New Zealand. The move follows an initial partnership launched in the US in June last year. Chervon ANZ general manager Barry Crowhurst said:

    Exciting times as we establish a partnership with John Deere to deliver our best-in-class battery platform to their foundation of customers.
    This partnership will propel our businesses forward, delivering industry leading execution to a rapidly evolving market that places increasing value on environmental sustainability to meet the needs and expectations of both industry and consumers, without compromise.

    EGO is known for its innovations in lithium battery technology with its Arc Lithium 56V. Its advantages over other traditional batteries used in OPE include a shock-resistant design, an exclusive power management system, and a phase-change material that keeps cells running cooler in its batteries.

    The Arc Lithium 56V's battery cells are also designed in an arc - as its name suggests - which helps it to cool down faster. This design innovation allows users to swap out and charge batteries faster without having to wait as long for them to cool down. They come in various amp hours (Ah), from 2.5Ah up to 12Ah, and have a built-in fuel gauge.

    EGO batteries are portable and can be used across more than 70 compatible products, so customers can complete multiple projects using several products with the same battery system.

    In an announcement made earlier this year, John Deere Australia and NZ production systems manager Stephanie Gersekowski said the partnership was another step forward in providing quality products for the company's residential customers.

    Partnering with a leading electric solution brand, like EGO, to provide top-quality battery-powered equipment will place us in the best-possible position to meet the needs of our customers.
    We know our residential and lifestyle customers are seeking sustainable solutions to their gardening efforts, and this broad range of tools will help simplify landscape management with a battery ecosystem that can be used across a variety of property care solutions.

    EGO's parent company Chervon was established in Nanjing, China in 1993. The company also owns FLEX and Skil/Skilsaw. Unlike those brands - which were acquired from German and American companies - EGO is wholly owned by Chervon and acts as the company's main outdoor power tool brand marketed in Australia.

  • Sources: Stock and Land and Slashgear
  • companies

    ABS: Hardware retail revenue to Feb 2024

    Most states follow seasonal path

    While there were still winners and losers in revenues for the 12 months ending in February, most states saw average revenues in the most recent period.

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released stats for hardware retail revenue through to February 2024.

    In assessing this data, we will rely on periods of 12 months from March to February. Thus p2022 will refer to a period from March 2021 to February 2022.


    Contrasting p2024 with p2023, revenue in Australia overall fell by 0.7% to $25.5 billion, a decrease of $168 million.

    In percentage terms, the steepest fall came from the Northern Territory (NT), which was down 5.7% to $263 million, a dip of $16.0 million. In dollar terms, New South Wales (NSW) was the biggest loser, down $239.9 million to $7548.3 million, a drop of 3.1%.

    The largest growth in percentage terms came from South Australia (SA), which rose by 2.7% to $1771.1 million, a gain of $46.0 million. Western Australia (WA) was the largest gainer in dollar terms, lifting by $68.3 million to $2803.3 million for p2024.

    Victoria (VIC) also performed well, gaining an extra $63.9 million to hit $6618.4 million, an increase of just under 1.0%. Australian Capital Territory (ACT) also grew, gaining $11.0 million, an increase of 2.1% to reach $540.0 million. Queensland (QLD) experienced a loss of 1.8%, or $99.2 million, leaving it with$5298.4 million.

    New South Wales

    As the chart indicates, revenue for February 2024 was only slightly elevated over previous years. In the usual peak period from August through to December 2023, revenue flattened out as compared to the two prior years.


    For VIC, p2024 has proven to be surprisingly good period. While the results in both January and February 2024 were in line with recent results, the state managed to set new revenue records during August, September and October 2023.


    For most of p2024 QLD has mostly "split the difference" between a weaker p2022 and a stronger p2023, though it equalled the prior years for December 2023 and January 2024, and bettered them both for February 2024.

    South Australia

    SA saw p2024 win out over p2023 for all but two months - December 2023 and January 2024.

    Western Australia

    Most of p2024 for WA was a close - but slightly improved - copy of p2023. The highlight was a new peak for October 2023, and strong finish in February 2024.


    Similar to WA, the TAS numbers for p2024 were close to those for p2023, falling below them for December 2023, and getting above them for February 2024.

    Northern Territory

    After a very good p2023, p2024 came in somewhat lower for the NT. March to June 2023 were strong, but after that revenue slowly declined through to February 2024.


    The chart below shows the extent of growth in NSW, VIC and QLD as compared to the rest of Australia.

    One influence of the pandemic has been to shift some growth out of the east coast states and towards the rest of the nation - in particular to WA and SA.

    Just as a reminder of how much things have changed, here's a chart for hardware revenues by state in p2019 versus those for p2024.


    ABS: Renovation market stats

    Is the market splitting?

    Australia's renovation market is unique to each state and territory. However one trend that seems to be emerging is fewer but more expensive renovations. Is this the first sign of a split in this market?

    As HNN has commented in the past, tracking renovations (alterations and additions) is always a little tricky. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) limits all Building Approval data to projects costing more than $10,000, which excludes a large number of actual renovations.

    In general, there is always going to be some doubt about absolute numbers, but what we can track relatively accurately are trends. If there are errors in data collection, they tend to be consistent errors, so if the numbers go up or down, they likely reflect the same movements in the underlying markets.

    Unfortunately, this group of statistics is not really suited for managing the smaller regions in Australia, notably Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. To adequately manage those we need access to chain volume statistics, which will be out for the March quarter 2024 in the near future. When we have access to those, we'll do a deeper analysis of those regions.

    So what we're attempting to achieve here is not to be definitive, but rather indicative. The statistics we've chosen to use are as follows:

  • Building Approvals for alterations and additions (alts & adds) including conversions
  • Loans for alts & adds
  • National Accounts final household demand for alts & adds
  • Combining all those stats, we should be able to see some trends in each state.

    It's worth delving into these data somewhat comprehensively, because the alts & adds market has become very complex going into calendar 2024. We've seen a slight cooling in the housing market (though not in all areas and all sectors). This is combined with ongoing high interest rates (which, as HNN has suggested in the past, are unlikely to fall through 2024). These contribute to overall increases in the cost of living, driven both by inflation, and opportunistic price increases in Australia's semi-monopoly markets.

    Thus there is retardation in the overall market, as Australia's economy staggers under both inflation and the cure for inflation. Yet there is also stimulus in the alts & adds market, as increased house prices and concerns about market stability reduce the willingness of home owners to sell, and increase the attractiveness of "fixing up" a current abode.

    HNN also commented earlier that it seemed unlikely to us that the "standard" market analysis would work in 2024. This suggests that when the housing market falls, spending shifts to alts & adds. The scenario that gets omitted in that analysis is what happens when strong exterior influences affect the total market. In that case, you could see falls in both renovations and housing, or increases in both. It's not clear that this is entirely the case for 2024, but it is certainly a year for external influences to play a part in all markets, it would seem.

    The monthly data is presented in 12-month periods, which run from March to February. So p2022 refers to a period running from March 2021 through to February 2022, for example. Quarterly data is presented in calendar years for this data series.

    New South Wales

    Building Approvals

    It's interesting to contrast the two sets of stats we have for building approvals: the number of approvals and the total costs of approvals.

    The chart clearly shows that p2024 trails p2023.

    The value chart shows a different picture, grouping together p2022, p2023 and p2024 apart from the previous four years. That is further born out when we consolidate the monthly data into 12-month periods.

    This indicates that while the value spent on alts & adds has remained relatively steady, the number declined sharply for p2024.


    The lending stats from the ABS follow a different pattern.

    We can start to unravel this by looking at the numbers for p2023 (the red line), which begins with very high numbers from March 2022 through to August 2022, then drops from September 2022 through to February 2023 to a level that either matches p2022 or is below it. Following that, p2024 underperforms on p2023, but broadly matches p2022.

    Both p2022 and p2023 show a high degree of volatility, especially for p2023. It is difficult, on a monthly basis, to really discern any patterns - there is very little seasonality, for example. The only real pattern is the four-month decline from November 2022 through to February 2023 (shown in the red line for p2023).

    Some patterns can be seen in the 12-month consolidation for these data. The transitions from p2021 through to p2023 follow an expected pattern - an increase in the number of loans corresponding to an increase in the total value of those loans. That pattern is altered for p2024, where the number of loans decreases significantly, but the value decreases less proportionate to that.

    National Accounts

    As quarterly results, the survey for household spending on alts & adds does not reflect any data for 2024, but gives a "grounded" indication of what is going on in the market. It clarifies, for instance, just how extreme the growth has been in alts & adds since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This also presents a simple illustration of what many have intuitively supposed was happening in the alts & adds market: increased demand in the first quarter of 2023 as compared to 2022, parallel demand to 2022 in the middle quarters, and decreased demand in the final quarter.


    Numbers of building approvals decreasing while overall spending remains static indicates that a split has developed in the NSW renovation market. We can combine that with the lending numbers, which show a decline, but a much less significant one. For example, a similar number of loans for p2022 show a much lower value than for p2024. This would indicate that the decline in largely in self-financed renovations. The two possible scenarios is that those renovations were of relatively low value, as did not affect the overall number as much, or that as some renovators dropped out of the market, those that did remain have increased their spending.


    Building Approvals

    One aspect of building approvals for Victoria that must be mentioned is the overall decline in alts & adds as reported by the ABS. The chart below illustrates the number of alts & adds reported by the ABS for financial years.

    As this shows, in terms of what the ABS considers alts & adds, there has been an ongoing decline since 2018.

    Moving on to the monthly numbers as reported by the ABS, what is most notable in comparison with the NSW data is the lack of volatility.

    What volatility there is, such as the spike for February 2023 (the red line) is caused by the addition of data for conversions along with pure alts & adds (which is necessary as the value data for approvals is only provided with the two combined). The most recent volatility is for p2021 (the green line), which, running from March 2020 to February 2021, would have been at the start of the pandemic period. While p2022 shows some increased activity, both p2023 and p2024 are more subdued.

    The values for alts & adds shows something quite different.

    What is interesting here is just how similar the most recent three periods are. There is some additional volatility to p 2022, but there is a strong seasonal pattern running from November through to February in all three periods.

    What is happening is more clearly outlined in the chart that totals these 12-month periods.

    This shows an immediate shift, starting with p2022, where the value reaches a local high, and maintains that through three periods. This seems to exist almost independent of the actual numbers, which is especially noticeable for p2024, with numbers reaching a new local low.


    It is evident that the number of loans has fallen substantially for p2024.

    The most substantial declines are for April 2023 and December 2023.

    The story for the value of loans, however, is quite different.

    As we saw with NSW, even as numbers fall, values increase. The exception to this would be for April 2023, where a strong fall coincides with the fall in number of loans. But that is contradicted by the February 2024 loan values, which climb steeply, while loan numbers increase more modestly.

    Looking at the 12-month totals for the lending stats, we can see a trend somewhat similar to that for NSW.

    Again for p2024 there is a reduction in the number of loans, but an increase in the total value for those loans.

    National Accounts

    As with NSW, the alts & adds reflected in National Accounts show a somewhat more stable pattern.

    This shows alts & adds for 2023 tracking slightly above those for 2022 at the start of the year, following below, then tracking considerably higher for the September quarter. The end of 2023 shows a near match on 2022.


    Similar to NSW, we're likely seeing a split in the market. Fewer loans for a larger amount, a trend that is echoed for building approvals.


    Building Approvals

    The numbers of approvals for alts & adds, leaving aside the spike for December 2022 from conversions, have remained remarkably stable.

    The only real spike has been for June 2023.

    Surprisingly, the values have also remained stable.

    The dominant driver remains seasonality.

    The 12-month overview shows some differences to those for NSW and VIC.

    While the part of this pattern that is familiar is the value of approvals remaining nearly constant for p2022 through to p2024, what is different is that the number of approvals goes both up and down.


    In contrast to approvals, lending remains quite volatile.

    Overall, however, there is an evident reduction in numbers for p2024 as contrasted with p2023.

    Not surprisingly, there has been more stability in the value of loans.

    The most interesting feature of this chart is the increase between February 2022 and March 2023, which is something like a pandemic "before and after", with values subsequent to March 2023 entering a new region of consistent highs.

    The 12-month summary for lending also seems familiar.

    The pattern of a reduced number of loans but a constant overall value is repeated.

    National Accounts

    The estimation of household spending on alts & adds from the National Accounts does show a difference from NSW and VIC.

    Spending for 2023 does rise above that for 2022 in the June quarter, but there is a sharp drop for the December quarter.


    While there are some broad similarities with NSW and VIC, QLD Is also unique. The pattern for spending reflecting in approvals is for a high spend per approval in p2022, followed by a reduced spend in p2023, and a return to a moderately high spend in p2024. The lending data reflects that, though in a diminished way.

    South Australia

    Building Approvals

    After the east coast states, stats for SA seem quite unique.

    There is a degree of volatility for p2022, followed by a less volatile p2023, then a somewhat volatile p2024.

    In terms of value of approvals, these show a more constrained range of movement, with a strong peak in November 2023.

    While some of this chart looks familiar, it is telling a very different story to the east coast states. There is a steady increase in 12-month total values of approvals from p2020 onwards, while the numbers fluctuate. For p2023 there is a reduction in number of approvals, while value continues to grow. However this is followed by a strong increase in numbers for p2024 without a commensurate increase in value.


    The lending numbers are volatile for p2022 and p2024, but more stable for p2023.

    There is a similar volatility for the value of loans.

    The strongest pattern is an increase for p2024 from the low in September 2023 through to the high in January 2024 - though this is followed by a steep fall in February 2024.

    The 12-month view on lending reflects the results from approvals.

    In something of a reversal from the east coast states, we see in p2023 an increase in the number of loans, with only a small lift in their total value. This reverses in p2024, with the number of loans decreasing while the value rises.

    National Accounts

    The pattern here is to see 2023 outperforming 2022, which is itself far above 2021.


    It would seem that p2023 would have been something of a consolidating period in market, with activity centred on slightly lower-value expenditure on more alt & adds activity.

    Western Australia

    Building Approvals

    Unfortunately, with the low level of approvals reported by the ABS, the chart of stats becomes less clear. What can be discerned is that the level of activity for p2024 is above that for both p2022 and p2023.

    In terms of values, we can see that p2024 is clearly boosted above the two preceding years. While seasonality continues to play something of a role, October and November 2023 have been boosted considerably, as has February 2024.

    WA shows something of an individual pattern. In p2022 there is a sharp shift in the value of approvals, with numbers reducing while value increases. However, something of that new ratio hold true for the two subsequent periods, with the numbers corresponding more or less with the value.


    Perhaps the most interesting feature of this chart is that while there is some seasonality in p2021, p2023 and p2024, p2022 seems to break away from this, starting in April 2021.

    The value of loans seems to follow a similar pattern, with p2023 something of a break-away. So p2024 follows much of p2022, with the exception of a kick upwards for December 2023, January 2024 and February 2024 at the end.

    The 12-month values show a real "normality" in lending. The value of loans steadily increases from p2022 onwards, and so does the number of loans issued.

    National Accounts

    The results for household spending on alts & adds in the National Accounts show a more optimistic picture. 2023 shows considerable gains over both 2021 and 2022.


    WA escaped much of the early consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic (due largely to sane and smart management, as well as some isolation). But was influenced post COVID-19 by economic changes. It seems likely the state is also going to escape some of the more dire forces at work in the other states, especially as regards poor planning for housing demand.

    Overall analysis

    It should be clear from considering these stats that we're really not looking at a "regular" period for alts & adds. Universally, there has been an increase on expenditure in this area since the pandemic, and nothing in these numbers suggests that is going to end abruptly.

    What we are seeing, however, are different growth patterns. One possibility is that the market is beginning to split in the east coast states somewhat into "have" and "have not" strata. That is, we could see already expensive housing migrating through renovation and extension to be even more expensive, while the stratum below that seeks to remain in the realm of "achievable" purchase.


    Big box update: Growers and supermarket code

    Plant lobby accuses Bunnings of "stranglehold" on greenlife category

    Woolworths and GIA have formed an unlikely alliance in calling for Bunnings to come under the supermarket code

    Bunnings managing director Mike Schneider has rejected claims made by the chief executive of plant industry lobby group Greenlife Industry Australia (GIA), Joanna Cave that the hardware/home improvement retailer has 70 per cent market share of greenlife products.

    He recently told The Australian Financial Review (AFR) the retail horticulture sections of the 310 Bunnings outlets in Australia selling seedlings, native grasses, flowers and shrubs had an overall market share of about 25 per cent.

    In GIA's submission to the Senate Select Committee's Inquiry into Supermarket Prices, Ms Cave said its figures came from extensive surveys with growers, carried out over the past five years.

    We think the growers are best placed to know. We're very confident that we're right.

    However, Mr Schneider said there were between 1000 and 1100 growers of seedlings and plants around Australia with diverse avenues to market, and Bunnings only dealt with about 250 of those.


    The commercial gardening and nursery sector has publicly expressed - for the first time through GIA - its concerns about Bunnings' market power and how it treats growers.

    The nursery industry has been valued at over $2 billion at the retail level and GIA represents businesses that grow seedlings, plants and trees that are sold to gardeners. It employs more than 25,000 people. GIA said by volume of units sold in Bunnings' stores, plants were second only to tins of paint.

    In its submission, GIA said Bunnings' massive market share allowed it to dictate prices and supply of plants. The submission said:

    Whilst growers of nursery products do supply plants to many supermarkets, our bigger concern is with the supply of plants to what are commonly described as big box stores.
    Bunnings is by far the biggest of these, maintaining a national market share of 70 per cent, rising to over 80 per cent in some regions and towns.

    Ms Cave said:

    We've got lots of examples where we feel Bunnings is abusing their dominance of the marketplace. Growers have shared their stories with us in complete confidence because they are genuinely scared of retribution.

    Ms Cave said she had spoken to at least 200 growers in the lead up to the inquiry, and some were being encouraged to plant up to 10,000 seedlings but given a contract for only a single plant.

    And they might ask several of the growers in the region to also plant 10,000. But they're under no obligation to take any from anybody. Of course, that's a perfect example of asymmetry of information, because the big-box retailer has all the information on who is growing, the numbers they've been encouraged to grow and the prices that they're requesting. They can pick and choose. They can take 8000 or 5000 or none. It's up to them.

    Ms Cave said grower appeals for price increases were routinely rejected after lengthy reviews while retailers would raise costs of nursery products overnight. She also said fear of retribution or being punished for raising complaints against Bunnings was "the biggest issue" growers expressed to her.

    It's been the No. 1 preoccupation for growers.


    Tasmania-based Brocklands Nursery owner Karen Brock supplied native trees, grafted and standard roses, herbs and perennial plants to Bunnings from 2003 to 2016.

    Appearing before the senate inquiry, she said the relationship worked "incredibly well", until increased demand to supply plants for merchandise stands in store "with no contract or even an indication of what numbers they were looking at" placed her business under pressure. In The Weekly Times, she said:

    When you've got merchandise space, you've got this Holy Grail of space, it gives you confidence to put stock on the ground, but not off an order. We were growing (plants) two years out, this is a long-term investment you're spending now to get a sale out of in two years. You get the confidence, and you get sucked in, you start investing and borrowing money because you have to put all this stock down.

    She said there was no supply contact, and was subjected to intimidation when complaints were raised with Bunnings, citing one example where an entire range of plants were cancelled.

    They would not give decent orders, they would not confirm orders, they would not give us any forward planning.

    When Ms Brock raised concerns with Bunnings, she said the barcode for her product was cancelled. She said Bunnings' practices resulted in low prices for her business and order sizes in some years collapsing without any warning, as the retailer switched between its various suppliers in an apparent "divide and conquer" strategy.

    Ms Brock said troubles with the giant retailer escalated in 2014-2015, when Bunnings opened new stores in Burnie, Launceston and Glenorchy. She told the senate committee:

    Because we're growing stock two or three years in advance, we needed to know what were their plans so that we could grow stock.

    Bunnings refused to sign trading terms or contracts detailing the number of plants they would buy from her over time. It also refused to adhere to minimum plant order sizes, forcing her to incur losses delivering small orders to Bunnings stores state wide. Ms Brock said:

    We were travelling to Hobart and back ... for a $78 order, or a $48 order. We tried to bring in a $300 minimum order but that was rejected.

    Ms Brock said the unfair lack of transparency on its ordering schedule was rife in Bunnings.

    We had these huge pressures put on suppliers, they promised the world, and then those promises weren't delivered.

    Her business was left with mountains of unsold stock as a result. She said:

    I don't think there's anything worse than seeing your work of two to three years sitting on the tip. I felt that we were slaves, we were slaves to Bunnings.
    We were a mouse running around the hamster wheel and no matter how fast you spun that wheel, you could not ever achieve the goal of making somebody happy in that environment.

    Nick Powell is a nursery grower near Stanmore in Queensland. He is aged in his 70s and faced health issues, including a battle with leukaemia. He has vented his frustrations at dealing with Bunnings Warehouse in the past.

    Growing a mixture of indoor foliage plants and landscaping plants, Mr Powell said he felt he was a very good supplier to Bunnings, but grew increasingly frustrated with a lack of certainty around orders. Bunnings was its largest customer, with other minor customers. In the Weekly Times, he said:

    The issue was we'd try and get allocations for stock we knew would be ready at a certain time, that was the hard part.

    He said there were no supply contracts at all between his nursery and Bunnings. In order to work with the uncertainty, Mr Powell would invest in bigger pots to replant stock in "to keep growing it, and hope to sell it as larger stock items".

    That was one of the only ways we could cope with not being able to get our stock into store.

    Tim Drewitt is a nursery plant grower, selling to Bunnings through his Silvan-based farm, Drewitt's Bulbs, in Victoria. He said he has supplied product to Bunnings since late 2018, and has had a positive relationship with the company, contrary to some stories being told by other suppliers. In The Weekly Times he said:

    We're purely a Mum and Dad business, I have a young family. I'm a little frustrated with GIA. I have reached out to them a couple of times asking for support in various avenues, and they tend not to respond.
    I'm sure there are suppliers who have had issues, but I have not experienced that. We employ up to 30 employees, and especially during COVID, the support and patience shown by Bunnings was very accommodating.

    Bunnings' response

    Mr Schneider said he was "concerned" to hear the accounts from some of his former suppliers. In the Examiner, he said:

    Some of the claims made were new to us, some quite historical, and others are not aligned to the information we have to hand. They're absolutely at odds with the way we believe we do business and we look forward to responding to these more formally in due course.
    Assertions that we do not have contracts or that our team refused to make commitments or agree to price increases are simply not true. We're confident the two accounts don't reflect the views of the vast majority of our around 220 greenlife suppliers. However, we know we don't always get it right and if we let a supplier down, we act as quickly as we can to remedy it.

    He said he invited suppliers who were unhappy with their dealings with Bunnings to reach out and meet him, with GIA as an intermediary if they wished. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Schneider said:

    I'm always going to be sad to hear about situations where people say we haven't done the right thing. Me personally, I want to put it right.
    If someone's done the wrong thing in my team, we've got very strong internal processes in our own code of conduct that we hold our team accountable to. I'm not saying we're perfect, I'm not saying 'nothing to see here, move on'. There could be truth in what [they] said.

    An independent whistleblower resource managed through Deloitte is also available to suppliers, Mr Schneider said.

    We have previously asked the GIA for their assistance in connecting growers with us if there are concerns so we can assist and support them.
    We have reached out to all current greenlife suppliers and encourage anyone that has feedback or an issue they'd like to discuss to contact us directly so we can investigate.

    Mr Schneider said the business worked hard "to build longstanding, win-win partnerships" with plant suppliers. He told the ABC:

    We have robust processes in place, including as part of our trading agreements, to ensure those relationships are fair and transparent.
    Many of our supplier relationships span a number of decades and generations, and over the years they have engaged our team on ways to partner, grow and collaborate to support their businesses.

    Most recently, Bunnings category manager Belinda Raskers told the parliamentary inquiry it was in the best interest of the company to maintain its relationships with producers and she was shocked at previous evidence from plant suppliers. She said:

    We rely purely on our suppliers over supply, and having not really strong relationships with our suppliers is of no commercial benefit for us. We have to have really long-term, viable supplier relations here.

    Supermarket code

    Coles and Woolworths have signed on to plans to make the supermarket code of conduct mandatory, following a review led by economist and former Labor trade minister Dr Craig Emerson. The interim report - which is being released for feedback - recommends the code "be made mandatory and apply to all supermarkets with annual revenues exceeding $5 billion, which at present are Coles, Woolworths and Aldi and [the] wholesaler Metcash".

    The report calls for the code to be strengthened to better protect suppliers, including by outlining new protections against retribution for complaints.

    Woolworths and GIA have both called for Bunnings to come under the code, with the supermarket arguing that the hardware retailer is now a competitor in certain grocery categories and the association accusing Bunnings of abusing its market power in the plant retail sector.

    However, Mr Schneider said broadening out the code would mean it becomes a "catch-all" that is "not going to service everyone".

    It's a supermarket code ... Bunnings is just not a supermarket. We are simply not a grocery retailer or a food retailer.

    Mr Schneider said that the code should be assessed through an "industry lens" rather than by product, pointing out that supermarkets might, from time to time, sell power tools.

    Businesses will dabble in adjacent categories, either periodically or build those out, but that doesn't make us a supermarket, and that's a fundamental difference.

    The Food and Grocery Code of Conduct regulates how supermarkets and their suppliers do business. While it includes plants and flowers in its definition of groceries, the voluntary code is only signed by the major supermarkets.

    Ms Cave said growers who supplied Bunnings and other stores like Mitre 10 and IKEA need to be protected from unfair trading practices. She said that could be achieved if the government included them in the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct and made the code mandatory.

    Growers really feel that Bunnings has all the power in the relationship. [Bunnings] sets the price, control supply, there is an absence of proper legally enforceable contracts - all kinds of practices that would be in breach of the code, were Bunnings covered by it.
    If everything they are doing is above board they have nothing to fear - but it will certainly be a reassuring gesture to their suppliers, who are on their knees.

    Ms Cave argued that the big box retailer had more in common with major supermarkets than local garden centres.

    It seems ludicrous that Bunnings would sit outside the code and not be subject to any of the rules.

    In the AFR, Mr Schneider referred to the vast products purchased by shoppers from Bunnings as "discretionary spend" meaning they wanted to buy them, not because they were a staple of life like in food sold by supermarkets.

    As a result, it would seem unfair to try to apply a "universal" code of conduct on retail businesses which had vastly different characteristics. He said:

    There's more differences than there are commonalities.

    The Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices will hand down its report in May, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is conducting a separate inquiry into supermarket pricing, due to report in February 2025.

  • Sources: Australian Financial Review, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Australian, The Guardian, Canberra Times, The Examiner, Weekly Times and Sydney Morning Herald
  • bigbox

    Hardware retail update

    EW Bulte under new ownership

    Sunshine Mitre 10 in Maleny (QLD) court case win and a Home Hardware store is closing for the final time

    Long-established hardware business EW Bulte located in Ararat, in south-west Victoria, has changed hands after 112 years. Owner Peter Walker has been a familiar face at the hardware store EW Bulte for 38 years. But in March, he handed over the keys to new owner Niles Patel. Mr Walker told the Wimmera Mail - Times:

    Deciding to sell wasn't easy but it was time. I want to do other things, and it seems right.

    After making his decision, Mr Walker's first thought was to thank the customers loyal to the company ever since his great-grandfather Ernest William Bulte founded it as a building company in 1912. He said:

    The locals have been good to us over the years.

    EW Bulte employs four staff members, and he credits them as a significant part of the company's success.

    Without good staff, you can't do it.

    Initially, Mr Walker had a building career in his sights when he was at school, and owning the hardware store was a side of the building industry that fitted with that. A four-year stint in the bank in Melbourne before joining the company was a bonus managing the finances, and he loved that side of the business. He said:

    I always wanted to join the company, but when I left school, there were no vacancies! Dad thought I should work for someone else before joining the family business, and he was right. I learned what an employer expects from you.
    My wife Karen and I took over in 2000 after I'd worked with Dad for 15 years.

    EW Bulte has survived and thrived despite two world wars, a depression, the black plague, and COVID-19. Some noticeable changes over the generations have been in how business is built. Mr Walker said:

    I go to the bank when I want to expand, but the generations before me would save up to develop or increase stock. The use of cash has also diminished, although quite a few of our customers still prefer cash.

    He doesn't think the introduction of mega-stores has impacted EW Bulte's business.

    Some of my customers came here as children with their parents, and that's what customer service can do for your business. I suppose you could say some of our customers are generational.

    In his opinion, customer service is essential to any business.

    You could spend the same amount of time with a person who needed a washer for a tap as you could with a much bigger order, but they were all equally important.

    New owner, Mr Patel, wanted to purchase a family business, and EW Bulte fit that description. He intends to maintain the same customer service, and the EW Bulte name will stay, too.

    Mr Patel and his wife, Puri, own and operate a service station near Ballarat. He'll initially divide his time between the two businesses but hopes to eventually work full-time at the hardware store.

    Sunshine Mitre 10

    A Sunshine Coast Mitre 10 store in Maleny (QLD) that was accused of violating human rights and discriminating against a man who refused to wear a face mask during the Covid-19 pandemic has had a win in court. According to the Sunshine Coast Daily:

    Andrew Kos claimed the Mitre 10 store ... which is operated by Deltapath Pty Ltd, indirectly discriminated against him when they refused him entry for not wearing a face mask on July 14, 2021, despite his impairment.
    The public health order for the Sunshine Coast region at the time was that everyone aged more than 12 years old was to wear a face mask in indoor spaces and the Mitre 10 Maleny store chose to enforce a blanket ban in order to properly comply and protect their staff.

    The court documents stated Mr Kos was "challenged very quickly" when he entered the store and denied entry, with the staff offered to bring Mr Kos products he was interested in outside.

    Mr Kos initially took his complaint to the Queensland Human Rights Commission before it ended up at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, where the decision was delivered on March 13.

    The court documents from the decision stated it was accepted Mr Kos did suffer from an impairment when he refused to wear the mask.

    Some people will suffer from chronic anxiety and agoraphobia to such an extent that it impairs their thought processes, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour, but some will not.
    Mr Kos explained when giving evidence the difficulties that the conditions caused him, and I am satisfied that they amounted to an impairment on 14 July 2021 as defined in the ADA (anti-discrimination act).

    Member Jeremy Gordon said Mr Kos had not proved he had difficulty wearing a mask at the time of the incident due to his impairment and he was most likely incorrect when he said his doctor told him he would suffer mental and physical harm if he had. Mr Gordon said:

    I think what the doctor said was what Mr Kos explained when giving evidence in the hearing, that he had been advised that it was not sensible to wear a mask if he was having a panic attack. This can be readily accepted.

    Mr Gordon said Mr Kos was not having a panic attack at Mitre 10. He also said the store's blanket ban on people coming inside without masks on was not unreasonable for the safety of staff, especially given it was a criminal offence at the time for a business not to comply with the public health order.

    He was aware that a number of his staff had underlying medical conditions such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, asthma, Asperger's syndrome, and post traumatic stress syndrome and he was sure that many customers would also have health issues.

    Ultimately, Mr Gordon ordered the complaint be dismissed.

    Khouri's Trading Co.

    In the Sutherland Shire in NSW, Khouri's Trading Co store that also trades as Home Hardware Miranda, is closing after more than 60 years.

    The Khouri family ran it for many years before business partners Pat Albanese and Marty Vukovic bought the business 26 years ago and retained the name Khouri's Trading Co, according to a report in the St. George and Sutherland Shire Leader.

    Khouri's was the shire's only remaining small hardware shop after the closure of Glen's Mitre 10 at Sutherland in 2010 after 57 years, and Hocking & Rose at Kirrawee, Mitre 10 Engadine and Illawong Hardware in 2012. Mr Vukovic announced the closure of Khouri's in a social media post.

    It is with a heavy hear that we share some bittersweet news with you all. After 26 years of trading, Khouris Trading Co will be closing its doors for good. This decision was not made lightly, however we believe it is the decision for us.
    Our final days of operation will be towards the end of April ... We want to express our deepest gratitude to each and everyone of you who has supported us over the years. To show our appreciation we will be offering discounts across our entire range as we clear out our remaining stock.
    Your support has meant everything to us, and we hope to see you in the coming weeks as we bid farewell.
    With gratitude, Marty, Pat and Gabriella.
  • Sources: Wimmera Mail - Times, Sunshine Coast Daily and St. George and Sutherland Shire Leader
  • retailers

    Big box update

    Lithgow store plans

    A contractor wins payout, Bunnings beats out Woolworths as "Most Trusted Brand" based on Roy Morgan consumer research and staff retention for staff

    The intended location for the Bunnings store in Lithgow (NSW) is still in the process of mining the old Lithgow Valley Colliery coal seam, leaving a substantial hole in the terrain that will need to be filled in before construction starts. So there is no official timeline for when the store is likely to open.

    Regional manager for Bunnings, Simon O'Grady, told the Lithgow Mercury the new store will be a $13 million investment in Lithgow spread over 6000sqm, and 25 per cent bigger than the existing western Main Street complex.

    The improved layout will incorporate the trade requirements, timber yard, nursery and a wider range of home and lifestyle products.

    Mr O'Grady said Bunnings is looking forward to bringing the new store to Lithgow and is eager for construction to get under way.


    Lithgow in development - HNN Flash, March 2023


    Bunnings recently made a payout to a contractor worker who was seriously injured on the job.

    Back in 2018, Sarah Jane was working as a merchandiser for Neutrog at the Seven Hills Bunnings store in Western Sydney. At the time, she severely injured her back when she knelt down to lift and drag forward a bucket of fertiliser to the front of a pallet. Each bucket weighed between 10.8 and 11.2 kilograms.

    Ms Jane's case has gone before the NSW Supreme Court, with Bunnings agreeing to a settlement of $750,000 plus legal costs, which are reportedly about $500,000 but are yet to be determined. Neutrog, who Ms Jane was employed through, has been ordered to contribute to the costs.

    Bunnings said they "knew or ought to have known" the foreseeable risk when they failed to train Ms Jane to use a pallet jack, which could have prevented her injury. Ms Jane received training through a Bunnings module but was not told pallet jacks were available to help her move stock forward.

    These jacks are regularly used by Bunnings' own workers, however, court documents note Bunnings "did not apply the same rigour or adopt the same precautions for the merchandisers, who were nonetheless subject to Bunnings control and oversight".

    Ms Jane said she continues to suffer from the back injury and it has affected her ability to parent her kids. She told news.com.au:

    It's a win but it doesn't really feel like a win. Not just everything that they've put me through, but just the injury itself, and how much it's changed my life and how much I've missed out on with my kids when they were young.

    Staff retention

    In its survey of best places to work around the country, The Australian found that "many organisations show enormous innovation, drive, resourcefulness and talent to push forward even as the economic landscape within the nation and in the rest of the world is changing at a fast pace".

    According to Bunnings, it has a high retention rate of more than 80 per cent permanent staff, and has more than 2800 team members who have been with the company for 20-plus years. Damian Zahra, Bunnings' chief people officer, told The Australian:

    A phrase you'll often hear around Bunnings is 'we live here too', which is in reference to the fact that many of our team live, work and raise families in the roughly 400 communities where we operate.
    Many of our team members feel a real sense of pride and connection by working in their own local communities, which we find naturally helps them stay engaged, productive and happy. We're really fortunate to be in this position and we certainly don't take it for granted.
    We're also proud of the collective attitude of our support centre team who work hard each day to help set our stores up for success. They all really embrace the diverse and fast-paced nature of the retail industry and enjoy the cross-collaboration between the many different functions that support the business.
    Culture and attitude mean everything at Bunnings. For our store teams in particular, we always look for people who love working in a team and providing customers with great service, as we know these attributes help us deliver strong results and make Bunnings a great place to work.
    One of our core HR philosophies is ensuring we maintain a multi-generational workforce. Age is not a barrier at Bunnings and we have really strong team cohorts across all age demographics - from young people still in school to mature-aged team members, some even into their 90s.

    Caleb Whitaker, a supervisor at Bunnings Maitland said he has worked at more than 10 Bunnings stores across Australia.

    Each one of them has a friendly, welcoming and supportive team. The culture that Bunnings has built really stands out and is something customers often appreciate.
    I've really valued the flexibility that's come from working at Bunnings. This is my 10th year at the business and during this time I've been able to work after school, during uni and even while I travelled. The business allows you to work around your life schedule, which has been great.
    As part of Bunnings' Travelling Team Member program I was able to continue working while touring around Australia with my wife for 14 months - which was honestly one of the best experience of our lives.
    We travelled over 40,000km in total, and during that time I worked shifts at eight Bunnings stores across six different states. I don't think many other workplaces could've facilitated something like that - it was amazing.

    Top brand

    Bunnings has been crowned the most trusted brand in the 12 months to December 2023, based on results from the 2023 Roy Morgan Risk Monitor survey. It has returned to the top spot after three-and-a-half years, dethroning Woolworths.

    Bunnings lost its title as Australia's most trusted brand to Woolworths in May 2020. However, since October 2022, Bunnings has shown a strong recovery, achieving the largest improvement in trust among all trusted brands. Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine said:

    Bunnings is a brand with a vast reservoir of goodwill and reputational strength fed by dramatically more trust than distrust... its trust has been climbing steadily over the past year while its minimal distrust remains fairly stable.

    In its research, Roy Morgan found that Australians' distrust in companies has grown in the last year, with reasons including corporate greed, poor customer service, unaffordable prices, dishonesty, unethical practices, and poor privacy practices. Bunnings has managed to buck the trend against an economic environment where trust has eroded. Ms Levine explains:

    Bunnings has harnessed many of the foundational pillars of a trusted brand including great customer service, communicating what it stands for and delivering, being an active part of the community, solving customer's problems and expertise and product knowledge.

    The Roy Morgan Risk Monitor canvasses about 2000 Australians every month on 1000 brands across 26 industries.

  • Sources: Lithgow Mercury, Australian Financial Review, Yahoo News, Roy Morgan Research and The Australian
  • news

    Hardware retail: Delivery partnerships

    Bowens partners with Uber

    In the US, online ordering platform DoorDash has added Lowe's as first home improvement retail partner

    In another profile in The Australian, Bowens said it has a commercial agreement with Uber's Australian arm for timber and hardware product. It guarantees 90-minute deliveries via the rideshare and delivery app of up to eight boxes weighing up to 20kg to building sites within a 15km radius from a store.

    So far, average delivery times for the service, which charges a $10 flat fee, are less than 60 minutes. Bownes chief investment officer Andy Bowen told The Australian:

    The reason we invested in digital in the first place was to focus on the next generation of builder coming through. We were concerned that we were not engaging enough with that generation.
    It has been a difficult period for builders. So we are trying to do everything we can to make life easier for them.
    We hear time and time again that they are starved of time. It is disruptive for them to leave the building site. For us to be able to offer Uber is a huge advantage.
    It is to the point now where some of the builders are actually mandating with their teams to use the Uber service, rather than getting in the car and losing an hour off site.

    John Bowen has been CEO of Bowens since 2005. He said:

    Tradies and builders are growing up in a world where they are getting their deodorant and shaving cream in two hours from Amazon. This is the world that we are in. We can't continue to suggest that timber and building supplies sits outside of that.

    In the past 12 months, Andy Bowen has established an in-house e-commerce and marketing team focused on same-day delivery of the large and often fragile products needed by builders on work sites from Bowens' 20 stores across Victoria.

    We effectively are a logistics company in many ways. We have our own vehicles, some contract vehicles, and are able to get product to site very quickly.
    When you are selling a commodity that you can buy across the road, you have to be really good at finding new products and being innovative. By making sure we deliver on time in full and deliver really quickly, we will differentiate ourselves even further from the competition.

    Seventeen per cent of deliveries from the Bowens store network are currently same day, and it wants to double that number by the end of the calendar year.

    Since early 2022, the firm has added about 15,000 products to its online offering, which now totals about 55,000. Its ultimate aim is to have every product that it sells online.

    In the 2024 financial year Bowens said it will sell more than $600 million of timber, building materials, hardware and prefabrication products, which is up from $460 million in 2022. Four stores have been opened since March 2022, at Warragul, Melton, Cheltenham and Belmont, while two stores, at Hastings and Epping, are being extended. John Bowen said:

    We've never opened up that many stores so quickly. It would be unlikely for us to do that again.

    He said the company is "definitely" open to the idea of expanding the Bowens brand outside of its home state, but also said "we are not going to fall over ourselves trying".

    It is also a tough economic environment for the timber and building product supplies market. In 2024, for the first time in several years, annual turnover at some of Bowens' stores will be in line with, or below, the previous year. Prices for pine framing and engineered wood products have been under pressure. John Bowen said:

    It is a bit slower in the back half of the year than it was at the start. Except for our truss plant in Brisbane. It's all about Victoria. Victorian builders in the volume space are not selling enough homes. So we are feeling that.
    We look at a crucial number every month, which is those builders who are no longer in business that we were trading with a year ago. It is still a pretty significant number, even if the number of those in trouble has slowed.

    Bowens has always been self-funded and has never taken on a dollar of external capital. Andy Bowen said:

    I worry when I look at the rest of the market and the industry, that the fabric of the business would be lost to capital investment that is external. We continue to reinvest as a family and that is the best thing for our business network.
    We are growing at our own pace. To double in size in the next five years is not in our best interests. We are meeting the needs of our customers and our builders, and we are listening to them. That is the right pace for us and that does not require external investment.


    Bowens has an ecommerce plan - HNN Flash, August 2021

    DoorDash and Lowe's

    DoorDash recently announced new partnership with Lowe's Home Improvement in the US to offer on-demand delivery from over 1,700 stores nationwide. Neelima Sharma, senior vice president, digital commerce and technology at Lowe's, said:

    As Lowe's continues its omnichannel journey, expanding same-day delivery options helps us meet our customers where they are. Our collaboration with DoorDash unlocks an opportunity for us to reach new DIY customers who are shopping directly on the DoorDash app...

    Lowe's products can now be purchased directly on the DoorDash app, helping consumers easily shop for everyday items they need delivered same-day. All participating Lowe's stores will also be available on DashPass, DoorDash's membership program that offers members a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fee on eligible orders from thousands of restaurants, grocery, and convenience stores across the US.

    (DashPass benefits apply only to eligible orders that meet the minimum subtotal requirement listed on DoorDash for each participating merchant. Other fees including service fee, taxes, and gratuity still apply. After signing up for DashPass, users will be charged the then-current renewal price plus applicable taxes automatically on a recurring basis until it is cancelled.)

    Fuad Hannon, vice president of new verticals, at DoorDash, said:

    ...Our partnership enables consumers with quick access to must-have tools and last-minute materials to complete projects of all sizes.

    New product: uLock

    Safe mixing for powder products

    The uLock mixing system is a genuinely innovative 23-litre pail, platform and lid that supports the safe mixing of all powder products. Its patented locking system, locks into the uLock platform and secures the pail in place while mixing.

    Throughout his career, Jason Milani has worked in marketing roles for a number of different companies that supply the tile industry. In that time, his exposure to product development processes has given him a sense of how products are created from start to finish. Now he is using his experience and expertise to bring uLock to market. As he told HNN:

    While speaking to my mate in the trades, we spoke of a common issue we had when it came to mixing products.
    The issue we both had was the bucket constantly moving due to the pressure of the mixing tool. There were a number of close calls with the bucket slipping from the grip between our knees. I wanted to think of a safer way to mix products and that's how I developed the idea of uLock.
    In my mind, uLock is going to provide users with a safer option to mix products and reduce the risk of absorbing airborne crystalised silica [RCS]. It's going to save professional tradespeople time and physical effort when it comes to mixing and reduced the chance of injuries.
    With my contacts and my design mindset, I was able to leverage some suppliers and get things moving with uLock.

    The product

    Ulock is designed to tackle a number of worksite issues, related to safety, ergonomics and efficiency. It's not uncommon to see workers from various trades struggling with the (apparently) "simple" task of mixing a powder product with water in a bucket. It's a little funny when a bloke finds instead of mixing, he has the bucket spinning at a high rate of rotation between his work boots - but it's not really funny, because it could result in poorly mixed product, an expensive spill, or worst case, a leg injury.

    In short, power mixers have solved a lot of problems, and added in extra efficiency, but they've also created a few problems of their own. Ulock is the accessory that can help tradies really unlock the full potential of those powerful mixers, making the job both safer, faster and with a great result.

    A really important addition to that is protection from accidentally inhaling respirable crystalline silica (RCS) particles. While there have been real advances in reducing the amount of RCS in adhesives and other tiling products, it still remains a major concern. Much of that exposure comes in the early stages of mixing, when the dry powder is added to the small amount of water in the bucker, creating a "bloom" of fine powder dust - most often inhaled by the tradie. Ulock is a really well thought-out solution to radically reducing that risk.

    The basics of the product are this: There is a platform made from moulded plastic, 520mm deep by 660mm wide. The 23-litre uLock bucket locks directly into that platform; it simply cannot rotate at all. The user stands on the platform, so he/she is perfectly positioned over the bucket.

    The lid of the bucket folds back so that water and mixture can be added in a controlled way. The mixer can be inserted and the lid locked down, so that the mixing takes place under the lid of the bucket. A vacuum hose can also be attached to further reduce the risk of dust escaping.

    It's a sensible, safe solution.


    When Jason originally came up with the design of uLock, it didn't make it past the initial phase because of engineering complications. He learnt from that experience to work more closely with the engineers to understand why his design was not suitable. After a few more drafts, he was able to translate the requirements of uLock into a manufactured design.

    There has also been some real-world testing of the product. So far, Jason has organised a demonstration day at Kerakoll in Melbourne and apprentices from Holmesglen TAFE have also used it under teacher Frank Vanzella's supervision.

    A number of comments from end-users came out of the demonstration days. One comment related to the size of the bucket and whether it could be made bigger so that two bags of adhesives (or another product) can be boxed in together. Jason said:

    The answer is 'no' purely because then it becomes a 55kg bucket. It's not about the volume, it's about the weight of lifting up 55kg.
    The market states that bags should be between 16 to 20kg. If you remember that years ago cement bags were 25kg. So they've gotten lighter. Anything more than 20kg, they would prefer a two-man lift. Two men can't be lifting a bag of cement! At least, I hope not.

    Another comment related to the lid being clear. As Jason explains:

    Unfortunately it can't be done because having a clear lid means it has to be an acrylic and then you can't fold it. It will snap.
    And the only one that picked it up on the spot was actually Vvo, (Ian Middleton from Australian Tile Geeks). He said once you've put your vacuum in your powder, after 30 seconds of mixing, then you take your lid off and finish your mix.
    So the initial thoughts were that you had to fully mix with the lid on. But no, it's only to stop the dust for that whole 25 seconds. Then you take your lid off and you mix as you would normally require.

    One positive outcome from the demonstration at Holmesglen TAFE with 18 apprentices is that the uLock will be the only bucket it uses, and Melbourne Polytechnic had similar feedback. An upcoming generation of tilers and tradies will be mixing products differently and more safely.


    According to Jason, there is currently nothing like the uLock available in the market. He said:

    The only similar product is in America where someone has made a ring with two little steps on it. And you would try and put your bucket in and that way, you'd put it like a flap, but it doesn't work because every single bucket around the world is different size.
    It's not good in practice. So technically no, there is no such thing as a platform. And that's why I was able to have a patent on it. I have patented in 177 countries.
    And it's been a year and a half with no contestants, and no one said this product is similar to mine.

    In creating the uLock, Jason has also invested a lot of time putting together displays and signage for stores that will eventually stock it. As he puts it, "Visual merchandising is what I specialise in.

    The way I've designed it, a store would potentially have a row of buckets. Then there would be a packet for the platform. And then on the top of those platforms, there would be a little shelf for the lids.
    To display it, I've designed exactly the actual platform as a sticker that retailers can stick on their concrete floors in front of their trade counter.
    So they [tradies] physically step on a piece of sticker - remember the ones during COVID? 'Please stay at a safe distance'. Mine are exactly the same. So they will be right in front of the trade counter and as soon as they step on it, it turns around and says, 'Have you got your safe mixing system?'
    So it takes up no space. To a degree, it's like a little map. Not even, it's just a sticker on their floor.

    In addition to the retail channel, Jason hopes to be able to partner with a number of well-known suppliers in the market.

    For more information, contact Jason directly on 0407 332 811 or email: