Retail update

Terang Co-Operative reports bumper results

TAFCO Rural Supplies is providing $338,000 back to members after a successful trading year

The Terang and District Co-Operative Society in regional Victoria recently announced at its annual meeting that it recorded a $821,835 profit, according to The Warrnambool Standard.

The co-op's hardware businesses saw Terang Mitre 10 being a finalist in Hardware Australia's Store of the Year and Camperdown location taking out the award for small format Mitre 10 Store of the Year for Victoria and Tasmania.

Its annual turnover of $29 million is second only to the 2020-21 results which were influenced by COVID-19 lockdowns.

The co-op exceeded its pre-COVID 2019-20-year turnover by 18%. The growth was built off strong IGA and liquor sales and consistent sales performance from both Mitre 10 businesses.

Chairman Geoff Barby said the co-op had worked hard to retain the business and customers gained during COVID-19 travel restrictions and lockdowns. He said the IGA Supermarket continued to thrive on the back of a refurbishment and topped off the year with winning the State IGA Awards of Retail Excellence for the Best Grocery and General Merchandise Department.

Mr Barby said the before-tax profit result was a great testament to the hard work of staff. He told The Warrnambool Standard:

Our co-op is only ever as strong as the support we are given from our members and community and we welcomed 189 new members during the year.

Membership now stands at a record 3239. They accrued $286,513 in rewards during the year while the co-op's total assets grew to almost $12.5 million. Mr Barby said:

We continue to look towards ensuring a sustainable future for our members and our co-op communities.

Chief executive Kevin Ford also said the turnover of $29 million was a great result and the co-op captured more gross profit with better controls in place.

...Not only do we have a great supermarket, a great trade and retail home improvement store, we have an engaging and exciting community co-op.

Mr Ford said the co-op continued its sponsorship and donations program.

In 2021-22, when many organisations were hampered from their normal activities throughout the year, we are pleased and proud to be able to assist the community in such times of need.

Mr Ford said the co-op was putting considerable focus on improving its business and information systems and planned to develop a total integration of systems.

The co-op will evolve and change in an ongoing process of continual business improvement into the future.

Related

Terang Co-op stores move to Mitre 10 - HNN Flash #13, June 2020

TAFCO Rural Supplies

The directors of TAFCO Rural Supplies have issued a 5% dividend on shares and a 5% rebate on members' 12 months trading to March 31, 2022.

The Myrtleford-based community co-operative will provide just over $338,000 back to members as a credit on their account in June, taking its return to members and the community to more than $4 million since its formation in 1987 to service tobacco and other farmers of the region in Victoria.

TACFO general manager Rupert Shaw said the co-operative continues to grow with new members joining each year. He told the Myrtleford Times:

Anyone who trades is eligible to be a member. It's not just the farming community who benefit from membership.
If you shop at TAFCO for pet food, garden supplies or even just salami making supplies, you should consider joining as a member - it's open to anyone in the community who purchases goods.
We work on fair competitive pricing and return profits back to members through rebates on trading and dividend on shareholding, with the emphasis on rewarding members on their trade.

Every purchase made at TAFCO is supporting a locally owned business with 700 shareholder members, employing and training local people and returning profits back to members. TAFCO chairman Lachlan Campbell said:

TAFCO is about our members and the community, this year we have continued to support Into Our Hands Community Foundation and GROW Myrtleford+ the local philanthropic trust. Members have the opportunity to make a tax deductible donation from their TAFCO rebate/dividend directly to the foundation.

Related

Rural supplies co-op diversifies membership base - HNN Flash #37, March 2021
  • Sources: The Warrnambool Standard and Myrtleford Times
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Elders moving into Goldtower Central in Queensland

    Shepparton-based Riverside Gardens Garden Centre has changed hands, locations and products in over 40 years of trading

    Agribusiness Elders has moved into new premises at the Goldtower Central complex in Charters Towers (QLD). The new facility is a 1300sqm building with an all-weather drive-through area.

    Goldtower Central owner Paul McIver said the expansion was a logical next step for the region and the business. He told the Townsville Bulletin:

    Elders is the newest tenant of our commercial development ... Our development has seen six buildings completed with new constructions of Poppet Head Plaza and Treasure Towers now leasing.
    We had a vision of establishing a strong presence in the West. Elders shares our vision and the growth of this national brand into our precinct promotes a strong appeal to do business in regional Queensland.

    Charters Towers mayor Frank Beveridge said the new expansion was a welcome development. He told the Townsville Bulletin:

    We are pleased to see the expansions of the Elders into a larger premise. With the demand for food increasing for the next 25 years, agriculture, especially the beef industry, needs businesses to grow to cater to this pressure. This expansion shows faith in Charters Towers region...

    The new branch will employ three extra staff, bringing the number of the team catering to the Charters Towers community to nine.

    Existing franchises at the location include Hollimans Rural Mitre 10, rural clothing specialist W. Titley & Co and Queensland Rural.

    Related

    Hollimans Group is moving to the Goldtower Central retail precinct in Charters Towers (QLD) - HNN Flash #88, April 2022

    Riverside Gardens Garden Centre

    The Smith family's history with Riverside Gardens Garden Centre in Shepparton (VIC) began in 1982 when Moira and Bob Smith bought the nursery, then located on the banks of the Broken River.

    In the first six months, the nursery was mananged by the Smiths and their son Murray, with another son, Larry, travelling from Melbourne on the weekends to pitch in, according to Shepparton News.

    After Larry left his position at Government House gardens to move his family back to Shepparton, he made the jump into the business - with his brother Rodney not far behind.

    Now, Larry, Murray and Rodney are at the helm, along with the garden centre's popular cocky, Charlie. He told Shepparton News:

    We've quite literally weathered our fair share of storms with the old and new nursery. Both the old and new nursery have been severely damaged in four storms, we've been burnt by a couple of devastating fires, survived more than 10 years of drought and suffered regular minor flooding at the old site.

    He said the 1993 floods affected the business in a devastating way, as they did many others, prompting the move to the Emerald Bank location. Throw in a pandemic, and the nursery has just about seen it all but regardless, the support and generosity from the community has been "heart-warming". Larry said:

    Back then, moving a few kilometres out of town surrounded by cows was a gamble! But it's one that's proved beneficial over the years. We were a lonely tenant for a while but we're grateful to have neighbouring businesses that have made Emerald Bank more of a destination point than we could've thought.

    Across 40 years, Larry said the whole industry had changed. He said:

    Initially it was 'you work for a nursery, you just sell plants' and quite often they were just wrapped up in paper. Now it can't be dirty at all - you can't be dirty coming into a garden centre.

    While it began with simply plants, the store has since become a seller of all sorts. Additions include a coffee shop, gift lines, home and garden decor, and furniture all the way through to clothing and the mini golf course. Larry said:

    To actually grow the nursery from what it was; it was very small and now it's one of the leading nurseries in Victoria.

    The nursery won the Best Medium Garden Centre of Victoria award three years running from 2008. He said:

    ...Yes, a great deal has changed over 40 years, but one thing that will never change is that we are forever appreciative to our customers who have supported us over the years, and we thank them for being a part of our journey.
  • Sources: Townsville Bulletin and Shepparton News
  • retailers

    UK update

    Wickes launched its own store on eBay

    The home improvement retailer has curated a range of over 4,000 products to target eBay's visitors

    Wickes has launched its own store on eBay as it takes its first step into the online marketplace. Its eBay range includes its best selling flooring, internal doors, tiles, paint, ready to fit kitchen and garden products.

    Wickes said the marketplace is the "ideal platform" to acquire and retain new customers and is the start of a six-month trial. Chief marketing and digital officer, Gary Kibble, said in a statement:

    We're customer curious at Wickes and do a great deal of work to understand why and how our customers shop. We know that home improvers are always on the hunt for inspiration in creating a beautiful home and will source products from a wide variety of sellers to create their perfect space.
    By launching with eBay we can introduce even more home improvers to the Wickes brand and help them feel house proud. We believe partnering with eBay underpins our strategy of being a digitally-led, service enabled business. And with DIY products selling every 12 seconds on the site, this is a massive moment for Wickes to attract new customers and delight existing ones.
    The collaboration will help us understand the home improvement customer further and inform more channel opportunities in the future.

    Wickes also recently said it expects to avoid the slump in post-pandemic home improvement trading with customers still returning to stores and trade customer order books at record levels.

    However group sales were down 0.6% for the first 20 weeks of its financial year compared with last year. Like-for-like sales were also down 7.2% for the period.

    DIY sales increased by 30.9% over last year. On a three-year basis, which compares with the pre-COVID period, total group sales were 22.4% ahead. The firm said sales were "significantly ahead of pre-lockdown levels".

    Wickes added it was "mindful" of customers facing huge rises in the cost of living due to inflation. CEO David Wood said:

    Looking ahead, while we remain mindful of the uncertain macroeconomic environment, we continue to be confident of the opportunities for Wickes within the large and growing home improvement market.
  • Sources: Retail Gazette and Evening Standard
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Mitre 10 advertising campaign

    The retailer is repositioning its brand as "The Other Hardware Store" in the latest series of ads

    The most recent Mitre 10 campaign emphasises and promotes its role as "the other hardware store". Karen Fahey, Mitre 10 general manager of marketing said the brand had a significant following of small to medium builders who recognise the value of their relationship with their local Mitre 10. However, many people interested in DIY didn't always think of Mitre 10 when they think about hardware. In Mumbrella, she said:

    The data showed that more than 90% of Australians are on autopilot on where they shop for their DIY needs, and while Mitre 10 is known for service and quality of range amongst existing customers, we are often not considered in the moment of hardware store choice by people not familiar with Mitre 10. They're missing out on the benefits of the knowledge that sits within our network, we can give them solutions to their home improvement challenges on their first trip.

    The campaign includes four 15-second ads that use humour to remind Australians of the care and customer service offered by Mitre 10. It indirectly pokes fun at market leader Bunnings by demonstrating there are other hardware stores that people can go to. Ms Fahey said:

    It's a cheeky reminder that there is an 'other' choice for hardware in Australia while also telling the Mitre 10 brand story of service and expertise, and the unique connection our stores have to their local community.
    We are different, and proud of it. This is an invitation to learn more about the personal experience you get with Mitre 10. Because, for us, the grass isn't just greener on the other side ... it's blue.

    Peter Cerny, chief creative officer at Dig - the creative agency that developed the campaign - said it knew that developing a distinctive and relatable tone was an opportunity for Mitre 10 to stand out in a category that tended to be "bland and impersonal". He said:

    This idea challenges the category by embracing Australians' love of the underdog. The campaign cleverly plays off the salience of the bigger brand, whilst not poking at it.

    In one spot, an older couple sit naked on camp chairs outside of a campaign renovation site, as naked elderly people go about the work behind them. The couple explain that the people at "the other hardware store" suggested some coveralls to help stop the paint getting "everywhere".

    A young boy with his head stuck in staircase spindles features in another ad as his dad casually watches TV. Thankfully his mum pops to the other hardware store "where they really care about your DIY challenges".


    In the third ad, a tradie's unfortunate portaloo experience after a somewhat funky colleague. As he holds his breath upon entry he explains, "If you're like me you'll want to be in and out as quick as possible" - which is exactly why he uses the other hardware store as they "have a dedicated trade team so he's back on site in no time".


    The final of the four ads features an older "cougar" woman with her young "stud" boyfriend who can be seen trying to hang a picture in the background. She soon explains how finding a stud at her age is one thing, but finding one in a wall is something else entirely. The failed hanging attempts result in her having to send him to the other hardware store "where the staff are really helpful".


    In The Australian, Ms Fahey said the hardware retail group prided itself on offering that little extra personalised service and expertise to help customers get the job done right the first time. She said Mitre 10 saw an opportunity to engage with those less familiar with the brand, to stop them in their tracks and let them know what was so special about the "other" store.

    It's disruptive, fun and memorable. We don't take ourselves seriously but we take our customers very seriously and we take immense pride in the particular care and attention we give to our trade and DIY customers - whether that's in-store, online or on site.

    The campaign is being released across TV, outdoor, radio, print and digital channels. The new-look identity and "The Other Hardware Store" tagline will also be seen at store level.

  • Sources: Mumbrella and The Australian
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    Ingram's Home Hardware uses Tesla Powerwalls

    Bowens Timber and Hardware is taking over the former Bunnings site located on June Court in Warragul (VIC)

    Peter Ingram from Ingram's Home Hardware in Kingscote (SA) said the business has just installed two Tesla Powerwall battery systems on both its Home Hardware and Bi-Rite Home Appliances stores. He told The Islander:

    We are now energy neutral.

    The Tesla Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery stationary energy storage product manufactured by Tesla Energy. The Powerwall stores electricity for solar self-consumption, time of use load shifting, and backup power.

    This means a business like Ingram's can operate five separate uninterruptible power systems or UPSs in its stores, allowing them to trade during a power outage. Any access power is fed back into the system thanks to a long-term leasing arrangement with the Allstate Solar company, a specialist in battery storage systems.

    Ingram's is also building a large shed for building supplies at the entrance to the town. Mr ingram said construction was going well but one issue still being sorted with the council was drainage and paving of Karatta Terrace, which will be the main access road to the location. The new shed will also eventually be fitted out with a solar and battery system.

    The plan is to move the building supply products into the new shed, which would then free up the existing shed at the back of the store on main street for hardware, he said. This would in turn, free up more space in the front of the shop on Dauncey Street for homewares, fishing, and outdoor products.

    This year, Ingram's Home Hardware will also celebrate its 70th anniversary, after Peter's parents opened its doors for the first time in 1952. This makes Ingram's one of the oldest family-operated hardware stores in South Australia.

    Bowens

    The new Bowens regional outpost in Warrugul (VIC) is expected to open in August. It is part of a $50 million investment in six new stores and refurbishments across Australia by the group this year.

    Bowens director and chief investment officer Andy Bowen said the company has been looking to set up shop in the area for some time. He told the Warragul & Drouin Gazette:

    This is a decision that has been made over four or five years. We've been watching the area grow and we think we've found the perfect site to set ourselves up in."

    Mr Bowen said there was still some work to be done on the site - where the previous Bunnings outlet was located - but believes it is the ideal fit for a Bowens store.

    It is perfect for what we do, we are absolutely focused on professional builders, professional trades. That's what we do.
    The site is fantastic from a logistics perspective. We can move product in and out really quickly.

    Mr Bowen said most of the company's customers are medium to small sized building companies, many of which operate in Warragul and surrounding areas. But anyone can purchase their products.

    We have a really diverse range of timber and building supplies ... we will service whatever needs the market requires. Bowens is more focused now more than ever on other building supplies - not just timber.

    Some staff already living in the local community will be moving down from the established Pakenham store, and the new store will create additional full-time work opportunities. Mr Bowen said:

    Our hope is that within a couple of years we'd have 35 full-time employees there. We are not just there to sell building supplies, we are there to be a fabric of the community and support the community.
    Part of that is hiring local talent and local residents, and that is exactly what we intend to do in that area.

    Related

    Bowens' new site.

    Bowens buys site in outer Melbourne - HNN Flash #93, May 2022

    Expansion plans for Bowens.

    Bowens in expansion mode - HNN Flash #92, April 2022
  • Sources: The Islander and Warragul & Drouin Gazette
  • retailers

    Retail update

    New trade centre at Petrie's Mitre 10 Dubbo branch

    Global paint manufacturer DuluxGroup is expanding its presence in North Queensland with the opening of a large store and facilities in Garbutt

    Petrie's Mitre 10 has had a presence in Dubbo (NSW) since 2020 after taking over Brennan's Mitre 10 which had been serving the area for more than four decades. It plans to open a trade centre in August this year and expects to fill a gap in materials pick-up options for local tradies

    Dubbo branch manager Brad Petrie and his team understand that the pickup function at the store on Macquarie Street is not reflective of what they could achieve because it is a small space. He told Dubbo Photo News:

    We're opening a trade centre to offer a wider range of product and provide more efficiency with easier access for builders to be able to pick up what they need.

    Mr Petrie said it will also have a sales hub for specialised orders and delivery options.

    The main intention is for builders to pull up before they go to work in the mornings, or throughout the day, and pick up the stock they need.
    We know builders need their stocks or products as soon as possible without much preparation or planning, so our role is to be able to supply to multiple builders and get the job done.

    In addition to the Dubbo outlet, the Petrie name is attached to Mitre 10 stores in Orange, Mudgee, Bathurst, Port Macquarie, Young, Coffs Harbour, Taree and Gunnedah.

    Related: The Petrie Group took over Brennan's Mitre 10 store in 2020

    Brennan's rebadged as Petries Mitre 10 Dubbo - HNN Flash #16, July 2020

    DuluxGroup

    The paint company is taking over a over a large showroom in Garbutt (QLD), according to the Townsville Bulletin. It is located next door to Clark Rubber and adjacent to retail premises being established for Nick Scali, on Dalrymple Road.

    DuluxGroup regional sales manager Andrew Pyne said the company would more than double its stocks of paint in Townsville to meet the needs of customers and reduce constraints caused by road closures during natural disasters such as the recent floods in south east Queensland and NSW. He told the Townsville Bulletin:

    We've outgrown our previous site. We needed more space to service our customer needs in Townsville and North Queensland.
    We see the city and region as a growth market. This will be the best paint store in North Queensland.

    Dulux has reconfigured the fully airconditioned property to create a 920sqm showroom and warehouse. A new spray centre will offer sales, hire and service as well as stock a larger range of parts and accessories.

    Mr Pyne said the property had more parking for customers and improved access for deliveries. It will have a business centre for trade customers and be a hub for protective coatings for the industrial and mining sectors.

    Ben Wheeler of Colliers Townsville said the property is located in the retail hub of Garbutt which is attracting large retail businesses.

    Related: DuluxGroup became part of Japan's Nippon Paint Holdings in 2019

    Nippon Paint: The Inside Story - HI News 5.3, August 2019
  • Sources: Dubbo Photo News and Townsville Bulletin
  • retailers

    Retail update: Elders

    Retail expansion continues as independents expected to retire

    Elders chief executive believes generational change in the farm services industry, along with rising wage bills and labour shortages are set to push increasing numbers of independent businesses to sell up

    Agribusiness Elders has made five acquisitions in the first half of this financial year and said it has received approaches from 39 other businesses, reports Stock Journal.

    Recent store acquisitions have included Esperance Rural Supplies in Castletown (WA), Sunfarm in Bundaberg (QLD) and South Australia's YP Ag Services. Its expansion plans are set to gain pace in the next six months with a further 17 active candidates currently on the radar.

    Independent family-owned or regional business groups operate about 620 stock and station agency and farm services businesses around Australia. They compete against national players Elders and Nutrien Ag Solutions, and several smaller groups including NSW-based Delta Agribusiness and members of the AgLink farm supplies network.

    The sector has faced considerable challenges despite the bullish mood in agribusiness and strong seasonal and market prospects.

    Much improved seasons since 2020 have resulted in declining livestock numbers for sale which, in turn, has chewed into livestock agent commissions, while at the same time serious regional labour shortages have left many business owners working harder to service their farmer customers. The coronavirus pandemic has also left fewer staff regularly at work, less reliability in product supply lines and dealing with many social distancing and workplace health precautions. Elders CEO Mark Allison told Stock Journal:

    The rural services industry has had to work very hard to get products on the ground and keep pace with some extraordinary demand during challenging times.

    He believes agriculture is getting "very good value" from its service sector under the circumstances, but it was not easy and had been costly. He said:

    We've already seen some wage inflation happening. There is a lot of competition for staff out there, and not just people with specialist technical skills.
    In regional towns you're just as likely to lose someone to the likes of Bunnings or Woolies if they have any retail experience and they like the offer. Even mum and dad farmers are so busy on their own places these days so there aren't many of them available to fill gaps at our stores either.

    Elders wants to build on its own business momentum, making itself "a company people want to join". The company has also been happy to promote its status as regional Australia's most trusted agribusiness brand, based on the 2021 Roy Morgan industry risk survey.

    Mr Allison said Elders is working hard to invest in innovation and target strategic branch expansion to improve its customer offering, but it also had a keen respect for cost control and generating strong returns on capital investment.

    Acquisitions were invariably made "at low multiples", yet there was still plenty of inquiry from potential new enterprises to recruit to the group.

    Succession plans in many cases independent business owners were near to, or had reached, the point where business succession was top of mind, but their own families were not so inclined to follow in their footsteps. He said:

    The kids have grown up, gone to uni and are choosing careers that don't involve coming back to take over from mum and dad.

    Independent owners were not necessarily looking to retire immediately, but many had taken over or started businesses having previously worked for corporates, and were therefore open to returning to the fold, with Elders at least.

    Around 95% of the strategic acquisitions completed by Elders in recent years had involved the original owners staying on. Elders also gained extra footprint when some members of the Ruralco and the CRT farm supplies group left that network after the Nutrien takeover in 2019.

    Elders has reported a 34% lift in net profit after tax to $91.2 million, and posted earnings before interest and tax of $132.8 million for the six months to 31 March, up 80% on the corresponding 2021 half-year figure.

    Sales revenue for the period was $1.5 billion and is up 38% on the same period last year.

    Elders' retail and wholesale products divisions, as well as its four services divisions - agency, real estate, financial, and feed and processing - have outperformed the previous year's results in all product areas and geographies.

    Sales of rural products is up $312.9 million, or 47%, and wholesale product sales up $46.7 million, or 27%. Elders said growth across the rural products business has been driven by strong demand for fertiliser and crop-protection products following favourable seasonal conditions across key cropping regions.

    Related

    Elders takes on Esperance Rural Supplies.

    Esperance Rural Supplies sold to Elders - HNN Flash #88, April 2022

    Elders said it will exceed analysts' consensus forecasts for the full year to September 30.

    Elders forecasts improved outlook - HNN Flash #86, March 2022
  • Sources: Stock Journal, Elders and Sheep Central
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    Jeays Hardware marks 100 years

    Rural business Tom Grady is expected to expand its footprint further in Gympie (QLD)

    In its 100th year, Jeays Hardware continues to thrive in the coastal suburb of Sandgate, north of Brisbane.

    For the grandsons of the store's founder, Peter, Charlie and Richard, keeping the fourth-generation business in the family name is a matter of pride and testament to good old-fashioned service. Peter Jeays told The Courier-Mail:

    I remember working in the business as a teenager handing out flyers at the front of the shop and being paid 50 cents. I have been in retail more than 40 years and have the busted knees to prove it.

    History

    Charles Joshua Jeays started Jeays Hardware in 1922 when he made the decision to start his own firm after working at Perry Brothers Hardware. He rented a small building and yard with his brothers Joe, Albert and Arthur.

    In 1932, they moved into a larger building with Charlie's son Charles Albert (father of Peter, Charles and Richard) joining a few years later.

    During World War II, the business was relocated to Sandgate, where the Jeays family had lived since the 1870s. In the days before forklifts, they worked hard loading heavy bags of cement, timber and iron onto their delivery truck by hand.

    Charlie Jeays says his great uncles Albert and Arthur had been seriously injured in World War I but still managed to complete a full day of physical labour. He told The Courier-Mail:

    Arthur had a bad limp after being shot in the leg, while Albert lost his leg in Gallipoli. Arthur always wore a suit, tie and hat even when he was driving the delivery truck.

    The younger generation Jeays remember their father's love of Moreton Bay where he enjoyed sailing and fishing when not busy in the hardware business. Peter Jeays said:

    Dad, who served in the Army's small-boat unit in Borneo, came back from the war and built a boat which helped in his recovery.

    Charles Albert Jeays retired in 1985 after 50 years of service, with Charlie Junior taking over the reins as managing director. Peter joined the business in 1987 and became manager of the Jeays Aussie Auto business. Charlie said the biggest change in the hardware business during his time has been the move from bulk product to pre-packaged items.

    In the old days, you would sell nails by weight. Things like kerosene and turps also were in big drums and you would buy a small tin. Now it is all pre-packaged.

    Charlie said his father, who died aged 98 in 2018, was one of the first to join the Mitre 10 cooperative in the 1960s, with Jeays being the last of the original nine Mitre 10 hardware stores in Queensland to survive.

    We would not be here today without being part of Mitre 10 because it helped with buying power and marketing.

    Peter Jeays said the arrival of big box retailers have been a challenge but a loyal customer base and the fact Sandgate has few large development sites have helped to protect the family business.

    We have had customers coming to us for over three generations. People like the fact they can pop into our shop for a can of paint or brush and get away quickly without having to walk 300m across a big car park.

    The family have celebrated the centenary of the business with a number of long-standing staff including Harry Jones, who drove the firm's delivery truck for 60 years, and Carole Green, who was the office manager for 40 years. Charles Junior said:

    We have always believed our staff are the most important people because they make the business. The staff's current total length of service to the business is in excess of 250 years.

    Tom Grady Rural

    Gympie-based Tom Grady has unveiled plans to add to his eponymous rural merchandise store, according to the Gympie Times.

    A new development application includes construction of a new building with an office and drive through service on the 1.5ha block. More parking spaces in a covered area will also be included as part of the expansion.

    If approved it will the latest addition to the rural services offered at the property, which served as a butter factory from 1925 to 1978 until that part of the factory was shut down.

    Mr Grady recently sponsored this year's Gympie and District Show fireworks despite his real estate office not yet reopening after the devastating floods in late February,

    Related:

    Plans to expand Tom Grady Rural Merchandise Store - HNN Flash #79, January 2022

    Tom Grady Rural also expanded its store in 2020.

    Gympie rural store supports local economy through its expansion - HNN Flash #13, June 2020
  • Sources: The Courier-Mail and The Gympie Times
  • retailers

    2022 HBT Conference: the next normal

    Is path-to-purchase the next retail strategy for independents?

    With the pandemic less of a concern, but macro-economic changes looming on the horizon, members at the HBT Conference were looking at the "next normal" - where retail is set to move during FY2022/23.

  • This article can be read as a HNN Briefing PDF. To read the PDF, please download by clicking the image/link below.
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    Annual events held by hardware retail buying groups often feel something like a mix between an exercise bootcamp and several hard days at the information dojo. That is to say, they are a combination of delight, and what feels somewhat like a mild but persistent percussive experience.

    At least, that's when they "work". And the 2022 Conference for the Hardware & Building Traders (HBT), held in early May 2022 at the Gold Coast Conference & Exhibition Centre certainly did work.

    HBT events can end up being like workshops that deal with many issues related to managing effectively as an independent retailer. As a result, what gets workshopped at them can, ultimately, effect the entire industry, spreading beyond HBT to other buying groups.

    It is certainly the case that while other industry groups might have more revenue, more stores, more members (and, certainly, equivalent passion), there is nowhere else in the industry that generates quite as many ideas.

    One consequence of this is that while the organisers of an HBT conference might have a particular direction for a conference in mind, in the end it is the community that attends the conference which really decides what happens, and what the conference is going to actually be about.

    Inside the workshop

    HNN will provide more comprehensive Conference coverage in our next edition of HI News. We wanted, however, to start by taking a closer look at that "about" - which at the 2022 Conference has proved to be complex.

    Some of that complexity is due to purely external reasons. After going through a difficult two years of COVID-19, Australia has, for the moment, put aside much of its pandemic caution - though the infection rates remain high enough to still be of extreme concern.

    Added to that is a high inflation environment, which is bringing on, as a direct result, higher interest rates - set to break through 2.0% in FY2022/23. The big question that looms over hardware retail is whether the next two years - as property markets contract - will see a retreat back to, say, 2018 levels of revenue, or if the 2021 levels of revenue will continue.

    The reality is, at least for the rest of 2022, and likely much of 2023 as well, that the industry faces a period of real uncertainty. It's just impossible to forecast with any real accuracy what happens next.

    The next normal

    One way that retail analysts have of defining this current era is to refer to it as the "next normal" - a play on the earlier concept from 2020 that dealing with COVID-19 as a part of business processes was the "new normal".

    Faced with that uncertainty, it's good to remember that one of the basic principles of retail is that when there is a lack of clear forecasts, the best thing to do is to go back to operational basics.

    For hardware retailers that means reinvesting some of the gains over the past two years in better efficiencies. In management terms, it's all about deploying capital now to increase earnings potential later.

    The beauty of using efficiency as a strategy is that the correct kind of capital investment will continue to increase earnings in both a down market and an up market. That's in sharp contrast to the alternatives, business expansion or business contraction, which depend on accurate forecasts for positive results.

    Which brings up the next question: what does efficiency and best practices really mean in 2022? Because the answer today is likely to be quite different to the answer from 2018.

    The next path

    Outside of factors largely external to the hardware retail industry, there are also factors internal to it as well at work. The past decade for all hardware buying groups has largely been about catching up to the industry behemoth, Bunnings, in terms of both pricing and range.

    Bunnings still does hold a distinct advantage, but that decade of hard work has brought independent hardware retailers close enough that they can bridge the gap through other means. The task has now shifted - partially, at least - to working out how to better utilise the unique features of independent retailers to not just resist the ongoing expansion of Bunnings, but to at least equal it. The prospect of real growth for independents is clearly within reach.

    For HBT - and independents in general - FY2022/23 will see their retailers really coming to grips with what the next part of this struggle is going to look like.

    The difficulty that buying groups now face is one of strategy. The problem in developing that strategy is familiar to many industries. It's often said that military generals tend to fight the current war with the strategies and tactics that won them the previous war - not always to good effect. Businesses often do the same thing, and use prior successful strategies for new tasks to which they are not suited.

    Driven by HBT CEO Greg Benstead and buying group general manager Jody Vella, there were two core strategies that HBT employed to hold its own in the pricing struggle. The first was to regard the whole supply side of hardware retail as a holistic entity, one where it was possible for both retailers and suppliers to win, through new efficiencies, and concentrating on growing the available market.

    The second was to understand that most "wins" were going to be small and incremental. It wasn't necessary to make broad, sweeping deals. If you could piece together just a dozen or 20 smaller "wins", the result would be almost as good.

    As beneficial and smart as that strategy has been, it's possible that other techniques will work better in the next phase of development. In very broad terms, this is because the price breakthrough phase of development was about achieving strategy cohesion in a widely disparate group.

    The coming phase is really about helping individual retailers achieve success by drawing on their unique talents, unique store locations, and unique market positions.

    A different future

    Reviewing everything we were told by both HBT members and the many suppliers at the 2022 Conference, HNN really did find there was a core to what people were discussing, a central issue that was getting workshopped. That central concern, HNN would suggest, is something that has come to be called in recent years the "path-to-purchase".

    Not that path-to-purchase was directly mentioned by anyone, but putting together all the comments and opinions voiced at the conference, this was what emerged.

    For hardware retailers, path-to-purchase has two components. The first is the connection that customers feel to a particular store. The second is the "journey" customers undertake in arriving at the decision to buy a product from a retailer through the utilisation of different information and transactional channels.

    The advantage of thinking about path-to-purchase is that it delineates a really clear objective for independent retailers. That objective is, very simply, to be considered as a reasonable option for any hardware purchase being made - paint, a new deck, kitchen or bathroom renovation, or simply buying batteries for a flashlight.

    Win or lose the sale, independents need to own a part of the path-to-purchase to just remain in contention.

    Path-to-purchase background

    Path-to-purchase has something of a harried history to it. Largely, there has been considerable confusion between what we might regard as over-arching conceptual models, and more specific models, which relate either to product categories or narrow cohorts of customers.

    Conceptual path-to-purchase

    Virtually every management consultancy, from McKinsey to PwC, has its own path-to-purchase diagram - and most of these are, at best, inadequate.

    For example, one of the most common conceptual models is represented by this diagram:

    While this is convenient, and somewhat comforting, it's more of a "hoped-for" model than anything that relates to how consumers buy things today. At its basis, it relies on what marketers refer to as "AIDA", which refers to attention, interest, desire, action, a well-known framework for modelling customer behaviour. The primary problem with AIDA, as many commentators have pointed out, is that it is exceptionally linear - as is the diagrammed model.

    A better conceptual model is provided by UK-based marketing strategist James Hankins, known as the "Hankins Hexagon".

    Commenting on this model, Mr Hankins has this to say:

    So, what does that mean? Well, simply put, a person can make their own way from A to Z any way they choose. In reality there are very few 'fixed' pathways and most are two-way (feedback loops and changes of mind). This model posits that an individual can start wherever and eventually make their own way to purchase, that is if they do buy in the end because not everyone always gets there.

    The core mechanism that's identified is the formation of "long lists" of possibilities, followed by the formation of "short lists" through a process of comparisons. What has largely changed in the modern, information-rich environment is that where in the past short lists were focused on rankings by sets of requirements (price, longevity, suitability to particular purposes), today short lists are often based on sources of recommendations (friends, influencers, Amazon reviews, YouTube reviews, etc.).

    Developing these initial short lists typically leads to the creation of a "meta short list", which doesn't list products, but rather the requirements the consumer has developed for the products. This is then reapplied to the "long list" of potential purchases, resulting in a final short list, and a final decision is made.

    Specific path-to-purchase

    Abstract models are good, but they only fulfil their function when they are combined with less-abstract, research-based insights into consumer behaviour.

    Some of the most outstanding work on path-to-purchase in the hardware-home improvement area was undertaken by Kingfisher in the UK and European Union during the 2010s. One of the areas studied by the retail conglomerate was bathroom renovation, resulting in the following diagram:

    Of the 28 steps, the first eight would seem of primary importance to hardware retailers. However the other 20 steps are also important. That's not only because they contribute to customer satisfaction, and hence ongoing loyalty, but because in making a purchase, the DIY customer needs to be able to conceive of the next 20 steps. The imagined completion of the project is, in other words, a key part of any purchase made.

    Why path-to-purchase is important now

    The surge in hardware retail revenue for independent stores during the two pandemic years has triggered hopes that at least some of this will continue. What actually happened during the pandemic years was less - as many seem to hope - a relocation by consumers, as a "delocation". That is to say that consumers were dislodged from some of the major retailers - such as Bunnings and the supermarket chains - but this doesn't mean they were automatically "re-homed" to smaller, local retailers.

    That is particularly the case as the majority of consumers today start their path-to-purchase by doing research online. The proportions of online-first research various studies have determined range from 53% (Google) up to 81% (MineWhat.com). Conservatively, though, for hardware, it's likely to be around 60% to 65%.

    One really difficult fact to bear about this is that probably 80% of initial or secondary searches made by DIY customers will go through the Bunnings website. That's largely a matter of setting price expectations, as well as checking availability.

    However - fortunately for independent retailers - the Bunnings website is somewhat lacking when it comes to the level of product information presented. This opens up opportunities for independent retailers.

    Not only might independents attract consumer attention with their own information provision, but consumers will be motivated to continue their research in-store. It is possible for independents to participate in post-research path-to-purchase more effectively than in primary research. That does mean making an adjustment for dealing with more informed consumers, further along in making their choices.

    Post pandemic path-to-purchase

    In outlining how that might work, it's best to start with some of the efforts that suppliers are taking. In overview, what each of the suppliers we spoke to managed to do with their products was to really understand how customers approached their products, and how they put them to use in their trade work or DIY tasks.

    These examples illustrate three different techniques: providing depth; convenience and informational diversion; and overcoming the assumed problems.

    Klingspor wire brushes

    When HNN spoke to him at the HBT Conference, managing director of Klingspor Australia, Paul Hoye, reported that the new line of wire brushes the company had released had been doing very well. In fact, Mr Hoye had played a part in encouraging Klingspor to develop the product line, and, as he expected, the Australian market had responded well to the new product.

    This is an example of one of the really important parts of path-to-purchase, because it relates to having a deeper understanding of what customers need. Wire brushes might not seem that exciting as a category, but for metal workers in general, and especially welders, they are really essential. For example, this extract from The Welder magazine illustrates just how complex this product line really is:

    When choosing a power brush, you have several knot styles, wire gauges, and trim length options. By changing one or more of these characteristics, you can fine-tune brush performance for a specific application. For example, stringer bead brushes have narrower knots twisted from base to tip, making them better suited to penetrate tighter spaces like corners, fillets, and root pass welds. Cable-twist brushes are also twisted to the tips but have a wider profile that can quickly cover more surface area for fill passes. Standard twist brushes flare at the end, providing an even wider footprint as well as additional conformability.
    The Welder magazine

    It's not only about answering a direct need of a customer, it's also about providing real differentiation. It looks like such a simple category, but for the target customers it's deep.

    Cowdroy insect screens

    If there is one product on the market that deserves a lot of attention, it is the innovative insect screens released by Cowdroy. It's not only a great product, but it really illustrates the role of path-to-purchase.

    That begins with Cowdroy realising that the "traditional" insect screens of the past were a disregarded, utility category that had a lot of potential to develop into a real feature for houses. As part of that, they also are a classic "upsell", a way to offer something pleasing and unexpected to customers.

    The screens include products that are designed to have as little visual impact as possible, to resist the wear and tear that pets produce, and even to help block out pollen and dust.

    Importantly, though, Cowdroy knew that it needed to "demonstrate" the screens effectively, and so developed a special mobile app to go along with the product line. That app enables customers to preview how the various screens on offer will alter the view through a window.

    In path-to-purchase terms, that's a technique known as "information diversion". It invites a consumer to go down a quite shallow "rabbit hole" of information. After downloading the app, and playing around with the different options that are available, how can they possibly go back to just plain, old ordinary flyscreens?

    The latest innovation that Cowdroy has brought to the line is to introduce packs of flyscreen in pre-cut lengths. HNN would guess that this development is based on customer research. Getting flyscreen cut from a roll can be one of those "difficult" moments in a hardware store - especially with staff shortages. Pre-cut lengths increase the likelihood a customer will complete the purchase immediately at the point of selection.

    That helps the customer make a fast and convenient choice - but it also reduces the real cost of selling the product for retailers, as less staff time is needed. It's perfect.

    Cement Australia Trade Mortar

    In talking with Cement Australia, HNN sometimes imagines the theme from Mission Impossible playing in the background: "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to sell a commodified product as something unique, highly valued and reliable."

    Yet the company does keep delivering on that tough task, and its Trade Mortar product is testament to this. Log onto any decent trade site, and you will find a lot of arguments about pre-mix versus self-mix when it comes to mortar. Surprisingly, though, most of those arguments aren't about cost, they are instead about the quality of the pre-mix. The complaints range from pre-mix being poor quality with too much sand, to just the "trowel feel" being wrong - not sticking well.

    Cement Australia targeted those precise complaints, and produced a product that is designed to help really busy tradies "smash out" their walls quickly and conveniently. It's easy to mix, which means apprentices can manage the process, and it provides the kind of consistency needed with colour contrasts.

    What is most significant about the hints of path-to-purchase thinking we see in the product innovations mentioned above is that the suppliers have considered the entire context of the purchase. Klingspor knows how important wire brushes are to welders. Cement Australia knows the problems tradies have experienced with pre-mix because they understand how their products are used to achieve an end result. Similarly, Cowdroy understands the frustrations of homeowners working on a project to refit flyscreens in spring. They've changed a utility purchase into genuine home improvement.

    Path-to-purchase for retailers

    Suppliers can, however, only solve a part of the path-to-purchase puzzle. In general, when it comes to path-to-purchase, suppliers concentrate on removing certain frustrations from the purchasing experience - a lack of different types of wire brushes, a pre-mix you can really rely on, flyscreen you don't have to find a sales associate to cut for you.

    Retailers can go further. That means having a good understanding of where customers are in their journey towards completing a project. And that, of course, means being able to conceive of what that project might be.

    This brings up one of the most long-running tensions in retail, which is how much stores should focus on project-orientation (bathroom/kitchen renovation for example) as opposed to displaying goods purely as categories (flooring and plumbing, etc.).

    For the majority of independent retailers, of course, there really is no option, as their stores are not large enough to support any kind of project display. One way around that, of course, is by providing a "virtual" project space on a website. In the US, this is what The Home Depot does. For example, it presents a range of different room designs, with a "Shop this room" button, which pulls up a list of products needed to achieve the "look" of the interior design photograph.

    While that gets around the problem of space limitations, it introduces other difficulties in terms of online capabilities.

    The virtual path-to-purchase

    When it comes to path-to-purchase for independent hardware retailers, the ultimate goal is to get included in the initial lists that are derived from online research. The best way to do that is to provide an information resource that will deliver a high score in terms of its search ranking through Google and other services.

    It's here that the nature of the next challenge really does come into focus. The difficulty is that no individual store has the resources (let alone the finances) to develop an online presence that could attract the attention needed - plus, of course, as they service a confined geographic area, achieving success across the broader internet is not really efficient.

    What is needed is a central source of information that is detailed and well-designed, and does provide a high level of exposure. That site could then offload site visitors to local independent hardware stores for the transactional part of the interaction.

    At the moment, however, there does not seem to be much possibility of that being achieved in the industry. Yet there are some suppliers who are working hard to step into that gap. Matt Haymes of Haymes Paints was kind enough to take some time during the busy tradeshow at the Conference to chat with HNN. He described how Haymes is working hard to develop an online presence to help consumers choose paints.

    It's clearly directed, he said, at boosting the sales of the independent retailers who stock Haymes. That's what independents have come to expect from Haymes, but it is also exceptionally generous.

    The task ahead

    Twelve years ago the task of catching up to Bunnings on price seemed almost unachievable. That led to some pretty desperate measures in the industry - most notably by Mitre 10, and its launch of the Mega stores in Australia.

    Despite the difficulties, that job did get done. Today we're facing the next very difficult tasks. They also look virtually impossible to achieve. But there is something of a track record there, that can serve to give one a sense of hope.

    What is most required, however, is an additional point of focus, and an understanding that it is time to develop and adopt a new winning approach to the Australian hardware retail market. We know that, as a resource, independent retailers can get to the point where they equal the growth rate of Bunnings. It really is a question of how best to access this pool of talent and potential.

  • This article can be read as a HNN Briefing PDF. To read the PDF, please download by clicking the image/link below.
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    retailers

    Retail update: Temple & Webster

    Temple & Webster launches The Build website

    It wants to be a major digital presence for home renovators to buy products for DIY, renovation, and home improvement

    Online homewares and furniture retailer, Temple & Webster plans to bring its "expertise in e-commerce and the home" and broaden its reach to make The Build the "first-stop shop" for home renovation and home improvement in Australia. This will bring it into direct competition with Bunnings and Mitre 10.

    Chief executive Mark Coulter told the Australian Financial Review (AFR) that after building the largest e-commerce home furnishing player in the country, moving to DIY and home improvement was a logical step.

    Mr Coulter believes there is an opportunity for the online retailer to maximise share of spend in the home and realise synergies with its core furniture and homewares business. The home renovation market will also be counter cyclical to the housing market, namely moving versus renovating. He said:

    I think the home improvement category or renovation category is a natural extension for Temple & Webster, we are already famous for the home and we've built the largest e-commerce business in furnishings and homewares.
    I think moving from the loose furnishings to what is attached to the wall and floor feels like a very natural extension, and we are already seen as a place to come to make your house beautiful so why not do the whole room.
    Bunnings and Mitre 10 are great retailers. Bunnings has done an amazing job to educate Australians about the benefits of DIY, renovating your place or doing design jobs - big or small. The market is very big.
    It's still growing. There's definitely room for an online-only player which has the breadth of what we're planning across multiple categories to really be that first-stop shop, and really provide customers with the convenience and value that the online channel has over stores.

    The Build's initial range will have more than 20,000 products across 39 categories. These include bathroom fixtures such as vanities, toilets, sinks and tapware; kitchen fixtures such as cupboards, sinks and taps; indoor and outdoor lighting fixtures; ceiling fans, blinds and curtains; and wallpaper.

    New categories such as flooring and tiling, outdoor living and landscaping, tools and building-renovation equipment will be added in the coming months.

    Mr Coulter also believes Australian shoppers would begin to gravitate to shopping more online for home renovation and project products, with millennials especially more open to shopping for home improvement on their laptops and smartphones.

    We have already seen that overseas. If you look at the US and UK it is already following a similar adoption curve to furnishings and homewares where people, millennials are growing up and buying homes or renovating homes, they're turning to these channels and as we have always said online offers convenience and value - and that is a compelling proposition.
    I think it is very similar dynamics, in some respects one could argue that dynamics for home improvement may actually be better than furnishings and homewares with the touch and feel for many categories is less important than for example a sofa.
    With more Australians shopping online than ever before, The Build by Temple & Webster meets the needs of today's digital-first shopper who prefers the convenience and ease of renovating online rather than the traditional renovation process of driving from showroom to showroom to source projects.

    The Build has been in the works for about eight months and the company has spent about $2 million getting ready to launch. The company plans to spend $10 million over this financial year and the next establishing The Build. Mr Coulter has not disclosed further ongoing investment costs but said it would be split out in future results. He was not concerned about launching the website despite an apparent shift back to bricks and mortar after two years of higher online spending with the lockdowns. He said:

    That underlying trend of the shift from offline to online is really driven by consumer preferences, which are independent of those macro factors. There may be a period of potential inflation or slowing year-on-year growth. However, that underlying trend of people wanting to shop online, that's not going anywhere.

    Supply chain

    The business runs a drop-shipping model, whereby products are sent directly to customers by suppliers. These ranges are complemented by a private labels sourced directly by Temple & Webster from overseas suppliers.

    Mr Coulter acknowledged it was "hard to know what happens with China" suppliers given the lockdowns and delays in the port of Shanghai, one of the world's busiest. However, he said Temple & Webster and The Build sites sourced from 100 factories in China and shipped from 10 different ports besides Shanghai's congested harbour.

    We're also increasingly diversifying our supplier base outside of China. So places like Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines. We have such a big range and so many suppliers that if a particular supplier goes out of stock, there is substitution between suppliers and between products.

    Valuation

    Mr Coulter also said he has "stopped trying to understand the market many, many years ago" regarding the group's falling share price, which, along with other online players such as Kogan.com, had suffered steep declines on the sharemarket in recent months.

    Temple & Websters shares have declined in value more than 9% after the group reported a disappointing trading update that implied a large miss of market consensus earnings targets and slowdown in sales, according to The Australian.

    It suggests that shoppers are slowly but surely retreating from online shopping and that boomtime conditions enjoyed through the first two years of COVID-19 are coming to an end.

    The market for online improvement in Australia could be worth around $16 billion and the category was yet to make its mark online, with just 4% of DIY shopping happening online compared to around 25% in the UK, the company said.

    However investors were sceptical, and RBC Capital Markets analyst Wei-Weng Chen said the company's sales were tracking well below estimates. He said while the total addressable home improvement and renovation market is around $26 billion, and margin opportunity and online-penetration for the home improvement category looked attractive in the medium to longer term, the market could approach the launch of The Build with "an element of caution" given the current macro headwinds facing the Australian property market.

    The company will also face a tough job when competing directly against Bunnings which holds around 50% market share for home improvement in Australia.

    Perhaps in recognition of this, Temple & Webster said it doesn't expect The Build to make a material contribution to its overall sales and earnings for the first four years. However, it expects the long-term margins for the business will be better than its furniture and homewares category.

    The expansion into home improvement is a notable deviation for the online furniture retailer, which has established itself as a significant player in Australia's home goods market during the pandemic, thanks to a boom in demand for home office equipment such as desks and office chairs.

    However Mr Coulter sees the move has having enormous potential for the ASX-listed business as Australians are drawn to home improvement projects.

    Australia is a country of home renovators ... and we love making [our homes] more beautiful. We believe our expertise in ecommerce and the home will help make The Build become Australia's first-stop shop when it comes to renovating and redecorating.

    Related: Temple & Webster has been talking about its plan to challenge Bunnings in the home improvement sector for some time

    Online retailer Temple & Webster eyes home improvement - HI News November 2018, page 21
  • Sources: Motley Fool, The Australian, The Age and Australian Financial Review
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Bowens buys site in outer Melbourne

    Not-for-profit organisation Habitat for Humanity has set up a retail outlet in Adelaide to help cut the cost of building materials

    Bowens has purchased a 4.9 hectare block at Cobblebank, a developing suburb in the City of Melton, located around 31km west of Melbourne's CBD, according to realestatesource.com.au.

    There are plans for an outlet and distribution centre to be built on the site to service the north west region, as part of Bowens' expansion in Victoria.

    The hardware and building supplies group is paying $12.32 million for the former Melton City Council controlled parcel at 27-39 Abey Road, near the Ferris Road exit of the Western Freeway. In realestatesource.com.au, Bowens chief investment officer, Andy Bowen said:

    As a market leader in the building supplies industry, Bowens is committed to supplying the best quality products and advice to builders and trades alike especially in areas where it is most need.

    The Cobblebank property is close to the 13ha Melton South site which the state government acquired from the Catholic Church last year with plans to develop the 24-hour Melton Hospital. It is also about 500 metres from the Cobblebank train station, which opened in 2019.

    Related

    Expansion plans for Bowens - HNN Flash #92, April 2022

    ReStore

    Habitat for Humanity has opened a ReStore outlet in Adelaide offering builders and home owners an opportunity to buy materials at lower prices, all donated by building companies, home improvement businesses and individuals.

    The goods, including paving and landscaping materials, tiles, flooring, bathroom fittings, lighting, and door hardware will generally be offered at around half the usual retail price. Slightly used home furniture items will also be available.

    The first of its kind in the state and 15 years in planning, ReStore will be owned and operated by Habitat for Humanity, a not-for-profit organisation that builds homes and apartments for low-income families, disadvantaged communities and homeless youth.

    Habitat for Humanity executive officer Louise Hay said the retail venture would meet a key need for people building, or setting up, a house while being benefitting the environment.

    ReStore will sell building materials that may be left over after a major construction job. These surplus materials, which are brand new, often end up in landfill because builders don't have the time to find another home for them.

    Funds raised through the store will be used to support Habitat for Humanity's projects in South Australia that includes a small-scale home building program, a home maintenance program and disaster recovery work. Volunteers also worked for 18 months cleaning up properties in the Adelaide Hills after the devastating bushfires in 2019-20.

    Habitat for Humanity has already built more than 40 homes and apartments in South Australia for people struggling with shelter or experiencing homelessness.

  • Sources: Realestatesource.com.au, Australian Associated Press and Glam Adelaide
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Bowens in expansion mode

    The site where the Taits Mitre 10 store is situated in the Melbourne suburb of Glen Iris has quietly changed hands

    Hardware and building materials group Bowens said it will spend $50 million on growing its store network in Victoria, according to an exclusive report in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

    Bowens already operates 16 stores in Victoria, and will open three new sites in the state as well as revamp another four in a move that is a direct response to the current post-COVID construction upturn. The company's director and chief investment officer Andy Bowen told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald:

    If we had three, four, five more stores open right now they would be just as busy as our other 16. We need more stores to meet the demand that's in the market now.
    Now it's not always going to be this busy, it's a perfect storm in terms of government grants and post-COVID recovery that's led us down this path, but we think the demand in housing and construction is going to be pretty consistent for the next 30 to 40 years...
    This word's been used to death, but it really is unprecedented volume. There's massive demand for building materials, and coupled with supply constraints on top of that, it just means our industry is being challenged. It's just so busy, we've never seen it like this before.

    Mr Bowen said the construction industry has been far from exempt from rising prices such as inflation which has risen 5.1% in the past year based on recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

    He said building supplies have risen consistently by "high single digits" in recent months. This has caused an increase in the cost of new builds - both residential and commercial. Mr Bowen said the cost of building its new store in Hastings (VIC) had increased by around 15% after a delay in construction caused material costs to rise.

    Bowens is targeting Warragul, Cheltenham and Melton for its new sites, with the hardware executive saying the company sometimes takes cues from Bunnings on where the best locations are for new expansion opportunities.

    Bunnings has been making a number of acquisitions and strategic moves in an effort to grow its trade-focused offerings, which is Bowens' bread and butter. However, Mr Bowen said the business has not been approached by the hardware giant with a potential buyout offer, and probably wouldn't be interested anyway.

    We love being a family-owned business and an independent business, and we want Bowens to stay that way.

    In a profile in The Australian, CEO John Bowen said that private ownership is important to the staff.

    There are plenty that have been there for 20 years-plus. I'm fiercely independent. It is a shame how many businesses are being swallowed up by big box players.

    The fourth-generation family-owned Bowens is considered a market leader in supplying quality timber and building supplies throughout Melbourne and regional Victoria. For the past 11 years Bowens has also owned Timbertruss, one of the largest prefabrication timber manufacturers in the country, which employs staff in Victoria and Queensland.

    During the pandemic Bowens continued to invest in its operations, including a new prefabrication plant, showroom and a new timber yard in Geelong. John Bowen told The Australian:

    You've got to keep investing. Independent businesses can't just stand up and say 'We are family-owned and independent so therefore people should walk in and buy from us'.
    We need to keep rebuilding our stores, investing in them and making sure the product that they stock is relevant, rather than just resting on the laurels of 127 years." He said the firm will stick to its knitting, increasing its site footprint with new facilities and innovative products.

    He believes the Timbertruss plant at Geelong - which specialises in producing roof trusses and wall frames - is the most technically advanced in Australia.

    We are doing a few really exciting projects, not just walls, roof trusses or floor systems. We are doing some pre-finished panels for customers. Our version of next stage prefabrication, we're calling it.

    John Bowen also wants more women in what continues to be a male-dominated business. Last year, the company held its first women in trade event at its Port Melbourne showroom.

    Related

    Bowens invests in large scale solar rooftops - HNN Flash #79, January 2022

    Andy Bowen's focus has been establishing an e-commerce function for the business, mainly for the trade, but also increasingly for retail customers.

    Bowens has an ecommerce plan - HNN Flash #60, August 2021

    Mitre 10 real estate

    The site of the Tait Mitre 10 store in Glen Iris (VIC) is understood to have sold for over $30 million, according to a report in The Age. The deal reflects a land price of around $3453 a square metre.

    Buyer and vendor are not keen on any publicity, and agents declined to comment.

    Daylesford Mitre 10 has also been listed as a business for sale recently with advertisements appearing in Melbourne metropolitan and regional newspapers.

    Related

    The site at 15 Weir Street, Glen Iris (VIC) where Mitre 10's Tait store sits is for sale - HNN Flash #81, February 2022
  • Sources: The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Bendigo Advertiser
  • retailers

    UK update

    Homebase and Hearst UK extend partnership

    Since joining forces in 2020, they have collaborated on ranges across kitchens, furniture, home accessories, lighting, outdoor structures, gardening, tiling, wallpaper and now paint

    The new Country Living and House Beautiful exclusive paint ranges from Homebase are part of the home improvement retailer's three-year partnership with content business, Hearst UK and its magazine brands.

    Country Living is inspired by nature and brings the countryside indoors with soft, delicate neutrals. The paint is made in the UK, and is durable for walls, ceilings, wood and metal with a luxury matte finish. It is air purifying too, created with a special additive to make the paint non-toxic.

    The House Beautiful range embodies a contemporary style, ideal for customers looking for more bold, vibrant pops of colour. The paint is also made in the UK and its washable finish is suitable for walls, wood and metal. Its stain repellent technology means that any liquid touching the painted surface turns to droplets, making it far easier to keep clean.

    Each range has 30 curated shades. Jason Hines, trading director for decorative & home at Homebase, said:

    We're excited to launch two exclusive paint ranges with our partner, Hearst UK. Filled with plenty of beautiful colour and quality finishes, our customers can pair these new ranges with our stylish furniture and home accessories...

    Sharon Douglas, chief brand officer, lifestyle, homes and weeklies at Hearst UK, said:

    We're delighted to build on our Homebase licensing partnership with these brand new paint ranges. Our editors' and stylists' rich expertise in homes and interiors means that the Country Living and House Beautiful audiences regularly come to us for inspiration when in the market for a home upgrade. Collaborating closely with Homebase, our trusted specialists have created a colour palette that is on-trend, versatile and fit for the modern consumer.

    Background

    Homebase and Hearst UK announced they had entered into a brand partnership in late 2020.

    As part of the deal, Homebase is working with three of Hearst UK's magazine brands House Beautiful, Country Living and Good Housekeeping to create household and lifestyle licensed products.

    Together, this partnership would enable customers to be inspired by what they see and read in House Beautiful or Country Living and translate that inspiration into real-life purchases either in one of the 155 Homebase stores or online at Homebase.co.uk.

    A kitchen range under the Country Living and House Beautiful brands was the first to launch in December 2020.

    The partnership sees Hearst UK promoting the new ranges, which are exclusive to Homebase, to its readership, of which the majority are united by their desire to constantly upgrade their homes with the latest trends. At the time, Dave Elliott, commercial director for Homebase, said:

    We're excited to be working with Hearst UK and creating a range of new products for our homes and gardens that help customers recreate the latest style trends in their homes. This partnership will give customers even more options to purchase quality products from Homebase knowing they've been created with the innovation and inspiration from the stylist teams at House Beautiful, Country Living and Good Housekeeping.

    Ms Douglas commented:

    We're thrilled to be working with Homebase on this licensing partnership. We know that our highly engaged audiences across Country Living, House Beautiful and Good Housekeeping turn to us when they want to create or get inspiration for their dream home. They trust our experts when it comes to what to buy, so a partnership with an iconic retailer like Homebase makes complete sense.
  • Source: Retail Times
  • retailers

    HBT's "Back to the Future" conference promises new strategies

    Evolution after three years

    Some conferences are more important than others, and HBT's 2022 Conference is set to break new ground with its strategic focus

    The past two years have seen many hardware retail groups and businesses forced to cancel events such as expos and conferences. As Australia emerges (hopefully) from under the cloud of COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming evident that during this time of limited contact, both the business environment and hardware businesses themselves have continued to evolve.

    One clear sign of that evolution can be seen in the upcoming 2022 National Conference being held by Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) on the Gold Coast from 3 May 2022. Tagged as the "Back to the Future" conference, it's set to be an intriguing event.

    Part of that intrigue is because HBT will be setting in place some strategies that were first conceived more than two years ago - but put on hold, partly due to the pandemic, and partly just because two National Conferences had to be cancelled, depriving the strategies of a suitable launch platform.

    Also intriguing is that HBT is re-opening its Conferences with a unique approach: it is going to start off with a social event - an epic "business lunch" - prior to the standard meetings and presentations. That's going to give the HBT members an opportunity, after three long years of isolation and very hard work, to re-bond with their fellow members, and celebrate the one, really critical fact about the pandemic: we've managed to come through it, and survive (mostly) intact.

    The strategies

    The evolution of the HBT strategies has been interesting to follow over the past five years. Back in 2017, the basic HBT position could be seen as more-or-less accepting that the group would always trail slightly in terms of having a competitive edge in the market. This was made up by providing its members with more freedom than other buying groups, such as Metcash's Independent Hardware Group (IHG).

    The new strategies set to be released at the upcoming Conference, however, follow a very different path. Rather than seeing HBT's more social, camaraderie-based principles as being somehow a disadvantage in the market, these differences are now being pursued as one of its chief advantages. Where other buying groups have sought to centralise control to upper-management levels, the HBT strategies reach out to value all of the available "human/intellectual capital", in its retailer members, in its preferred supplier membership, and inside HBT itself.

    To understand what these strategies are, it's important to first take a broad overview of how the hardware retail industry has developed over the past 20 years or so.

    Group characteristics

    While there are around a dozen key hardware buying groups of varying sizes and with different areas of interest, the two largest in Australia are Metcash's IHG and HBT. Going back to the origins of HBT in 1997, the two groups were very similar.

    One of the key points that led to the formation of the "rebel" group of HBT was dissatisfaction with group-wide mandates, such as participation in Australia-wide catalogues. HBT positioned itself as more of a "pure" buying group. It concentrated on getting the best wholesale deals from suppliers, and especially the best "rebates" (a form of post-sale discount, often conditional on certain requirements being met).

    Mitre 10 has had four key inflection points in its history since 2000. The first was the emergence of the Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings big-box hardware retailer as a key competitor in the early 2000s. This led to Mitre 10 adopting a format strategy to win back business.

    Mitre 10 management thought that Bunnings' success was down to its large-format "warehouse" stores, and sought to emulate these. In fact, though, the warehouse stores were simply functional endpoints to a unique and developing logistics chain. The result was that the large-format Mitre 10 stores failed, largely due to stocking problems.

    This led to the eventual full acquisition of Mitre 10 by Metcash, which was completed in 2012. Meanwhile, in the background, Australian supermarket company Woolworths announced in 2009 that it was going to enter the hardware business in competition with Bunnings, through a joint venture with US big-box home improvement retailer Lowe's Companies. As part of this expansion move, Woolworths also acquired the Danks hardware group, which traded under the banners Home Timber & Hardware (HTH) and Thrifty Link.

    The brand name - "Masters Home Improvement" - was announced in May 2011, and the first store opened in August 2011 - complete with its own McDonald's outlet. In January 2016 Woolworths declared it was winding down Masters. Stores continued to trade through to December 2016.

    During 2016, Metcash acquired the Danks business from Woolworths, and added it to its existing Mitre 10 operations, under the IHG name.

    HBT also had its own transitions to get through. In late 2016 the top executive of HBT, Tim Starkey, passed away unexpectedly. Mr Starkey had been one of the main driving forces at HBT - some would describe him as having been its heart and soul.

    As happens with many well-liked, capable and charismatic leaders, there were no natural successors inside HBT, and so a search began for someone external to be the buying group's CEO. In the end it came down to two candidates, with one rumoured to be very much an Australian hardware industry insider, and the other lacking in hardware experience, but with a resume that included executive training at Woolworths, as well as an interesting, varied retail experience outside that.

    HBT decided to go with the latter rather than the former, and Greg Benstead accepted the role of CEO in early 2018. This has turned out to be a highly fortuitous choice. Mr Benstead has been able to not only develop the strategy HBT needs in the modern hardware retail environment, but also to take the members of HBT along with him on that journey.

    Business models

    The primary change that Mr Benstead has brought to HBT is an evolution of its core business model. To understand that, however, it's necessary to first look at the dominant business model in Australia's home improvement/hardware industry, as followed by both Bunnings and IHG.

    Bunnings

    The primary concern of the general business model is price. Bunnings largely pioneered using price as the central driver of sales and expansion. This was one of the many insights of the person most responsible for building the modern Bunnings, John Gillam. Like Mr Benstead, Mr Gillam's own background was outside of hardware retail - in fact, it was mostly outside of retail itself. However, that outsider position enabled him to grasp that the fundamentals of the hardware retail industry had changed, and that Bunnings was in an ideal position to take advantage of those changes.

    There were three forces at work in the early 2000s. The first was that Australia had been through a period of sharp reduction in tariffs, initiated by the Hawke government in 1988, following on from reductions made by the Whitlam government in 1973. While the 1988 reductions were meant to be fully effected by 1992, legislation saw them "smoothed" out to 2000 instead.

    The second impact came from the ongoing development of China (specifically the Pearl River Delta region, adjacent to Hong Kong) as a source of manufactured goods. The third impact was the increase - globally, but especially in Australia - in the value consumers accorded to their homes. That was driven by a complex combination of factors, including increasing urbanisation, reduced concerns over inflation, deregulation of financial institutions and the "migration" of "middle-class" values to groups of people who had not previously considered home ownership.

    One of the effects of a generally high tariff regime had been "price smoothing" between retailers. Tariffs had made strong price differentiation difficult, which meant that stores typically attracted customers through a combination of customer service and reputation.

    Mr Gillam realised that by 2002 this was less the case, and that it would be possible for Bunnings to attract customers by reducing customer service to a basic but adequate level while offering goods at reliably lower prices than the competition. What is often not appreciated about this approach is how radical the logistics backing this were. Not only did Bunnings adopt the store as warehouse model pioneered by The Home Depot in the US, but Bunnings also managed to nearly eliminate the need for any of its own warehouses, by having suppliers take responsibility for direct-to-store deliveries.

    Metcash

    Metcash at the time it acquired Mitre 10 had implemented a smaller scale revision of logistics itself. Its Independent Grocers of Australia (IGA) group relied on Metcash's central warehouses for distribution. In the food business, dealing with perishables, warehouses have always played a major role in what is essentially risk allocation between suppliers and distributors, and can lead to greatly reduced prices. And, as it is largely a commodity business with some quality price variations, grocery has always responded strongly to price incentives.

    Unfortunately for Metcash and IHG, the model that worked for groceries did not translate directly to hardware. The Bunnings model relied on both price incentives, and large stores with wide ranges on sale. IHG combined some price incentives combined with the higher level of individual customer service which independent retailers could offer. But the customer service/price incentive model provided something of conflicted signals, and didn't - especially for the DIY customers - make up for more limited ranges.

    While the merger of HTH with Mitre 10 into IHG is very far from being a failure, it also was not quite the success that Metcash had hoped for. Contrasting the store numbers released by Metcash during its strategy day in June 2019, with its FY2020/21 numbers featured in Metcash's annual report, there is an overall decline from 690 to 622 stores.

    Of course, that is a very nuanced number as it combines the two major banners, Mitre 10 and HTH, with the sub-brands of True Value and Thrifty Link, which are typically smaller and less profitable. Certainly IHG's store retention/expansion would seem to have done OK in New South Wales (NSW). Mitre 10 stores increased to 95 from 81 (up 17.3%) and HTH stores declined from 85 to 79 (down 7.1%). What's not recorded is how much those results are driven by stores moving out of HTH and into Mitre 10, a move which IHG encourages.

    Offset against that is the situation in Victoria (VIC), where there has been an overall decline from 170 stores to 145 stores (down 14.8%). Mitre 10 stores did increase, by one, form 74 to 75, but HTH stores fell from 96 to 70 (down 27.1%).

    IHG seemed to have expected its model to dominate the independent market, which would have resulted in more stores migrating out of HBT and other buying groups into one of its brands. What it didn't count on were some of the changes in the market, and also that HBT - among others - would prove quite so adept at countering the challenges it presented.

    HBT

    One reason why IHG did not do as well as expected was that Mr Benstead made some evolutionary changes to the way HBT was managed. That began when, late in 2018, he hired Jody Vella to take over HBT's buying team - the group of people who secured deals with suppliers on behalf of the group's member retailers.

    Mr Vella was himself a very experienced buyer, with a long career at Coles. But what has made Mr Vella unique in his position - supported also by the strategic views of Mr Benstead - is that he was critically aware that the buyer/supplier relationship had developed in many areas to become ineffective and a waste of resources.

    The core business model of both Bunnings and IHG relies primarily on scale to achieve price advantages. As everyone involved in retail and supply knows, increased scale typically reduces the variable per-unit costs of producing goods, in part by amortising fixed costs over a larger base. Lower supply costs mean more room for either margins, or price reductions - which, in turn, may increase sales further, completing the virtuous loop of scaling.

    Bunnings has been increasingly able to provide scale purely through the number of square metres of selling space it provides - it's big, it sells large quantities. For IHG, increasing size through acquisitions such as HTH is one factor, but it's not enough. It also has to limit the types of items sold in a particular range. Its goal is to forcibly encourage members of its retail group to buy from ranges that Metcash stocks in its warehouses. If a range goes from four items in a category to just one, that one item can achieve scale.

    The effect of a scale strategy on business operations is to reduce much of management to a numbers game. The narrower the range of items, and consequently the number of items sold in each range determine success.

    A by-product of this is that buyers and suppliers have an essentially adversarial relationship. The buyer's task, under a scale strategy, is to play each supplier off against other suppliers, and to do pretty much whatever it takes to secure the best deal.

    While HBT remains committed to low prices for its members, the core insight offered by Mr Benstead and Mr Vella is that, ultimately, the goal of the suppliers, HBT and HBT members is very much the same: to sell as much as possible of a product at a price the market finds acceptable.

    To achieve that goal, rather than reducing everything to numbers in a spreadsheet, it's necessary for all three groups to pool their resources, especially their knowledge, and to develop solutions that will work with the current state of the market.

    Of course, it's not enough just to state that as a goal - you need mechanisms in-place that will help to achieve this pooling of resources. HBT has developed a series of such mechanisms, which enable both suppliers to assist retailers in working out what to stock, and also encourage feedback from members to suppliers - via HBT.

    These strategies deserve closer examination. However, we will need to wait for the Conference itself to be fully briefed.

    Analysis

    One of the major questions that has puzzled HNN over the past two years, has been regarding what Metcash's "endgame" will be concerning its hardware division.

    The acquisition of Mitre 10 might have been quite opportune, but there would be little doubt that this division is probably reaching its maximum value, and might be ripe for a demerger of some kind. In the past, the potential sale of IHG has seemed a difficult task to pull off, as IHG consisted largely of independent retailers under contract, a situation that would rapidly destabilise in the event of a sale.

    However, if we look at some of Metcash's most recent actions - the increase in "corporate" stores purchased from retailers, and most recently the move into Total Tools - it seems possible the company is potentially preparing to sell off hardware in two to three years' time.

    It's hard to make sense of these recent moves without that as a possible outcome. While buying retailers, and thus benefitting from "full-stack" margin (everything from the wholesales cost through to the end sale price) is great when the market is going up, it also exposes the company to considerable downside risk.

    Equally, there is just no way to make sense of what IHG members will do if the company decides to build a Total Tools store a kilometre or so away from an existing independently owned Mitre 10 store (for example). There is also what created the opportunity to buy Total Tools in the first place, which is the looming ramp-up of the Bunnings-owned and managed Took Kit Depot, which is likely to see outlets co-located with existing Bunnings stores.

    Given the parlous state of much of retail in Australia, it is quite possible to imagine a number of retailers being willing to expand into hardware retail. Whether that would work out well for any potential buyer is, of course, quite another thing to consider.

    retailers

    Retail update: Industrial

    Stealth Group completes United Tools acquisition

    With a market capitalisation of $12 million, Perth-based distribution group Stealth Global Holdings has executed a number of acquisitions in recent years, delivered organic growth and is refocusing on the Australia market

    Stealth announced it has now acquired 100% of the shares in United Tools Limited with its network of stores around Australia. Group managing director Mike Arnold said in a statement:

    ...The completion of this acquisition is an exciting milestone for Stealth and United Tools, doubling the size of our store network to 66 stores Australia-wide, and creating one of Australia's largest one-stop distribution groups combining company owned and independent retailer assets.
    We see opportunities to strengthen the competitive position of the Stealth Group and its independent retail partners, by investing in expanding product ranges, strengthening the supply chain, deeper supplier engagement and enhancing the customer experience through an interconnected distribution portfolio.

    On completion, United Tools held $1.4 million of net cash which Stealth will use for working capital, reduce its debt and invest for the future.

    In a story that first appeared on investor website ShareCafe, Stealth Global is described as both a business-to-business (B2B) distributor - 87% of its sales are to businesses - as well as business-to-customer (B2C), through its portfolio of core brands:

  • Heatley's Safety & Industrial (acquired October 2018)
  • Industrial Supply Group (acquired May 2019)
  • C&L Tool Centre (acquired December 2020)
  • Skipper Transport Parts (acquired August 2021)
  • United Tools (acquired March 2022)
  • Trade Counter Direct (expected in the second half of 2022)
  • Mr Arnold told ShareCafe that the United Tools and Skipper Transport Parts acquisitions are "major steps in building a larger, more relevant, and more diversified business."

    Between them, the two businesses brought more than 600,000 new products, over 2,500 customers and over 1,400 suppliers into the portfolio. He said:

    Our whole M&A blueprint has been all about building more muscle with deals that add big value by having a larger consolidated group. It's all about scale and leverage, and expansion into newer markets and geographies.
    For example, United Tools doubled our store network, from 33 to 66. C&L has given us an east coast point of distribution, and has been a burster on many fronts - its net profit is up by about 35% since we bought it...

    BSA Brands (UK)

    In February, Stealth Global sold its 50% stake in in BSA Brands UK - a 50/50 joint venture established in March 2019 between Stealth and Bisley Workwear in the UK. This follows the sale of Bisley Workwear in December 2021 to US-based Protective Industrial Products (PIP), a global personal protective equipment (PPE) supplier.

    Mr Arnold said Stealth realised "significant value" from the transaction, strengthening its capital position while retaining its partnership with Bisley and the PIP group as a major supplier partner to Stealth in Australia". (The sale of the BSA Brands stake brings the closure of Stealth's operations international operations in the United Kingdom and Africa.)

    Stealth said it received AUD1.65million in cash after the FX (foreign exchange) conversion from GBP to AUD. The balance of AUD300,000 will be received over the next 12 months.

    Protective Industrial Products buys Bisley Workwear - HNN Flash #76, December 2021

    Strategic plans

    On its website, the company refers to itself as a "pure-play distributor" for industrial MRO - maintenance, repair, operations - and safety supplies and solutions. Mr Arnold told ShareCafe:

    We want to be the biggest and best supplier of everyday products, for every workplace, at the best prices. We're the only company, as a single source, that can provide the depth and breadth of products that we can.

    Mr Arnold said Stealth Global extends across the end-to-end supply chain, covering business, trade, retail, service and the specialist wholesale sector, serving customers of all sizes from a broad collection of industries including commercial, mining, resources, industrial, government, transport, automotive, agriculture, building, construction, manufacturing, engineering, trade and retail.

    We have the most comprehensive product range, from tools to hardware to workwear to truck parts, in our markets. It's safety, industrial, truck & automotive, and workplace consumable products, selling into highly diversified end-markets - that's why we say, 'every workplace'.
    We want to transform the delivery of industrial MRO products and solutions in Australia as the market leader, and the company of choice for customers and suppliers. Our mission is to connect thousands of our products to customers of all types and sizes in every industry - to get our products and solutions into every workplace, every industry and every home.

    There are more than one million of these products, supplied by 2,500 suppliers, and at present, Stealth Global distributes these to 5,500 business customers and 34,000 retail customers. It uses a wide variety of sales channels, including its own sales team serving key accounts, in-store, on-site, online, delivery options and click-and-collect.

    Mr Arnold believes this is an "omnichannel" approach, in which the multiple channels are integrated to create a seamless experience for the customer, who can pick-up on one channel where they left-off on another. Within that, Mr Arnold said Stealth is "investing heavily" in expanding its online channel.

    With the current group structure, Mr Arnold said the business model is positioned to capitalise on the economies of scale and reach.

    The business model is similar to the Metcash principle of how it works with IGA and Mitre 10: you don't just supply to them, you invest with them and evolve your business to work directly with them, whether they're company-owned or independent.
    We've now got the depth and breadth in terms of ability to support the independents, but also grow with our company operations, that allows us to be able to provide a genuine alternative to the market. We're finding that a lot of organisations like dealing with us because we're agile, we're nimble in our decision-making, we're also very keen to invest with our customers, and in doing that we're seeing the benefits of upside...
    Our market is very large - we estimate that MRO is a $40 billion addressable market - but it's very fragmented. We are the largest player with about 4%. But we've positioned ourselves between the majors - Wesfarmers and Metcash - and the minors. We think there will be more consolidation, and that's good for companies like us who are on fast-growth pathways.

    Trading performance from continuing operations in the December 2021 half-year saw record half-year revenue of $44.3 million, up 55%, with online sales increasing ten-fold to $2.2 million, representing 5% of group sales (and 9% of retail sales). Underlying EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) more than tripled, to $1.73 million. Mr Arnold said:

    We're doing $100 million run-rate in sales now, up from $24 million in September 2018. It's interesting, we expect to see a bit of inflation, there have been a lot of supply chain bottlenecks, but that's been good for us because the products that we sell are absolutely aligned to the types of industries where that's being felt.
    As supply chains become slower, we need to make sure that we have the right stock in the right locations at the right time. So, our inventory cost may go up, however, based on that demand, we also see that our sales activity will go up if we have the product that's available. We've made a lot of investments recently, they've hugely boosted our scale, but the benefits of that are yet to materialise. We're pretty excited about the opportunity in front of us.

    Related

    Stealth Global buys United Tools Limited - HNN Flash #77, January 2022
  • Sources: Stealth Group and ShareCafe
  • retailers

    Retail update: Rural

    Nutrien Ag Solutions increases stockpile

    Global interim president, Ken Seitz said Nutrien Ag Solutions in Australia was "punching above its weight"

    Supply chain and production constraints has seen a major Australian rural retailer more than double the size of its stockpile as the industry heads into the winter cropping season.

    Nutrien Ag Solutions managing director Rob Clayton told The Weekly Times the rush for inputs, including key fertilisers, has pushed prices to decade highs and forced a rethink in the way the business sourced product. He said:

    We've had to stage product much earlier than we have in the past. Right now [we] have about a billion dollars' worth of stock sitting [in warehouses], where we would normally have about half of that.

    The CRT group of stores became part of Nutrien Ag Solutions through its acquisition of Ruralco (Landmark) in 2019.

    Mr Clayton said there was a need for Australian agriculture to get in front of supply chain issues, with calls from some sectors in the industry for more domestic production of inputs to counter rising costs and a huge blowout in transit times.

    It is a lot longer supply chain channel now than it was before. For instance, product out of China from the first phone call to when that product arrives was usually around 30 to 40 days but now it is 120 to 150 days.

    Thomas Elder Markets' analyst Andrew Whitelaw said an increasing number of nations around the world were looking to shore up supplies of key inputs through domestic production. He told The Weekly Times a combination of factors was leading to the reduced global supply, including the crisis in Ukraine, which had resulted in sanctions imposed on Russia.

    He said while Australia was not a huge importer of fertiliser from Russia, other nations were, which meant they had been forced to look to other markets to secure supply.

    Mr Whitelaw said fertiliser production facilities being planned for South Australia and Western Australia could end up "producing more fertiliser than we need in Australia by a country mile".

    I think the one thing to remember, though, is that any of these plants, if they get built, which is probably still a big if, it's not going to be until 2026, so it is not going to fix any of our immediate problems.

    :Australia visit

    Nutrien Ag Solutions in Australia is "punching above its weight" as a somewhat "unique and important stakeholder" in the company's network, according to global interim president, Ken Seitz on a recent visit. In Farm Online, Mr Seitz said:

    I'd say it's surpassing expectations at the moment ... We've invested heavily in this part of the world, more than $2 billion, so it's very pleasing to see how Australia has performed, particularly during the past two years of good commodity prices and moisture conditions and big yields.

    Despite the restructure and merger challenges and costs, Nutrien's Australian earnings have increased 108% since the acquisition. Its business footprint in rural Australia is now about 42% bigger than under the Landmark banner, with a portfolio spanning livestock and property marketing, water broking, water equipment sales and infrastructure planning, insurance, financial services, soil testing, yield mapping and wool marketing.

    As post-drought seasonal conditions blossomed in 2020 and 2021 and demand for Nutrien's services increased, the company added an extra 800 staff to its ranks last year, with almost half of those roles filled by women. Its total payroll today exceeds 4000 staff in 700 locations Australia-wide. Mr Seitz said:

    We're quite excited about how the merger has turned out. It's going very well. We know there are ups and downs in agriculture, particularly in Australia, but nature is a long term business and we take a long term view of what's needed in this industry.

    He said while the Australian business offered a more diverse service than its crop inputs focused divisions in North and South America, the local subsidiary had helped it weather the tough seasons, providing "a lot of learnings to share" to operations in the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

    Nutrien had many reasons to be optimistic about this marketplace and was "betting big on Australian agriculture". Mr Seitz said:

    Australian agriculture has the same aspirations for growth and shares the same values as our business globally. We are very proud of the role we play in the Australian economy and are committed to helping this industry grow and prosper.

    Globally Nutrien's wholesale fertiliser and crop protection business and retail activities, including its Australian portfolio, generated about $3.4 billion in net earnings, from cash flow of $4.1 billion during 2021.

    Related

    Ruralco, including its CRT stores, has been sold to a Canadian agribusiness, HI News 5.01, page 22
  • Sources: The Weekly Times and Farm Online
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Edwards Landscaping & Supplies expansion

    The Tasmanian-based nursery will have another location as well a private storage facility in partnership with Westwood Storage

    Claire Edwards of family-owned Edwards Landscaping & Supplies in Wynyard (TAS) is set to open another nursery, bulk sales, firewood yard supplies yard at South Burnie, according to The Advocate.

    Ms Edwards has been running a landscape supply business out of Wynyard for the last decade before developing the Burnie site.

    The garden-enthusiast and serial entrepreneur said she had set her sights on Burnie a few years ago, buying up a business at Round Hill and starting a smaller-scale building supplies yard. She told The Advocate:

    I'd been looking for something bigger so we could set up the landscape supplies, have room for the firewood and build another nursery.

    Mrs Edwards said many of the customers at her Wynyard business were actually from Burnie, leading her to believe there was plenty of demand for services there. Add to that the growing demand for more plants and landscaping materials as more homes get built, and an increasing demand for firewood. She said:

    The firewood market is growing rapidly. Through COVID we actually ran out, we didn't have enough dry wood so hopefully this will help.
    It was the same with plants, we couldn't order enough because demand went through the roof, so that's why we began growing a lot of them ourselves.

    Ms Edwards said she grew about 60-70% of her plant stock at Wynyard, particularly natives and more hardy species, and would then order more specialised plants in.

    The new complex at South Burnie will be made of a series of brightly coloured shipping containers connected by an undercover walkway full of plants. Ms Edwards said she hoped it would form a sort of "oasis" within the industrial area, surrounded by green hills and the ocean and blocking out the noise of the freight route.

    I want to try and make it more of an experience. Ok, you probably won't find all of the same stuff here that you might find in larger nurseries, so we try and make it unique, make it a great experience for people.

    Ms Edwards said the business would likely open sometime in May, pending council approvals.

    Source: The Advocate

    retailers

    Retail update: Industrial tools and garden

    Metal Manufactures buys Synergy's group of stores

    Australia's largest retail garden chain, Flower Power is back on the market after a deal with private equity firm Alceon collapsed

    Diversified wholesale distribution company, Metal Manufactures (MM) has purchased 100% of shares in Synergy Business Systems (Synergy). Synergy comprises approximately 20 owned industrial supplies stores and manages a buying group that has an additional 40 independently owned stores around Australia. Members include CDA Construction Products (pictured) and Ballarat Bolts and Fasteners, to name just a few.

    Independent corporate advisory and investment firm M&A Partners were engaged by Synergy in mid 2021 to advise the company on capital raising options for the purpose of funding several acquisitions and a sell down of shares by existing shareholders.

    By November 2021, M&A Partners had launched an "expression of interest" capital raising process which resulted in several parties submitting "indicative offers". Two came from major trade buyers that expressed interest in acquiring 100% of Synergy.

    Due diligence began in late January 2022 and concluded in February 2022 with Metal Manufactures confirming its offer to acquire 100% of ordinary equity of Synergy. Metal Manufactures subsequently commenced a 30-day exclusive due diligence period which concluded in the execution of a formal Share Purchase Agreement (SPA).

    About Synergy Business Systems

    Founded in 2006 as a partnership between four Australian industrial hardware suppliers, Synergy Business Systems is a construction and industrial supply group that offers a wide-ranging inventory to the construction, engineering, and industrial fastener industries. All store members have access to Synergy's data and provides products from its preferred suppliers. Synergy also has a privately owned Konstrukt brand.

    Operating in the highly fragmented industrial hardware supply sector, Synergy sees itself as one of the leading industry aggregators in the segment.

    About Metal Manufactures

    MM was established in 1916 and has evolved into a major diversified industrial and distribution company in Australia. Its operations include MM Electrical Merchandising (MMEM, Heymans, TLE, AWM and other brands), MM Kembla, MM Plastics (Graphic Art Mart, Dotmar, AVS & Fluro Pacific), Rushmore Distributors (Repelec, Gilbert Lodge & Computer Dynamics in NZ), Seadan Security & Electronics, All Round Supplies and Underground Civil Services. MM is privately owned and employs over 3,000 staff in Australia and New Zealand.

    Related

    Stealth Global buys United Tools Limited - HNN Flash #77, January 2022

    Flower Power

    Sydney-based garden centre chain Flower Power has been placed back on the market and it is understood that price aspirations are about $500 million, according to a report in The Australian.

    Private equity firms and trade buyers are carrying out due diligence on Flower Power which has 10 stores located in NSW, and generates $25 million of annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation a year.

    The opportunity is to grow the business beyond its 10 stores and expand into new markets.

    Flower Power was founded by Nick Sammut in 1955. Mr Sammut began building cement pots and wrought iron stands in his backyard before creating the garden centre. Flower Power sells pots, plants, homewares and furniture.

    Similar to other garden centres, it was largely immune to the negative impacts of the pandemic in the past two years as consumers invested in their homes while being unable to venture out into the community or travel overseas.

    The company now is run by Nick Sammut's son John and his brothers Mark and Colin are also involved at executive level. Chief financial officer is Michael Spiteri.

    Related

    Alceon Group is expected to acquire garden centre chain Flower Power - HNN Flash #78, January 2022
  • Sources: M&A Partners, Australian Financial Review and The Australian
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Hollimans Group moving to new premises

    Haymes Paint is preparing for its flagship store opening in its hometown of Ballarat, in regional Victoria

    Hollimans Group which includes a Home Timber & Hardware store, located in Charters Towers (QLD), is moving to a new location in in the Goldtower Central retail precinct, also in Charters Towers. It will operate as Hollimans Rural Mitre 10 at the precinct, reports the Townsville Bulletin.

    Ben North, owner of Hollimans, said the move was a significant expansion for the historic business which was established 130 years ago in 1892. He told the Townsville Bulletin:

    The business is very similar to what it was back then, not just with the hardware but we have a gun shop ... we have a furniture shop. It has sort of died off a bit over the years but since we have owned it we have brought it back to life to where it was years ago.

    The businesses in Hollimans Group currently consist of the following:

  • Hollimans Rural Supplies
  • Hollimans Home Timber and Hardware
  • Hollimans Gun Shop
  • Hollimans Wide Span Sheds
  • Hollimans Tanks
  • Westons Transport Services
  • Viper Water Solutions
  • Mr North said the two stores it traded at present would be combined and its range expanded at the new site under the Mitre 10 brand.

    It opens the lid on a bigger range and increases the availability as well of a lot of products, which are in current shortage, so it's going to help as well.

    Hollimans plans to offer rural supplies, hardware, painting, garden, home and commercial building items in a location that measures over 5000sqm, with a drive-through for trade items.

    It is expected to employ about 30 people and should open for customers around mid-June.

    Goldtower Central owner Paul McIver said it was important that Charters Towers featured businesses that want to grow, and the precinct can give them the support they needed.

    Hollimans Rural Mitre 10 can now expand their product offering and create more employment for the region.

    He said Goldtower Central is in Stage 1 of development and had delivered $12 million in direct infrastructure investment.

    Haymes Paint

    Haymes' new flagship store in its home base of Ballarat (VIC) is on schedule to open on April 4, according to The Ballarat Courier.

    The company said it spent $10 million to develop the site, including the purchase price and construction works. PETstock's 200th store will also be on the same site.

    Haymes Paint director Matt Haymes told The Courier the store is unique, unlike anything seen in Australia and possibly the world. He said when developing the concept, the owners wanted to have a "very safe-to-fail way" to set up a store, "try some stuff, be a bit different, be a bit more bold".

    ...[T]here are how-to areas. It's really interactive so people will be able to touch and feel and look, how to paint a deck, how to coat your garage floor, how to paint walls, how to paint and prepare your weatherboards.
    There's tile samples, there's carpet samples, there's obviously all our paint samples.
    Put it all together, create your own mood boards, but whether you're doing it yourself or you want someone to do it for you, this is the place to come get that advice and get that inspiration.

    Mr Haymes said it was important for the business, and himself, to keep the flagship store rooted in Ballarat, where it was established almost 90 years ago.

    We've been here since 1935 ... we've got well over 110 families that are in Ballarat, all our products are made here, the head office facilities are here, so having the flagship paint centre just makes sense...

    Mr Haymes said he hoped the new store would become an iconic building for the city.

    ...We've got the big paint can on the roof there and the lighting is just unbelievable at night. We've done some really cool stuff that goes back to when Dad...ran the business and the paint store in Scott Parade. He had the man on the ladder and ... a little van with paint splashes all over and he had the Lego table for the kids. In the 1980s, that was revolutionary stuff.
    This is now the 2020s version of doing some fun stuff, fun for your community and fun for your customers.

    Mr Haymes said the new store would be an evolutionary move for the business.

    We don't sell through corporate hardware, we're just through other family businesses, and if this works here, the idea is that we can then replicate it and take it out in various sizes and formats to the wider network across the country.
  • Sources: Townsville Bulletin and The Ballarat Courier
  • retailers

    Retail update: Elders

    Esperance Rural Supplies sold to Elders

    It is located in Castletown, a north-eastern suburb of Esperance in south-eastern Western Australia

    Owners of Esperance Rural Supplies, Greg and Leonie Hard, have agreed to a deal to sell their business to Elders.

    Since buying into the then CRT-owned business in mid-2000, the couple have grown it from a small enterprise worth about $5 million, to a significant business with an extensive customer base, 15 employees and its own transport trucks, according to Farm Weekly.

    Mr Hard, who will be 71 in April, will continue working as manager for the next 12 months as he transitions to retirement at the couple's 40 hectare farm outside of Esperance. He said he was happy that, under the deal, Esperance Rural Supplies would continue to have a strong presence in the region. He told Farm Weekly:

    I had several companies that were keen to buy it in the past year. Elders gave me the best price and I was comfortable selling it to them, because they wanted to buy my business and keep it the same as it is.
    They are keeping the same place, the same shirts... everything pretty much the same as it is. The only difference customers will possibly notice is when they get a statement, it will look different.

    Mr Hard also said the deal would provide the business with access to Elders' national buying network, which should offer benefits to farmers from its stronger purchasing power.

    We will buy our stock through Elders now. I am excited as Elders, being a national company, I now realise [we] can buy its supplies cheaper than I do as an independent and those types of benefits can be passed onto the growers.
    It will make the business more profitable, and pass on some of those extra benefits, which will put all the farming people who deal with us in a better situation.

    Elders State general manager Nick Fazekas said Elders had identified the Esperance region as one of the largest crop protection and input areas in WA. It saw the purchase of the well regarded Esperance Rural Supplies as an opportunity to expand in the region.

    Our decision to purchase Esperance Rural Supplies will provide us with greater market access to a wider customer base.
    Elders will initiate a light touch business model whereby all staff, including branch manager Greg Hard, will be retained and will continue to run the business as normal in the existing location and under the existing brand...
    The existing product range will remain and, over time, Elders' plans to introduce an additional product range portfolio such as finance, insurance, real estate and grain offerings.

    Mr Fazekas said the Elders Esperance branch would not be affected by the transaction.

    The Hards moved from Geraldton in mid-2000 to take up an opportunity to buy a 50% share in Esperance Rural Supplies and manage the business for CRT, an arrangement which continued for six or seven years until they bought the business outright.

    At the time, Mr Hard had not long retired from his first own business, Abrolhos Reef Lodge. He said:

    We managed that licence for seven years, then we sold that ... I was not quite 50 and within three months I was absolutely bored stiff.

    When they arrived in Esperance, Esperance Rural Supplies was one of four rural suppliers in the town. Mr Hard said the business had a strong boost about six months later, when a competitor - IAMA - was bought out by Wesfarmers Landmark.

    I got a fairly significant drift over a number of years, customers who used to be IAMA clients came to us. That helped to grow the business a lot.

    When CRT (now Ruralco) decided to sell the store, the Hards were able to buy its share.

    He said they had been the first rural suppliers in Esperance to start a service to deliver chemicals on farms to farmers, about 15 years ago, and were running their own triple road train, which twice a week transported all the business' supplies from Perth.

    Mr Hard said it was fitting to re-establish the family's connection with Elders, as he had worked for the company for a large part of his career.

    Having grown up with three brothers on the family farm in Denmark (WA), where they grew beef and potatoes, he worked for Great Southern Ag Supplies for about 18 months and then spent about 13 years with Elders, starting as a storeman and becoming a merchandise manager and area manager. He said:

    Elders taught me everything I ever knew in the game, certainly in the early days and I suppose that's where I got my incentive to do what I have done.

    Mr Hard said the pandemic, delays in global supply chains and the record-breaking grain-growing season, meant the business had just experienced a year like no other. Huge delays in shipping chemicals from China have become a significant challenge.

    We have had probably the biggest season we have ever had this past 12 months.
    We have seen very good loyalty from our customers and they gave us their orders early, so they knew that they have the chemical and can grow their crops. We are now ordering nine to 12 months ahead of where we used to order, so in June we start ordering for the following season.
    Unfortunately we are so reliant still on China for the bulk of our chemicals so we order early and forward sell it.

    Related

    Elders said it will exceed analysts' consensus forecasts for the full year to September 30 - HNN Flash #86, March 2022
  • Source: Farm Weekly
  • retailers

    Retail update: Tool Kit Depot

    Tool Kit Depot store in Melrose Park, South Australia

    Construction is underway on a new Tool Kit Depot store in Adelaide which will replace the existing Adelaide Tools store in St Mary's

    The Tool Kit Depot Melrose Park store is expected to open to tradies in May and represents an investment by owner Bunnings Group of more than $5 million. It said it will create around 15 new local jobs.

    Melrose Park will be more than double the size of the existing Adelaide Tools' St Mary's store, offering a much wider range of speciality tools and equipment and a new layout designed to better serve customers.

    Bunnings' announcement of the latest store comes as the program to transition Adelaide Tools stores in South Australia to the Tool Kit Depot format nears completion. Refits at the Lonsdale, Gawler, Parafield and Mile End stores will provide customers an extended range of specialised products and, for the first time, a workwear range.

    Bunnings chief operating officer - commercial, Ben McIntosh, said this is an exciting next step in the evolution of the business.

    The Adelaide Tools team can be immensely proud of what they have achieved, taking Adelaide Tools from a local business with a proud history, to a business that is now starting to expand nationally. We're really excited to be investing in the local store network and we can't wait to open the new Melrose Park store in May.
    The Adelaide stores continue to be run by our dedicated teams who are passionate about delivering the best service and solutions for tradies and serious DIYers, from specialist product advice to the in-house repair workshop and hire service.

    Related

    Tool Kit Depot stores recently opened in Rockingham, Mandurah, Malaga and Belmont in WA, with further stores planned.

    More Tool Kit Depot stores open in WA - HNN Flash #77, January 2022
    retailers

    Retail update

    Sunshine Mitre 10 expands distribution capacity

    Amazon announced it will build an operation facility at Amaroo Business Park in Craigieburn (VIC)

    Queensland-based Sunshine Mitre 10 general manager Neil Hutchins said the group's new purpose-built distribution facility at Kunda Park is a response to supply chain challenges experienced across the industry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The distribution centre officially opened in mid-January. He told Sunshine Coast News:

    It is no secret that there has been a significant shortage of building materials and delays in the supply of materials to Australia, so we wanted to do all we could to give our building and trade customers some security around this.
    By increasing our storage and logistics facilities, together with our growing network of stores across Queensland, it means we can get the products to our builders when they need them.

    The distribution centre also includes a logistics centre and covers 4500sqm under cover. Mr Hutchins said:

    This distribution centre, along with our network of 18 locations across Queensland, means our group can meet the demand of the market and support our customers.

    Sunshine Mitre 10's network will continue to grow this year with two additional greenfield developments, one at North Lakes, and another at the Stockland Aura Business Park on the Sunshine Coast.

    Related:

    Sunshine Mitre 10 plans North Lakes store - HNN Flash #77, December 2021

    Amazon Australia

    Construction has begun on Amazon's 15,600sqm facility within Amaroo Business Park in the outer Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn, reports the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

    Known as a "middle mile" warehouse, it will be Amazon's first dedicated sorting centre in Australia with capacity to process 300,000 parcels a day, to cater for the online shopping boom.

    The facility will allow picked-and-packed orders to be sorted by final destination, then consolidated and shipped to last-mile sites for delivery to customers.

    The Craigieburn Sort Centre is Amazon's fifth site in Melbourne, supporting the company's existing network in Victoria which includes fulfilment centres in Dandenong South and Ravenhall, and Amazon Logistics sites in Tullamarine and Mulgrave.

    During the pandemic, more Australians shopped from their couches. According to the AFR, the latest NAB Online Index estimates Australians spent $54.23 billion on online retail, over the 12 months to January, equating to 14.7% of total retail sales. This is up from 9.2% of total sales in January 2020, when annual online sales totalled $30.8 billion.

    Since launching its Australian business Amazon.com.au four years ago, Amazon's local revenues have risen strongly, doubling to more than $1 billion in 2020. The most recent accounts filed by Amazon Commercial Services show revenues almost doubled again in 2021 to $1.8 billion.

    To put its sales momentum in perspective, Amazon is now bigger in Australia than Kogan, which last year booked gross transaction sales of $1.179 billion, and is steadily catching up to Coles, whose supermarkets had $2 billion of online sales last year, and Woolworths, which in 2021 had e-commerce sales of just over $5 billion.

    Related

    Amazon is coming to town - HI News Vol. 3 No. 12, November 2017
  • Sources: Sunshine Coast News, Reflected Image PR, Australian Financial Review and The Australian
  • retailers

    UK update

    Homebase partners with Tesco supermarkets

    The home improvement retailer is bringing its products and expertise to Tesco stores across the country

    The new collaboration between Homebase and Tesco supermarkets will mean customers can pick up practical DIY buys including paint, power tools and hardware during their weekly shop. They can also peruse some of Homebase's home accessories, garden decorations, firepits, and other outdoor furniture.

    Shoppers will be able to browse kitchen, bathroom, and lighting displays to gather inspiration for bigger home improvement projects.

    The first store opened in Borehamwood, and this will be followed by the opening of a store in Walkden and Woolwich in April. Homebase CEO Damian McGloughlin said:

    We're really excited to be partnering with Tesco, bringing our home and garden products and expertise to even more local communities. We're always looking for ways to make it easier for customers to shop with us and teaming up with Tesco means we're able to do just that.

    Customers will also be able to use the click and collect service. They will be able to place an order on the Homebase website and collect it from selected Tesco stores within one hour.

    Homebase staff will be on hand to advise customers on improving their homes and gardens. Kate Ormrod, principal retail analyst at GlobalData, said:

    With 73% of Homebase DIY shoppers buying food and grocery from Tesco, the deal will bring greater convenience for Homebase's existing shoppers, while also opening it up to a new customer base - and making it more appealing to lapsed female shoppers. The deal emulates that of B&Q and ASDA, and given the consumer spend shift to food and groceries amid the rising cost of living, the concession partnership will ensure Homebase is in the right place as footfall at non-essential retailers suffers.

    This new partnership follows on the success of Homebase opening eight garden centres in Next stores in 2021 in Southhampton, Norwich, Shoreham, Ipswich, Warrington, Cameberly, Bristol and Sheffield.

    Related

    Next and Homebase tie-up - HNN Flash #45, May 2021
  • Sources: Ideal Home and Kam City
  • retailers

    Retail update: Hardware and tools

    SA Mitre 10 store owner unable to join legal bid to block proposed Bunnings

    Plans have been lodged with Toowoomba Regional Council to expand the Sydney Tools' Wilsonton showroom in Queensland

    John Capaldo, owner of Glynde Mitre 10 in Hectorville (SA) has failed in his bid to join a lawsuit relating to the construction of a proposed Bunnings store located 400m away, reports the Adelaide Advertiser.

    Mr Capaldo, whose family owns and operates the Mitre 10 store located on the corner of Glynburn and Montacute Roads, has campaigned strongly against the planned Bunnings nearby at 37-45 Glynburn Road. He gathered a petition of more than 1000 business owners and residents opposed to the new outlet, which was first proposed in 2016.

    Bunnings argued in court that the traffic issues Mr Capaldo relied on for his case would be more of an issue from a proposed Aldi project in the same area. (Mr Capaldo has contracted to sell some of his property interests to Aldi.)

    The planned new Bunnings has been rejected for approval by Norwood, Payneham & St Peters Council at least three times, with Bunnings lodging an appeal in December against the most recent rejection.

    Mr Capaldo and the owners of another business, MLP Motors, applied to the Environment Resources and Development Court to be allowed to join the appeal case on the side of the council, arguing the Bunnings should not be allowed to go ahead.

    However commissioner Alan Rumsby denied Mr Capaldo's request, in which he argued that a property owned by himself and three of his siblings on Lewis Road - 100 metres and one block over from the planned Bunnings - would be "seriously impacted" by the development, particularly in terms of traffic.

    Bunnings countered that the Lewis Road property would be "largely unaffected" and told the court that the Lewis Road property "was only identified to the court and the parties once it was discovered that (his company) Capaldo No. 1 would likely not have standing to pursue its joinder application once the sale (to Aldi) of its property at 27-29 Glynburn Road, Glynde was completed''. According to the court judgment:

    Bunnings said that the joinder application of Mr Capaldo, in respect of his interests in a largely unaffected property at Lewis Road, highlighted that his motivation was simply to secure standing in these proceedings in order to protect Capaldo Investments Pty Ltd's commercial interests in the Hectorville Mitre 10.

    The proposed Aldi supermarket development, which has also been opposed by some in the local community and which was initially rejected by the State Commission Assessment Panel last year, would be next to the Bunnings and closer to Mr Capaldo's Lewis Road property.

    Aldi later successfully applied for a code amendment for its project site to be rezoned as a "suburban activity centre".

    Bunnings argued that the MLP bid to be joined to the case should also "be viewed with suspicion" and suggested it was "a vehicle for somebody else's interests''. The commissioner said there was nothing before the court to suggest there was anything improper in MLP wanting to join the case.

    He also found there was no convincing evidence put to the court that the Capaldo property would be materially affected by traffic movement caused by the Bunnings development and refused Mr Capaldo's application to join the case. MLP's application was approved.

    Sydney Tools

    Bayswater Holding Pty Ltd submitted a proposal with the Toowoomba Regional Council to increase the footprint of the Sydney Tools showroom in Wilsonton (QLD). The expansion would turn the existing multi-tenancy building into one space for Sydney Tools, along with extending the footprint to cater for two other businesses.

    As reported by the Toowoomba Chronicle, the report by Milford Planning said:

    The applicant, Bayswater Holdings Pty Ltd, is seeking to establish three showrooms over the subject site, by converting the existing building in to a single showroom and constructing two new showrooms, one to the east and one to the west of the refurbished building.
    The existing building has been refurbished to form one building as opposed multiple tenancies and Sydney Tools occupy and are operating from the refurbished building.
    In terms of the end users of the two new showrooms, these will be complementary uses to Sydney Tools, for example safety work wear and equipment, so that patrons can conveniently visit multiple businesses during a visit to the site.

    The council has yet to respond to the application.

  • Sources: The Adelaide Advertiser and Toowoomba Chronicle
  • retailers

    Retail update: Rural and garden nursery

    Elders forecasts improved outlook

    Perrennialle Plants has recorded a massive increase in sales of 1400% since joining the Buy From The Bush movement

    Agricultural services company Elders said it will exceed analysts' consensus forecasts for the full year to September 30. Chief executive Mark Allison said:

    After finalisation of the February trading numbers, which continue improved earnings for the first quarter, we now believe we will exceed analysts' consensus for the full year to 30 September 2022 and produce an underlying EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) result ... (20 to 30% above) ... which is necessarily broad given we are only five months into our financial year.

    However, the improved guidance was subject to a number of caveats, including the potential of supply chain disruptions as a result of COVID-19 and geopolitical events, unexpected changes to seasonal conditions and commodity prices, as well as severe weather events.

    Mr Allison said Elders had witnessed improvement in its retail and wholesale segments compared with the same time last financial year due to increased sales. (In 2019, Elders acquired Australian Independent Rural Retailers, a wholesale supplier of about 6000 products to 240 independent rural merchandise retailers.)

    Favourable seasonal conditions and fears of supply chain disruptions have pushed many growers to order their herbicides and insecticides early, helping the company beat profit forecasts. He said:

    While we believe some of these sales are forward purchasing by primary producers seeking to mitigate the risk of instability in supply chains, we consider the majority of sales are a result of increased activity.

    Mr Allison also said a private label strategy in its herbicides and insecticides business was also paying off. Elders operates the Titan Ag brand after buying it in 2018.

    The Elders Agency business, which conducts cattle and sheep sales, was performing strongly because of high prices. It had been offset to a small extent by lower volumes because of restocking and the good availability of feed on farms.

    The group's real estate business is trading ahead of expectations because of increased turnover and high demand.

    After its near collapse during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 when its debt levels were extremely high (to $1.4 billion), the company finds itself taking advantage of exceptional growing conditions across most of Australia, many farming businesses cashed-up and looking to upgrade their equipment, and the COVID-19 pandemic triggering an exodus of people from the city to the country, to the benefit of Elders' property sales business.

    Related

    In November 2021, Elders announced a 22% rise in net profit after tax to $149.8 million for the 12 months ended September 30.

    Elders' AIRR acquisition helps drive profit - HNN Flash #72, November 2021

    Perrennialle Plants

    Soon after launching an e-commerce store for Perrennialle Plants, which owner Chris Cuddy promoted via Facebook and Instagram, it was featured on the Buy From The Bush (BFTB) pages which he describes as a "game changer" for his business.

    In addition to increasing sales since being part of BFTB, Mr Cuddy has renovated a building on the main street of Canowindra (NSW), to house the new nursery using local tradespeople and consciously sourced building materials locally to inject cash back into the town. He and wife Nerida have also opened a plant emporium, cafe and event space on site.

    Prior to this, in 2019, the business was under severe strain owing to worsening drought so Mr Cuddy began to look at other revenue pathways to keep the business afloat.

    The success he is experiencing feature in a new BFTB Impact Report. In the report, Mr Cuddy said:

    Opening the emporium has created so much goodwill from the people in our town, and everyone is so grateful. We would never have taken the risk to expand if it wasn't for what happened with Buy From The Bush.

    The report has shown over the last three years, BFTB has generated more than $9 million in revenue for rural small-medium businesses and dramatically shifted public perception of rural businesses and communities, with more consumers now reporting a stronger emotional connection to the bush

    Over 70% of those surveyed said BFTB had positively changed their views on regional communities and the quality of products regional businesses could deliver.

    The study also paints a strong picture of the changing faces of regional economies, leaning heavily away from the narrative of the dusty middle-aged male farmer and more towards digital business with over 96% of rural small medium business respondents believing that digital businesses are crucial to their income and the economies of their communities.

    The report also found that digitally enabled small businesses could crisis-proof rural communities.

  • Sources: Australian Financial Review, The Australian and Canowindra News
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Sunshine Mitre 10 donates to flood-affected Gympie clubs

    The east coast of Australia has been battered by torrential rain which brought widespread floods across parts of Sydney, Brisbane and surrounding areas

    Queensland-based hardware retail group, Sunshine Mitre 10 has given $20K to help Gympie clubs affected by the recent floods.

    The local clubs to receive support include One Mile Recreation (cricket), Gympie Soccer Club, Gympie Cats AFL Club, Gympie Pony Club, Gympie Horse & Rodeo Association, Gympie Junior Rugby League, Victory Care Services, Albert Park Bowls Club, Gympie Touch Association, and Gympie Netball Association. Each group received $2000 accounts.

    Sunshine Mitre 10 general manager Neil Hutchins said the accounts allowed the groups to get the supplies they needed most. The told The Gympie Times:

    This flood event has affected so many in the community that as locals we wanted to do something to help.

    Staff member Melina Nichols is a born and bred Gympie local, and said the team wanted to show their support and help in a small way with the clean-up.

    We chose community organisations that so many of our local community, including our staff and their families, use and also those which may not be as likely to be eligible for support elsewhere.

    Gympie Junior Rugby League secretary Katrina Birchall said the flood had been devastating for the club.

    Our clubhouse has been completely flooded and the grounds have been damaged as well.
    We were supposed to host trial games on the March 12 but we won't be able to get the grounds ready in time for that so they have been postponed. We are now working towards having the grounds ready to play on for the start of the season on Saturday 26th March.

    Mrs Birchall Gympie Regional Council staff were already working to clear the grounds, while volunteers also cleared mud from the clubhouse, to get them in a hygienic and safe state for the kids to play on.

    The clubhouse will need a great deal of work and while we are insured that will take time so the supplies, we will be able to get from Sunshine Mitre 10 will help us get set up so we can host kids at the ground sooner while the clubhouse is rebuilt. [The donation] means so much...
    So many of our families have lost their homes, so we are working as hard as we can to get things up and running again as soon as possible. It will take a long time for homes to be rebuilt and the effects will go on, so if we can offer the opportunity for kids to come and play with their mates and get away from the devastation that is so important.

    Bunnings

    Bunnings held a country-wide fundraiser to help those directly impacted by floods across NSW and Queensland.

    From 9am-4pm on 11 March every single Bunnings store in Australia, outside those impacted by floods, held a flood-fundraising sausage sizzle, with all proceeds expected to go to communities hit by the floods.

    Money raised will go to the GIVIT Storms and Flooding Appeal, which works with the Queensland and New South Wales governments to manage and distribute the money.

  • Sources: The Gympie Times, Western Advocate and ABC (Sunshine Coast)
  • retailers

    USA update: Ace Hardware

    Ace signs with Epigraph for augmented reality and 3D content

    The exclusive agreement validates the business case for AR and 3D even further, said Epigraph CEO Jasper Mullarney

    Technology developed by Epigraph can be found on Ace Hardware's website in the form of 3D product tours and an augmented reality QR code that allows customers to envision how a product will look in their space.

    In 2019, Epigraph started working with outdoor power tool maker EGO, which sells its products to Ace. That relationship opened the door to starting a six-month pilot with Ace in which Epigraph had to validate the return on investment for its 3D and AR technology and meet Ace's standards. As part of the pilot, Epigraph enhanced its technology. Mr Mullarney told Biz Journals:

    It was a pretty big bet. There was a lot of upfront investment in our technology, in our infrastructure and things like insurance and policy to go live on a major retailer like Ace.
    At the beginning, we were pretty confident that the numbers would be there and that users would respond well to this. ... It's a big bet that paid off.

    The technology encouraged customers to spend longer on the website and made them more likely not only to add items to their cart, but then buy them. They also spent more money and had markedly lower return rates than those who didn't engage with the AR option. Brian Kritzberg, Ace's digital merchandising manager, said in a statement:

    Epigraph's technology has delivered a significant improvement in both engagement and performance for Ace vendors, our customers really love it.

    In the future, Ace plans to add more vendors to the AR and 3D program, Mr Kritzberg said.

    For Epigraph, the Ace contract comes with an additional benefit. The brands that sell to Ace now are asking Epigraph to launch AR and 3D presentations of their products for other retailers, such as The Home Depot and Lowe's. Mr Mullarney:

    These brands are approached by thousands of different companies a week in the adtech and martech agency space trying to sell them on different things that provide value.
    This [relationship with Ace] gives us a way to cut through some of that. ... It makes the conversation much easier to have.

    Epigraph said it can back up its offering with analytics showcasing the potential ROI.

    The company also envisions adding another component for Ace. Brick-and-mortar stores have limited space for stocking inventory, but Epigraph can expand that virtually. Customers could scan QR codes on the sales floor to view additional options, experience a product in 3D or augmented reality, and then place an order.

    In addition to Ace, Epigraph's technology is used by Milwaukee Tool. Its technology is live on The Home Depot, Lowe's and Wayfair websites, as well as countries including France, Australia and New Zealand.

  • Source: Biz Journals
  • retailers

    UK update: Toolstation

    Toolstation's affordable range of kitchens

    Parent company Travis Perkins has also launched a national delivery tracking service

    Kitchen renovations were in popular demand over the lockdown period, with sales of Toolstation's kitchen range up 19% at the beginning of 2021 compared to 2020. Its new range of kitchens in partnership with Kitchen Kit, is designed to be "easy to choose, easy to buy and easy to build".

    The Kitchen Kit brand, created by British manufacturer BA, prides itself on offering the best hassle-free experience, with fast delivery and stress-free assembly of appliances. The cabinets are designed to be quick and easy to construct using Uniclic technology. After unpacking the product, the cabinets can simply "click" into place, taking as little as 30 seconds to build without any tools necessary.

    Using the kitchen styler available on the Toolstation website, customers are able build a kitchen design to find the style that would best suit the home they are working on. The creative concept helps bring kitchen cabinets and worktops to life through the screen using a 360 visualiser. From there, they can choose from one of three door styles, a matte or gloss colour, and a range of accessories complementary to the kitchen to give that perfect finish.

    Customers who have access to a Toolstation trade account will also benefit from the new 5% discount that will be available on the Kitchen Kit range. All customers with a trade account will get a 5% discount on all their orders. Cara Yates, category manager of kitchens and bathrooms for Toolstation, said:

    Now that we have kitchen cabinets in our range, we really can offer the full kitchen solution and coupled with the wider Toolstation range, everything our customers would need to complete the job.

    Delivery tracking

    Travis Perkins said it is the first builders merchant in the UK to launch a nationwide, real time delivery tracking and management for its customers.

    The service is designed to take the guesswork out of deliveries, and it means customers will know exactly when to expect their local branch delivery for building supplies. Customers can benefit from its delivery options that now include free delivery from the local branch; delivery day of choice; next day delivery; text message and email updates with real time delivery tracking.

    Aligning with the strategy to deliver best-in-class service to trade customers, users will now receive text message notifications on the day of delivery with a named two-hour timeslot, live delivery tracking, and messaging received when the delivery is in a 20-minute delivery distance, plus proof of delivery email communication.

    The latest initiative comes as Travis Perkins announced 50 new or relocated branches in the next three years, to improve the customer experience both in person and online.

    Its mobile app was launched in 2021 and was designed in conjunction with customers and allows them to order materials and check stock on the go. James How, digital operations director said:

    For our customers, time is money. We wanted to challenge ourselves across our 550+ strong national branch network to give our customers real time delivery tracking and management.

    Results

    Travis Perkins has also bounced back to profit in 2021, as sustained high demand for property renovations enabled it to offset rising building material costs.

    The home improvement retailer reported a GBP241million profit for 2021, compared to a GBP35million loss in 2020 when the first lockdown severely impacted trade and led to supply chain disruption.

    Total revenue surged to GBP4.6billion as sales at its merchanting arm grew by around GBP750million following strong demand for home DIY improvements and new home completions.

    The group's Toolstation business saw its revenue increase by another fifth to GBP761million, with sales having more than doubled over the last three years. This helped it gain additional market share and boost its store network across the UK and Europe by another 110 locations last year, with at least 100 further branches expected to be added this year.

    Its European business did make a GBP20million loss as a consequence of costs related to store expansion, but it still made a significant profit from property thanks to the offloading of its former distribution centre in Tilbury.

    Toolstation's trade has also been less affected by cost inflation than Travis Perkins' merchanting division, which saw the price of goods it sources climb by around 13% in the second half of the year as a result of product shortages.

    The FTSE 250 company expects inflationary pressures to remain but still forecasts stability in trade amid the normalisation of hybrid working, buoyant levels of property sales and growth in the number of housing developments.

    In 2021, Travis Perkins demerged its Wickes (DIY and garden retail) business after a string of COVID delays. Soon after, it sold its plumbing and heating division for GBP325 million in a bid to simplify the group.

    Travis Perkins supplies both trade professionals and self-builders.

  • Sources: DIY Week, Retail Times, This is Money and Investors Chronicle (UK)
  • retailers

    Woodend Hardware

    A regional jewel

    Located about an hour's drive from Melbourne CBD, Woodend Hardware is a classic of how to make a regional store valuable to its community, its staff and the owners. That's all build on a lot of experience and, of course, daily care and good practices.

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    Located to the north and a little west of Melbourne, the Shire of Macedon Ranges is ranked second only to Melbourne as the most liveable area in the state of Victoria. Woodend, which is one of its regional centres, is less than an hour's drive from the state capital in weekend traffic. With a population of around 8500, it's a pleasant regional town, with wide streets and a relaxed, leisurely pace.

    Woodend is also home to one of hardware retailing's regional success stories, Woodend Hardware. Located in a small shopping centre along the town's main throughway, High Street, and nestled next to the town's Kmart K-hub, the store is one of those rare regional jewels of a store. It's the end result of decades (over a half-century, in fact) of experience in hardware retail and hard work by the Paterson family's patriarch, Robert (Rob), and the manager of the Woodend store, his son Steven.

    The first thing that hits you as you enter the store is just how clean and crisp it feels. Brightly lit (another store to newly convert to LEDs) with a general blue and white theme, the store features low-rise shelving, giving it a generous, open feel. The main floor area is anchored at the back by a large Haymes Paint in-store sign (newly installed the day before HNN visited), with long aisles stretching towards the main entrance. The store is stocked comprehensively, but not crowded, and there is evident care taken in what has made it onto those shelves.

    As any retailer would tell, none of this has happened by accident. When HNN commented on that bright cleanliness after we entered the store, Rob's eyes lit up a little. As it turned out, the cleanliness and brightly lit space form part of the simple mantra that Rob sees as the key to success for any hardware store: clean, bright, good stock and good staff, is how that might be summed up. As Rob tells us:

    Over the period of 60 odd years that I've been in hardware retail, really the basics have never changed. Really neat, clean. well presented.
    It's just good management. I mean, if you say these are the rules, clean, tidy, clean floors, plenty of lighting. When I walk into a store, I look at the floor. Then I look at the lighting. Those are the first two things I do.

    Origins

    While Woodend Hardware today is a medium-large store, when Rob first opened up in the town he had much smaller premises. Back in 1988, the hardware store was housed in a small space that is today home to Riverwood Accountants, sandwiched between The Woodend Fruit Market and a Vespa retailer.

    It wasn't a location that Rob discovered for himself. The first hardware store he opened in the Macedon Ranges area was in Gisborne, a town about 15 minutes south of Woodend on the road to Melbourne, in 1984. The idea for the hardware store in Woodend was down to a local real estate agent, as he tells it:

    What happened was the local real estate agent came to us one day and said, "Look, Rob, I've got an offer to make you". And I said, "What is it?". And he said, "Oh, I've got a hardware store for sale up in Woodend". And I thought, oh Christ we are just building up Gisborne...
    Anyway, I came up and had a look, and the price was very cheap, and I thought, well, let's go for it. So that's when we came up here to the little store across the road.
    It was a real mess, so we cleaned it all up. Within the first 12 months, we more than doubled the sales. Just by cleaning the place up, putting some good stock in there. Got rid of all the dead stock. So that's basically how we started.

    The next stage was surprisingly similar to the first stage, as again the impetus for change came from outside the store itself. At that time the area where the store now exists was nothing but paddocks with a shed or two on it. As Steven tells it:

    The person who owned the local IGA, Ivor Johnson, he came into the store, and he said, "I want to build you a hardware store. We'll drag you across the road". Then he and Dad designed the store and Ivor built it. About seven or eight years ago, we designed out the back [the timber yard] and Ivor built that for us as well.

    The next stage in Woodend Hardware's evolution was Rob sending Steven up to Woodend to manage the store.

    I came up here when I was 21. I think Dad just shipped me up here!
    I've always been in hardware. I left school at 16. I did five years under Dad after that, and then, I don't know what happened, but I got told to come up here and to manage this store. And I've been up here since.

    Today the store gets by with just six full-time hard working staff. It's open seven days a week, with one staff member working Saturdays and two additional part-time staff helping out on the weekend. One thing the Patersons are proud of is how long staff choose to stay with the store. It's something Rob knew was important from the start.

    We're fortunate. We've got very good staff who've been with us for many years. Jackie has been with us what? Thirty or 35 years. She was here at the beginning. She's part of the whole thing. And Greg has been with us 20-odd years. So I mean, we look after our staff. We look after them, we treat them just like family. That's the way you have to do, because they're your asset.

    Stephen is convinced this is also important to the store's customers.

    Some of the staff have retired, that's how long they've been here! And customers can come in and see the same people. Not chopping and changing all the time. They can build a relationship.

    The COVID years

    While metropolitan independent stores saw a strong lift in sales in Melbourne when lockdown restrictions limited customers to a travel a radius of just five kilometres from their residence, some regional stores also received a good boost. That was especially the case for Woodend Hardware, as it turned out it was in just the right location, outside the restricted metro zone, and close enough to regional population centres.

    Victoria's metro restrictions were based on Local Government Authority (LGA) areas. The LGA of Hume included Sunbury, which included the nearest Bunnings to the Macedon Ranges area. Hume was locked down whenever metro restrictions came into force. However, the Hume LGA just missed Gisborne. Gisborne is a significant population centre of over 11,000.

    As a result of these two factors, the store saw a very high increase in sales. Steven explains:

    Our sales jumped, through COVID [in the first year] by 28% on the previous year. Which was - that's huge. Just huge. Because Bunnings was closed.
    Bunnings is metro, while Gisborne is regional. Sunbury [the closest Bunnings] is metro, so customers found us. A lot of people came from Gisborne. When Dad shut our Gisborne store, they didn't come this way. They went the other way to Sunbury. But then [due to COVID restrictions] they had to come this way, and they found us.

    According to Rob, taking the two years of the pandemic together, the hardware store saw revenue figures up 35% on those for 2019. The store also has high hopes that it will be able to hold onto much of those gains through 2022, at least. Though Rob is, as always, a realist about the future.

    We've kept a lot. We've kept a lot coming back this way. Sales haven't gone on as big as they were, but they've gone up probably by 20%, over the sales from three years ago, pre- COVID.
    Sales will plateau. We definitely have seen sales stay up, but not as much as we did last year. I wrote down July, August, September, October last year [2021] were huge months. Huge months. But then it sort of has tapered back. But we're still doing very well.

    One reason the store is likely to continue to prosper is that there has been a slight population shift to the regional areas. House prices in Woodend have increased substantially, with the entry-level now priced at over $500,000, and the median price at $900,000.

    Leaving Mitre 10

    One of the bigger decisions the Patersons needed to make some years ago was that, after 34 years of being part of the what is now Metcash's Independent Hardware Group (IHG) - specifically Mitre 10 - it was time for them to leave the group.

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    retailers

    Retail update

    Haymes Paint opens Benalla store in regional Victoria

    Long-standing Lismore (NSW) camping and workwear store is on the market following the owner's retirement

    As part of the first few days of its opening, Haymes Paint Shop Benalla was offering its retail and trade customers free accessories with the purchase of selected Haymes Paint products, according to Benalla Ensign. The official grand opening was delayed from 2021 as a result of COVID-19.

    Haymes Paint Shop Benalla store manager Terry Mack said the team was proud and excited to welcome the community to the new store. He told Benalla Ensign:

    With roots in Ballarat, Haymes Paint knows the importance of building strong, trusting and loyal community relationships. We can't wait to continue this in our store, while bringing the town specialist paint advice with a smile.

    Mr Mack said Haymes Paint was committed to having a positive and lasting impact on these communities through working with other independently owned businesses that shared the same values.

    Mr Mack said the team is also focused on providing a high level of service to its customers.

    Haymes Paint Shop Benalla has a commitment to, and passion for, providing customers with high-quality products for any surface with exceptional service and specialist advice.

    The Haymes Paint Shop network now has more than 56 locations across Australia.

    Aussie Digger

    North Lismore store, Aussie Digger is on the market for $1.5 million. It started out in an empty shed in 1994, and its owner John Barnes has been at the forefront of quality workwear and boots in that time. But after a routine scan found cancer, the 81-year-old went "under the knife". He told the Daily Telegraph:

    We were lucky to catch it early. But it's made me think now it's the time to get out.

    The store will remain the same and retain existing staff, but will have a new owner once sold. There has been significant interest in the business, he said.

    Mr Barnes was working as a publican when a friend suggested he get out of that industry.

    I was looking around at different businesses and a friend of mine from Maroochydore had something similar to this. He kept saying to me, 'John, you knock off at lunchtime on Saturday and have Sunday off. How does that sound?' and I thought that's pretty good [because] pubs are seven-days-a-week.
    I didn't have enough money to go into a good coastal pub, and I looked around and found this building here and thought it looked like a good place, so I started out in an empty shed with camping gear and workwear.

    Mr Barnes said he built the shop on stock.

    If someone comes in and they want 30 shirts...today you've got to have a big range of all the sizes and it's the same with boots.
    A bloke comes in looking for a pair of boots, he wants to come in and walk out with them so that's why I carry a lot of stock.

    Mr Barnes said people come all the way from Murwillumbah and Byron, Evans Head, Yamba and Iluka to buy his products.

    Going west we get people from Tenterfield and Dorrigo, Casino and Kyogle.

    Mr Barnes said once the sale goes through, he will retire on a small grazing property outside of Lismore.

  • Sources: Benalla Ensign and The Daily Telegraph
  • retailers

    USA update

    Ace Hardware supports DIFM with tech platform

    The hardware retail co-operative also reported record fourth quarter and full year revenues for 2021

    Ace Hardware Corp. is implementing a new technology infrastructure for its Do-It-For-Me (DIFM) services offering.

    It is deploying the field service software platform developed by Dispatch for its Ace Handyman Services home service franchise businesses. Ace Handyman Services - formerly Handyman Matters - is Ace Hardware's new handyman division, created to help Ace customers achieve home improvement goals.

    Evolving from Handyman Matters, Ace Handyman allows customers to hire reliable, experienced contractors to come into their homes and assist with projects that may need an extra hand or additional expertise. Aaron Williams, Ace Handyman vice-president of technology, said:

    Customer experience is even more important when you're thinking about stepping into someone's home. It's one thing for a customer to step into your store, but when you step into the customer's home - that attention to a customer's needs, and just showing respect and being truly helpful is really very important.

    Dispatch works with home service enterprises to provide visibility into the performance of their locations and independent contractors. Through using Dispatch, Ace Handyman Services said it has been able to show measurable growth across several important indicators, including increases in service requests, location job volume and revenue, and customer satisfaction. Avi Goldberg, Dispatch founder and chief strategy officer, said:

    Retailers across industries are realising that pairing services with their retail offering is the best way to build loyalty, drive foot traffic, and provide a complete experience to their customers - and Ace has quickly become a leader in this space.

    Acquired by Ace Hardware in 2019, Handyman Matters was a franchisor of home repair, maintenance, and improvement services based in Denver, Colorado. The company's on-site services to consumers and small businesses include carpentry, plumbing, electrical, drywall, painting, and flooring.

    At time of purchase, Handyman Matters had 57 franchisees who collectively employed approximately 250 handymen and women in 121 territories across 23 states in America. Chris Bue was in a leadership role at Handyman Matters, and is now president at Ace Handyman Services. He said:

    Ace had services on the radar for quite some time, and when they went out to find a business like ours, our core values really lined up - our already great customer reviews, and our tagline of helping you love your home.

    Related: Ace Hardware gets into the Do-It-For-Me sector.

    Ace Hardware expands with DIFM market - HNN Flash #9, September 2019

    2021 results

    Ace Hardware also reported record fourth quarter 2021 revenues of USD2.1 billion, an increase of USD14.2 million, or 0.7%, from the fourth quarter of 2020.

    Fiscal 2021 consisted of 52 weeks compared to 53 weeks in fiscal 2020. Excluding the 53rd week in fiscal 2020, revenues in the fourth quarter increased USD114.1 million, or 5.8%, from the fourth quarter of 2020. Net income was USD9.3 million for the fourth quarter of 2021, a decrease of USD33.8 million from the fourth quarter of 2020.

    Full year revenues were a record USD8.6 billion, an increase of USD831.5 million, or 10.7%, from 2020 revenue (an increase of USD931.4 million or 12.2% excluding the 53rd week in fiscal 2020). Net income for fiscal 2021 was USD330.0 million, an increase of USD13.1 million, from fiscal 2020. John Venhuizen, president and CEO, said:

    In comparison to 2019, total revenue increased 38.6% and net income is up 129.8%. This transformational surge in business is driven by two-year stacked comp growth of 34.4%, digital growth of 279%, and the opening of 407 new stores globally over two years.

    The 6.9% increase in retail same-store-sales during the fourth quarter of 2021 - based on the daily retail sales data reported by the approximately 3,400 Ace retailers - was the result of a 10.5% increase in average ticket, partially offset by a 3.3% decrease in same-store transactions.

    The 7.5% increase in retail same-store-sales for the full year was the result of a 9.4% increase in average ticket, partially offset by a 1.7% decrease in same-store transactions.

    Ace added 182 new domestic stores in fiscal 2021 and cancelled 78 stores. This brought the company's total domestic store count to 4,751 at the end of fiscal 2021, an increase of 104 stores from the end of fiscal 2020. On a worldwide basis, Ace added 206 stores in fiscal 2021 and cancelled 86, bringing the worldwide store count to 5,583 at the end of fiscal 2021.

  • Sources: Chain Store Age, PR Newswire and Ace Hardware Corporation
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Tylers Rural will change to Nutrien Ag Solutions

    The land where Tait Timber and Hardware is situated in the Melbourne suburb of Glen Iris is up for sale

    Nutrien Ag Solutions has acquired Wimmera-based Tylers Hardware and Rural Supplies. Both parties reached an agreement for Tylers Rural to become part of the Nutrien Ag Solutions retail network, which was completed on 1 February 2022, according to the Stawell Times.

    Tylers Rural has three locations at Rupanyup, Stawell and Murtoa in regional Victoria and will operate as Nutrien Ag Solutions. It has been in the Wimmera for over 33 years, and throughout its history has had a strong affiliation with Nutrien Ag Solutions as an independent member.

    Tylers Rural co-owner Kelvin Tyler said this was the start of a fresh new chapter for the business. He told the Stawell Times:

    Our valued customers remain our priority, and they can continue to expect the same high level of service and support, from the same familiar faces at our existing locations.
    The integration will also see all three stores expand their range of agronomic services, as well as offering additional finance, insurance, livestock, wool and real estate services.

    Nutrien Ag Solutions South East Australia region manager Jon White said:

    This is a really exciting announcement, and we are pleased to welcome the staff from Tylers Rural across to the Nutrien business. We have had a long association with Tyler family and business and are looking forward to building on all the great work that they and their team have achieved, particularly Tylers Rural's strong in-field agronomic presence, which complements our business.
    This acquisition provides Nutrien an opportunity to expand our merchandise and fertiliser offering to customers in each of these key communities, and bring the full range of Nutrien Ag Solutions activities.

    Terry, Kelvin and Adrian Tyler continuing to lead and manage the business.

    Tait Timber and Hardware

    The site at 15 Weir Street, Glen Iris (VIC) where Mitre 10's Tait Timber and Hardware sits is for sale and expected to fetch more than $26 million, reports The Age newspaper.

    The store has been supplying materials for building and renovations since 1905. While the business and buildings were sold in 2011 to Woolworths for the now defunct Masters Home Improvement business, the Hayes family retained the 8687sqm of land adjoining the M1 freeway and the railway. Mitre 10's parent company Metcash has a "ground lease" over the property, paying around $1 million a year in rent, according to The Age.

    Stonebridge Property Group agents Justin Dowers, Julian White and Kevin Tong, with Gross Waddell ICR's Andrew Waddell, Danny Clark and Andrew Greenway are selling the property via expressions of interest.

    Advise Transact's Mark Wizel is representing the family who bought the property in the 1960s.

  • Sources: Stawell Times, Stock and Land and The Age
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    Bowens invests in large scale solar rooftops

    The building materials and hardware retail business is setting itself up for a sustainable future

    Victoria-based Bowens has invested $1.2 million in a rooftop solar installation along with power factor correction units as a way of cutting its carbon emissions and implementing sustainable practices, according to pv magazine.

    The fourth-generation, family-owned company has committed to reducing its carbon footprint through its investment in solar and power factor correction units (PFCs). It has led to 1,386 Trina solar modules installed by Beon Energy Solutions at Bowens' manufacturing subsidiary Timbertruss in Corio, Geelong (VIC). This should see Bowens' energy reliance reduced by up to a third on current annual use.

    Beon Energy Solutions' business development manager Jeremy Mugavin said the project is worth celebrating and said Bowens is a "great example of a progressive business investing in suitable power alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint".

    The increasing demand for sustainable building materials means Bowens' customers can be assured that what they are buying is powered, in part, by solar. Bowens chief investment officer, Andy Bowen, told pv magazine:

    The world around us has seen a heightened focus on the environmental impacts of corporations and governments both big and small. It is our duty as an industry leader to play a positive role in this movement and do what we can, from recycling waste to reducing our power consumption.
    Sustainability and energy efficiency is at the forefront of senior management's long term strategic decision making. The business is investing millions of dollars in upgrading our stores and facilities, making sure that we minimise our carbon footprint at every turn.

    Bowens believes business leaders need to play their part in sustainable practices in the construction industry. Mr Bowen said:

    Our ongoing commitment to helping Australians build better includes addressing long term challenges that face our industry by investing responsibly in sustainable practices. We will continue to prioritise sustainable business decisions as we deliver the highest quality building materials for all Australian builders.

    The PFCs were installed by Energy Aware across 16 stores and should contribute to more savings in electricity consumption by maintaining reactive power levels.

    Related: Mitre 10 in Horsham (VIC) worked local solar specialists at Wade's on how to maximise sunlight and extensive roof space.

    A Mitre 10 store in regional Victoria is exploring the benefits of solar and renewable energy - HNN Flash #42, April 2021

    Related: Bunnings has pledged to source 100% renewable electricity for its operations by 2025.

    Bunnings works towards 100% renewables - HNN Flash #22, November 2020
  • Source: pv magazine
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Plans to expand Tom Grady Rural Merchandise Store

    Heemskerks Nursery in Tamworth (NSW) will be sold off after 50 years of operation in the same family

    A new application lodged with Gympie Regional Council has revealed plans to construct a new building with an office and drive through at Tom Grady Rural Merchandise Store. Additional parking spaces in a covered area will be included as part of the expansion, reports The Gympie Times.

    If approved it will the latest addition to the rural services offered at the 1.5ha property, which has been a butter factory from 1925 to 1978 until that part of the factory was shut down. Rural goods were already being sold from the building before this closure.

    Tozer Street Properties purchased the land in 2016 for $1.4 million according to CoreLogic RP records. It is serving as a second location for Tom Grady Rural Merchandise in Gympie, which has another base at nearby Nash Street and a real estate shop front in Mary Street.

    The development application notes that the site has been linked to the region's rural industry for 110 years, and once included its own railway siding.

    Related: In 2020, the property was upgraded with 55,000 tonnes of soil used to fill in an unused gully to expand storage space and customer access.

    Rural store investment - HNN Flash #13, June 2020

    Heemskerk's Nursery

    The owner of one of Tamworth's longest-lasting businesses, Heemskerks Nursery, is selling out and retiring after 55 years in the job. Peter Heemskerk founded the garden nursery in 1967, with his dad Jacob Heemskerk, according to the Northern Daily Leader. He told the newspaper:

    We built everything up from nothing. There was just a vacant block of land, so we did the excavating, we built walls, we built the steps, we did everything.

    Mr Heemskerk is described as an avid gardener who is well beyond retirement age. The nursery is a seven-day business that demands daily attention. Even on public holidays, when there are no customers, the plants still need to be watered by hand. Without family who want to carry the business on, it's time to sell up, he said.

    Heemskerks is one of just two privately-owned nurseries left in Tamworth, the other being Tamworth Nursery. Bunnings has taken more than a bit of the business, but there's always an edge for the family touch, he said.

    We built a lot of loyal customers over a period of time. There's only two nurseries left in Tamworth because we've got the big green box, Bunnings and they do take quite a slice off your business. But there's no advice.
    There's still room for independent nurseries. But we've got to always work hard at it. You have dedicated staff, and you give people the right advice for the situation they're in.

    The nursery sector experienced a boom through the COVID-19 pandemic. Unable to leave their homes, many people turned to their gardens. Mr Heemskerk joked:

    We have had an 18 months of fantastic trade. I look at the figures and I say, 'Do I really want to retire? [But] it is probably time to put it on the market.

    The business is being sold as a going concern, not as a development site, and Mr Heemskerk anticipates that whoever takes over the business will keep the name, at least for a while.

    He hopes his replacement can take the business even further, suggesting that a cafe would be a good option. Until the business sells, it will continue being restocked and operating as usual. It celebrated 50 years in business in 2017.

  • Sources: The Gympie Times and Northern Daily Leader
  • retailers

    Retail update: tools and hardware

    Sydney Tools Cairns opens after $4.5m fit-out

    A 50-year-old Buttercup Bakery in regional NSW is set to be partly demolished and converted into a hardware store

    Parramatta Park, a suburb of Cairns (QLD) is the location of the recently opened Sydney Tools store.

    Area manager Ryan Luke said the family-owned business now has 65 locations across Australia - and opening in the Far North was a "no-brainer" with the current market demand. He told The Cairns Post:

    We wanted to bring our brand and style of tools to Cairns to give the consumers the right type of shop to come to.

    In a previous article, Sydney Tools director Elvis Bey told The Cairns Post the business already has a large online customer base in the area and preparing to take market share from local competitors, Bunnings, Trade Tools and Cairns Hardware. Its Cairns store could also be a reflection of a "retail resurgence" in the region, driving economic activity across the city with a large amount of industrial property being leased.

    The tool retailer also just opened a new outlet in Nerang on the Gold Coast (QLD).

    Related: Sydney Tools announced its Cairns store in late 2021.

    Sydney Tools coming to Cairns -HNN Flash #69, October 2021

    Hardware store development

    Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) has given the green light to a plan to convert the former Buttercup Bakery building into a hardware store, reports the Northern Daily Leader.

    The site of the old bakery in Taminda (NSW), which was built in 1968, is located across the road from Bunnings. It is still used for distribution of bread, with one section vacant, according to planning documents issued with the project development application.

    The upgrade is expected to cost around $875,000 and replace the area used for the manufacturing side of the bakery.

    TRC signed off on the plan on the basis the project was not contrary to the public interest. The council's development approval said:

    The proposal is considered to be satisfactory, having regard to the relevant legislation, council codes and policies and will not have a negative impact on the site, or community. Accordingly, the application is recommended for approval, subject to conditions.

    Conditions include that the building be built to national building standards, and require the developer to pay an $8,750 levy before opening, among other standard conditions. Once complete the building will serve as a "hardware and building supplies warehouse and retail sales facility".

    Related: The town of Taminda in New South Wales may get a new hardware store.

    Hardware store proposed for historic bakery site - HNN Flash #62, September 2021
  • Sources: The Cairns Post and The Northern Daily Leader/Country Leader
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Beacon Lighting's first half results in line with prior corresponding period

    Alceon Group is expected to acquire garden centre chain Flower Power that could value the retailer and its properties at close to $500 million: report

    The continued emphasis on home improvement and small renovations has generated solid revenues for Beacon Lighting's retail, trade, e-commerce, and international businesses. This has led the company to signal that its December half sales and profits would match those of a year ago, even though the retail sector has been through a very difficult time especially in Sydney and Melbourne because of extended lockdowns. Shares in the lights, lamps and ceiling fans retailer rose as much as 8% following this announcement.

    About half of Beacon's store network had to close during COVID-19 lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT from July.

    In the first half of 2020-21, Beacon generated sales of $151.3 million and net profit of $22.2 million.

    There had been supply chain disruptions and lockdowns and restrictions, but underlying demand from customers was strong, even though they had to temporarily shift to online ordering or click and collect.

    Chief executive Glen Robinson said there had been strong momentum across the retail, trade and e-commerce segments of the business despite it being a difficult time to run a business.

    Households were continuing to spend on their home at a time when the Omicron variant wave brought fresh disruptions to travel plans and more people stayed home rather than going out. Mr Robinson told investors:

    Despite these challenges, the group is aligned with the household goods sector and has benefited from the strong interest in the lighting and ceiling fan product categories from our customers.

    Beacon has 116 stores and is the largest specialty lighting retailer in Australia, with an estimated 22% of the retail market.

    Related: More stores for Beacon Lighting.

    Beacon Lighting wants to grow trade market - HNN Flash #66, October 2021

    Flower Power

    According to a report in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), investment firm Alceon is in final discussions to buy Sydney-based garden centre chain Flower Power. This follows chief financial officer Michael Spiteri telling the AFR in early 2021 that the company was seeking a new investor.

    The deal, should it be agreed, would take Flower Power outside the control of its founding family, the Sammuts, for the first time in more than 50 years.

    The late Nick Sammut set up Flower Power in 1968, and has since passed it on to his three sons including John Sammut, who has run the business for the past 30 years.

    Flower Power has 10 garden centre stores in NSW, and has established a cult-like following in some of its communities.

    Interested parties were told Flower Power recorded $24 million EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) in the 2021 financial year, and that revenue and earnings were expected to grow by more than 30% a year in the coming five years, while there were also plans to build or acquire new centres.

    Bidders were told the business had performed well during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of the lockdown-fuelled home improvement/DIY boom in which people spruced up their gardens and outdoor living areas. They went to businesses like Flower Power to buy plants and related garden accessories to upgrade their backyards.

    The main question for potential buyers is whether the strong customer demand and business lift was permanent, or would return to more normal conditions in the future.

    There is speculation that Flower Power was headed towards a $500 million-odd valuation, should the deal also involve its extensive property portfolio. It would be a large deal for Alceon, which invests in Australian real estate, credit and private equity opportunities.

    Related: NSW-based Flower Power is reportedly looking for a partner to grow the business.

    Flower Power is seeking a strategic investor - HNN Flash #34, February 2021
  • Sources: The Australian Financial Review and Motley Fool
  • retailers

    Retail update: United Tools

    Stealth Global buys United Tools Limited

    As a distributor of industrial MRO (maintenance, repairs and operations) supplies and related products, Stealth is expanding its retail footprint in Australia with this acquisition

    WA-based, ASX-listed Stealth Global Holdings announced it has acquired all the shares in United Tools Limited (UTL) for $24,000 cash plus a deferred market subsidy of $1.25 million over two years. Stealth subsidiary, C&L Tool Centre, is a licensee member of United Tools.

    Additional details of the transaction include:

  • United Tools FY2021 revenue $8 million, EBITDA $0.3 million
  • Under Stealth's ownership, United Tools will pay to its members excluding C&L Tools, a marketing subsidy of $1.25 million over two years, 50% payable in March 2023 and the balance in March 2024
  • Assets to be transferred to Stealth on completion includes ~$1.22 million net cash
  • Expected to be accretive to adjusted earnings in the first year after closing
  • United Tools' network of 33 physical stores and two online marketplaces will be added to Stealth Group's 33 physical stores and two online marketplaces.

    The addition of United Tools to Stealth will boost its position as a major distributor in the Australian industrial MRO supplies marketplace. The company's store network will double from 33 to 66 across Australia, a combination of company-owned and independent retail outlets. Mike Arnold, Stealth Group managing director and CEO said:

    The rationale for this acquisition and merger with United Tools is compelling. It complements Stealth's existing business and delivers strong outcomes to our shareholders and stakeholders with our enhanced attractive business model.
    United Tools is highly synergistic, with a robust product offering and value-added service capabilities, an extensive MRO-specific distribution store network throughout Australia and an experienced salesforce that enhances the strong team Stealth has in place. Combined, it significantly enhances our scale, market position and further strengthens our buying power to accelerate profitable growth...
    Preferred suppliers will significantly benefit as we plan to consolidate arrangements held by United Tools and all Stealth subsidiaries into a new master buying and wholesale distribution business unit. This initiative will drive deeper commercial engagement, brand reach and create more value by leveraging group wide buying power potential identified to be more than $200 million.
    The MRO segment is large, fragmented and highly valued by Stealth in an estimated $40 billion marketplace as reported by the company at its AGM held 29 November 2021. This provides potential for significant shareholder value creation over the longer term. I'm looking forward to helping maximise each company's growth potential so they can be the best in their market.

    Completion of this acquisition is expected 1 March 2022 and is subject to United Tools' shareholder approval.

    Related: C&L Tool Centre is operating under different ownership.

    Brisbane's C&L Tool Centre acquired by Stealth Global in late 2020 - HNN Flash #31, February 2021

    About United Tools

    United Tools is headquartered in Melbourne (VIC) and operates under multiple banners, including the United Tools brand and independently owned brands. All stores are locally owned and operated and focused on the sale and service of a large range of big-name brand industrial and trade related products.

    About Stealth Group

    In mid-2021, Stealth-owned subsidiary Heatley Sales (Heatleys) purchased Skipper Transport Parts (STP) from Eagers Automotive firm AMCAP for $4.2 million.

    STP is a WA distributor of industrial maintenance, repair and operating, automotive, truck and trailer, mining, bus and agriculture products. The acquisition includes branch locations in Perth, Albany, Esperance, Karratha and Port Hedland, onsite store operations across WA and Queensland, along with around 1,250 customers and 300 suppliers. At the time, Mr Arnold told the ASX:

    ...The STP purchase and merger is transformational in terms of a significantly expanded product and high-touch solutions offering, distribution supply chain infrastructure, e-commerce platform and deeper customer and supplier relationships.
    STP's physical branch and onsite stores network will allow us to enter new geographic markets to strengthen our market position and provide an endless assortment product offering suitable for customers of all sizes...
    The depth of STP's wide-ranging Industrial MRO products in the customer markets of automotive, truck and trailer, bus, agriculture and mining, complemented with Stealth's existing business, will give the merged group significantly more scale and leverage from its distribution platform, branch store footprint, network reach, buying power and its broad in-stock product offering where Stealth can hold an advantaged market relevant position.
    Importantly, comprehensive value is created by offering our customers an endless assortment of brands, products and solutions that deliver better customer experiences with more touch points instore, onsite, online, click & collect and delivery options, supported by experienced sales, service, technical and distribution professionals.

    Stealth was founded in 2014 but only listed on the ASX in October 2018.

    In its most recent trading update, Stealth stated that given the most recent sales growth and the acquisition of United Tools, it expects its annual revenue from its Australian operations to exceed $100 million when a full year of United Tools operations is incorporated into Stealth's financial results. Stealth targets an underlying EBITDA margin target of ~6% before significant item costs relating to acquisitions and the full integration of United Tools and STP.

  • Sources: Stealth Group, Fully Loaded and Kalkine Media
  • retailers

    UK update: Screwfix

    Screwfix increases target after opening 70 stores in 2021

    The trade-focused, multi-channel retailer has ambitions to have 1,000 Screwfix stores across the UK and the Republic of Ireland

    A burgeoning demand for fast deliveries is encouraging Screwfix to open a further 350 stores, increasing the hardware retail chain to 1,000 outlets, according to The Times.

    The retailer started trialling its Screwfix Sprint service in mid-2021 with Gophr, a courier firm, to deliver items to tradesmen on the job.

    Screwfix trials 30-minute delivery service - HNN Flash #52, July 2021

    John Mewett, chief executive of Screwfix, said that the Sprint service had proved popular with builders, electricians and plumbers who typically charge about GBP80 an hour and have to take time off a job if they don't have the required tools or material. He told The Times:

    Often they don't know what they need to fix a job until they get to a customer's house, so this way they can carry on working while they wait for an item to be delivered.

    The company charges GBP5 for this delivery service, which is currently only available through its app, with a delivery time average of 44 minutes although Mr Mewett said the fastest time has been 14 minutes.

    Screwfix had already invested in its online business prior to the pandemic to offer tradespeople a one-minute click and collect service.

    Most Screwfix shops operate as a counter with a warehouse behind them filled with shelves of stock that staff can pick. Customers do not walk around its stores. Because the stores are already set up like distribution centres, they can be used as "dark stores" for quick deliveries, the only difference being handing over a product to a scooter driver rather than a trade customer.

    Mr Mewett said the most popular products ordered were typically items required at the end of a fitting, such as sealant and rubble bags to tidy away mess caused during a refurbishment.

    The service has been rolled out to 30 cities across the UK, while Screwfix has opened another 70 stores in 2021, higher than its original aim to open 50 stores. Mewett, said:

    ...The growth in our store network supports local communities with further job opportunities and the demand for added convenience from our busy tradespeople. Currently, 98% of the population live within a 30-minute drive of a UK store, so our continued expansion ensures we can bring Screwfix closer to even more customers.

    Mr Mewett said that there was still appetite for more of its stores, particularly in city centres, because "time is money for our customers. They're not going to drive past a competitor's shop to get to ours if they need a job finished."

    Screwfix recently launched as an online brand in France and has plans to open a store there in 2022.

    Kingfisher has been called a "pandemic winner" after enjoying soaring sales during the crisis as people used lockdowns to renovate their living spaces and turn spare rooms into home offices.

    The listed home improvement group employs 62,500 people and has 1,390 stores in Europe including B&Q, Castorama and Brico Depot.

    Related: In early 2021, Screwfix announced plans to open 50 more stores in the UK and Ireland.

    Screwfix store expansion - HNN Flash #37, March 2021
  • Sources: The Times and Retail Gazette
  • retailers

    Retail update

    DA for Total Tools store in Gladstone (QLD)

    Benalla Produce becomes part of PETstock store network and Inspirations Paint selling confidence, not just colour, to customers

    A Total Tools store is being proposed for the coastal city of Gladstone in Queensland; pet specialty retailer PETstock has added Benalla Produce to its list of regional stores; and customer experience research drives change at Inspirations Paint.

    Total Tools

    Developer Hutchings O'Brien has submitted a development application (DA) to Gladstone Regional Council for a Total Tools store in Gladstone Central (QLD), according to The Gladstone Observer.

    The 4,358sqm site would have a 9.5metre tall building, space for 34 car parks, and the plan is for Total Tools to be open from 6am to 9pm, seven days a week.

    The proposed location for the store is in the city centre on the corner of Hanson Road and Yarroon Street. It would be located next to a United service station and a McDonalds outlet.

    The new Gladstone store would be the second Total Tools in Central Queensland, with the other located in Rockhampton.

    PETstock - Benalla Produce

    Benalla Produce owners Mike and Lynne Morrison are handing over the reins of their home-grown business to PETstock, another family-owned business that has deep roots in regional Victoria, reports Benalla Ensign. Mr Morrison told Benalla Ensign:

    The Benalla community has been extremely supportive throughout the years, and after five years we couldn't be leaving it in better hands than with another, like-minded business such as PETstock. We know they will continue to show a dedication to the local community and cater to its needs for essential pet care and supplies...

    With plans to rebrand to PETstock Country, PETstock will continue to support the local community by catering to rural property essentials including fencing, crop management, weed and pest control, general rural merchandise, water equipment, livestock health and feed. PETstock state manager Samuel Flanagan said:

    ...Once transitioning from Benalla Produce to PETstock Country, we will be able to introduce new services and thousands of products from our general pet range, providing a comprehensive stock food range and offering specialist hobby farm equipment.
    In addition to expanding existing services, the store will support local organisations, such as rescue groups, by providing them with free in-store space, temporary or permanent, for our PETadopt program ... in a convenient and friendly environment...

    PETstock said the addition of Benalla Produce highlights its commitment to servicing pet owners across regional Australia and expanding opportunities for its dedicated supply partners.

    Inspirations Paint

    Joel Goodsir, head of marketing at Inspirations Paint, has been helping to oversee store upgrades as part of the company's transformational change that also includes newly built stores, according to The Australian. Mr Goodsir told the newspaper:

    From research all the way through to the implementation in our 100-plus franchised stores I am across it. I get stuck in with the guys, I know exactly how every shelf is put together and where every category of paint is going.

    He discussed the significant role that marketing and creativity has played in the group's success.

    Inspirations Paint's customer experience (CX) research, which included more than 60 hours of in-depth interviews with trade and retail customers to understand all the pain points in its stores. Mr Goodsir said it must match up across all customer touchpoints - digital and in-store.

    This consumer learning sees its stores and website mapped out in a simple colour-coded way with highly visible sections titled concrete, woodcare, metal, house et cetera. Following its research, which uncovered 34 in-store focus areas, the business came up with a design based purely around customer centricity.

    Inspirations Paint worked with its marketing intelligence agency The Navigators, brand design agency Public Design Group and creative agency The Village of Useful, Mr Goodsir said the benefit of working with boutique agencies meant the senior managers or owners that actually ran the agencies were the ones at the table working with the group on its transformation strategy.

    Our CX strategy is deeply rooted in brand and it's crucial that it links in with our all stores, comms, campaigns and our website. That's why having the best minds who run their agencies, working alongside us and working together as one has been such an important dynamic.

    Advertising campaign

    Mr Goodsir said its latest "Recall" advert, which launched in January 2020 and continues to sit at the heart of the group's messaging, has been its highest performing campaign yet.

    He said sales growth in FY19-20 and FY20-21, off the back of its COVID-19 accelerated digital pivot and the Recall ad campaign, had resulted in "unprecedented" store retail sales growth which was up year on year in consecutive financial years.

    The ad campaign, which is made up of 10 ads, used in rotation and seasonally adjusted, zones in on real painting concerns such as blistering, flaking and mould-related paint woes. Mr Goodsir explains:

    Our customers need one thing from us and it's confidence, but the paint industry doesn't work like that - some think it's colour and that's it.

    Instead of following the more traditional way of showcasing beautifully painted rooms as its rivals do, Mr Goodsir said that "room porn" style creative was not relatable to those who were in the throes of needing help and advice with paint. He said:

    We analysed the consumer buying process and the actual problems people are having is where the most emotion was found. People have very real and varied paint issues so it made sense to embrace the yucky stuff, to show people that we understood what they were going through and that we have the product and expert advice they need to tackle these projects.

    A new addition to the latest ads featured the 1975 released Dream Weaver song by American singer Gary Wright. As part of the strategy, the song was chosen for its likely appeal to the brand's typically older, aged 35 to 65, audience. Mr Goodsir:

    The song appeals to the more experienced painters who have owned and renovated more homes and taps into the emotion and memories they may have of this song - acting as a shortcut about good feelings and good times.

    The song, which likely would have cost the group hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure, talks about taking away "the worries of today" and during the "I've just closed my eyes again" part of the song, DIY painters can be seen closing their eyes for a moment before remembering they had the confidence and Inspirations Paint to get them through the painting challenge at hand. Mr Goodsir said:

    It took us six months to go through the creative process for the advert which is an unusually long period of time. But our brand ads need to last three years and this is not something that we could rush.

    The music is now used as part of its in-store music and telephone on-hold music.

    Long term success

    The paint retail group said it is witnessing its highest annual turnover since Mr Goodsir arrived nearly two decades ago. Since 2003, annual turnover has increased by 317%.

    Inspirations Paint also attributes its success to how quick it was to pivot to two-hour click and collect and its "sprint" to get its home-delivery options up and running during the pandemic.

    Since enhancing its delivery services and launching its speedy click and collect offering in December 2019, the company's online activity rapidly increased.

    During the peak of lockdown, with some stores in local government areas of COVID concern, more than 50% of some stores' revenue was coming from online. To date, nearly 20,000 transactions have been made online.

    Mr Goodsir said that while being part of such large growth had been rewarding, his number one reason for staying at the company for so long was down to his CEO, Robert Guy.

    It's really nice to have a boss who you like and respect, who supports you, gives you autonomy and understands marketing and its importance as a growth generator. That's the number one reason I have been here for so long and the other is that I just love the company and the people.

    Mr Goodsir added that he also relishes the fact that it's a franchise group as owners are operational, strong-minded paint store owners who don't necessarily know the ins and outs of marketing. He said:

    It's my job to inform, educate and bring them on the journey towards improving and creating value for them and customers simultaneously...
  • Sources: The Gladstone Observer, Benalla Ensign and The Australian
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Sunshine Mitre 10 plans North Lakes store

    Berry Springs Home Hardware and Dipper's Home Timber & Hardware win store state awards

    North Lakes, located approximately 26km north of the Brisbane CBD, is set to get a Sunshine Mitre 10 store.

    Plans for the store at Stapylton Street have been approved by Moreton Bay Council and construction is expected to commence early in the new year, according to The Courier Mail.

    Sunshine Mitre 10 general manager Neil Hutchins said the growing population in the south-east of Queensland is fuelling an "increasing demand for building supplies and construction materials". He added:

    More than 25,000 people are estimated to call North Lakes home and that population is predicted to grow by about 30% over the next decade, so the demand to service both trade and DIY customers is strong.

    Earlier this year, Sunshine Mitre 10 celebrated the opening of a new flagship store in Nambour that sits on a 13,000sqm site. Located at 980 Nambour Connection Road, it includes 4,000sqm under-roof and is one of the largest in the Sunshine Mitre 10 network.

    The retail group also signed a contract for three commercial blocks of land as part of the new Trade and Construction precinct at Stockland's Aura Business Park. The purpose-designed precinct will house key brands in the construction and trade industry to create a one-stop destination for construction supply needs. It is positioned alongside the Bells Creek Arterial Road, close to the Bruce Highway.

    Berry Springs Home Hardware

    The Northern Territory store recently beat out 22 other stores across the NT and SA to win Independent Hardware Group's state-based award.

    According to NT News, the team consists of owners Russell and Lindy Willing as well as staff members, manager Ben Guy, Judd Dendle, and Alana Simmons.

    Mr Russell attributed the accolade to the efforts of his staff who pride themselves on helping locals. He told NT News:

    Lindy and I are truly humbled by this recognition. It's been just over a year since we opened the hardware store and, I have to say, nothing beats recognition like this for the hard work put in by us and our small, but wonderful team.
    We're very thankful to the Berry Springs community for embracing our business with open arms.

    Mr Guy said customer satisfaction was the team's priority. He said:

    My favourite part is when they walk out the door with a smile on their face, ready for the next good experience. And they don't have to drive into town and spend $30 on fuel. We get really good community feedback, so we must be kicking goals.

    A garden nursery has been the latest addition to the store which offers over 10,000 lines of hardware and rural products.

    Related: The Berry Springs store officially opened in 2020 after a major revamp.

    New Home Hardware store in the Northern Territory - HNN Flash #18, October 2020

    Dipper's Home Timber & Hardware

    The Moree-based outlet has been named as been recognised as Home Hardware's top store in New South Wales. Owner, Rebecca Diprose said this was great recognition for her hard-working staff. She told the Moree Champion:

    You don't get it right all the time, but it gives you the confidence that for the far majority of the time, you're doing a really good job.

    There are about 20 staff working at the store. Mrs Diprose said:

    We have a great mix in the retail department of experience and youth. We are lucky to have a great team led by our retail manager Luke Cubis who is guiding them in a direction we have been working towards for quite some time.

    The store has made a lot of changes in the last few years including stock, display and ranging. She said:

    ...The business has evolved enormously since we bought it nine years ago. We have a far more customer-friendly shopping environment now.
    Our trade department has also grown substantially. We're building that team back up, led by Mark Baker, our trade and site manager.

    The store continues to grow its customer base as the drought comes to end, followed by a bumper harvest in 2020, and hardware retail getting a sales boost as result of COVID restrictions. Mrs Diprose said:

    We saw faces that we'd never ever seen in Dipper's before. No-one could have predicted worst case to best case in 30 days. That was particularly difficult period to manage. Our stock holding was substantially down and then we had a quick turn around in increasing stock.
    In our trade department, the boys have worked very hard at customer service. It's not to say we can't do better, we know we can, which is the next phase for us. Our next goal is to target our trade department store standard.
    I am particularly blessed to have the fantastic team at Dipper's. Mark, Luke and I work extremely well together leading the team. I'm the big picture of the business but they're the detail.
    And the other person who is absolutely crucial behind the scenes that doesn't often get recognised is Margaret O'Neill our office admin manager. It's been a big team effort.
  • Sources: The Courier Mail, NT News/Sunday Territorian and Moree Champion
  • retailers

    Retail update

    IHG partners with Vietnamese firm for IT project

    Mitre 10 also chose Insider, the AI-powered platform to create individualised, cross-channel experiences, to boost its multichannel growth strategy

    SmartOSC, a digital commerce agency headquartered in Hanoi (Vietnam) has reached a deal with Independent Hardware Group (IHG), to become its development partner to replace two existing legacy business-to-business portals for the Metcash-owned hardware subsidiary.

    The initial phase of the B2B portal project is expected to improve customer experience by providing a "unified solution for cohesive interaction between their members and the IHG team", reports VietnamPlus (Vietnam News Agency). Adrian Wakeham, regional manager for Australia and New Zealand at SmartOSC, told the newspaper:

    SmartOSC and IHG share a vision for the digital ecosystem, so we're thrilled that this iconic Australian business has selected SmartOSC as their development partner.

    The deal comes at a time when there is an e-commerce boom as a result of the pandemic and it is happening alongside online price inflation and a tech talent shortage, according to SmartOSC. The company believes these factors combined with high logistics costs of up to 20% of the final cost of goods in some countries make it difficult to compete on price.

    It sees challenges and opportunities for businesses in this environment. SmartOSC founder and CEO Thai Son Nguyen said:

    Projects that previously would take nine months to implement now need to be launched in weeks.

    He added that a minimum viable product approach allows businesses to get a market foothold quickly, gain proof of concept, and then swiftly scale upwards and outwards.

    Mr Nguyen believes brands need speed and agility to scale up amid the e-commerce boom. He said:

    More people are shopping online and for a more diverse range of products than before, so brands need to offer consumers what they want, when they want it.

    Online inflation means consumers also have higher expectations for a personalised shopping experience, said Mr Nguyen.

    We've reached tipping points for both consumers and brands in e-commerce adoption.

    As companies look to scale rapidly, he believes a tech partner with the know-how and resources to solve complex problems is invaluable.

    At SmartOSC we're doubling down on our greatest asset: our people. We're hiring tech talents every day and are fostering an environment where our people can grow, so they're ready to take on the challenges our partners face.

    In addition to its head office in Hanoi, SmartOSC has offices in has offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, US and UK.

    Insider AI

    Earlier this year, cross-channel marketing company Insider announced that it will be working with IHG brand, Mitre 10. Insider is known for its artificial intelligence (AI) powered tools. These enable companies to take dispersed points of contact with customers, and to develop a coherent view of their buying patterns and shopping behaviours.

    This can lead to the creation of new customer segments. The information is then used as the basis for marketing outreach, through delivering tailored experiences in mobile apps, and consolidating email marketing to more effective approaches.

    Mitre 10 will connect and add a layer of AI-powered capabilities to their customer data with Insider. At the time, Paul McGuane, national digital marketing operations lead, Mitre 10 (as quoted in Internet Retailing) said:

    We find there has been great synergy in this partnership. Insider is easy to work with, and we have seen the immediate impact on our bottom line. We've also improved our customers' experience onsite by creating a more personalised approach. Additionally, working with Insider resulted in a fast turnaround of testing marketing campaigns, which reduced IT costs and increased sales.
  • Sources: Asia News Monitor, VietnamPlus (Vietnam News Agency), Internet Retailing and Globe Newswire
  • retailers

    Metcash/IHG/TTH results FY2022H1

    IHG manages 4.4% organic EBIT growth

    Metcash has delivered its results for its FY2022H1. For its hardware segment, this included EBIT growth for IHG, ex of acquisitions of 4.4%, even as the hardware retail market saw negative growth for Australia overall of 2.5% in the report period.

    Australian wholesale and retail conglomerate Metcash, owner of the Independent Hardware Group (IHG) and Total Tools Holdings (TTH), reported results for its first half of financial year 2022 (FY2022H1) on 6 December 2021. The results cover the timespan of 1 May 2021 to 31 October 2021.

    For Metcash overall, sales revenue for the reporting period was $7151 million, up by 1.3% on the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was FY2021H1. (Including charge-throughs, the figures are revenue of $8.2 billion, and growth of 1.5%.) Net profit for the period was $129 million, up by 3.0% on the pcp.

    The company's food business saw sales fall by 4.9% to $4022 million (though excluding the loss of its Seven-11 contract, the fall was only 0.2%, according to Metcash). Liquor sales came in at $2170 million, an increase of 6.6%.

    Metcash chief financial officer, Alistair Bell, announced that the company expects to acquire an additional 14 joint venture (JV) TTH stores in December 2021.

    Hardware

    When it comes to properly assessing the success of the hardware segment of Metcash for the reporting period, a number of obstacles present themselves. There is, first of all, the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the acceleration of hardware retail sales, and dominated almost all other factors, including seasonality, up until the present year.

    Hardware retail sales environment

    In fact, recent statistics indicate something of a return of seasonality. Chart 1 shows the pattern for retail figures for all Australia:

    The pattern the chart shows from August 2017 up to February 2020 also holds true for the previous five years as well: a peak in sales reached during the final quarter of the year, followed by a steep fall to February, a local high recovery in March, then a continued decline through the second quarter. The third quarter shows a gradual climb back towards the high reached in October.

    From March 2020 onwards that pattern was disrupted. That March saw a strong spike upwards, which continued to a new high for sales in May 2020. This declined to a local low in August 2020, and then the old pattern of a peak high in the final quarter of the year repeated, but at a much higher level. That older pattern continued through to July 2021, still running at that higher level, with an additional $300 million or so in sales each month. In August 2021 the upwards spike of the old pattern repeated, but to a level about $90 million higher than the previous high in December 2020.

    This return to seasonality can be seen clearly in Chart 2, which compares each year of hardware retail sales Australia-wide:

    In terms of the reporting period for Metcash, Chart 3 indicates the percentage change when comparing each month to its previous corresponding month:

    As this graph shows, during the reporting period the first three months (May to July) showed negative growth, while the final three months were mildly positive. Only the Australian Capital Territory went strongly negative, while Victoria remained consistently slightly negative. Australia-wide the result was net negative growth for the period of 2.5%.

    The hardware numbers

    That's the background, which is complicated enough. However, the numbers provided by Metcash for its hardware segment also have their own complexities.

    The two main numbers that are used to assess the operations of a retail company are its revenues and its earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT). Net profit after tax (NPAT) is also important, of course, but it can be affected by a range of factors outside the company's control.

    Generally speaking, while the overall numbers for revenue and EBIT are important, it's also important to find what has come to be called the "organic" numbers. These relate to the operations of the company absent the effects of acquisitions and demergers/spin-offs.

    For example, if a company sells off one of its divisions for a great price, in the next company reports the revenues from that division will be missing, so it will record a steep drop in revenue. Obviously, that is not a sensible number. So after such a sale, companies provide historical revenue numbers that remove the past revenues of the division that was sold.

    Metcash did just that after the sale of its automotive business to Burson Group for $275 million in June 2015. In company reports for FY2016 it changed the revenue it had reported for its FY2015 from 13,626.2 to 13,369.8.

    However, when the numbers run the other way, and companies purchase a business so that their revenue and EBIT numbers are grown non-organically, they tend to be somewhat reluctant to simply share the underlying, organic growth numbers.

    Such is the case with the revenue numbers from Metcash's hardware segment, which have been affected by the company's partial acquisition of TTH in 2020, and made even more complex by additional TTH-related acquisitions during 2021. Add to that the acquisition of three more hardware retailers, and finding organic growth numbers has become difficult indeed.

    To report the topline, fully non-organic numbers for hardware: Sales - including TTH - increased by 17.9% over the pcp to reach $1.48 billion. IHG sales - including the recent acquisition of three hardware retailers - grew by 7.2%.

    The numbers for IHG do not seem to be explicitly mentioned, but we can back into something close to them, as total revenue for TTH is listed as $153.5 million, which means, non-TTH hardware sales - which would be close to, but not equal to IHG sales - would be around $1.33 billion. Metcash also states that IHG sales increased by 7.2% (which, again, would include sales from recent retailer acquisitions).

    Perhaps the most relevant number is that given for like-for-like (comp) sales, which Metcash states were up 5.6%. However, that number is, according to the results: "Based on scan data from ... 282 IHG stores". Scan data would tend to select the stronger stores in the network, and on a store number basis this represents less than 45% of the total store network (including Mitre 10, Home Timber & Hardware, True Value and Thrifty Link stores).

    When it comes to EBIT, Metcash has done a good job in making more information available. The topline number, as provided by Metcash is that EBIT for the current reporting period in hardware was $98.9 million, up by 53.3% on the pcp, which reported $64.5 million in EBIT.

    However, that number includes, for the current reporting period, EBIT of $33.1 million for TTH, while the pcp included TTH EBIT of $4.8 million. Further, Metcash states that there was an additional EBIT contribution of $3.5 million from those other retail acquisitions. So, putting that together, organic EBIT would be $62.3 million in the current reporting period, and $59.7 million in the pcp, yielding an organic EBIT growth rate of 4.36%.

    While that would not, in normal times, seem like all that great a number, it actually does show good growth. As Metcash reminds throughout its results, and as HNN's charts indicate, this comes not only on top of considerable gains in overall revenue for the past 18 months or so, but also during that down-cycle of hardware revenue.

    On the other hand, of course, the numbers from Metcash have also been influenced by inflation, especially on some trade supplies such as lumber. In response to a question on inflation by analyst Tom Kierath of Barrenjoey, Metcash CEO Jeff Adams responded in part:

    On trade, just to give you a range, it would probably be in sort of the mid-single digit range on trade, in the first half. It seems, and we said it in the Outlook comments, it's very difficult to predict what we think what's going to be in the second half of the year, because we are seeing some movements up and down, in some of that trade pricing. But we do believe some of it will still be there in the second half, let's put it that way. In trade.
    DIY would be lower than that it would be lower than mid single digits on on DIY. But again, it'd be you know, those are not audited numbers.

    The CEO of the hardware segment, Annette Welsh, expanded on those comments:

    [Inflation] is very focused around the timber part of our business, doors, plumbing, and is linked to the balance of supply versus demand. So there's an uncertainty as to what it would look like going forward.

    That's a helpful reminder from Ms Welsh that the inflation being experienced is not due to sources such as currency exchange rate fluctuations, increases in material supply conditions, or cartel activity. This is one reason why inflation is not seen as an imperative negative by economists at the moment. It's largely down to a lack of capacity in shipping, which, unfortunately, will take a year to clear.

    As a final note on these numbers, Metcash also stated that, based on figures from all 94 stores, TTH saw comp sales grow by 1.5% over the pcp.

    Market characteristics

    Metcash was also more forthcoming about how its online sales in hardware have been progressing than it has been in the past, stating that online now makes up around 3% of its total revenue, which is $44 million. Metcash certainly owes Ms Welsh a vote of thanks for that figure, as it was she who pushed hard since 2018 to grow Metcash's online sales capabilities - capabilities that are now being duplicated by the company's other retail segments.

    As many predicted, IHG was not able to sustain the high level of DIY sales, with the balance between trade/DIY going to 64/36, where in the pcp it had been 60/40. In the comp sales figures, DIY went down by 0.1%, while trade grew by 8.9%.

    According to Metcash, the overall EBIT margin for the hardware segment was 6.7%. The EBIT margin for IHG was 5.0%, while the IHG wholesale margin was 3.0%.

    Analysis

    The two most pressing questions for the hardware retail industry remain: how long will the current increased sales last, and how bad is the "hangover" going to be after the "party" finishes?

    There is one strand of theory that states the market has been permanently altered structurally, and that some proportion (at least) of the increase experienced since March 2020 will remain. A competing theory is that the reverse will happen, and that there will be a severe contraction coming in the market, especially as market demand is set to fall with declines in both birth rates and immigration - both changes where the effects begin to show up two to four years later.

    Looking at the current charts for hardware revenue, it does seem as though the actual seasonal demand - the increase in the final quarter of the year - exists somewhat separate to the underlying increase in demand. That underlying increase is likely to be mostly trade building activity, with some DIY mixed in. It's the opinion of organisations such as the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) that the building demand, given restrictions on supply, will last until the end of 2022, and possibly into the first quarter of 2023.

    Mr Adams backed up that view in comments he made on the effects of supply shortages, while replying to a question by David Errington, a senior analyst with BankAmerica:

    I think because everybody in the market [is] sort of impacted equally, that what it's doing is really elongating, in hardware, more of the building cycle. Because, would our sales be higher if we could get everything that we're trying to get - absolutely. There's no doubt. But is it lost sales? I don't think it's lost sales, because again, it's a shortage in the market. So what that does do then is just elongate out this this current building cycle, because the builders are just not able to get everything.

    One way of looking at the mathematics of this increase is to look at the delta between the highs and lows of the retail revenue cycle. Using ABS stats for Australia, we can see that the average revenue Q4 of the calendar year for years 2017, 2018 and 2019 is $5467 million, which compares with Q4 revenue for 2020 of $6668.5 million, an increase of $1201.5 million, up by 22.0%. The average for Q2 over the same three past years is $5038.9 million, and for 2020 it is $6030.0 million, an increase of $991.1 million, or 19.7%.

    Looking back at Chart 1, one possible way of analysing this situation is to see there being a "baseline" of activity at around $1400 million through to February 2020, which is then replaced by a new baseline at around $1700 million from August 2020 onwards.

    Market changes

    One of the conclusions that we've reached at HNN is that what has shifted is homeowners' relationship to the housing market. We know that there will be various forms of monetary policy adjustment by the end of 2023, especially as regards interest rates. We can expect relatively conservative fiscal policy responses to those adjustments. Yet the decisions homeowners are making have less to do with medium-term investments, and more to do with acquiring security for their families. Buying a larger, better house is all about being able to better cope with adverse outcomes if the COVID-19 pandemic continues through to the end of 2022.

    That doesn't mean that consumer spending won't be negatively affected if house prices decline sharply, and some homeowners find their mortgages are "under water" (owing more than the value of the house). But it does mean that it is less likely that decline will be accelerated by homeowners choosing to sell to avoid that decline in value, possibly limiting how deep the decline runs.

    Total Tools Holdings

    Which brings us, indirectly, to the matter of TTH. One really good question that analysts have asked about TTH and its markets is, what is driving the expansion in this sector? Primarily that is by TTH and the new Bunnings-owned Tool Kit Depot (TKD), but there has also been substantial expansion from retailers such as Sydney Tools as well.

    The two main sources of that expansion are increased innovation in power tools, and increased demand for anything that will help builders and tradies achieve better efficiencies in a relatively inefficient industry.

    The result of those two forces working together is that the lifecycle in tool systems for tradies has shortened substantially. Just 20 years ago tools were expected to last at least seven or eight years, and potentially ten years if they were looked after. Today that cycle can be as short as three to four years, with tradies replacing their tools at the same time they need to replace their Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. The market as a result has grown by something like an estimated 35% to 40% over the past five years.

    Tool companies, in catering to productivity needs, have responded by launching more and more specialised ranges. What was once a market largely divided into 18-volt mainstream tools, and 12-volt subcompact tools, has seen additional categories spring up, including voltages as high as 108-volt, new intermediate ranges of around 36-volt, and compact 18-volt tools. Tradies and builders are desperate to somehow squeeze out the equivalent of an extra hour in the day through more power to do things faster, or with specialised tools that make particular tasks easier.

    Of course, the difficulty with that kind of market is that should demand for construction fade out, tradies can very easily switch to not replacing tools every four years, and replace them every six years instead. There are not any external drivers to the demand, such as safety or reliability (many brands have five-year warranties, for example).

    The real problem, though, that HNN sees developing with Metcash and TTH is, as we've mentioned in the past, that there is a definite conflict of interest between TTH and the independent stores that make up IHG. The best question from analysts at the results conference call came from Brian Raymond of JP Morgan, who asked:

    Just on the Total Tools side. Just interested in that co-location or adjacent store base that you guys are highlighting there. I understand that's one of the first stores of that nature. Just interested in how that looks going forward of the 130 stores do you think there will be a sizeable portion that will be co- located? And do you think there is any cannibalisation of the Mitre 10 when you drop the Total Tools [stores] in there? So just interested in just generally how that impacts foot traffic and sales across the two on a net basis.

    The adjacent store that Mr Raymond was referring to relates to a photograph on slide 11 of the results presentation:

    The caption on that photograph reads: "Adjacent Total Tools and Mitre 10, Merimbula, NSW. Opened November 2021". That particular arrangement came about after a Woolworths supermarket left its established premises, and a regional Mitre 10 retailer decided to expand into Merimbula. There is another similar adjacency being developed in the town of Wonthaggi in southern Victoria.

    Mr Adams responded to the question by stating:

    Yeah, so we said from the beginning, this acquisition was quite complementary to the Mitre 10 business, because where in our tool business, there tends to be more DIY type of customers, whereas Total Tools is completely focused on the professional tool, and in tradies.
    That one [Merimbula] was a trial for us. It started out very well. And then I don't know, if you want to make some comments on it. We do see opportunities in the network, is it going to be extensive? I'm not sure, I would say extensive, but there are going to be opportunities in that 130 target for us to do some combined sites.

    Ms Welsh followed up with a comment of her own:

    I think it's an exciting moment in our history, where we've got an opportunity to ensure that we're growing the market. And we're leveraging that market into the vein of Mitre 10, and Home Hardware and Total Tools. So that's the first. And yes, it was always part of the percentages that we thought were available to the network of independents when we brought the two businesses together.

    Mr Raymond's references to foot traffic and sales on a net basis are very apt. Because, of course, if you do have conjoined stores, then the Mitre 10 retailer is essentially willing to give up sales of both power tools and power tool accessories in exchange for increased foot traffic, attracted beyond the Mitre 10 store's normal traffic by the TTH outlet.

    From a corporate perspective, of course, if almost all TTH stores are going to be wholly owned or JVs in which Metcash has a significant stake, there's actually an advantage to be had in transferring tool purchases from an independently owned Mitre 10 to the TTH outlet. If instead the transfer is between a corporate-owned Mitre 10 and a TTH, in most cases it's going to be something of a "wash".

    The difficulty comes in where there are independently owned Mitre 10 stores in a region where a couple of TTH outlets are introduced. The Mitre 10 stores will see a reduction in sales, most likely, and there will be no counterbalancing benefits.

    The statement by Mr Adams that "because where in our tool business, there tends to be more DIY type of customers" might mostly kindly be described as somewhat disingenuous. It is certainly true that IHG has more DIY customers than TTH. However it is also true that independent retailers in IHG - and particularly Mitre 10 - have expanded their marketing of trade-quality tools since 2015.

    Some evidence for this can be found in the videos that IHG has itself produced, highlighting (during a time of increasing corporate ownership) the "family based" nature of many Mitre 10 stores. A number of these videos feature - as, indeed, do many Mitre 10 stores - gleaming display "pods" of ranked high-end Makita cordless power tools. In fact, this seems to be a regular feature of IHG's Sapphire store upgrades.

    Diamond Creek Mitre 10 promotional video:

    "Industrial Power Tools" at Beck's Mitre 10 Launceston (TAS):

    "Industrial Power Tools" at T&H Mitre 10 Moe: (VIC)

    In contrast, the IHG line of tools for DIYers is somewhat lacklustre. It's made up of a bit of Bosch Green (with a larger range available through Bosch's Amazon store), the limited Rockwell brand from Chinese tool powerhouse Chervon, Worx which is also from Chervon, and some Black & Decker "orange" tools.

    There is nothing in that lineup that competes, for example, with the Bunnings Ozito line, which offers, for example, the PXC 18V 10mm compact drill driver kit, with a drill, charger and 1.5 Ah battery for $49. There's even a basic Ryobi drill, with 2.0 Ah battery and charger for $99. And with both those tools, the batteries can power a wide range of additional tools.

    But this misses a major point about power tool sales: it is just as much about the power tool accessories as the tools themselves. Smaller IHG retailers are not able to compete on price for many cordless power tools with Bunnings, but they do have reasonable sales of drill and impact driver bits, abrasive disks and circular saw blades. It is in that area where the impact of more TTH outlets could be felt most sharply.

    Strategic consequences

    In HNN's opinion, what we're really seeing in the TTH acquisition is the playing out of certain strategic consequences in Metcash's hardware segment. From the perspective of individual store owners, the amalgamation of Mitre 10 and the formerly Woolworths-owned Home Timber & Hardware (HTH) stores (aka Danks) has not turned out too badly. But from a Metcash corporate perspective, it is probably borderline disappointing.

    IHG did a very good job at retaining HTH stores, but the second stage of the business plan, continuing to grow past that point by gaining stores from other buying groups such as Hardware & Building Traders (HBT), simply did not work out. To a large extent, IHG under the guidance of Mark Laidlaw relied as much on emotional arguments as business analysis to encourage membership in the group. It wasn't a winning proposition in the broader independent retailer market.

    This meant the large investment made in creating IHG, an investment in capital, effort and opportunity cost, just did not seem to deliver the expected results that had been hoped for. The acquisition of TTH could be seen, in effect, as the next strategic play available to Metcash to make its hardware segment payoff as planned.

    There are dual risks that this strategy takes on. The first is whether IHG independent retailers will feel the competition from TTH outlets is unfair, leading them to leave the group. The second is simply that by late 2022 TTH will be directly competing with TKD owned by Bunnings. The ability to leverage the foot traffic created by existing Bunnings warehouse operations is one part of that risk, but the other is that Bunnings is very good at strategic execution in Australia.

    Related: Metcash released details of its trading for the first 16 weeks of the company's FY2021/22 year.

    Metcash/IHG trading update - HNN Flash #63, September 2021

    Related: Metcash's results for FY2021 showed strong growth in its hardware segment.

    Metcash 2021 full year results - HNN Flash #52, July 2021
    retailers

    Retail update

    Reece purchases long-term trade centre in in Brisbane's south

    Blackwoods in Mount Isa (QLD) has been recognised in the annual Northern Outback Business of the Year awards

    Plumbing and bathroom retailer and supplier, Reece has paid $3.36m for its showroom/warehouse located at 11 Secam Street, Mansfield (QLD) which it has occupied for over 17 years.

    The property covers 3008sqm and features a 799sqm tilt panel prime-grade showroom, warehouse and trade counter. Andy Carmody from real estate company, JLL told the Courier-Mail:

    Reece historically likes to own their sites so they put it in their lease that if the landlord ever did sell they would have the option to buy it and that's what has happened.

    The low site coverage aspect provides further potential development upside, and the location provides access to key infrastructure and amenity. Corbin Crain from commercial real estate agency, Crew Commercial said the sale price reflected a 4% yield.

    Reece wanted to stay on as an owner-occupier and they will leave it as is having done their own fitout and they will stay there for many years to come.

    Blackwoods

    Blackwoods Mount Isa manager Lee Potini believes it was probably their customer-first approach that won them the top prize in the Northern Outback Business Awards. She told the North West Star:

    We listened to the customers and what their needs were. I just brought in a lot more stock to cover myself and cover our customers.

    She said some customers would come in and want an item to find it on a four or six-week back order, so Ms Potini took it upon herself to order masses of essential products so they wouldn't come up short again.

    A lot of the critical PPE items like face-masks and earplugs, we made sure we had a lot of that, and when we were ordering we were just putting more into our inventory and our warehouse to cover the demand.

    She also praised the efforts of her staff across the team. Ms Potini said team members were answering calls even outside work hours, while the account manager was driving stock out to the mine sites when they needed it to keep things moving.

    Ms Potini said the award was terrific recognition for her team's efforts over the past 18 months, and more broadly as they have rebuilt in the past four years since she came on board.

    I took over four years ago and we were in a world of pain then - we weren't listening and stocking the correct stuff - but I have lived in the region for 10 years so I just listened to the customers and we spent tireless hours sorting the warehouse.

    Since then, she has maintained the same strong and diverse team, saying it was something she was proud of.

    Commerce North West president Emma Harman said the awards are a reflection of those businesses that had shown creativity and resilience given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Sources: The Courier Mail and North West Star
  • retailers

    Roy Morgan on post-COVID retail

    Forecast predicts high Xmas, 2022 Q1 sales

    Roy Morgan has a rosy picture of post-COVID retail, at least through to February 2022. Christmas sales will retain the high levels of 2020, the company says, and Black Friday sales will be strong. However, there are some real threats that could unravel this forecast as well.

    Roy Morgan has provided a YouTube video of its "The Future of Retail: Latest Industry Trends" webinar. This is an 18 minute video presented by Michelle Levine, the CEO of Roy Morgan, and Ross Honeywill, a social scientist and author, and the moving force behind the premium.net.au website. He has a unique and interesting approach to markets and marketing.

    It's really worth setting aside 20 minutes or so to watch the webinar:


    The Future of Retail: Latest Industry Trends

    The agenda

    One of the most useful functions that these quick introductions from Roy Morgan perform is to develop and discuss a relevant agenda for retail over the following six months or so. Roy Morgan also brings a unique point of view, which is driven by the company's extensive research into consumer opinions and choices.

    That said, however, it's also true that there are times, especially when the company crosses over from markets to broader economics, when the analysis needs to be questioned. It's an understandable expansion, as economics has in recent decades crossed over into psychology/sociology (think Richard Thaler with behavioural economics, and even Robert Shiller in his suggestion that housing markets are driven by opinion), but it tends to lack something in rigour. But, at the very least, Roy Morgan provides a good point of departure for discussion.

    In this particular "Future of Retail" summary, the agenda was outlined as follows:

  • Christmas 2021 retail sales
  • Black Friday/Cyber Monday retail sales
  • Retail sales for Q1 2022
  • While the above generally portrayed retail as having a positive future, the webinar also pointed to some potential problems:

  • Inflation
  • Future lockdowns
  • Experience economy recovery
  • Decline in online retail due to delivery speed
  • Pursuit of price as market stimulus
  • Christmas 2021 retail sales

    According to Ms Levine, in looking at retail sales for Australia overall:

    The good news is that our brilliant data modelling team has forecast retail sales in the run up to Christmas to match last year's record high. This is terrific news for the retail economy. You can see from this slide that the Roy Morgan predictive engine, the green dotted line has a very close correlation with actual sales. That's the solid black line back to January 2019. But what matters is going forward and looking forward, we expect Christmas sales to be more than 11% ahead of 2019.

    Of course, that is a bit of a mixed message. Essentially, while the sales do indicate growth over the pre-pandemic period, they are essentially flat going back to Christmas 2020. Nonetheless, it is better news than a projected decline.

    For Sydney retailers, the rise is expected to be 10%, while for Melbourne retailers it will be 11% over the Christmas 2019 figures. Tasmania is expected to grow by 15% over 2019, which is 4% more than Christmas 2020.

    In terms of retail categories, hospitality is expected to post a gain of 12% over Christmas 2020. However, the household goods category will decline from Christmas 2020, but still be 14% higher than for Christmas 2019.

    Black Friday/Cyber Monday

    While the Roy Morgan forecast concentrated on those two days - at least nominally - it's evident that "Black Friday" applies to a period of between six to 10 days around the US Thanksgiving holiday. While there are some wild apocryphal aetiologies provided for the term, its initial significance was simply that this marked the start of the Christmas sales season.

    In fact, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) moved the holiday, from the last Thursday in November, to the fourth Thursday in November, to avoid the situation, as in 2018 and 2023, when the previous timing would have reduced the Christmas sale season to less than a month.

    Cyber Monday was a term coined after online retailers found that online sales soared on the Monday following Thanksgiving (though really it was late in the Sunday night instead, initially).

    Whatever the origin, Roy Morgan sees this season as being especially big during 2021. As Ms Levine states:

    Roy Morgan is forecasting another lift. We estimate that $5.4 billion will be spent over the four days of Black Friday, Cyber Monday. That's just ahead of last year's record.

    That estimate is somewhat above other market estimates.

    First quarter 2022 retail sales

    The biggest question for most retailers is what is going to happen during the first two quarters of calendar 2022. As Dr Honeywill puts it, referring to the predicted surge in Christmas sales:

    The big question, though, is can it sustain past Christmas? Or, what we might call the "rebound party"? And when [will] we return to some kind of normality?

    The answer from Ms Levine is surprisingly positive:

    Our predictive engine, all things going as planned, has January [2022] 15%, up on 2020. It has February 14% up and March 4%, ahead of March 2020. And comparing the first quarter next year to the same period this year, the news remains positive.

    But, as she quickly points out, that prediction is based on ongoing positive business sentiment:

    But so much relies not only on the confidence of people, but on the confidence of businesses to invest in their future by lifting wages, opening more stores and employing more Australians.

    Potential problems

    Like any good forecasters, rather than just nominating a number, Roy Morgan provides an overall context to their predictions. In this case, that context comes in the form of developments that could introduce considerable downsides to the forecast recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Problem 1: Inflation

    Quite correctly, Roy Morgan has identified inflation as being a potential risk to a post-COVID recovery. However, this is one of those areas where, just as economists sometimes struggle with market psychology, the company does make some assumptions that are, at least, somewhat contentious for economists.

    Introducing the subject, this is what Ms Levine has to say:

    Inflation has both a practical and a psychological impact on retail spending. And of course, as with everything, there are winners and losers. So those who are living off interest or investment earnings with their home paid off are winners in an inflationary environment. They aren't by the way, typically big spenders.
    On the other hand, those who are paying rent or have big mortgages, particularly with variable interest rates will be playing catch up in an inflationary time. And so these typically bigger spenders will have less to spend, and when possible, they'll spend on assets or investments that they believe will grow with inflation, not discretionary spending.

    Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this introduction is that it is not entirely complete. To quote from the European Central Bank Economic Bulletin:

    Other things being equal, when economic agents anticipate that inflation will increase, they perceive the real interest rate to fall. As a result, they spend more and save less to optimise their consumption and investment over a long horizon.
    Making sense of consumers' inflation perceptions and expectations

    There is a less-technical article on the website of the US White House that describes the issues around inflation post-COVID. It's authored by Jared Bernstein, chief economist and economic policy adviser to the US Vice President, along with Ernie Tedeschi, a senior policy economist with the US Council of Economic Advisers.

    Pandemic Prices: Assessing Inflation in the Months and Years Ahead

    One comment from that paper worth noting:

    We expect that moving from a shutdown economy to a post-pandemic economy-with demand fuelled by pent-up savings, relief funds, and low interest rates-will generate not just somewhat faster actual inflation but higher inflationary expectations too. An increase in inflation expectations from an abnormally low level is a welcome development. But inflation expectations must be carefully monitored to distinguish between the hotter but sustainable scenario versus true overheating.

    The role of inflation post-COVID

    For both the US Federal Reserve and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), increasing inflation is a target. The RBA has clearly indicated that it essentially plans to increase inflation to around 2.5%, and sees 3.0% as an acceptable upper range.

    In the US, while there are concerns being raised about the level of inflation, it's difficult to know how much of that is sound economic analysis and how much is purely political. One factor that observers don't always understand about the economic actions of the current US administration is that its economic stimulus plans are aimed not just at repairing the economic problems of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also an attempt the heal the lingering wounds of the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC).

    Of course, too high a level of sustained inflation is bad. That is due to some cyclical factors. Once a higher level of inflation gets embedded in an economy, it tends to continue to increase. In a simple form, the price of goods increases, wages increase to match those increases, which lifts production costs, which means the price of goods increases, and so on.

    Yet while too much inflation is bad, some inflation can be very good. The reason for this is that inflation tends to promote growth, as it encourages consumers to make purchases now, rather than later, and because it can provide an additional discount on the interest charged on loans, which encourages larger capital expenditure (CAPEX) from businesses.

    A frequent criticism of the RBA since 2018 has been that it underestimated the deflationary impacts on the Australian economy from 2016 onwards. Many of those occurred in the retail sector. Increasing competition, including from overseas sources via online purchases, more price transparency due to online price comparisons, the entry of Amazon into the Australian market, and further utilisation of less expensive labour in China and throughout south-east Asia, all exerted negative pressure on prices.

    This helped, especially in retail, to push retailers towards a business model focused on cost containment, with low levels of CAPEX investment. One key problem with this is that productivity improvements have been, at best, incremental. According to OECD figures, for the key productivity measure of growth in gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked at constant prices, Australia ranked outside the top 20 OECD nations in 2019, and in 2020 was ranked 37th. Of course, the latter result is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but so were the countries ranked above Australia.

    Inflation, wages, productivity

    Where things get really interesting is in terms of wages and inflation. One of the main reasons the RBA is pursuing a higher rate of inflation is to improve overall growth in wages, which has remained at exceptionally low levels for around a decade.

    In a higher inflation environment, employers are forced to make annual cost of living adjustments to wages. This includes not only past inflation, but also predicted future inflation. This leads to wage variations, and workers will be attracted to higher wages. The market becomes competitive, and as the competition increases, employers begin to base wages on not only cost of living increases, but also a share of their annual earnings.

    That leads, of course, to higher real wage growth, and a better distribution of economic growth throughout the economy. Effectively, in a low inflation economy, only managers in the C-suite share in growth, while in a higher inflation economy this tends to extend to more of the workforce.

    This is what is currently taking place in the US economy. That lift in wages then drives further demand, especially at the retail level.

    Problem 2: Lockdowns

    This is a simple and direct threat: will new COVID-19 variants and/or a return of non-quarantined international travellers create the need for further lockdowns? If so, as Roy Morgan points out, the results could be severe. According to Ms Levine:

    There is every possibility that a new COVID variant could emerge somewhere in the world spread to Australia and challenge our vaccination effectiveness. And according to our always-on predictive engine, if that did happen, the cost to the retail sector from a new round of lockdowns could top $4 billion a month. Over the worst of 2021, the New South Wales retail economy had a $14 million hit each and every day. And it was even worse in Victoria at 55 million every day of lockdown.

    In an article from The Guardian newspaper, Dr Marc Baguelin, from the UK's Imperial College's COVID-19 response team, and also a member of the government's SPI-M modelling group, suggested that an out-of-control situation would be unlikely:

    It is unlikely that such a new virus evades entirely all immunity from past infection or vaccines. Some immunity should remain at least for the most severe outcomes such as death or hospitalisation. We would most likely be able to update the current vaccines to include the emerging strain.
    But doing so would take months and means that we might need to reimpose restrictions if there were a significant public health risk. The amount of restrictions would be a political decision and would need to be proportionate with how much this virus would evade current vaccines.
    New Covid variants 'would set us back a year', experts warn UK government

    So this could be ranked as a moderately severe risk, but one with a low probability of occurring, and with solutions to hand.

    Problem 3: The experience economy

    One of the problems for retailers identified by Roy Morgan is the re-emergence of the "experience economy", with a shift back from purchases of goods to purchase and/or subscription to experiences. During the webinar, Roy Morgan used the following diagram to illustrate its view of how the experience economy functions:

    The core difficulty Roy Morgan identifies is that retailers will be disadvantaged by a shift in spending from purchases of goods to purchases of experiences.

    McKinsey & Company has also done some interesting research into this area, and what happens to spending post-COVID. This research can be accessed online:

    The consumer demand recovery and lasting effects of COVID-19 Report

    While the research does not cover Australia specifically, it does include details from the UK and the US, which have some similar characteristics. One element of the pandemic consequences McKinsey points to is that, unlike other economic crises, this one affected goods and services differently:

    As the diagram illustrates, services were especially hard hit, a consequence of both social distancing requirements and the hard lockdowns of commercial businesses.

    One comment on this is that the return of the experience economy seems more like a problem for 2023 rather than 2022, as it will take most of the coming year to fully come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic. If retail will be hit by a renewed experience economy, it's not likely to have too much of an effect until the second half of calendar 2022, at the earliest.

    Decline of online retail

    Roy Morgan sees difficulties with timely delivery of goods ordered online as potentially limiting future growth in ecommerce. According to Ms Levine:

    [Delivery delay] is a real threat to digital acceleration continuing at the same rate of growth through 2022. There's no doubt that online and omni channel retailing in particular is here to stay. But if consumers are turning their mind to experiences, and at the same time are frustrated by delays in deliveries, it's a stumbling block for retailers.

    Again, this is a pretty complex area. For example, how do you model the influence of click and collect on online retail and deliveries? What is the role of Amazon, which has pretty much evaded delivery concerns, at least through its Prime delivery subscription services?

    It's helpful to unpack that a little. If retailers have seen online retail purchases grow from 10% in 2019 to 20% of total revenue in 2021, only to contract by, say, 5% in 2022 as delivery concerns continue, what happens to that 5% of revenue absent from online sales? Does it leave the retailer entirely, or will a proportion shift to click and collect and/or direct in-store purchases? Will it simply go to Amazon?

    It's a bit difficult to see a scenario where someone wants to order a $200 set of headphones, sees that delivery will take three weeks, and decides to spend the money on a flight to Queensland or New Zealand instead.

    What does seem likely is that retailers who can sort out and solve delivery issues are likely to see their online sales do better in 2022 than those who do not. This also creates an opportunity for specialist delivery services.

    Price as market stimulus

    While this is presented by Roy Morgan as playing a part in post-pandemic retail recovery, the issue of addressing markets less dependent on lower prices was a concern of the company pre-pandemic. This draws heavily on the work by Dr Honeywill, which relates to his ideas concerning the formation of a market segment he terms the "New Economic Order", or NEO. This segment is motivated by product experience, including design, innovation, and quality of construction. Outside of that segment is what Dr Honeywill identifies as the "traditionalists", who remain motivated mainly by price.

    The best introduction to this segmentation is provided in an animated video on YouTube:


    Essentially, what is being suggested is that high-value consumers can be identified in the marketplace through their attraction to specific forms of consumption. Retailers who continue to market to the traditionalist segment will experience slower growth than those who market to the NEO segment. As Dr Honeywill puts it:

    The real threat is that too many retailers think the 10 million price-based consumers - the traditionals you mentioned - are all there is, that they are the entire economy. So they constantly drive prices down into the commodity space to attract these traditional consumers and ignore the huge upside that comes from premium consumers and the premiumisation strategy.

    Analysis

    The major takeaway that most retailers should get from the Roy Morgan retail update is that the crucial period to focus on will from March 2022 through to the end of the third calendar quarter, in September 2022.

    There are certainly going to be challenges in December 2021, January 2022 and February 2022. However, many of those challenges are going to be the sort that are "good to have": shortage of supply to meet demand, moderate price inflation, logistical problems created by the volume of orders, finding enough staff to handle customer numbers, and so forth.

    One pattern that has repeated throughout the pandemic is that the economy and supply chain are placed under temporary stresses that overwhelm it for a transitory period of time, as there is no systemic solution available. For example, the toilet paper shortage of early 2020 was partially caused by hoarding and "panic" buying, but it was also the result of genuine supply problems.

    The core problem was that demand for domestic toilet paper increased by around 40% as more people were forced to stay home, rather than going to workplaces, shopping or recreational facilities, such as gyms. There was a surplus of business grade toilet paper, but that would have been difficult to repurpose in the home. It would not have made sense to convert many factories to producing consumer toilet paper, because that investment would not be recouped, since eventually demand would revert.

    The same thing is happening with container shipping today. There are only so many container ships, and also only so many containers to go on those ships. A container ship takes close to three years to build, so there is little point in accelerating construction plans in 2020, only to see demand fall again in 2023, just as they came online.

    In the hardware retail industry in late 2021 we're seeing some of the same forces at work. Building demand is soaring in residential detached dwellings - which intersects with both the big box retailer, Bunnings, as well as smaller independent retailers. Fortunately, the building industry is a little saner in this regard than many other industries, and what we will see with that high demand is that it will spread itself out not only through all of 2022, but probably into early 2023 as well.

    The real risk to the hardware retail market will originate in the housing market. We are currently in a puzzling time where ultra-low interest rates, and a changed view of the values of homes, have resulted in a surge in house prices. It is very difficult to see how that will not lead, certainly by 2023, to some rapid falls in house prices, particularly as the certainty of increased interest rates grows closer.

    That's the risk, at least in terms of the trade business. The consumer/DIY end of the business will likely experience some of the same slowdown as more general retail from March 2022 onwards. The risk will be that hardware retailers pivot from DIY to their ongoing strong trade business. That will reduce the resilience of retailers, which could be important if the industry sees a downturn in trade business in 2023.

    retailers

    Retail update

    Pearcedale Hardware Thrifty Link has closed down

    The township of Pearcedale, located an hour's drive south-east of Melbourne, has lost its local hardware store

    Adrian and Liz Scialpi have run the hardware store in Pearcedale (VIC) for 21 years, building up a loyal customer base that included farmers and boat builders, according to ABC News. On its Facebook page, they posted the following message on November 20:

    Today after 21 years we have had to walk away from our hardware business. It's been an amazing journey only to be ended by corporate greed.
    To the Pearcedale community and surrounding suburbs THANKYOU for all your support. But most of all the friendships we have made and the bonds we have created.
    We wish you all the very best and we will never forget our time at 3912.

    There have been dozens of certificates of appreciation stuck on the wall above the shop's entrance, thanking them for their donations to organisations such as the local school, CFA and pony club. Mr Scialpi told ABC News:

    I used to call on this little shop as a [sales] rep back in the late 90s. When it came up for sale ... I went home, and I said to Liz, 'Do you want to buy a hardware store?', and you know, her jaw hit the ground!
    What we did is we actually fell in love with this place, we fell in love with Pearcedale, we fell in love with the people and lifestyle of Pearcedale, and it's just become our life now.

    The store was their retirement plan. They hoped to rebrand it and work towards selling it, believing they could get a few hundred thousand dollars. But they say things began to look shaky when their lease lapsed in 2019, and the owners wouldn't sign a new agreement with them.

    They were on a month-by-month arrangement, when in May this year their property agent emailed them a new leasing agreement. The landowners were tripling the rent - from $29,687 a year to $88,638 a year. Mr Scialpi said:

    [I was in] disbelief. I couldn't believe what they were asking. So for my little store here, which is 180 square metres, in a country town, they're asking me for nearly $100,000, in rental, [if you include] outgoings as well. So it's a huge jump. It's impossible to survive.

    The ABC reports that a perusal of commercial rents show it's substantially more than what other landlords are charging in nearby towns like Somerville and Hastings, where the population is double that of Pearcedale. A similar-sized shop in Hastings, in a prize spot next to the local Kmart, was just rented for $68,540 a year.

    It's even cheaper to rent a similar-sized shop in one of Melbourne's most desirable suburbs, with one retail spot currently available in Brighton for $55,000 a year. Mr Scialpi said:

    The little shopping strip here services purely just our local residents, so we have no passing traffic at all.
    There's a limited market of 3,000 people that live in town, and the rate of $500 per square metre, which is what they're asking, is almost double the market value.

    The Scialpis admit they were on a good deal previously, and say they were willing to pay more. They sought legal advice and put in a counter proposal to increase the rent by 50%, but it was rejected by the owners.

    Moving isn't an option, said Mr Scialpi. The closest shopping centre in Somerville 10 minutes away already has a hardware store, while the next closest shops in Tooradin don't have a property big enough.

    The Scialpis have closed their doors for the final time, with losses they estimate at more than $300,000. Both of them will need to find other jobs. Mr Scialpi said:

    We're going to have to walk away with nothing. It's just devastating. I mean, we put our heart and soul into this place ... to walk away under these circumstances, it's pretty hard to take.

    Rent increases

    Pearcedale locals didn't bat an eyelid when the owners of United Petroleum - Avi Silver and Eddie Hirsch - bought the shops in 2015, under a company called Jasman Pty Ltd. Both Mr Silver and Mr Hirsch are worth a combined $3.6 billion, according to The Australian newspaper's 2021 rich list.

    But now, they are concerned that transaction may cost them the heart of their town. In addition to the hardware store, two other shops have closed their doors for good, with fears more will follow, after Mr Hirsch and Mr Silver hiked the rent substantially on some tenants.

    The other businesses are still under existing lease agreements, protecting them from dramatic rent changes.

    While Mr Hirsch and Mr Silver own the Pearcedale shops through their company Jasman Pty Ltd, they rent them out through United Petroleum. In a statement to the ABC, a spokesperson for Jasman Pty Ltd said it was seeking new leases in line with the rental market.

    As the rental the tenants enjoyed for [a] number of years was well below market rental rates, the tenants have decided to not take up new leases and leave the shopping centre.
    Jasman has honoured a small number of historical leases with below-market rents for some years. Jasman has every right to negotiate market rentals with its tenants as new leases are negotiated.

    But Alexi Boyd, from the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, believes the increases are unreasonable. He told the ABC:

    I think it's really disappointing to see a large company like this take advantage of a situation for small businesses where things are really difficult, we're trying to get back up on our feet again, and then they get hit and slugged with this enormous rent increase.
    It doesn't just impact this small business person, it impacts all of their workers, their community. Often these shops are really an integral part of a small business community and part of the community as a whole.

    Several valuers the ABC spoke to, said the owners would struggle to get new tenants in, while it would be tough for those who decided to stay to keep afloat.

    The increases bucked the general trend of rents in and around Melbourne, which were flatlining as retail rental vacancies rose due to the pandemic.

  • Sources: ABC News and Facebook
  • retailers

    UK home improvement retailers

    Kingfisher and Homebase have flourished

    While Kingfisher's Q3 results are down on 2020, they are still up on 2019. Homebase has lifted itself out of loses to make a profit in 2019, and was nearly sold for GBP300 million in early 2021.

    While home improvement in Australia and the UK has shown positive growth, which seems set to continue into 2022, the earnings picture in the UK and European Union (EU) is less certain.

    Yet while Kingfisher, the number one UK home improvement retailer through its B&Q and Screwfix stores, has seen revenue decline for 2021 over 2020 numbers, it still remains strongly positive in terms of 2019 sales.

    In other news, Homebase, which Wesfarmers sold for a nominal GBP1.00 in early 2018, has returned to profitability. In April 2021 it seemed for a while that it would even be sold for GBP300 million, but the deal failed to close.

    Kingfisher

    UK big-box home improvement retailer Kingfisher has released its results for the third quarter ended 31 October 2021. The group overall reported revenue of GBP3246 million. That is a decline of 6.3% compared to the previous corresponding period (pcp), which is the third quarter of 2020. Excluding the contribution of the company's Russian operations, which were sold off in September 2020, revenue fell by 4.2%. However, on a two-year, like-for-like basis (2YLFL) with constant currency, this represents an increase of 15%.

    UK & Ireland

    Regionally, sales for UK and Ireland were GBP1544 million, a decline of 2.1% on the pcp, while in 2YLFL this represents an increase of 15.7%. Breaking this down further, home improvement retailer B&Q saw sales fall by 5.3% on the pcp, while Screwfix grew by 3.9%.

    The company reports that the strongest categories were outdoor, building, and kitchen. The company's own exclusive brand of kitchens were a particularly strong performer. B&Q's Tradepoint initiative, focused on the trades, saw sales on the pcp increase by 5%.

    France and international

    For France overall, sales were GBP1111 million, a fall of 9.5% on the pcp, but a gain of 14.1% on a 2YLFL basis. Castorama sales fell by 12.0% on the pcp, while Brico Depot fell by 6.7%.

    For the other international operations of Kingfisher, excluding Russia, sales were GBP591 million, up by 1.2% on the pcp, and up 15.3% on a 2YLFL basis. Poland returned sales of GBP420 million, a lift of 1.4% on the pcp, and up 12.7% on a 2YLFL basis.

    The company is predicting a strong end to the year, with sales in the fourth quarter up by 0.4% on fourth quarter 2020, and up 13.2% on a 2YLFL basis. For the full year, Kingfisher is predicting adjusted pre-tax profit to be near the upper end of its forecast range of GBP910 million to GBP950 million.

    According to Kingfisher CEO Thierry Garnier's prepared remarks:

    We continue to grow our market share, driven by strong execution of our new strategy. We are pushing forward with investments in key areas of the business to drive long-term growth, including further enhancements to our e-commerce proposition and Screwfix's launch in France.
    Since the start of this year we have maintained, and in many cases improved, our product availability, which is amongst the best in our industry. This has supported our market share gains and allowed us to upweight promotional initiatives in the quarter. We have also continued to manage inflation pressures effectively, while retaining highly competitive pricing.

    Homebase

    Homebase, the UK home improvement big box retailer previously owned by Wesfarmers, and planned as an international extension to Bunnings, has continued its recovery.

    For the previous year ending 29 December 2019, the company provided GBP3.2 million in EBITDA profit, up from a loss of GBP114.5 million in 2018. The company has continued to be profitable since then. In April 2021 the company's current owner, Hilco, was reportedly close to selling Homebase to British entrepreneur Hugh Osmond for GBP300 million, though that deal did fall through.

    Homebase was turned around after Wesfarmers sold it in 2018 by reverting to the approach which had made it revenue neutral shortly before Wesfarmers acquired it. That involved a "softer", home furnishings approach to home improvement, and the incorporation of many store-in-store concessions from a range of British retailers.

    retailers

    RBA reduces debit fees

    Central bank looks after smaller retailers

    In late October 2021 the RBA released details of its review of debit payments systems. In particular, it sought to reduce the fee burden on smaller businesses, and has mooted allowing merchants to apply a surcharge for buy now, pay later services.

    The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has completed a review of retail payments regulation. The main focus of this review has been on least-cost routing (LCR) of debit card transactions. The review included examining costs, especially as these apply to smaller merchants.

    In addition, the RBA has also looked at providing merchants with the option to add a surcharge to buy now, pay later (BNPL) transactions (something currently largely excluded in agreements with BNPL suppliers), and provided guidance around competition and regulation concerns about "mobile wallet" payment systems, currently offered by providers including Apple, Alphabet and Samsung.

    Key points of interest

  • The RBA supports full access by merchants to LCR wherever possible. This means it will continue to place pressure on providers to supply dual-network debit cards (DNDCs) in preference over single-network debit cards (SNDCs).
  • In particular, the RBA "expects" all card issuers processing more than $4 billion in debt transactions a year to issue mainly DNDCs. This is an expansion from previous guidance, which addressed only the largest four banks in Australia. The new guidance would include eight issuers of debit cards.
  • LCR is expected from all payment service providers for in-person transactions.
  • LCR is expected to be implemented for online transactions by the end of 2022.
  • The RBA is set to reduce the cap on set rate interchange fees for debit transactions from the present $0.15 to $0.10.
  • The RBA is reviewing whether merchants offering BNPL payment alternatives can pass on all or part of the amount they are charged for these services, which can be as high as 4% of the total transaction.
  • Stakeholder concerns

    The RBA outlined the concerns expressed to them by retail merchant stakeholders which helped to shape the review in Box B: Implications of the Review:

    Central to [the stakeholders'] concerns was the low take-up of LCR by merchants, arguing that most merchants were not benefiting from the considerable savings that could be made through LCR. This was occurring at a time when changing payment behaviour - such as the ongoing shift towards contactless, mobile and online payments (and card payments more generally), as well as the rising popularity of BNPL products - was putting upward pressure on smaller merchants' payment costs. Merchant representatives also argued for the removal of the no-surcharge rules that are imposed by most BNPL providers, consistent with the approach that has already been taken by the Bank in relation to card payments.

    Managing LCR

    While most retailers are familiar with LCR, it's worth going over the details briefly.

    LCR applies to the way in which payments made by debit cards are managed. Most consumers are familiar with the "old" way of paying via a debit card: the card was inserted into the payment terminal, the personal identification number (PIN) typed in, and then a selection would be made between a "CHQ/SAV" option and a "CR" option. If the first was chosen, the transaction would be routed via the eftpos network, while the CR option routed it through the credit payment systems run by VISA Debit or Debit MasterCard.

    The consequences for consumers would be similar, with the amount withdrawn directly from their bank accounts. The merchant experience would be quite different. As the RBA puts it:

    For many merchants, payments via the eftpos network can be significantly less expensive than payments via the Debit Mastercard or Visa Debit networks.

    Where this gets more complex is when contactless payments are made. As the RBA explains this:

    When a customer makes a contactless ('tap-and-go') payment with their dual-network debit card, the merchant may choose to send the transaction via the debit network that costs them the least to accept. This is least-cost routing (also known as merchant routing). If the merchant chooses not to route, the transaction will be sent via the default network which is programmed on the card, typically the Debit Mastercard or Visa Debit network.
    If a merchant uses least-cost routing, it should not affect which deposit account the funds are paid from, and the three networks offer similar protections to the cardholder from fraud and disputed transactions. A customer can always select a particular debit network by inserting their card and selecting a network rather than tapping their card. And least-cost routing only applies to dual-network debit card transactions; it will not affect customers using credit cards.

    Modern complexities

    While the RBA has enjoyed some success at encouraging LCR, there are new challenges emerging. One of these is the mobile wallet system available on smartphones. As the RBA puts it:

    The Bank has observed a number of emerging challenges to the viability of LCR over the longer term. One challenge is that technological changes have driven a significant shift away from the use of physical (plastic) cards at the point-of-sale to the use of new 'form factors', such as mobile wallets, which is increasing the pool of transactions that cannot be routed.

    This shouldn't be confused with another issue regarding mobile wallets, where Apple restricts access to the near field communication (NFC) technology needed to implement a mobile wallet, thus making itself the only possible provider. That's an enquiry being pursued by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission).

    What the RBA is concerned about is that, effectively, most mobile wallets are like other contactless payment systems, but don't give the merchant the option of LCR. That is because the routing depends on arrangements established by the provider of the mobile wallet, and these favour the large international providers.

    While there have been some efforts to overcome these difficulties, they remain technically complex. What enhances the protection mobile wallets offer against fraud is that they never transmit or reveal any of the details of the consumer's account. Instead they generate a single, unique token (a cryptographic entity) that identifies the transaction itself.

    To introduce LCR, it would be necessary to either decrypt that token, so the payment could be re-routed, or for two tokens, one for each payment system, to be produced. The first would undo much of the extra security layer, and the second introduces considerable complexity.

    In responding directly to this issue, the RBA stated:

    Accordingly, while the benefits of enabling LCR in the mobile-wallet context could be substantial, the Board's view is that these would likely be outweighed by the significant implementation costs, as well as other legal and practical challenges. The Board is also mindful that mobile payment methods could change significantly in coming years (through, for example, the use of quick response (QR) codes).

    The use of quick response (QR) codes has grown in popularity in China (though its initial implementation was in Japan). Both Alipay and WeChat rely on this system of mobile payments. PayPal added this capability in 2020 to its mobile app. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes have offered an option that requires no contact at all, which has further advanced its popularity.

    It is, however, somewhat more time-consuming and complex than the simpler wallet systems. While it might be attractive in nations where contactless card payment are not popular, its ability to penetrate the highly contactless Australian market would be limited.

    RBA actions

    As with many aspects of payment systems, the RBA seems to prefer to set expectations rather than make explicit rules apply. Thus its overall approach is to state:

    The Board's preferred policy to promote LCR is to state an explicit expectation that all acquirers and payment facilitators will both offer LCR functionality for device-present transactions and promote the functionality to their merchant customers.

    Online transactions and LCR

    As with many issues regarding technology, the path the RBA is taking with LCR for online (formally, "device not present" transactions) is a little odd and confusing. Essentially, the RBA is mandating that LCR should be available universally:

    First, all acquirers, payment facilitators and gateways will be expected to offer and promote LCR functionality to merchants in the online environment by the end of 2022.

    From that point there are two pathways a merchant can take. The merchant can allow the customer to choose which debit network will be used to process their payment, or the merchant can offer no choice.

    In the first case, the merchant has to ensure that choice is not overridden at any point. As the RBA states:

    This would apply, for example, where the checkout page provided the explicit choice of debit network or where the customer used a mobile wallet with a preselected debit network.

    In the second case, the RBA's principles state that:

    If a customer has not made an explicit choice of network, and the transaction may be routed by the merchant or another party in the transaction process away from the 'front-of-card' network, there should be reasonable notification that routing could occur. In the case of new recurring transactions, it would be appropriate to notify customers only at the time of setting up the arrangement. In the case of existing recurring transactions, merchants should notify customers that their transactions may now be routed. The Bank is not prescribing exactly how such notifications should occur.

    The use of "recurring" is a little confusing here, but it likely refers to whether this is an account setting - for example, an Amazon login, or paying a telephone bill - or a one-off purchase. This is also one of those cases where the RBA is waiting to see what the market comes up with, which it will then comment and criticise.

    Where this all starts to get a little difficult is with the examples provided by the RBA as to how this might get implemented.

    Anyone with experience in online commerce knows that the payment process is a very delicate one - many purchases are abandoned at this point. The real, underlying problem is simply that, because the choice of payment network has little if any effect on the customer, but does have an effect on the merchant, it's hard to see how leaving the choice up to the customer actually achieves anything at all.

    For example, if the merchant does choose the payment network for the transaction, then the RBA recommends a message is shown to the customer stating that: "If using a debit card with two networks, your payment may be processed through either network". It would be surprising if as much as 10% of customers actually know what that statement means, and the general advice that will emerge will be "simply ignore it" - which begs the question of why it should be implemented in the first place.

    It's probably going to be worse if the customer is asked to choose a network. Not knowing what that means, they would be forced to make a guess, or spend an hour researching exactly what is going on.

    One option that could emerge, especially where routing preferences are part of customer account settings, is to offer some incentive for customers who choose the most cost-efficient option. That might be, for example, providing a small discount on shipping costs, or early access to discount sales.

    In general, though, this aspect of LRC seems so poorly thought out that it will likely be revised before the end of 2022.

    Interchange fees

    While the RBA expressed itself satisfied with the overall structure around interchange fees, it did consider there was one class of transaction where problems emerged. This related to relatively low value transactions that were charged at the set fee rate of $0.15. As the review points out, this would mean that a transaction worth $15.00 would be charged an effective interchange fee rate of 1%.

    Equally, however, the RBA noted that adopting an "ad-valorem" - value based - approach would not work, as the interchange fee should reflect the underlying costs, and most of those costs for debit cards are fixed on a per transaction basis. The RBA set out an alternative:

    Instead, the Board favoured a reduction in the cap on debit card interchange fees that are set in cents-based terms, which will reduce the possibility of very high effective interchange rates on low-value transactions, without significantly changing the overall interchange framework.

    In practice, this means:

    The Board favoured a modified version of the proposal for lower caps presented in the Consultation Paper, whereby the 15-cent cap on debit interchange fees set in cents-based terms would be reduced to 10 cents for transactions on both SNDCs and DNDCs.

    Surcharging

    It has been previously established by the RBA that merchants can charge an additional fee on transactions where processing costs are high. Just such a scheme has been implemented recently by Amazon in Australia (and previously in Singapore) where transactions using Visa cards are charged an extra 1% fee.

    However, BNPL transactions have escaped that requirement, even though the RBA sees this as a relatively helpful tool:

    The Board's long-standing view - which has been supported by developments in merchant service fees over the past two decades - is that the right of merchants to apply a payment surcharge plays an important role in promoting competition in the payments system and keeps downward pressure on payment costs for businesses.

    One reason why a surcharge for BNPL transactions might make sense is the high cost.

    Data collected by the Bank from 9 BNPL providers indicate that the average BNPL merchant fee was a little over 4 per cent in the June quarter 2021, which is significantly higher than average merchant fees on card transactions. Some stakeholders have also emphasised that BNPL merchant fees can be much higher for individual merchants, particularly smaller businesses, and that there is considerable variation across BNPL providers. While it is possible that competition from newer providers could result in downward pressure on BNPL merchant fees, it was also observed that competition may take some time to have a meaningful impact on BNPL merchant fees.

    Weighed against this, the RBA states, is that payment systems are based on networks, which means there are substantial barriers to market access. However, the RBA eventually does come down on the side of removing the barriers to charging a surcharge on BNPL.

    The Board has formed the view that the costs of BNPL no-surcharge rules - in terms of efficiency and competition in the payments system - outweigh any potential benefits in terms of supporting the entry of new players into the market. BNPL has continued to grow in popularity and is now used by a significant number of Australian consumers, particularly for online purchases. Accordingly, it is now likely to be difficult for many businesses to decline to accept BNPL services, even if they wanted to, and the high cost of these services is pushing up their payment costs.

    What this means in practice is that:

    Accordingly, consistent with the Bank's current approach to surcharging card payments, the Board's preferred approach is that merchants should, if they choose, be able to recover an amount up to the total cost of accepting payments, including those from BNPL providers. As noted, businesses may choose not to surcharge if they perceive that they benefit from accepting BNPL payments.

    However, the RBA does face some challenges in regulating BNPL systems:

    While BNPL arrangements facilitate payments between consumers and merchants (just as credit and debit cards do), there is some uncertainty as to whether they meet the legal definition of a 'payment system' or whether providers of these arrangements are 'participants' in payment systems under the PSRA [Payment Systems (Regulation) Act].

    Analysis

    It is likely that within three years the financial industry will look back on this recent review by the RBA with something of a sense of nostalgia. The reality is that current payment systems are simply not keeping up with the rate of technological change that is needed.

    An analogy is the current telecom system. The technology of fraud - especially spoofing phone numbers - has outgrown the ability of telecoms to police this, resulting in an ever-expanding pool of fraudulent behaviour, which is gradually making voice communication more and more irrelevant.

    One rapidly expanding possibility is the move to what has become known as "OpenBanking". This is where banks partner with third-party providers, who use a secure application programming interface (API) to render services to clients.

    Of even more interest is the possibility built into cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum that enables what are termed "smart contracts". These are essentially a system of very low-cost escrow agreements, controlled by "contracts" made out of code.

    A good example would be ordering goods online that need to be delivered to your home. Typically, when these goods are substantially delayed, or even not delivered, it can be difficult to get the merchant very involved in the problem - after all, they've already been paid their money.

    Using smart contracts through Ethereum, the actual payment to the merchant would be triggered only when the recipient digitally accepts delivery. The delivery company would be incentivised to make that happen, because they would have a similar contract with the merchant. No delivery, and no one gets paid.

    That has consequences for quality of service delivery, but it would also effect pre-order cash flow. Extended to its furtherest extent, goods could be offered for sale by a retailer, and the payment for their initial supply could be made immediately on their actual sale - a way to supercharge consignment selling.

    The question that we end with, then, is whether what the RBA does today is establishing the future of payments processing, or really more administering a transitory phase before more technology upends the existing links to the banking system.

    retailers

    Retail update

    Elders' AIRR acquisition helps drive profit

    The agribusiness has posted a higher full-year profit and dividend, helped by the purchase of a group of farming stores

    Agribusiness Elders has posted a higher full-year profit, assisted by the first full financial year of ownership of Australian Independent Rural Retailers (AIRR). Sales of rural products improved by 24% as a result of the AIRR purchase.

    The company posted a 22% increase in full-year net profit to $149.77 million for the 12 months to September 30 as revenue lifted 22% to $2.548 billion.

    The bumper profits were also driven by favourable market conditions, ranging from overseas pension funds pouring money into farm purchases to strong demand for cropping products.

    The high demand for cropping products improved crop growing conditions that will continue to drive demand for its range of pesticides and chemicals, and a real estate boom is having a positive impact on the agribusiness giant. Chief executive Mark Allison told The Australian:

    The diversified model for Elders allows us to continue to make increased profit even though there are droughts and floods or whatever, so the philosophy from day one has been we have to get the cost of capital for Elders at a position so that in bad conditions we make money, and then in good conditions we make lots of money...
    Last year when we hit $120 million (profit) a bunch of commentators said this is as good as it gets, but hold on a minute, only 30% of our upside in profit this year has come from strong market conditions, and 70% has come from our bolt-on acquisitions and backwards integration and organic growth.
    So acquisition and organic growth is 70% of Elders growth, it has nothing to do with seasons or cycles or cattle prices or rain or anything.

    Like many other companies in Australia, Mr Allison said Elders was facing shipping and logistics problems caused by COVID-19 and the extra strain of supply chains, which had delayed shipments of key crop chemicals.

    Around 70% of crop protection products come out of China. We have had examples of ships being sent back to China empty so they can send another shipment of inputs back here. Our supply chain has gone from eight weeks to 12 weeks, it has added an extra month for ordering.

    This would still enable Elders to have enough stock on hand for next year's winter crops but the price of the products and as well as shipping and freight costs would need to be passed on to customers.

    Elders' property arm was boosted by soaring demand for farmland and residential property. Gross margin improved by 33%. Prices in the property market were also expected to stay high, helped by low interest rates.

    Looking ahead, Elders said favourable seasonal conditions and demand for agricultural commodities made for excellent trading conditions in the first-half of this financial year. The company also said there were good opportunities for more acquisitions.

    Seed business

    Elders is also looking to the expansion of its growing seed genetics business, EPG Seeds. EPG Seeds is investing in new distribution channels so its products will be available beyond the Elders branch network through AIRR and all national reseller networks.

    Mr Allison said the company has been involved in plant breeding and introducing crop genetics to Australian farmers for decades.

    These added investments will take these operations to a new level and expand the distribution of innovative grain and forage varieties to new customers, with the backing of Elders.

    Related: Elders continues to grow its branch network through its AIRR ownership.

    Elders expects more retail members - HNN Flash #24, November 2020

    Related: Elders' AIRR acquisition delivers customer growth.

    Elders grows its customer base - HNN Flash #14, June 2020
  • The Australian, Yahoo Australia and Wimmera Mail-Times
  • retailers

    Bunnings' "Make It Happen" marketing

    Will the big-box retailer keep up with social media trends?

    In 2019 Bunnings release its video series "Make It Yours", which made use of "influencers" to encourage younger customers to explore DIY. In 2021 the big box retailer released "Make It Happen" - which was a return to the way it marketed in 2017. What's behind that, and what will it mean?

    Pandemic lockdowns have boosted DIY sales at independent retailers since April 2020, especially in Melbourne and Sydney. With Australia-wide full vaccination rates likely to go past 90% next January, while domestic and international travel restrictions ease further, most retailers are preparing for reduced DIY sales in 2022.

    Lockdown was certainly an activity incentive, but just as importantly, customers had few other opportunities to spend money to improve their circumstances. Some genuinely new demand was created, but there has also been a considerably bringing forward of future demand. Few homeowners will add a second deck, a second pool, or a third storey onto their houses.

    That's not to say, however, that independent retailers intend to simply surrender the additional (more profitable) sales they've reaped from DIY over the past 20 months. The question is, though, what tactics should they adopt to hold onto more of those dollars?

    Competition

    The first part of the answer to that question is to acknowledge that what is being discussed here has less to do with changing consumer behaviour, and more to do with industry competition. While it is true that DIY spending in general rose considerably during the more difficult periods of the pandemic, independent retailers likely benefitted as much from the restrictions themselves as the increase in activity.

    In both Sydney and Melbourne, during the strictest lockdowns, people were restricted in how far they could travel, and over which local government authority boundaries. While the increased volume of sales benefitted Bunnings, the proximity rules - as well as the volume of traffic through each Bunnings store - made the nearest hardware store often a more attractive option, and in many cases the only option.

    With lockdowns essentially over, independent hardware stores need to revisit how they can compete with Bunnings for DIY sales in 2022. To do this effectively, they need to acknowledge that past competitive practices have simply not worked.

    Back in 2019, the industry saw the first signs, in 20 years, of independent retailers coming to terms with what Bunnings really meant as a competitor. One catalyst for this was that the merger of Home Timber & Hardware (HTH) with Mitre 10 to form the Metcash-owned Independent Hardware Group (IHG) really did not deliver the kind of market competitiveness that then-CEO of IHG, Mark Laidlaw, seems to have at one time suggested.

    Pre-pandemic, IHG did OK, but did not attract enough additional stores post-merger to noticeably change the structure of the hardware retail market. Competing with Bunnings seemed to work better as a recruitment and member retention strategy than it did as a functional, working competitive strategy.

    Prior to that, the message most independent retailers agreed with was that the Bunnings business model was flawed, and that its ongoing aggressive expansion would not generate adequate returns. Independents, it was suggested, would eventually triumph due to the greater expertise of their floor staff, the ability to build relationships with customers, and their enduring role in regional communities.

    Bunnings did not fail. It succeeded at doing better than any other major retailer in Australia. Today, Bunnings continues to expand, recently into both hard surfaces with the acquisition of Beaumonts, Tiles and into trade tools through its launch of Tool Kit Depot, while also continuing to grow its trade business through its existing warehouse stores.

    Hardware retail has come to accept this. Very few (though there are some) would continue to voice the opinion that Bunnings is somehow strategically flawed. The reality is, most realise, that Bunnings is a major influence in certain key markets, and it is likely to continue to dominate those markets through to the end of the current decade.

    New markets

    That's not a message of despair - for one thing, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is more attentive to the monopolistic power of Bunnings than it has been at any time over the past 20 years.

    Beyond that, however, Bunnings will also, within the next five years, begin to struggle with changes to its base markets. The baby boomers which boosted it to its current pre-eminence are ageing out of the DIY market, and generations that are replacing them - Millennials and the younger Gen Z - have different values, and a different approach to both home ownership and DIY.

    There are, HNN would argue, already clear signs of this struggle in Bunnings. The best single example of this is in the two major DIY video series that Bunnings has brought out, 2019's "Make it Yours" (MIY), and 2021's "Make it Happen" (MIH). Exploring those series, and also looking at what overseas home improvement retailers such as Lowe's Companies are doing with video, can provide some sense of the new, emerging markets that Bunnings may be less equipped to capture.

    Bunnings goes backwards?

    It has been somewhat surprising to see Bunnings, which has a very good history of execution, produce a quite good DIY series in MIY, then go considerably backwards with its next production, MIH. There is the pandemic to account for, of course, but Wesfarmers/Bunnings is a very large, national company: it has the resources to overcome those difficulties.

    The answer, in HNN's opinion, may lie in the different strategies behind each series. In MIY, the show was overtly aimed at younger DIYers, with at least some attention to the possibility they might be renters. It relied on taking a very modest - in fact somewhat drab - suburban house which Bunnings bought, and engaging with a series of designers/social media influencers to renovate it. Each of them took responsibility for redesigning and then rebuilding one aspect of the house, with relatively high production values in the shoot.

    By contrast, MIH is perhaps the most Bunnings video series ever. The host of MIH, Lucy Glade-Wright who runs a successful blog/marketing company named Hunting for George with her partner, Jonno Rodd, presented the MIY series on Channel 7Two. The association with Bunnings has extended to the remodelling of her own house, presented in a series of videos, which, while somewhat variable in their quality, highlight her ability as both a designer and a presenter.

    One of the standout examples of this is the video capturing the remodelling of the couple's kitchen, in a late 19th Century house somewhere in Melbourne:


    This is one of the best DIY home renovation videos that HNN has seen. There is genuine passion, coupled with lots of hard work by both Ms Glade-Wright and her partner Jonno (who has a background in marketing). Part of what makes it so interesting is the constant planning interrupted by the necessity to change up those plans to match the reality of the renovation. It begins with a desire to preserve the exposed brick of the kitchen, which then needs to be painted white, and then cabinets do not fit in spaces and need to be replaced.

    Yet in that constant juggling, a very particular and real aesthetic emerges, producing a room that is hyper-modern in some aspects, yet also conforms to the contours of a 150 year past. It's a kind of ongoing salvaging, but what is salvaged comes from both the past and, seemingly, the future.

    What really distinguishes this particular video is that Ms Glade-Wright makes evident the actual meaning of this kind of renovation. The kitchen really matters to her in a way that interior design really does matter to many, if not most, Australians. It's an expression of self, of culture, and even of the community one builds over time with friends. Australians tend to "mock up" a sort of "happy go lucky" surface life, but underneath this is a deeply felt sense of place.

    This video also contains perhaps the single most effective promotional piece ever made for Bunnings' DIY kitchen supplier, Kaboodle. It illustrates effectively how the inexpensive Kaboodle components can be used as the basis for a modern, functional and stylish kitchen, when they are taken out of the standard, prosaic patterns of the "kitchen in a box".

    Indeed part of Ms Glade-Wright's charm is an ability to "spruik" for a particular sponsor - Kaboodle, or Electrolux appliances - in a way that seems to reflect her genuine appreciation for these products.

    When it comes to her role on MIH, however, these abilities are, at best, tamped down somewhat, if not at times nearly excised. While the series has some pretensions to be about DIY, the fact is that, as the majority of work is performed by the Bunnings staff, it's more about how to renovate a room by hiring tradies.

    There is some attempt at DIY activity, which means that every episode focusing on an interior room has the hapless homeowner forced to undergo the trifecta of modern room transformation: painting, tiling something like a backsplash, and laying laminate floorboards. You see the participants paint about a quarter of a square metre of wall, actually hold tiles but not do much with them, or hit a laminate board with a rubber hammer.

    The really difficult parts, such as working out how much of a partial laminate board will be needed to span the surface of a room, and cutting those boards laterally - not on a right angle, of course - to fit the room's contours, are simply not even mentioned. If you know anything about actual renovation, it's a bit like joining a Zoom meeting where a good friend has accidentally turned up the "pretty", face-smoothing filter to the max: all the wrinkles are gone, but it doesn't improve anything, and the result is barely recognisable. It's essentially DIY renovation mime.

    The other problem is that the results of all these efforts certainly demonstrate an improvement over how the rooms started out, but the end-design is far below what Ms Glade-Wright would be able to achieve given a free hand. That's not a mistake, really, by either Ms Glade-Wright or the producers, because the homeowners are very evidently somewhat conservative (to put it mildly).


    Looking at the "before" and "after" of the kitchen, there is no doubt that some improvements have been made, but it is more about updating than anything else.

    For example, it's difficult to reconcile the floor with the new design. It's not quite a clash, but you know instantly that it would look great with the kind of limed-white floorboards Ms Glade-Wright used in her own kitchen. That accounts for the somewhat heavy over-counter pendant lamps: it's a device to link those disparate elements together, a counter-balance between a light and heavy tonality.

    Generational

    Of course, what is really going on here is as much generational as anything else. The designs and approaches used in MIH very much belong to the baby-boomer/Gen X side of things, where in MIY it was slanted to the Millennial/Gen Z demographics. The clearest illustration of that shift is in Episode 2 of the MIH series. The task is to take a living-room which has been split to create a third bedroom for a Gen Z young adult Max. As his sister is now moving out of the originally two-bedroom home, he can now have her room, freeing up the space.

    In some ways, it's almost emblematic of the shift between MIY and MIH. The Gen Z is moving out of the main space, and this is being reclaimed.


    It's also worth noting that Ms Glade-Wright and her partner Mr Rodd belong to the late-Gen X/early Millennial demographic, which makes their business (formerly a retail operation) Hunting for George an ideal vehicle for presenting this aspect of Bunnings. Probably the most evident effect of that generational influence is the constant battle of the TV that takes place in the living-room designs they produce.

    It's increasingly the case that TVs create a kind of design confusion as, in a screen-intensive world, there's a sense they need to be the secondary focus of a room, which, as TVs have become huge, is difficult to achieve. In late Millennial/Gen Z houses that's not an issue - because they don't have TVs (because there is an iPad/laptop/big smartphone), or the TV is allocated to a secondary space.

    Alternatives

    It's all very well to criticise this particular effort by Bunnings, but is there a better alternative available?

    Indeed there is - in fact several. The most on-point is a series produced by Lowe's Home Improvement titled "The Weekender". This uses a very good, experienced DIYer and presenter, Monica Mangin of East Coast Creative, who transforms spaces in people's homes by breaking them down into a series of four or five projects.

    In series 4, episode 8, Ms Mangin tackles a very small kitchen in a small house (less than 75 square metres) located in a lovely part of the city of Philadelphia, PA. The house is owned by Katelyn, a young Gen Z woman, who has saved up to buy a home she can barely afford, and really cannot pay for renovations.


    So, already you can see the boxes that Lowe's is getting ticked off: small house, small space, first homeowner, Gen Z, limited funds, and a space that needs renovation, but has great potential.

    The process is also very different from both MIY and MIH. While there is a tradie working to take care of essential tasks such as demolition, Ms Mangin does much of the work herself, including activities such as cutting out the hole for the sink in the wooden countertop. She walks Katelyn through every step of that process, including using a hole-saw to drill out the rounded corners, then cutting the lines with a jigsaw.

    The outstanding part of the project is replacing the floor. After tearing up the old linoleum, a wood floor is revealed. Unfortunately, that wood floor would take too much work to restore, and the show has only the weekend to work with.

    What is really interesting here, though, are the choices Ms Mangin makes to advance the project. She does not choose laminate flooring, but instead tongue and groove hardwood boards - which install almost as easily as laminate. Of course they are more expensive per square metre, but this is a very small space.

    Then, instead of a simple treatment, she has Katelyn help her to stain these boards in a range of different colours. The goal is to make the boards look as though they are repurposed timber taken from warehouses and other sources. To add to the effect, she topnails the boards, emulating the way standard floorboards would be fastened.

    This is what the final result for the kitchen looks like:

    The real difference between the "Weekender" and both MIY and MIH is that there is really a very clear focus on actual, useful DIY tips. When Ms Mangin does the backsplash, for example, there is a virtual tutorial on tile selection, working with mosaic pattern tiles, how to cut the tiles, and how to fill in gaps in the pattern.

    Seeing the difference between these two approaches, you really do wonder if the Australian series is not a little haunted by the remainder of the British class structures, where doing things by hand, as "trade", is still seen as a demeaning. In the US DIY is almost universally seen as "canny"; in Australia it's as though it is a barely OK alternative to using tradespeople. At least, that is, for the baby boomer generation.

    The marketing opportunity

    What we're really discussing above is that interesting area where design and DIY cross over. Is that all just about promotion, however, or does it really sketch out how people think about DIY today?

    One answer to that question is that the market is a lot more complex than just a single division between those who can/will DIY, and those who can't/won't. It goes all the way from people who can (just) replace the washer in a tap, but panic when the toilet cistern starts to leak and needs its gasket renewed, to those of us who sigh at every DIY renovation TV show, because no one, anywhere, sands the walls of older houses before painting them (really, minimum of an hour per wall, easily).

    One thing that is clear is that for people with some interest in DIY, and the minimum set of skills required, today represents something like a bonanza of possibilities. Power tools are so cheap, so powerful, so well-designed. Products like paint seem to get a little easier to use every year. There has been fantastic product development in everything from waterproofing (pre-made corner membranes - amazing!) to sealants to fasteners.

    That is, to some extent, the "missing piece" when we talk about the boom in DIY sales during the pandemic. It wasn't just the demand, it was also people discovering how much DIY has changed over just the past decade, how much easier and safer it is now.

    One of the slight distortions we all have in the hardware industry, and which we need to compensate for, is that we all believe that there is something in DIY that is just good for people. Amidst all the blathering we hear about conservation, climate change and so forth, we know that being able to repair stuff instead of replacing it is just a good thing. It's, well, it's respectful, in some way that is really difficult to define.

    Yet those values are simply not the values (for the most part) of today's DIYer. One of the phrases that keeps recurring in the Lowe's Weekender video series is "it's Pinterestable". The fact is that much of interior design is really influenced by the community that is formed through social media. What is shareable has become what is valuable, to a growing, important sector of the market.

    It is this that is really the differentiator between the early MIY and the later MIH video series by Bunnings. In MIY, the designers doing the design and DIY were all "influencers", dependent on social media for their personal and business reputations. For MIH, Bunnings chose another influencer in Ms Glade-Wright, but one that is very much something of a cross-over.

    That's evident because she is acutely conscious throughout the MIH series of the level of discomfort she may be causing the homeowners with whom she interacts. Because they, coming from older generations, are evidently not always all that happy being exposed to this particular social media driven world.

    What does this mean for hardware retailers? There are several steps that retailers can take to help boost their profile and increase sales.

    Your own influencer

    On a simple, direct level, if the younger generations are greatly inspired by the "influencer" economy, can they locate influencers who are local to their suburb, town or region? One way to do this is to search resources such as Instagram using the hashtag for your local area.

    If they can locate influencers who are at the start of their design careers, it's possible to work out relatively inexpensive promotional deals. Any kind of commercial deal is helpful to beginning influencers, as those deals actually enhance their reputation in the community, acting as a form of validation.

    Instagram rather than Facebook

    While some see this as something of a joke, the reality is that for the younger portion of the market, Facebook has become to Instagram (and to some extent Pinterest as well) as email is to text messaging.

    What this really means is that there is a big change to the narrative of sales. Facebook fosters (to sometimes negative consequences) the sense of a particular community involvement. Instagram instead measures something like the visual "beats" to a person's life. It's an association of less-judgemental "likes", a WhatsApp conversation rendered more universal and available through using the visual as the means of communication.

    The task of the retailer in this situation is to render the individual items of DIY to having some kind of meaning in that narrative. Let's take, for example, the "forest of taps" displays at most Bunnings warehouse stores (which HNN would argue was originally a development of a similar display pioneered by Masters Home Improvement, during its brief presence). To older generations, this is useful, as it makes it possible to easily compare different taps on appearance, price and utility.

    To younger generations, however, it is something more towards a mass of noise and interference. The decisions that are being about tap choice are associative, and apply to the narrative of the space that is being developed. A simpler display, with simple classifications might work better.

    Yet the prime ingredient that might really work is a QR code that links smartphones to more product information, but not that provided by the manufacturer. Rather, this should provide links to social media and other sources where the product has been featured or discussed.

    The important thing to realise is that this is not a matter of developing a "digital" virtual store. What it is really about is the communal, the shared, and it is only incidental that this is best realised through the digital.

    Of course, what is important about this for smaller retailers, is that it means not that scale - such as that used by Bunnings - means nothing, but that it will mean much less than it has in the future. Smaller retailers cannot stock and feature 80 different taps. But they can stock 30, and provide the linkages these customers seek in a satisfying form.

    Analysis

    One of the potential big shifts we could see in the future for small independent hardware retailers is the development of industry-wide services for social marketing.

    It's fairly evident that when we enter into this area that succeeding at this type of marketing will require not only considerable effort and time, but also a high degree of expertise. It's also a series of highly repeatable tasks that need to be done by each retailer.

    The possibility would be that these promotional efforts will be consolidated, and see the formation of "marketing groups" somewhat along the lines of buying groups, such as the Hardware & Building Traders (HBT), or even the extension of groups such as HBT to cover marketing as well.

    The other possibility is to see more product suppliers become engaged in influencer marketing, offering retailers "marketing packages". This could extend both to online media, and to in-store facilitation through store displays and QR code links to further content.

    retailers

    Retail update

    Farmers Warehouse gets major upgrade

    The rural merchandise store held its official opening recently in McDougalls Hill (NSW), located next to the Bunnings Singleton store

    Farmers Warehouse is now in an expanded premises in McDougalls Hill, a suburb of Singleton (NSW). There is another Farmers Warehouse store in Dungog and both are owned by James Ramm.

    According to the Singleton Argus, the Ramm family have been in agricultural supply services for many years with Mr Ramm starting out in the business running Farmers Warehouse as an online store.

    He opened his first bricks-and-mortar location in Singleton on Ryan Avenue in 2009 before building a new facility across the road from his latest venture located next door to Bunnings. The need to have more supplies both undercover and in the yard meant they had outgrown their original site and further investment was required. He told the Singleton Argus:

    Most of our biggest customers have probably never been in the shop. But they come to us because of excellent supply, delivery and pricing. The larger facility means we have more stock on hand to service our customers.

    Three trucks ranging in size from 4 tonnes to 29 tonnes will enable more efficient deliveries for its customers.

    With record prices now being received for many farm commodities, in particular beef cattle, farmers are keen to invest in farm infrastructure. With this in mind, Mr Ramm said he would love to see more local manufacturing of farm supplies.

    We are at the mercy of overseas producers for so many farm inputs like herbicides, fertilisers and fencing equipment. It would be great to see these products made in Australia and therefore farmers would be less likely to be hit by sudden price rises and no supply.

    Background

    Farmers Warehouse began as a web-based store in 2008. While Mr Ramm, was working at his father's store in Rutherford (NSW), he saw the need for rural products to be available on the internet as a way of reaching a broader regional customer base. He started www.FarmersWarehouse.com.au from his home.

    It is a member of AIRR (Australian Independent Rural Retailers) which allows better buying power and provides access to distribution warehouses in most states.

  • Sources: Singleton Argus and Farmers Warehouse
  • retailers

    USA update

    Lowe's launches room measurement tool

    It is powered by LiDAR, a technology that gauges how long light takes to travel to and from a surface to measure a space

    A new beta experience in Lowe's app combines emerging technologies to empower customers to plan, visualise and shop for flooring. The Measure Your SpaceBETA from the home improvement retailer uses LiDAR to take the guesswork out of home improvement.

    The tool is made possible by a recent hardware upgrade to certain iPhone 12 and 13 models that make LiDAR-enabled applications possible for developers. Apps like Ikea Place and TikTok have already made use of the new capability to support more precise augmented reality effects.

    Lowe's said its Measure Your Space BETA is an intuitive, end-to-end room scanning, measurement and estimate experience in the Lowe's iOS app.

    Few home improvement projects can move forward without data about a home's space, which can be tough to gather. Seemantini Godbole, Lowe's executive vice president and chief information officer, said:

    Home improvement can be complex, but at Lowe's, we're investing in emerging technologies like LiDAR, AI and mixed reality to make home improvement simple and intuitive. We see a future in which the devices customers already own can sense, understand and compile information about their home, putting it in their hands the moment they need it. We call this future spatial commerce, and we're excited to bring it to our customers.

    iPhones and iPads with the LiDAR Scanner use purpose-built sensors and software to sense depth and map dimensions of a space and the objects in it. Lowe's will leverage this technology to get detailed room measurements.

    Its customers will be able to access the feature simply by pressing the Measure Your Space BETA button on the product detail page of select flooring products in the Lowe's iOS app. The app will guide them to scan a room, automatically generating a floor plan, room measurements and a personalised estimate. They will be able to access this information in their app from anywhere, whether that's on their couch or in a store.

    Measure Your Space BETA is developed by Lowe's Innovation Labs that is focused on building experiences that will shape the future of home improvement. It worked with Streem(r), an AR and AI company whose mission is to make the world's expertise more accessible.

    This offering follows Lowe's for Pros JobSIGHT[tm] powered by Streem, an augmented video chat service launched in 2020 the midst of the pandemic to allow Pros to conduct virtual home visits with customers. Ryan Fink, Streem president and co-founder, said:

    Lowe's and Streem together are applying the use of complex augmented reality tools to create a simple, user-friendly app experience with the unique ability to make DIYers' lives easier. This partnership is proving the value of spatial commerce today by using guided AR and AI experiences to empower consumers with the practical tools and data they need to dream, plan and accomplish home projects.

    According to Ad Week, tools for virtually trying on products or placing furniture in homes have accelerated in popularity since the start of the pandemic, which made perusing items in brick-and-mortar stores more challenging. At the same time, better developer platforms and new smartphone capabilities like LiDAR have made mixed-reality and other virtual mock-up tech easier to create.

    That trend has also coincided with a boom in the home improvement space and a greater willingness on the part of consumers to buy big-ticket items online.

    Measure Your Space BETA will be available before the end of Q1 2022 in the form of a commercial beta launch available to iPhone 12 Pro/Pro Max, iPhone 13 Pro/Pro Max and iPad Pro users via the Lowe's iOS app.

    To learn more about Lowe's Measure Your Space BETA, please visit:

    Lowe's Innovation Labs: Spatial Commerce
  • Sources: PRNewswire and Ad Week
  • retailers

    Post-pandemic: a new hardware industry?

    The recovery won't be worse than the pandemic, but it will be difficult

    While much of the focus in hardware retail has been on growth in DIY sales, the real changes to come are likely to be structural. This includes changes both in consumers, and how retailers adapt to changes such as ecommerce.

    The forecast for the post-pandemic recovery has taken a few forms since the dread days of February 2020 when the world realised it faced something more of a problem than at first foreseen. For the moment we can say that we have almost come the end of that particular problem, at least in Australia, and much of the rest of the world.

    Outside the Northern Territory (NT), every Australian state and territory is predicted to reach a 70% fully vaccinated rate for people over 15 years old by mid-November 2021. By mid-December 2021, these regions will have reached the 80% fully vaccinated rate. (The NT will likely get to 80% in late December 2021.) New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria (VIC) are expected to cross over 90% by the start of 2022 at the latest.

    While that is good news, it's likely the recovery will be, while not as tricky as the pandemic itself, at least tricky enough to create some considerable problems. That's especially the case for retail, which was, overall, one of the industry sectors most affected by the pandemic, along with tourism and - in a very different way - health care.

    At the start of what will end up being pretty close to two years of pandemic time, there were a number of theories suggested as to what the recovery would look like - all of which were based on pure speculation. Perhaps the most persistent, at least in federal government circles, has been the "snap-back" - the notion that, somehow, once COVID-19 had been beaten back, everything would go back to the way it was in December 2019.

    The Delta variant of COVID-19 somewhat intruded on that version of events, especially for countries with inadequate supplies of vaccine, such as Australia. We could say that what we could call the "final wave" of COVID-19 is all about what we do with that two years of experience now.

    One of the most important things to realise in assessing this is that the recovery is not - obviously - synonymous with whatever shape the graph of gross domestic product (GDP) growth looks like. GDP does not really describe the entire economic condition of a nation, and it is of only passing importance in explaining a cultural change.

    It's easy to reel off some of the headline challenges Australia faces now. There is the booming housing market, which takes place even as the wage price index and overall business investment remain at historical lows. There is the rise of online retail, with questions about whether that has permanently reshaped retail markets, and just what it would mean for retail overall.

    There is also just the deep rift that has been revealed in Australian society, with mobs of mostly younger men shutting down parts of Melbourne and Sydney in anti-government riots. These were shocking not only in their level of violence, but in the unbalanced ideologies that supported them.

    What we can also say is that Australians got through the pandemic relatively unscarred as compared to most other developed nations. And we did that not through some wise guidance by state and federal governments, but often despite the glaring, obvious mishandling of the pandemic by governments. We were patient, we adjusted, we put up with a lot of mistakes - and sometimes had to tolerate the pure arrogance of our leaders. ("Get out from under the doona", right before Delta hit, still remains worthy of at least a good eye-roll.)

    The thing is, we cannot really expect the management of the recovery to go much better than the management of the pandemic. There are a lot of possible causes for that, but the summary is that, for whatever reason, government in the 2020s is simply nowhere as effective a resource as it was during, say, the 1990s.

    So, what does that management of the recovery look like for retailers, and especially hardware retailers? What changes have occurred, what opportunities will emerge, and how can they cope with these uncertain times?

    Hardware retailers

    For retailers looking at the available market, we've entered a phase of confused and mixed messages. Will consumer spending on DIY fall back to 2019 levels, will increased shopping at smaller retailers continue, will online shopping continue at a high level, or go backwards? Which comes down to the key question, of how you manage retail when customer needs and expectations are changing on a monthly basis?

    One of the best articles that HNN has read recently on this topic was written by Andrea Scown, who is the CEO of Mitre 10 New Zealand (not associated with the Metcash-owned Mitre 10 in Australia). Entitled "Clicks vs bricks: How retail is changing", the article asks many of the questions Australian retailers are facing.

    Clicks vs bricks - Stuff NZ

    Ms Scown is particular captured by the difficulties of running e-commerce from facilities made for direct-to-customer sales:

    Where do you store all your stock while ensuring customers can get it with the same convenience of going in-store? The home improvement industry is heavily reliant on bricks-and-mortar retail; much of our range is difficult if not impossible to sell online.
    What does the supply chain look like for retailers in the coming months? Retailers are having to factor in global disruption, shipping delays, significant freight cost increases and hold additional stock to ensure continuity - all of which puts more pressure on a retailer's footprint.

    Her solution, for the particular situation in New Zealand, has been to take the company on a five-year process to digital integration, based on an SAP backend. As she describes it:

    Here at Mitre 10, we are now immersed in a major five-year programme to ensure our customers get the best experience - because convenience is king. With everything so easily available at the click of a mouse, we know it'll be very difficult for a customer to bypass one of our competitors to get to us, when they are shopping for convenience. So where we are located, access, car park ease, hours of opening, and "click and collect" all make a difference.

    But what about smaller retailers in Australia? It is likely most will find some way to muddle through a transition back to more in-person retail, while some aspects of click-and-collect will remain. However, over time, we could see the growth of online ordering lead to some regional consolidation of retailers.

    One point that might drive that home as a necessity for growth is that the existing independent retail model has not been successful in competing against the main industry player, Bunnings. In particular, the drive by the Metcash-owned Independent Hardware Group (IHG) to consolidate its own Mitre 10 hardware group with the Home Timber & Hardware Group (HTH) in an effort to drive growth, did not prove as successful in the market as Metcash had hoped.

    The primary reason for this was that its centralised, warehouse-based distribution model did not deliver a decisive competitive advantage. Other groups, such as Hardware Building Traders (HBT) were able to provide equivalent access to suppliers and bulk deals, with fewer trading restrictions. This, in turn, meant that IHG did not grow appreciably in size.

    One possibility is that the "winning" model for Australia could turn out to be neither national nor strictly local retailers, but regional retail instead. We could see hardware retailers form at the very least strong associations on a regional basis, including their own regional warehouses. This would enable, for example, online e-commerce within a distinct region to be serviced directly from that warehouse.

    One of the major obstacles to this will be access to capital. While the RBA has suggested that small businesses do have ready access to capital, this is true only where small business owners are willing to put forward personal assets, such as houses, to guarantee these loans. Access to true venture capital, based on the future value of a newly formed enterprise, remains readily available only to large companies.

    Consumer changes

    One of the most important elements for retailers to focus on is the actual hardware/home improvement consumer, and the changes these consumers might have undergone as a result of the pandemic period. If we look closely we might certainly see that there are some areas of aspiration and consumption fading out, but there are also new, viable markets emerging.

    One good place to track those changes is in the area of attitudes to climate change. In late October 2021 we saw the Australian federal government release its long-awaited policy position on global warming, including long- and medium-term goals, and its methodology - based on as-yet unreleased modelling - for how those goals will be reached.

    Those core policy settings have two parts. The first part is that Australia will not incur any significant costs at all to help curb global warming. The second part is that it will not allow global warming concerns to affect its energy industry and/or its general industry mix, even if doing so does incur costs through inefficiencies or the need for support and subsidisation.

    Or, to put it more bluntly, the government won't pay to decrease global warming, but it will, seemingly, pay to boost industries that assure it will continue.

    This is really nothing more than the continuation of the policies the current government has put forward over the past decade and more. The criticisms that have been raised against it are also familiar. Yet there has been a shift in the response to those policies, a greater sense of discontent. Perhaps that is partly due to an expectation that, as global warming exerts more of an influence, the policies should change as well. But HNN would suggest that a more significant cause is that the pandemic has fundamentally altered Australian society.

    Two main beliefs were all but pummelled into Australians during the pandemic. The first was to trust the science, even if it made you uncomfortable. The second was to understand that everyone could make small, seemingly inconsequential contributions that would, when followed en masse, result in significant results - wear a mask, socially distance, and, finally, get two vaccinations.

    In sharp contrast to that, the global warming policy has become a call to not contribute because, the government declares, Australia really won't make a difference. Also, there's no need to do anything, because technology - most of it developed elsewhere - will somehow make everything OK.

    Viewed through the lens of the "education" offered by the pandemic, Australia's stated climate change policy is about as hokey as the worst of the claims made by anti-vaccination groups.

    The new consumer

    While all of this could seem to be quite disappointing, for hardware retailers, it does point clearly to some new emerging opportunities. One of those opportunities is what we might term the "active green" consumer.

    Much of the "green", conservation movement has in the past been taken up by essentially "passive" actions. There's a commitment to recycling, to using "green" products for cleaning and in the garden, as examples. But what if consumers found themselves able to take a far more active role in doing something about global warming - the equivalent of masks, hand-sanitising and vaccinations?

    The intelligent building

    The portmanteau word "smarthome" has been co-opted to describe what is simply a normal home that has a bunch of independent gizmos attached to it, controlled by centralised system which links to smartphones and voice-activated and controlled digital assistants (Amazon's Echo, Google's Home and Apple's Siri).

    What we might think of as the "intelligent building" (iBuild) relies instead on a series of integrated systems, and one of its main objectives is to limit the amount of energy used while maximising interior comfort.

    It's possible to think of this as something of a two-stage system. The first - and more familiar - stage involves taking existing, established technologies, and combining them in a new way, through the use of sensors and other control systems, to create buildings that use every joule of energy consumed to the best possible effect.

    Some of these iBuild systems can rely on quite exotic means of energy conservation. For example, there are climates which experience quite cold nights, followed by very hot days. In those areas, it makes sense to deploy what are basically large icemakers, which make ice at night, then use that ice to boost cooling during the day. Needless to say, that cooling boost is quite limited, and the machinery involved is fairly complex, so this is a niche use.

    More commonly, iBuild relies on complex heat pumps. Heat pumps, of course, differ from other temperature control systems in that they do not expend any energy on actually creating heat. Instead they just move existing heat around. Compressing air, for example, is a way to extract the kinetic energy in the form of heat from it, while decompressing previous compressed air is a way of creating a heat sink.

    iBuild heat pumps are capable of performing both these tasks at once, meaning different areas of a building can be selectively heated and cooled at the same time. You can add to that systems that transfer air from one area to another, averaging out the temperature, and limiting the amount of adjustment necessary. And then there is, of course, the use of heat exchangers for air entering the system for ventilation, using the exhaust air to either heat or cool the fresh air.

    One company in the US that is actively engaged in installing these systems in New York City is Bloc Power.

    Bloc Power in New York City

    One consequence of adopting this approach is eliminating the use of natural gas, and switching entirely to electric power. Thus these systems are naturally paired with the use of solar electric panels and storage batteries.

    It is natural when developing such a system to add filtration as an element. That could include filtering out pollen, pollution - and even viruses, such as COVID-19. Taken one step further, there are currently systems being developed that can deliver some form of what is known as Direct Air Capture (DAC). DAC is a technology that can actively remove carbon from the air. Generally, this requires at the very least a moderate-sized plant of machinery that processes vast amounts of air.

    There are a range of techniques used to take carbon dioxide out of the air, which is then followed by some mean of sequestering it. Sequestering can be done by reusing the CO2 in the production of other products, but more commonly it is pumped underground into long-term storage.

    While there are currently no commercial mini-DAC systems available, there is an active community which has developed experimental, DIY systems. Some of the most successful ones have come from the Open Air Collective.

    Open Air Collective

    While these systems can be successful in terms of actually capturing CO2, the difficulty comes about what is then done with the captive gas. It will likely take more than another decade to come close to finding better solutions, but the idea of individual homes doing minor DAC, but collectively changing the atmosphere is very attractive - and hopeful.

    Opportunities

    What does this potentially mean for hardware retailers? While some of these future trends can seem somewhat remote, there is work being done currently in Australia that will contribute to these changes. For example, at UNSW Sydney, the Anita Lawrence Professor of High-Performance Architecture Mattheos Santamouris is working on developing materials and surface finishes that can help regions of cities remain cool at the height of summer. In particular, there is a focus on creating "cool roof" materials.

    In the end, within the next five or six years, the hardware industry could see the start of a strong trend that would be a climate change equivalent to the push for better home insulation that started 15 years ago. It would mean extensive retrofitting of existing houses with more advanced technologies. While these would carry a high initial cost of investment, most would return that expense within a decade of use. As importantly, just as insulation today boosts the selling price of houses, going actively "green" in this way could become an important part of house investment.

    The broader economy

    That brings us to a discussion of the broader economy, which, for hardware retailers, is very far from having just a distant, abstract effect on their businesses. Economically, we're facing a housing market where a base interest rate of 0.1% has boosted prices dramatically in the eastern seaboard states, even as the baseline, organic demand from new household formation has decreased, due to declining immigration.

    IBISWorld estimates household formation from 2016 to 2021 had an average of around 1.4% a year, but that this dropped to around 0.4% in FY2020/21 - so, around 29% of its long-term rate. The fear is that this may turn into a longer term trend, driven in part by those same high house prices.

    Certainly, homeowners have been attracted to bigger and better houses, and there has been a net migration from the inner-city regional and ex-urban areas. But as travel and shared recreation opportunities return, and cities begin to exert their magnetic attraction once more, will these changes persist?

    While the RBA basically guaranteed the current low interest rate settings would persist through until late 2023 at least, economists and the markets themselves are now pricing in an interest rate increase in May 2022, with the possibility this could be at 2% by the end of 2022.

    The real concern is that, given the vulnerabilities introduced by the pandemic, the government of the day (which is uncertain, given a federal election is due by May 2022) will be forced to somehow shore up the housing industry. Economically, that would be a very poor outcome.

    Analysis

    In analysing the Australian economy and the hardware retail market, HNN does have what we think of as a "matrix of possibilities". What we see as being the primary underlying force in the economy is a transition what we might term analogue, mechanical industrialisation to digital, networked industrialisation.

    The main difference between the two rests in finding efficiencies. The difficulty, and the resistance to this transition - which has been very evident since around 2005 - is that there is a lot of money being made by long established market players through those inefficiencies.

    What the pandemic has done - somewhat paradoxically - is to enable some of these changes to take place through sheer necessity. For example, HNN has been writing about the potential of work-from-home (WFH) for at least the past four years. It is, fairly evidently, a massive "win" for society at large: less commuting means less automotive pollution, less road congestion, which means less infrastructure spending - not to mention, the potential to improve family life and reduce stress on individuals.

    Yet, WFH seems to throw an entire sector of the society into a state of panic. Cities in particular will see the income of commercial districts crash. But the fact is that those cities long ago ceased to be even a little concerned about how viable they were for the workers that flocked there every weekday, as anyone who has had to buy a $6 cup of coffee can tell you. Hopefully, what WFH will see is cities reassess what they do and what they offer. Previously they were what amounted to a monopoly for business location. Now that they have competition, perhaps they can improve.

    It's possible to go through a large number of categories, from electric cars to internet broadband provision, and find the same patterns. The problems we face during the recovery, over the next couple of years, will likely have less to do with "making good" the deprivations we have faced, and more to do with removing the restrictions that attempt to retard Australia's full economic development.

    The difficulty with this kind of change for Australia is that it tends to follow a path of years of resistance, followed by a sharp change in direction in a single year or so. Hopefully this time, as we slowly walk our way out of the pandemic, we'll be able to start earlier, and take some more time to get things right.

    retailers

    Retail update

    Sydney Tools announces Cairns outlet

    A new Total Tools store will be co-located with Mitre 10 in Wonthaggi, in regional Victoria

    Trade tool retailer, Sydney Tools is setting up a new store in Cairns (QLD) located off Mulgrave Road, one of the city's busiest traffic corridors.

    Director Elvis Bey told the Cairns Post the business already has a large online customer base in the area and is preparing to take market share from local competitors, Bunnings, Trade Tools and Cairns Hardware. He said:

    We've had a huge online customer base in Cairns and were frequently getting call-outs.
    Our pricing is always very competitive, probably the cheapest in the country, and we always have the largest range. Our competitors might carry 10 bays of a brand like Milwaukee. We will probably carry 70-80 bays of Milwaukee.

    The new Sydney Tools outlet will be part of the former Amart Furniture complex at the junction of Florence Street, Martyn Street and Mulgrave Road. It will be the centre's biggest tenant with 3100sqm of floor space. Mr Bey said a $4.5 million fitout had already begun.

    In addition to Milwaukee, the store will stock other major brands including Makita, DeWalt, Hikoki, Festool, Paslode, Ramset, Husqvarna, Stanley, Fein, UniMig and Cigweld. It will also have a "shop within a shop" dedicated to Milwaukee products, and another for Dewalt.

    Mr Bey said its saw itself as in direct competition with Bunnings. He said:

    Absolutely, we're competitors. The one big thing is that we're able to apply better pricing and a much better range when it comes to plumbers, electricians, builders and carpenters.

    The store is set to open in late November, with a grand opening celebration being planned.

    Over the past two years, the tool retailer has opened about a dozen new locations and currently has 51 stores around the country. Its Cairns store could be a reflection of a "retail resurgence" driving economic activity across the city with a large amount of industrial property being leased. CBRE Cairns managing director Danny Betros told the Cairns Post:

    We've leased nearly 20,000sqm in commercial space in the past three months, so there's a lot of work.

    Related: A new Sydney Tools store will be built in Paget (QLD).

    Sydney Tools will open a store close to Bunnings in Mackay (QLD) - HNN Flash #58, August 2021

    Total Tools

    Wonthaggi's Mitre 10 will now have a Total Tools store alongside the offerings of the hardware store. It will cater to tradespeople and keen DIY enthusiasts in Bass Coast and South Gippsland. Wonthaggi is located 137km south-east of Melbourne.

    Up until now, local tradies have had to travel to Pakenham, Traralgon, Fountain Gate or Dandenong to get a new piece of equipment or replacement power tool but not with the new Total Tools store in Wonthaggi.

    The store is expected to be opened in the week leading up to Christmas.

  • Sources: The Cairns Post and Sentinel-Times
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    Blaxland (NSW) is in experienced hardware hands

    Brodie Hardware Cloncurry Mitre 10 contributed materials to the sets of this year's Australian Survivor TV series

    Zakaria Yassa and his family has owned True Value Hardware in Blaxland (NSW) since 2011 but they have been in the hardware industry for almost 30 years. The store has been serving the local community since the 1960s. He recently told the Blue Mountains Gazette:

    I guess you can say it is our passion. I have always loved to do home projects with my wife and three daughters - as well as maintenance around the house - so assisting the community with their projects is my dream.
    Our shop caters to both professionals in the building industry and DIY lovers. We love to see the creativity of people as they are shopping, and helping them to bring what they are imagining alive.

    The store owner said he and his team look forward to seeing locals on regular basis. He said:

    We are a service oriented business, and this is very important to us. We value one on one interactions with our customers, so that they can get the best experience in-store.
    We are definitely passionate about what we do, and love to make sure you leave with confidence in the products and advice you were given. We take the time to give valuable advice on products and techniques on how to use them in the best way.
    We enjoy being a part of the community's projects. From large developments to small DIY projects we love to see regular people take on home renovations.

    Brodie Hardware Cloncurry Mitre 10

    Businesses in Cloncurry, North West Queensland experienced a boost in sales after this year's Australian Survivor was filmed in the town.

    Materials needed for constructing sets were sought from local hardware stores including Brodie Hardware Cloncurry Mitre 10. Lisa Cunningham from Brodie Hardware told the ABC:

    They were great. By the end of it, we'd exchanged Facebook details and all that and had built up a really good relationship with them. Anything you saw on the set was sourced through us or the other local hardware store. They were a massive client. We would have seen them every day.

    Cloncurry Mayor Gregory Campbell said:

    It was anticipated that the production coming to Queensland was going to be worth about 15 or 16 million and that the North West would be getting about a third of that,

    Now local authorities are looking at how it can attract fans of the show and outback survival experiences through a new tourist attraction. Mayor Campbell said:

    We're definitely planning on working out some sort of 'Survivor' product. Once people can travel more freely, there's a whole market there with fanatical Australian Survivor fans. So we want to get them to come to Cloncurry and have that experience.
    We could recreate a challenge out of the dam. We're keeping the huts from 'tribal council'. So we're just working out where we can place them so people can go and take their photo with them or write somebody's name down on a piece of paper and put it in the jar...
  • Sources: Blue Mountains Gazette and ABC North West QLD
  • retailers

    Retail update

    A Mitre 10 store in shopping centre revamp in Queensland

    Pink's Mitre 10 has reached its 160-year milestone. It is South Australia's oldest Mitre 10 store.

    Kenmore Village Shopping Centre in the Brisbane suburb of Kenmore (QLD) is about to get a major upgrade that includes the relocation of the existing Mitre 10 hardware store.

    The proposal seeks the demolition of the two-storey north mall of the shopping centre. The building will be replaced with a revamped ground floor retail, shopping centre entrance and additional car parking spaces.

    A new stand-alone building will be constructed to the south west of the site, accommodating the relocation of Lewis Bros. Mitre 10.

    The Lewis Bros. store was established almost 60 years ago in 1963 when Harry Lewis opened the store as Kenmore Handyman and Paint Supplies. Brothers Wesley and Warwick eventually took over the business and purchased their second store in South Brisbane. However, the South Brisbane store was closed in September 2020 after losing much of the trade business in the area. At the time, management also said that the rents were "unrealistically high" so they decided not to renew the lease.

    HI News 6.3: South Brisbane loses hardware store, HI News - September 2020

    The Kenmore Village development will result in a net reduction in gross floor area of about 1500sqm to about 14,000sqm, and will likely cut overall car movements by up to 105 per day.

    Shopping centre owner, Jen Retail Properties, said it is the biggest upgrade to the centre in years. A company spokesperson told Westside News:

    The centre has now served proudly as a local landmark for over 50 years. The planned redevelopment will provide a vibrant new look and modern feel for the oldest section of the centre, the northern mall.
    To revitalise this section, the northern mall and level 1 office will be replaced with a fresh ground-level build, new entry statements and a contemporary new centre profile when viewed from the western carpark.
    After careful consideration, it is intended for the aesthetic elements of the new design to complement the look and feel of the remaining parts of the centre. We consider it important that the familiarity and character of the centre that our customers love and value is preserved.

    Pink's Mitre 10

    The long-standing hardware store in South Australia's Clarence Valley store is celebrating its 160-year anniversary.

    It first opened in 1861 by Thomas Pink Senior and is now managed by husband and wife, Greg and Melanie Pink, reports The Adelaide Advertiser. Greg Pink told the newspaper:

    This business is fortunate to have seen and survived it all, we've weathered many storms over the years. Our family-owned business has overcome fires, flooding, and now, a global pandemic.

    Greg's father, Wayne Pink "officially" retired in 2005 but still frequents the store most weeks for "Family Friday", restocking shelves and helping where he can. Greg said:

    While other South Australian businesses have surpassed 160 years of operations, very few have operated under the same family name. We think that's pretty special.
  • Sources: Westside News, Your Neighbourhood and The Adelaide Advertiser
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Metcash will have a new CEO in 2022

    It follows the announcement that Jeff Adams will be retiring from his role as Group CEO

    Back in early September 2021, things were looking pretty good for Metcash, the owner of the Independent Hardware Group (IHG), and its CEO Jeff Adams. He'd steered the company through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and come out a winner. As he described the situation to senior Australian Financial Review journalist Sue Mitchell in an in-depth interview:

    After the initial chaos of panic-hoarding and toilet paper shortages, it quickly emerged that the pandemic would deliver Metcash and its independent retailer customers their biggest leg-up in two decades.

    And, according to Ms Mitchell, he saw the future as being almost as rosy, with Metcash set to retain these gains through to the end of 2022, at least.

    Mr Adams was also full of plans for the future: the expansion of tradie-tool franchise Total Tools, as well as Metcash's private liquor brand Kollaros & Co. He mentioned to Ms Mitchell plans for possible expansion into the pharmacy and healthcare businesses.

    With that in mind it was something of a shock to hear on 8 October 2021 that Mr Adams has resigned. According the Metcash board chairman, Rob Murray, the outgoing CEO wanted to spend more time with his family:

    The demands on Jeff through COVID have been considerable and were a factor in his decision to retire as Group CEO. His endurance and resilience during this period, which included not being able to see his US-based family, have been amazing.

    While Metcash can be expected to laud the achievements of Mr Adams, there do remain some question marks over decisions he made. The acquisition of Total Tools, for example, while seen as a brilliant low-ball bid for a potentially profitable venture, will find itself facing off against the Wesfarmers-owned, and Bunnings-managed Took Kit Depot in 2022. Some analysts also raised questions about the company seeking financing of $330 million at the start of the pandemic in 2020, then funding a circa $200 million share buyback in mid-2021.

    While Mr Adams has been critical of what he considers the over-capitalisation of operations at Coles and Woolworths, there's a strong chance that companies which underinvest today will hit competitive difficulties in 2023.

    The new CEO

    All that is now, of course, less relevant than who the new CEO is, and what changes he may make.

    Mr Adams' retirement makes way for Doug Jones, who is currently CEO and senior vice president of South African-based Massmart Wholesale which includes large format food, liquor and general merchandise stores, cash and carry stores, buying groups, and a number of ecommerce platforms. It services commercial, wholesale and independent retail customers.

    A qualified chartered accountant, Mr Jones has previously held senior finance positions in Makro SA, Amalgamated Beverages Industries Limited and The South African Breweries as well as Coca-Cola Enterprises in Canada, and Deloitte in both Canada and South Africa.

    Mr Jones will join Metcash on 1 February 2022 and the company said he will work closely with Adams on a smooth transition into the role. Mr Murray said:

    Doug's extensive and distinguished international experience across wholesale, retail and e-commerce markets made him the standout candidate to succeed Jeff. He is passionate about the success of independent retailers, and we are looking forward to him joining us and taking the company forward...

    About Massmart

    Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed Massmart Group is majority-owned by American multinational retail corporation Walmart. It has leading market positions in wholesale food, liquor, home improvement and general merchandise in South Africa.

    Most recently, the company has reached an agreement to acquire a controlling 87.5% stake in South African grocery retail and delivery startup OneCart. Massmart announced its plan to acquire OneCart in August, stating that the deal supports its strategy to invest in and accelerate its e-commerce presence.

    Related: Metcash results for FY2021 shows strong growth, but spark questions from analysts.

    Metcash 2021 full year results - HNN Flash #52, July 2021
  • Sources: Australian Financial Review and SyndiGate Media
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    Yolla Co-Op opening Latrobe store in Tassie

    The new store is an expansion from its Wynyard base and builds on its tradition of supporting local

    The new Yolla Co-Op in LaTrobe (TAS) is expected to open in December and its philosophy of "buying better" will continue for its customers and members. General manager, Ben Davis told The Advocate:

    It means everything to our business. It is the drive and the reason we exist. We need to make sure as a business we do everything in our power to support our community.
    For our Latrobe store opening, we are running a member giveaway [and] every member has a chance to win.

    Yolla Co-Op is a farmer's co-operative that supplies an extensive range of rural merchandise to Tasmanian farmers. Formed in 1977 by a handful of farmers from Yolla in North West Tasmania, today the Co-Op serves around a thousand members throughout the state.

    The business currently employs 24 staff, and it is recruiting for the new Latrobe store. Mr Davis said:

    In the beginning, there were no salaries, it was just farmers working together to make sure that everyone got the best deal.
    The decision to choose a Co-Op was critical to the philosophy that these farmers were trying to instil. To this day, the Co-Op still holds all those values and beliefs that every member is equally as important as one another.
    But together, by using the purchasing power of the combined membership, we're able to provide our members with the best possible price...

    The store features around 3,500 product lines for the upkeep of the farm, animal health and wellbeing, pet care, pasture and cropping, and home and hardware.

    Feedback from members led the Co-Op to acquire the Latrobe site after another good year with record sales and strong profits. Mr Davis believes what makes the business special is that it is owned by Tasmanians, who are involved in the local community.

    Related: A new Yolla Co-Op store was proposed for a site in Latrobe (TAS) earlier this year.

    Retail update: Yolla Co-op - HNN Flash #45, May 2021
  • Source: The Advocate
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Beacon Lighting wants to grow trade market

    The retailer will also build more bricks and mortar stores and shift focus to its overseas and online businesses

    Chief executive of the lighting specialist retailer, Glen Robinson, spoke to The Australian after the company's annual general meeting (AGM) and said it had six new stores lined up for this financial year - one of which has already opened at Ellenbrook in Western Australia - and would relocate another four.

    Beacon Lighting currently has 116 stores across Australia, and Mr Robinson said at the AGM the company had identified the potential for up to 184 in total. He told The Australian:

    It will be a record year of investment for retail stores within Australia. When you see house price growth and people moving home, so churn rate, and people moving to regional areas, I think that's been quite a significant shift for Australia, and also people working from home has also been a big push.
    NSW and Victoria in particular, as we start to come out of lockdowns, we will continue to see sales growing.

    The trade market has been identified as a "Strategic Pillar of Growth" and improving service to its trade customers remains the number one growth priority for the company. Specifically:

  • Beacon Lighting stores now open at 7:30 am to make it easier for the trade to shop
  • New trade specific products are being developed
  • Dedicated trade service counters have been added in recent store renovations
  • Trade Loyalty Club customers have increased from 35,800 to 44,100 in FY2021
  • Trade Loyalty Club sales increased by 50.1%
  • Commercial Lucci Design consultations have increased 48.7% to volume-driven residential builders
  • Beacon is also aiming to grow its trade sales online by 90% and planning for faster delivery to boost the trade division. It is now delivering within three hours in metro areas for online sales, which the company would be marketing more heavily this year, Mr Robinson said.

    Beacon's company store comparative sales for the first quarter of the 2022 financial year were down 4.7% on the same period of the year prior. However, that quarter was up 26.6% in a bumper year in which the company boosted its net profit by 69.4%. Mr Robinson said:

    We were pretty happy with that. Those numbers would have been hard to cycle anyway and we've done it ... with Victoria in lockdown.

    Mr Robinson said lighting remained a product well-suited to in-store sales, with customers commonly seeking advice for purchases which could be "pretty complex".

    We got to $26 million last year from online sales, which was 10% of retail sales, so still 90% of customers still prefer to go into a store and talk to someone.

    FY2021 results

    In August, Beacon Lighting posted record annual sales and profits with a 15% jump in full-year sales to $289 million. Net profit rose 69.4% to $37.7 million in the 12 months to June 27. With many shoppers pivoting to online shopping, Beacon booked record online sales of $26 million, up 60%.

    The company said it was able to bolster its margins through everyday pricing and improved procurement negotiations that have supported the profit margin, while the strengthening of the dollar has supported the product cost base. A pullback in discounting and promotions during the year helped to sell products at full price, further enhancing margins.

    Not surprisingly, it was Beacon's showrooms in states where there were minimal lockdowns or no lockdowns that performed the strongest during the 2021 financial year with Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and NSW the standouts. Beacon opened four new stores during the year.

    It announced the launch of a new US website to facilitate direct-to-consumer sales and the expansion of Beacon International sales for Australian-designed products into the China market.

    Related: Beacon Lighting delivered a 133% profit rise in the half year to December 31.

    Retail update: Beacon Lighting - HNN Flash #33, February 2021
  • Sources: The Australian and Australian Financial Review
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    Brookes Hardware and Timber under new ownership

    The Port Fairy store in regional Victoria is considered iconic with frontage onto a main street

    After 45 years, Brookes Hardware and Timber will have new owners who will take over from November. It has been sold by Robertson Real Estate to a buyer - who prefers to remain anonymous - for an undisclosed price, according to The Warrnambool Standard.

    Ken and June Brookes, who have owned the business since March 1976, are happy the town will continue to have a hardware business. Mrs Brookes told The Standard:

    The sale has proven to be a great result, not only for us but for the town. It'll stay as a hardware business which is wonderful for the town.
    Over the years, our five children and other family members all worked in the business at various stages and we've given more than 130 local people employment which has been very rewarding.
    The 45 years seems like a long journey but the years have gone quickly. Ken and I are aiming to have a good break and enjoy travelling in the future.

    The Brookes' bought Stuart Brown's hardware store in Bank Street before relocating the business to its present site on Sackville Street in 1983. Ken's brother Owen and wife Ros were partners in the business from 1983 until 2000 when they moved to Queensland with their family. Mrs Brookes said:

    We were the first shop to have automatic doors in Port Fairy and believe me the locals thought that was impressive! We've been very lucky to have received incredible support from the Port Fairy community and outlying areas over the years. We're extremely thankful for their support and friendship.

    Plans to hold a community event to mark 45 years in business have been put on hold because of COVID-19. She said:

    We were planning to say thanks to everyone but COVID has stopped that. We're looking at doing some front window displays which will highlight our 45 years in the town ... and we welcome anyone who has some old photos or memorabilia to get in contact with us through the store or via our Facebook page.
  • Source: The Warrnambool Standard
  • retailers

    Metcash/IHG trading update

    First 12 weeks of FY2021/22 show solid growth

    While the IHG numbers for all of FY2020/21 were slightly behind overall growth in ABS retail stats numbers, IHG has apparently seen sales surge from 1 May to 15 August 2021.

    Metcash has released details of its trading for the first 16 weeks of the company's FY2021/22 year, from 1 May 2021 to 15 August 2021. The top news about trading conditions indicates that total sales for its Independent Hardware Group (IHG) segment, excluding sales for the recently acquired Total Tools Holdings (TTH) grew by 3.6% compared to the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was 1 May 2020 to 15 August 2021. (The periods are broadly comparable as they both include 16 full weekends.)

    This represents a good result for IHG, as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) hardware retail stats for May through July 2021 indicate a fall in retail revenue for hardware of 8.9%. (August numbers are not yet available.) It also represents a turnaround from IHG's sales for its FY2020/21, which came in at 17.9%, while the ABS stats indicated growth for that period of 18.3%. (It would also seem likely that the IHG sales figures may include some non-organic growth in retail sales through acquisitions.) For the entire hardware segment, including TTH, sales increased by 24.7% over the pcp.

    The company reported further growth in trade sales, which it stated acted to offset a decline in DIY sales. Metcash also stated that stock availability was being pushed, especially as regards timber. It noted that various COVID-19 pandemic restrictions had affected sales across Australia, except in the states of Tasmania and Western Australia.

    Commenting on IHG's trade business, the company stated in its Annual Report for FY2021 that:

    [Metcash] Hardware's "Whole of House" initiative is expected to help further build on its leading position in the Trade segment. The business has now established national coverage from nine Frame and Truss sites and has alliances in place which ensures it is able to supply the key stages of a house build including Foundations, Frame and Truss, Lock Up, Fix and Fit Out. IHG's share of the supply component of a house build increased from ~30% to ~35% in FY21 and there is potential to grow this further.

    The report also mentioned IHG's showroom concept, Design10.

    We are developing a new showroom concept (Design 10) that displays the many category options that IHG can supply including kitchens, appliances and laundry products to ensure builders and their customers are provided with a "Whole of House" offer.

    Total Tools

    On TTH, Metcash had this to say in its Annual Report:

    Like IHG, Total Tools has a store upgrade program to further enhance customer experience, with 64 stores completed to date. Average store growth post refurbishment has been on average >15%, and it expects to refurbish a further 24 stores over the next three years.
    Total Tools has significant growth opportunities through the expansion of its store network and the acquisition of an ownership interest in a select number of stores. The store growth program was well underway at the time of our acquisition, with plans to open eight to 10 new stores each year with a target network size of 130 stores by 2025.
    The acquisition by Metcash provides Total Tools with funds to support the store expansion program, as well as the expertise in running joint venture and company-owned stores. Total Tools acquired a majority interest in 12 joint venture stores in December 2020 and there are plans in place to convert more franchisee stores to joint venture stores over the next three years.

    Risks

    Perhaps the most noticeable lacuna appeared in the "Risks" section of the annual report, where Metcash detailed its sense of competitive risks as follows:

    Any increase in competitive activity from new or existing competitors (including in the form of a new market entrant with a wholesaler model, where suppliers sell directly to the Group's customers, where customers form their own buying groups to collectively negotiate and purchase directly from suppliers or where indirect competitors change their business models to compete directly with the Group) may have a detrimental effect on the Group's operations, particularly if Metcash fails to respond effectively to that competitive activity or its response is delayed (for example, as a result of the time required to engage with the Group's independent retail network in order to implement an initiative). Increased competition may also adversely impact Metcash's long-term performance and profitability.

    This would seem to be a fairly general purpose statement. While Metcash is under no legal obligation to list it as a risk, it would seem prudent to directly or indirectly identify the new Bunnings trade tool chain, formerly Adelaide Tools and now renamed "Tool Kit Depot" (TKD) as a risk. There is also likely to be increased competition during the current financial year resulting from the completion of Bunnings' acquisition of Beaumont Tiles.

    Another risk that could have been identified is that, as Metcash moves more into direct retail, both through acquisitions and joint ventures in its IHG banner stores, and by entering into store ownership and joint ventures in TTH, it becomes more at risk from downturns in the market. As a wholesaler, the company was somewhat insulated from ongoing fixed costs for sales floorspace as well as staffing.

    Analysis

    Looking through the Metcash results, it often seems as though the numbers that are provided are not always fully described. A good example of this is the "sales uplift" ascribed to stores that undergo the Sapphire upgrade process. This has been held to be above 15% by Metcash in the past, and they have now increased that number to over 20%. The question that remains is whether this number is a comparison of all sales prior to the upgrade to all sales after the upgrade, or only those sales made through products sourced directly from the IHG warehouses. Those are two very different numbers, especially as part of the Sapphire deal is that stores will order more product directly from Metcash.

    Similar to that are the numbers that are provided for IHG's digital operations. While we've grown used to seeing digital sales increase by over 100% through the years, without a statement that identifies the percentage of total sales that are digital, it's difficult to find significance in those high numbers.

    The real concern that stems from this kind of external accounting presentation is over how clear the internal accounting presentations are. The reality around TTH is that Metcash might have bought what seems like a "bargain" for the next two years or so, but that bargain could collapse as more TKD outlets come online.

    HNN has speculated in the past that Bunnings might locate some TKD outlets near Bunnings Warehouse stores, and while we have no further confirmation on that point, we still think it likely. That could deliver a considerable competitive advantage.

    While Metcash repeatedly declares that the TTH business is a good fit with IHG, that seems both true and untrue. Certainly, there are business synergies. But IHG could only reasonably place new TTH outlets near Mitre 10 stores if those are corporate stores. Otherwise the TTH store would divert revenue away from independently owned banner stores. Even without that direct adjacency, there must be some concern for Mitre 10 owners that a more effective chain of TTH stores could see a decline in power tool accessories from Mitre 10 stores.

    retailers

    Indie store update

    Gulgong Timber and Hardware under new ownership after 34 years

    The store remains with local owners after Pat and Gerald Rowles put it on the market

    The hardware store in the historic gold rush town of Gulgong, located in the Central Tablelands in NSW, remains in local hands after owners Pat and Gerald Rowles recently decided to sell the business and retire.

    According to the Mudgee Guardian and Gulgong Advertiser, Gerald originally moved to Gulgong with his family when he was a baby and moved away when he got older to work in various jobs. He returned to Gulgong as a builder and an opportunity came up to buy into what was then Loneragan's General Store which had a timber yard. It became Gulgong Timber and Hardware after that.

    Gerald had some business partners come and go through the years before buying out his existing partners three years ago. His youngest son had expressed interest in taking over before deciding to pursue another career, so he and Pat decided it was time to hang up their hats. He told the Mudgee Guardian and Gulgong Advertiser:

    We put it on the market, and it's been a good time to put it on the market and it sold very quickly.

    The business was purchased in a three-way agreement between locals Troy McKellar, David Woods and Tony Ruming. It is something both Gerald and Pat are very happy with, given they had hoped to sell it locally. Gerald said:

    David has worked in Gulgong in retail for 38 years ... and Tony is a local builder. So the mix of talent is quite good with those blokes, and Troy has business expertise and contacts and that sort of thing...

    Troy said a commitment to the town drove their decision to buy. He explains:

    It's a local business, it's been there for a long time. And after speaking to Pat and Gerald, they wanted to ensure that a local bought the business to continue on that loyalty and commitment to the town.

    Troy also said they are looking forward to bringing some new products to the store.

    All of the feedback has been really positive. Everyone's really excited. Especially when we start saying that we're going to bring in a few lines of dog food and some rural supplies and that sort of stuff.
    We'd just like to thank Pat and Gerald for building such a great business over the last three decades thank you to them for the opportunity.

    Changes

    For Pat and Gerald, the sale of Gulgong Timber and Hardware "pretty much" means retirement for the dual 65-year-olds, said Gerald. Although he will stick around the shop for a few months yet as the new owners learn the ropes.

    Thirty-four years in business is longer than most, and much has changed for the business that has become a staple of the Gulgong CBD. None bigger than the steady march of new technology. Gerald said:

    One of the big changes is technology, of course, in my time here we were pre faxes and now faxes don't exist anymore.
    When we bought the place we had hand-written docket books and a wooden cash drawer that was just under the bench and you'd drag it out and that's what you do. When the actual time for the changeover happened, it happened in a solicitor's office in Sydney somewhere as they do, and then you'd get to two o'clock they rang and said 'righto, the changeover has happened'. So they took the money out, took their docket books away, and we put our change in and put our docket books in and away we went.
    Now we've got our IT blokes crawling around the place running cables in changing computer systems. That's probably the biggest difference.

    To some, Gulgong seems steeped firmly in the past, but Gerald believes the timber and hardware business has adapted quite a bit over the last four decades, driven mostly by the coal mines and more recently, people doing home improvements during lockdown. He said:

    The coal mines ... were up and running pretty well by the time [we started]. So they started going in the late 70s I suppose when Ulan started hiring lots of people.
    Gulgong has just gotten bigger. The number of people in the area, not so much in the town, with all these 24 acre and 40 acre blocks has been a big difference to us to as far as selling stuff. We sell a lot to the DIY handyman.

    Gerald and Pat wanted to thank the community for all their support over the years and said the business wouldn't have stuck around if it weren't for its patronage. Gerald said:

    One thing people have said to us over the years is that the last thing Gulgong needs is to lose its hardware shop. You can go to Dubbo or Mudgee to buy the big things but if you want to buy 500 grams of nails or screws you don't want to quickly drive to Mudgee.

    Trading

    Gulgong Timber and Hardware has been operating regular hours during COVID lockdown and Troy said the store is as busy as ever.

    The figures since COVID has been exceptional, a lot of people are working from home now and have got that time to do a few little handyman jobs that they've been putting off. So business is very good at the minute.

    About Gulgong

    Gulgong has over 130 heritage buildings. It was established before surveyors could turn it into just another country town with a traditional street grid system. As a result, the main roads, originally tracks for horses and bullocks, wind and meander through a well-preserved settlement of single-storey weatherboard, iron, stone and brick buildings with old-fashioned iron-lace verandas, horse troughs and hitching rails.

  • Sources: Mudgee Guardian and Gulgong Advertiser and NSW Towns
  • retailers

    Retail update

    National Tiles makes its mark in Tasmania

    Reece is converting its MORSCO branches in the US to the Reece retail brand

    After the successful launch of its mega store in Alexandria (NSW), National Tiles has launched a flagship showroom in Hobart (TAS).

    The opportunity to enter the Tasmanian market came about when the National Tiles team discovered a 3,500sqm site with ample parking space located in Cambridge, a suburb of Hobart. A former K&D hardware store was re-purposed and updated to become the group's flagship showroom and trade store in Tasmania.

    Prior to the store's opening, National Tiles had supported a number of local builders with tiles from Melbourne. CEO Campbell Stott said:

    Convenience is so important to our customers. We believe that our onsite stock availability will significantly alleviate the traditionally long lead time Tasmanian shoppers have faced in getting tiles and flooring...
    Our trade customers in particular love the convenience of being able to get all of their tiling materials and supplies from the one location, all from an [on-site] drive-through. Importantly, our customers are enjoying the stock availability on offer for all our ranges. Having a warehouse on site means that our customers can get their product the same day ... Traditionally Tasmanians have had to wait three or four months to get stock. Our ability to immediately assist our customers with their home renovations by having stock on hand has been critical and has worked incredibly well.

    Since opening, over 1200 customers are visiting the store every week, exceeding the group's expectations. The store is part of the Cambridge Centre which is anchored by Harvey Norman and about 15 minutes from the Hobart CBD. It is sign posted from the main road, and situated on the highly trafficked Tasman Highway.

    Within the store, the timber collection has been popular with local customers. Campbell said:

    We have created an amazing timber space within the store, wall to floor, and customers are really enjoying being able to see, feel and walk on the timber. Around 20% of our retail orders are timber and hybrid timber hard flooring which is reflective of the Tasmanian market.

    In addition to retail and trade specialists working at the store, there is a business development manager who is focused on partnerships with local builders, developers and interior designers. Campbell said:

    There's a really terrific vibe. It's been a great start and we're really excited about the opportunities in Hobart, and for all Tasmanians who can order online and have stock delivered to them no matter their location.

    To read more on this story, go to page 40 in the latest edition of Tile Today magazine here:

    National Tiles in Tile Today magazine #110

    Related: National Tiles enters the Sydney market.

    The retail group launches a major showroom and trade store in Sydney - Tile Today #109

    Reece

    Bathroom and plumbing supplies company Reece reported a record annual profit in August where its net profit rose 25% to a record $286 million in the year ended June 30 and sales revenue rose 4% to $6.27 billion. Following its results announcement, chief executive Peter Wilson told the Weekend Australian exclusively:

    COVID has created a short-term step-change in our markets. The million dollar question is, is it temporary or permanent? What is permanent is how people think about their home and how they live. The home now is more important than ever. It is where people eat, sleep, play and increasingly, work. That all plays into the Reece story.

    Reece's core Australian business reported a 12% increase in sales in the second half of 2021, up from 7% growth in the first half. While lockdowns have proven volatile, the pipeline of work remains robust for builders despite the expectation of slower housing starts in the months ahead.

    Reece bolstered its stock levels by about 20% in 2020 to prevent product shortages as a result of from supply chain delays caused by COVID-19 and closed Chinese ports. This saw a $170.6 million increase in inventory in the second half.

    But Mr Wilson believes the increase was essential to keep stock on the shelves and looks forward in the year ahead to stepping up investment in the Australian business, especially in technology and digital offerings.

    In February next year Reece will move into its new, hi-tech corporate head office in the inner-city suburb of Cremorne, known as Melbourne's latest tech hub. Mr Wilson said:

    That will be a workplace for the future. We are going to be bold. It is all about innovation, tech and digital. We need to keep renewing ourselves in Australia. You can't be a digital leader by standing still. And we want to reinvest back into our stores to ensure we have the customer experience of the future.

    US rollout

    Reece currently operates 642 branches in Australia and New Zealand, and 189 in the United States. It entered the US market in 2018 with the $1.9 billion acquisition of MORSCO, which operates in 16 states.

    HNN provided coverage of the acquisition here:

    Reece expands into US, after 10 year study - HI News, page 17

    According to The Australian, the main issue for Reece is the inflated expectations about MORSCO and the ability of its management to quickly - under Australian ownership - dominate the US plumbing and bathroom products market.

    MORSCO reported flat margins during the year and expansion of its US footprint was constrained by COVID-19. The business was hit by higher second-half costs as it established a profit share program with stores - as Reece has in Australia - and dealt with labour shortages, supply chain constraints and cost inflation.

    Mr Wilson said MORSCO is poised to roll out the Reece brand for the first time. Reece will replace the three current MORSCO brands, Todd Pipe, Express Pipe and Expressions Home Gallery.

    Its headquarters in Dallas, Texas has already been rebranded Reece. The store name change will begin in California. Mr Wilson said:

    I have been holding it back. You have to earn the right to use the Reece brand. But the time has come. We are in some ways where we expected the US business to be, even slightly ahead. We acquired this as a long-term opportunity for growth. It was always a 10-20 year story...
    We spent 12-18 months learning and getting a deeper understanding of the business and we took our time to work through what was going to be our strategy for the next three to five years.

    Mr Wilson stresses Reece has yet to prove itself in America. But he is confident the company has not repeated the mistakes of other Australian companies whose US expansion plans turned to disaster. He said:

    You have to do your due diligence. We knew what we were getting very well when we bought MORSCO. We held our nerve, were humble, listened and learned. We didn't make wholesale changes to staff and operations but then we got clear on how we wanted to run it going forward. Then you pivot, as we are doing now. But this is still a big mountain to climb.

    Reece also flagged a significant increase in both operating and capital expenditure in America and Australia in the year ahead. This will equate to between 10 and 20 new store openings, existing store refurbishments and continued investment in technology, staffing, and training.

  • Sources: Tile Today, Weekend Australian and The Australian Financial Review
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Queensland Mitre 10 stores feel impact of Bunnings

    The town of Taminda in New South Wales may get a new hardware store located in the former Buttercup factory

    The owners of Goodwin and Storr Mitre 10 in Laidley (QLD) and Plainland's Mitre 10 have told The Queensland Times about how their stores have been directly affected by a recently opened Bunnings outlet.

    The $18 million Bunnings store in Plainland opened in June and is located just over 10 minutes from Goodwin and Storr Mitre 10 which has been in owner John Storr's family for 110 years. He said:

    We were down 60% to start off with [when Bunnings first opened]. Now it's at 40%. It's just terrible.
    I'm just basically going through the books every three months and seeing if it's worth keeping going. If it gets to a point where I'm wasting time, I'll be closing up. I'm only just starting to make wages. You can't go for too long like that if you're not making wages.

    Mr Storr said he expected the sale of big-ticket items like power tools to "grind to a halt" when Bunnings opened but it had been the opposite, with interest in smaller items like nuts and bolts drying up. He said:

    I just find it frustrating when you know your prices are alright for certain things and they don't even get a look in. My paint sales have just stopped.
    My big-ticket items have been ticking over but the margin is so small there's very little profit in it.

    Even though Bunnings owns a large site in Gatton and received council approval to build a warehouse there in December 2015, it eventually built a store in Plainland, just off the Warrego Highway. The 7.8 hectare block in Gatton is now on the market.

    Mr Storr said the threat of a Bunnings has been around for several years. He said the Laidley township was particularly quiet in recent months, which he put down to the impacts of COVID. He said:

    I would have been happier if it was [built] over in Gatton. To be honest I think they've made a dumb move. They've boxed themselves in and there isn't any room for expansion.
    It's lucky they didn't do a full Bunnings [offering] or they would have absolutely crushed us. There's not that free money going around [the town].

    Plainland Mitre 10 owner Stephen Rule took over the 30-year-old business in 2003 and employs 19 staff. He said:

    We got a kick from COVID but based on sales around the same time last year we're down 40 to 50%.
    We always suspected that [Bunnings would] come. It's disappointing that they didn't go to Gatton when Gatton doesn't have a hardware store and they came and specifically targeted this area.
    They have a habit of setting up new hardware stores next to existing hardware stores. Almost as they though intend to wipe it out...
    We can still make it work with ... a Bunnings ... at this stage. The disappointing thing will be trying to maintain staff numbers. We don't want to lose staff.

    Mr Rule said its rural range, including fencing, water tanks and stock feed, remained strong as Bunnings didn't stock these items.

    It's keeping us going. Our margin has really copped a whack. We've lost it on the smaller items.
    We should thank our customers that are supporting us. We've been through floods and fires.

    Bunnings area manager Debby Stevens told the Queensland Times:

    We compete with a huge range of retailers and believe that there is ample room for a wide variety of operators, speciality providers and online retailers.
    Bunnings is a strong employer of local residents in the Lockyer Valley, with over 100 team member jobs recently created at Bunnings Plainland and approximately 700 team members employed in surrounding stores. The new Bunnings at Plainland represents an investment of over $18 million in the local community.
    We are committed to engaging with the local communities where we operate and actively (contribute) to local causes and organisations through product donations, hands-on support as well as in-store fundraising.

    Related: A Bunnings store proposal for the Lockyer Valley.

    Bunnings plan places other stores on alert - HI News, page 32

    Related: The Goodwin & Storr Mitre 10 store has been acknowledged for its longevity.

    Goodwin & Storr's long term legacy - HI News, page 14

    Taminda development

    Plans submitted by applicant Armidale New England Building Design will see the old Buttercup bakery in Taminda, an industrial suburb of Tamworth (NSW), be partially demolished and converted into a hardware store.

    The manufacturing side of the iconic bakery was built in 1968 and closed in 2016. The site is still used for distribution of bread, with one section vacant. A new $875,000 plan calls for a major refurbishment and refit for the building.

    If approved by Tamworth Regional Council, the plan would convert part of the building into a "hardware and building supplies warehouse and retail sales facility".

    The new store would be subdivided from the rest of the building by a wall. A small section of office would also be demolished, and 55 new carparks would be constructed to service the new business.

    The site has a total floor area of over 3,730sqm, with a total site area of 12,168sqm and 16 car parks. The building would actually shrink to 2,924sqm as a result of the plan, with the new hardware business to occupy 2,200sqm.

    It is located around the corner from Bunnings in the area and a Total Tools outlet is nearby.

  • Sources: The Queensland Times and The Northern Daily Leader
  • retailers

    USA update

    Ace Hardware expects to open 170 stores this year

    In 2021, Ace ranked "Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Home Improvement Retail Stores" according to consumer intelligence company J.D. Power, fourteen out of the last fifteen years

    Hardware retail co-operative Ace Hardware has already opened 110 new stores in 2021, and said it is planning to open at least an additional 60 stores by the end of the year.

    Globally, Ace has opened more than 900 stores in the past five years, while disbursing dividends of USD293 million in 2020 - a 46% return for Ace shareholders.

    Ace's business model offers entrepreneurs the ability to become owners of their local store operation, and the opportunity to be one of a limited number of shareholders of Ace Hardware Corporation. John Venhuizen, president and CEO, said:

    Our proposition for consumers is that Ace is the most helpful store on the planet; for prospective new store owners, our proposition is that Ace is the most financially and emotionally rewarding opportunity available.
    An essential business, rooted in people, that exists to serve others; we are blessed with local owners who genuinely serve the communities in which they reside.

    Q2 2021 results

    Ace also reported record second quarter 2021 revenues of USD2.5 billion, an increase of USD187.8 million, or 8.2%, from the second quarter of 2020. Net income was USD116.0 million for the second quarter of 2021, a decrease of USD22.9 million from the second quarter of 2020. The decrease in net income was due to write-downs of excess personal protective equipment (PPE), higher warehouse labour costs and a non-recurring USD6.9 million income tax benefit recorded in 2020 due to changes in tax laws.

    US retail same-store-sales reported by the approximately 3,400 Ace retailers who share daily retail sales data rose 1.2% during the second quarter of 2021. This was the result of a 7.1% increase in average ticket [transactions] partially offset by a 5.5% decrease in same-store transactions.

    Ace added 55 new domestic stores in the second quarter of 2021 and cancelled six stores. The company's total domestic store count was 4,729 at the end of the second quarter of 2021 which was an increase of 165 stores from the second quarter of 2020. On a worldwide basis, Ace added 61 stores in the second quarter of 2021 and cancelled nine, bringing the worldwide store count to 5,550 at the end of the second quarter of 2021.

    Ace Hardware earned other industry accolades this year, including being named one of the "Best of the Best Franchises" by Entrepreneur magazine, and ranking 5th among the top 200 largest franchise systems based in the US, according to Franchise Times.

    retailers

    Retail update

    Loganholme Mitre 10 shutting its doors for good

    Cobram Bolt Supply in regional Victoria has been supporting the local community for 28 years

    The owners of family-owned Loganholme Mitre 10 located in the City of Logan (QLD) have announced the closure of their hardware store after 37 years, according to the Courier Mail. It has been serving its loyal customers since 1984 but could not survive after a Bunnings Warehouse opened across the road. Logan local, Ian Gill has owned it since 1998 and told the newspaper:

    After 37 years of business it's devastating to announce we'll be closing in about eight weeks' time. We've tried everything to sell this past month, but no one wants to buy a hardware store with a Bunnings in its carpark.

    In March 2017, when it was revealed Bunnings would be opening at the Hyperdome Home Centre later that year, Mr Gill predicted it would be the death of many small businesses. He said the Home Centre, owned by Queensland Investment Corporation, should support and protect longstanding tenants and small family-owned businesses.

    The Queensland Government obviously doesn't support small businesses. We've done our best but we're exhausted and have had enough.

    Mr Gill said in the past decade, 10 other small hardware stores had shut down within a 10km radius.

    It's just so sad there's no protection available for small businesses. It's the small businesses that are paying the higher tax rate to the government. Closing will be a very sad day. I'm going to miss it so much after 37 years.

    Mr Gill said he would never forget his time as a small-business owner in Logan.

    For me it's about the friendships you make with your customers. We have locals who have been coming here for years who rely on us and support us.

    Once Loganholme Mitre 10 officially closes in two months' time, Mr Gill and his wife plan to retire.

    We're hoping to do some travelling around Australia. [It] will depend on COID-19 of course.

    Related: Loganholme Mitre 10 prepares for battle.

    Indie store update: Loganholme Mitre 10 is battling Bunnings - HI News, page 17

    Cobram Bolt Supply

    In the town of Cobram (VIC), the Sneddon family have owned and operated Cobram Bolt Supply for almost three decades.

    Ian and Angela Sneddon originally bought Cobram Hire Sales and Service in 1993. Now their children Brad and Glenn, along with their wives Michelle and Kylie, are greeting customers and working in the business.

    After buying Cobram Bearings and Cobram Hydraulics in 2009, the business quickly doubled in size. Kylie Sneddon told the Cobram Courier:

    We started off with three quarters of the showroom filled up and we've expanded our power tools and hydraulic equipment to support the agricultural industry.

    Glenn Sneddon said providing support for farmers across the Moira Shire was the main goal.

    We aim to fill anything that's missing in town for farmers so they don't have to travel for what they need. Because of our broad range of services, it's almost like a one-stop shop, we actually have people come from Melbourne because everything they need is in the one place.

    As well as supporting farmers, the owners are passionate about giving back to local clubs and services. Kylie Sneddon said:

    A lot of the clubs provide important services for everyone like the SES, and the sporting clubs are very important and gives families a place to belong.

    There are three full-time employees at Cobram Bolt Supply, working alongside the family members. Glenn Sneddon said:

    As a family business, you have to be fairly accepting and stop trivial things from upsetting you. You still have disagreements but if you didn't have them, your business probably wouldn't function anyway.
    There's no use arguing about something, you may as well just fix the problem.

    Running a business means a lot of pressure rests on Mr Sneddon's shoulders. He said:

    You have control being your own boss but you have to also be very versatile. For us, it's nothing to get a call on a Sunday morning and have to come in and help a customer - that responsibility is always with you.

    Navigating the everchanging coronavirus restrictions has been a challenge for the family which has remained optimistic throughout the pandemic. Kylie Sneddon said:

    Last year was harder when we lost a couple of employees and we had to navigate home schooling at the same time. The lockdowns are the hardest because we can't get people in, and the border closures are hard on our customers on the NSW side.'

    Looking ahead 20 to 30 years, the outlook could be less certain for Cobram Bolt Supply as more farm owners decide to sell up. Glenn Sneddon said:

    The environment is changing drastically in the farming area and there won't be a place for a shop like this in one or two generations time. A fair percentage of farms won't be here for the long term.
    We don't know if the kids are interested in taking over the business or what will happen in the future.

    Mr Sneddon said young people often leave the area for university and never returned. But for now, Brad and Glenn's children work at the store during school holidays and will probably cherish the memories of growing up with a family business.

  • Sources: The Courier Mail (Albert & Logan News) and Cobram Courier
  • retailers

    Digital pathways continue in hardware and timber retail

    Bowens has an ecommerce plan

    UK-based online retailer CMO "disrupts" building materials category and Mitre 10 New Zealand undergoes digital transformation

    In an interview with CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), Andy Bowen from Bowens discussed how the hardware and building supplies retail group is implementing its e-commerce strategy. For Bowens, offering a "digital service delivery" is about winning over a younger generation of tradies and builders. Mr Bowen told CMO:

    We did not want to lose connection with the younger generation of trade. It's vital we maintain and engage with the younger generation and build a brand with that younger generation if we are going to survive long term. Then the question was, how do we do that?
    And certainly from a digital perspective, we were lacking. But then the entire industry was.

    Bowens focused on creating a digital experience for bulky items. The main challenge it faced was the complexity of moving large and often fragile products for the needs of builders on job sites.

    It concentrated on repurposing its 16 stores across Victoria and delivery options by creating a digital front end and making promises around tight delivery times. Mr Bowen said:

    We have stores that are set up in an industrial manner which works perfectly for distribution when it comes to an online offer.

    The ecommerce site was launched in December 2020, and has generated a sevenfold increase in website traffic [to July], according to Mr Bowen. The group has also been working with building industry influencers to create awareness, including Matt Menichelli, the builder for Tess and Luke, The Block 2019 winners; and Stefanie Apostolidis, who runs the women's building industry worker support group, Melbourne Chippy Chick.

    To execute on these digital-driven initiatives, Mr Bowen established a marketing and ecommerce team within the business, which now numbers 10 and is expected to grow further. He said:

    Prior to the pandemic, I would have said only 5% of our budget was digital comms. Now it is more like 55% or 60% of our marketing budget. It's been effective for us, and we'll continue to push harder on that.

    Working with Ms Apostolidis appears to have helped Bowens promote its offering to a new generation of building workers. He said that although only 5% of people that come into its bricks-and-mortar stores are women, they make up 22% of online traffic.

    The initial ecommerce offering was targeted at retail customers but the company has also created a log-in for trade customers. Mr Bowen explains:

    It is more about brand awareness than conversion ratios at this stage. That will start to change, but certainly in this first six months it has been all about awareness, and we will continue to push there, because trades aren't used to shopping online - the offer just hasn't been here in Australia.
    To be the only ones really offering bulky supply to market to builders and trade and DIY and general public is a great thing - we're loving it.

    Mr Bowen estimates there is around another year's worth of development work to be done on the website before Bowens completes its current scope of work. He likens the current work environment to that of startups he observed in his previous working life as an investment banker in New York. He said:

    It is exactly like running a startup, but we are sitting in a 127-year-old business. It is a lot of fun, and we have great capital support. We are creating something new and that is the attractive thing for a lot of the team members. This is an industry that hasn't been able to do it effectively, and an opportunity for us to make a name for ourselves and create a legacy.
    You've got this younger generation coming up that almost expects it, and if you're not there, you will lose market share. This is a long-term investment for us, we have done it to make sure there is a fifth and sixth generation for this business.

    Related: Chief customer and digital officer at Kingfisher Jean-Jacques Van Oosten has worked fast to make ecommerce work better on a store fulfillment basis.

    JJ Van Oosten at Retail Connected - HNN Flash #44, May 2021

    CMO Group

    In the UK, building and DIY e-commerce retailer CMO Group (formerly Construction Materials Online) recently raised more than GBP27 million from a share offer and another GBP17.7 million for selling shareholders. At a placing price of 132p per share the market capitalisation of the firm is now about GBP95 million.

    CMO saw sales soar in 2021 as it benefited from a lockdown boom in DIY. It operates seven specialist websites: Roofingsuperstore.co.uk, Drainagesuperstore.co.uk, Insulationsuperstore.co.uk, Doorsuperstore.co.uk, Tileandfloorsuperstore.co.uk, cmotrade.co.uk and Totaltiles.co.uk.

    Its sites list more than 75,000 products, and it boasts its "unique digital hybrid service model", developed over more than 10 years, combines specialist advice and expertise tailored to category and customer needs online, bridging the gap between traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers and digital retailing.

    At the time of its listing, Investors Chronicle wrote about CMO:

    Based out of Plymouth, CMO has been built up over the past decade by buying up suppliers of key products - it acquired Total Tiles in late 2020 for GBP14.7 million - and acting as a third-party agent between suppliers and consumers for others.

    Builders' merchants have made progress with online sales, but CMO claims that it has the largest product range available online and the market, overall, is about 10 years behind the rest of retail when it comes to online ordering.

    Overall, about 10% of all building materials [in the UK] are sold online by all retailers, out of total sales of GBP27 billion at 2019 prices - and management argues that this gives CMO huge potential for sales growth. CMO isn't the only company to supply building materials on an online-only basis, but the defining feature of most of its online competition is a lack of scale and vertical integration.
    The problem one can see with CMO is that while not having the warehouses and floor space that traditional builders' merchants must pay for ensures a higher return on capital employed, it still operates in an environment where margins are comparatively thin - only taking a sliver of profit between the supplier and the customer; CMO is essentially a sales agent with a front-end retail platform and a back office that organises the logistics.
    Encouragingly, it addresses these issues with its push into acquiring vertically integrated supply businesses, as this allows it to capture more of the value in the supply chain. Arguably, until it has achieved some sort of greater scale, which a listing will make easier with better access to capital, it probably makes more sense to use CMO's service rather than participate directly in an IPO - at least until the price starts to settle down.

    The company was admitted to the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange in July. On admission to AIM, private equity firm Key Capital Partners owns about 26.8% of the issued shares, CMO's founders own 10.4%, and senior management own about 6.4%.

    The proceeds attributable to the company from the share offer, together with its existing cash resources, are now intended to provide CMO with a long-term funding model; execute on strategic opportunities, both organically and through M&A; reduce debt and restructure the group's balance sheet thereby providing further flexibility to fund future growth.

    CMO also intends to attract, recruit and retain key employees with further incentivisation through equity ownership and long-term incentive schemes.

    Related: Kingfisher makes large investments in technology in the wake of COVID 19 pandemic.

    Kingfisher on change in COVID-19 times - HNN Flash #50, June 2021

    Mitre 10 New Zealand

    New Zealand's Mitre 10 retail chain has provided a progress report on its digital transformation, according to a report in CIO (Chief Information Officer). (Mitre 10 New Zealand has no affiliation to Metcash-owned Mitre 10 in Australia.)

    Asbjorn Aakjaer, programme director for the project at Mitre 10, said the business is two years into a business-wide transformation they've named Programme One. It includes a refresh of all the IT systems used to serve its 85 stores, owned by 64 people, and will result in an entirely new technology stack. He said:

    We've set about to change everything, from the foundation all the way up, including the way we work and the systems that support our work, with a focus on our customers and team members.

    The programme's six priorities are:

  • Future-proof the organisation's technology.
  • Exceed customer expectations.
  • Lower the cost of doing business.
  • Enable the teams to be better at what they do.
  • Ensure everyone understands how the business works end to end.
  • Maintain an entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Mr Aakjaer highlights the last goal as especially significant given the group's owner-operator model.

    The programme's design phase is almost complete, with Mr Aakjaer describing a process of first assembling a small group to scope the project, to reimagine what that business could look like, before embarking on an extensive consultation exercise that included surveying 3,500 customers. The working group looked at 80 functions to determine the multiple pain points that exist in the business, with a view to solving these as they planned for a "future business".

    Among the complexities that need to be addressed are that there are 114 stock files across the business, so there isn't a single view of stock. As a result, the company's support centre is sometimes less informed about what's in the stores than their customers and suppliers are.

    Mr Aakjaer points out that digital transformation isn't only about replacing the tools, it's also about changing the way people work so the organisation can become more customer-centric. So it is important to ensure Mitre 10's 6,000 staff understand and support Programme One.

    Mr Aakjaer created a video created for that purpose that included a discussion of "quick wins" with regards to new technology solutions that provide immediate payback to staff. Examples are bringing in text notifications to customers when the products they've ordered arrive, and a product lookup app that enables staff to search for products on their devices when they are with customers on the shop floor.

    The video also featured what Mr Aakjaer described as the organisation's take on a gender-reveal party, with staff gathered for an announcement on what technology partner had been chosen for the project. This was revealed by balloons that spelled out "SAP". Mr Aakjaer said that about 80 people throughout the business were involved in the vendor selection, so they wanted to reward them with a party for the announcement.

    We wanted to make it fun and humorous.

    Mr Aakjaer said it has ended up with a lot of SAP technology because it was the most suitable and "you can't nickel and dime a project".

    Mitre 10 NZ CEO Andrea Scown said that a large part of the successful delivery of the project is if the entire organisation can "deliver it together" in a way that leverages Mitre 10's size and scale, without losing sight of the unique approach that each store owner brings to the business.

    Related: Andrea Scown has been appointed the first female chief executive of Mitre 10 New Zealand.

    Retail update: Mitre 10 NZ CEO - HNN Flash #41, April 2021
  • Sources: CMO Media, Investors Chronicle and CIO Media.
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Goulburn Produce has kept it local for 38 years

    Starting out as a small rural store, it has expanded to include the Goulburn Mitre 10 store as part of its offering

    Kathryn Pengilley from Goulburn Produce & Rural Supplies in regional New South Wales recently spoke to the Goulburn Post about the long-standing business. She said:

    From humble beginnings as a small rural store in Craig St ... We have continued to grow throughout these 38 years to offer our customers everything they need for life on the land, from our early days of selling stockfeed - making us the longest standing stockfeed store in Goulburn - we quickly needed to move to larger premises in Sloane St, to then branch out into animal health, fencing, pumps then timber, hardware and power equipment.

    This growth meant creating two more local businesses. Around eight years ago Goulpro Power was established after strong demand for its product lines when they were previously being sold from the Goulburn Produce site. Ms Pengilley said:

    Things were getting a bit cramped in here (Goulburn Produce) so Dad had the idea to establish Goulpro Power as a standalone store for outdoor power equipment .

    A suitable site was chosen, a purpose-designed building was constructed, and it now sells everything from lawncare machines for the backyard gardener through to the industrial size mowers for councils and showgrounds use, as well as tractors that farmers like to use. It is also the local authorised Polaris dealer, among other brands its supplies and services.

    The family also owns and runs Goulburn Mitre 10 (including the site where it is situated), the only locally-owned hardware store in the area. It started out inside the walls of Goulburn Produce to have its own store in 2019.

    Meanwhile Goulburn Produce itself has seen some other changes recently.

    When animal feed store Fifes Stockfeeds made the decision it would close, the owners approached Ms Pengilley and her team about taking on as much of their stock as possible to minimise the disruption to the customers it had been servicing for almost 30 years. As a result, the range of feed has nearly tripled.

    Goulburn Produce is a member of the CRT group to take advantage of its national buying power which helps to make its pricing competitive. Ms Pengilley states:

    We have grown so much in the last 38 years with our local community's support, and with our commitment to our rural community we will continue to grow and provide the essential rural services that our customers need for many years to come.

    Total Tools in Bathurst

    In an earlier report, Total Tools has taken over an old Harvey Norman complex on Sydney Road in Bathurst (NSW).

    The high-profile site beside the Great Western Highway has been vacant for about a year since Harvey Norman relocated to the former Masters building on Pat O'Leary Drive.

    David Nicoll from Elders Nicoll and Ireland leased the site to Total Tools and said the business was making a long-term commitment to Bathurst. In June, he told the Western Advocate:

    They've signed a long-term agreement to occupy the site. The Bathurst project is part of a national rollout, [and] Bathurst was specifically targeted as a place they want to be.

    Related: MAP of NSW/Sydney building approvals by LGA.

    ABS building approvals by LGA for NSW: The shift to regional areas is real - HNN Flash #57, August 2021
  • Sources: Goulburn Post and Western Advocate
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Sydney Tools plans Paget store in Queensland

    Mackay Regional Council has approved a development application to build a Sydney Tools

    A new Sydney Tools store will be built in Paget, a suburb in Mackay (QLD) after Mackay Regional Council approved an application submitted by Bayswater Holding.

    A house and some sheds will be removed to make way for the 2775sqm development that will be located just metres away from Bunnings at 157 Archibald Street, according to The Daily Mercury. It includes left-in and left-out entry and exit points with 51 customer carparks.

    The Sydney Tools store is expected to service the construction, mining, agriculture and automotive industries and stock brands such as Milwaukee, Makita, Dewalt, Hikoki, Festool, Paslode, Ramset, Husqvarna, Stanley, Fein, UniMig and Cigweld.

    The company said it holds 70 million products with a range available both online and instore including petrol, diesel, silent and three-phase generators, welders and accessories, scaffolds, jumping jacks, trash pumps, 1in. wrenches, laser levels, commercial vacuum cleaners, electric, diesel and water pressure washers, air compressors and petrol commercial and electrical steamers.

    Sydney Tools has eight other Queensland stores including seven in the southeast of the state and one in Townsville.

    Related: Sydney Tools recently opened a store in Lismore (NSW).

    Retail update: Sydney Tools' Lismore store opening - HNN Flash #45, May 2020
  • Source: The Daily Mercury
  • retailers

    UK update

    Toolstation opens 500th branch

    Screwfix is set to expand further in Ireland with 11 new stores to be opened during the remainder of 2021

    Travis Perkins-owned Toolstation has opened the doors of its 500th store in New Malden, a suburb of south-west London, England. It said it is bringing essential products to local trade and DIY customers.

    Toolstation opened 60 new stores last year and has opened 36 stores so far in 2021.

    The 500th store opening comes after recent research from Toolstation revealed that its DIY customer base doubled since the pandemic, with 65% stating DIY helped to keep them busy.

    Toolstation's multi-channel service means customers can safely purchase the essentials they need from stores directly or at toolstation.com through its click and collect service.

    The Times reports that pent-up demand for home improvements has given Travis Perkins the confidence to lift its profit guidance for the year, despite warning about rising costs and availability issues.

    Britain's biggest builder's merchant recorded a 44.1% increase in like-for-like sales, while total sales were 37.7% higher at GBP2.29 billion over the six months to the end of June.

    Travis Perkins' builders merchant division, which cut 2,500 jobs last year during the national shutdown, is rebounding strongly while its Toolstation business continues its expansion. The company plans to open 60 new Toolstation branches this year after like-for-like sales within the division grew by 29.8% during the first half.

    It said that the long-term outlook remained robust amid continuing demand for new housing and the need to address past underinvestment in the repair, maintenance and improvement of the existing British housing stock.

    The construction industry in the UK recorded its fastest growth in two years in June, boosted by a jump in demand for new homes and by commercial property developers restarting delayed projects.

    Travis Perkins said that it expected to record at least GBP310 million in annual adjusted operating profits this year, compared with the GBP300 million it had forecast two months ago.

    It recently sold its plumbing and heating business to HIG, an American private equity firm, for GBP325 million and demerged Wickes, its retail DIY chain, in a separate stock market listing. This would allow it to focus on its core construction trade business.

    The builders merchant business has experienced shortages in some areas, particularly timber, which is the subject of unprecedented demand from China, the United States and Russia because of construction booms and the closures of sawmills during the pandemic. Timber imports into America are at their highest level in 15 years, putting pressure on the rest of the supply chain.

    The company is also making progress with its plans to overhaul its store portfolio and expects to make GBP30 million in profit from transferring properties.

    Screwfix

    Screwfix currently operates 18 stores in the Republic of Ireland and with plans to add 11 more later this year.

    New outlets have opened recently in Carlow, Athlone, Portlaoise, Dublin and Letterkenny. Screwfix is part of the Kingfisher Group of home improvement chains that includes B&Q. John Mewett, Screwfix CEO said:

    The growing demand for convenience has led to the opening of more stores to help our busy customers get their jobs done. We know that time is money for our customers and our new stores in Ireland will not only enable us to provide our customers with added convenience and certainty, but also allows us to provide even more job opportunities for local communities.

    Parent company, Kingfisher Group, raised its interim profit guidance because of the high levels of demand from new and existing customers.

    In a recent trading update, Kingfisher raised its adjusted pre-tax profit guidance for the six months to the end of July to between GBP645 million and GBP660 million, up from the previous guidance of GBP580 million to GBP600 million. It posted a half-year interim adjusted pre-tax profit of GBP415 million for the same period last year.

    The FTSE 100 retailer also raised its half-year like-for-like sales guidance to about 22%, from the previous guidance of "mid-to-high teens" growth.

    Since the onset of the pandemic, online sales have risen particularly quickly as Kingfisher used stores to distribute digital deliveries and to provide click-and-collect services. Screwfix was launched in France in April as an online-only business.

    Related: Screwfix announced more stores earlier this year.

    Europe update: Screwfix store expansion - HNN Flash #37, March 2021
  • Sources: Heating, Ventilating & Plumbing, The Times; London and Irish Examiner
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Rural merchants join forces in regional Victoria

    CRT Group members, Rural Vision and Hewitt and Whitty are combining their offering and services

    Stawell-based business, Rural Vision is merging with Hewitt and Whitty in Ballarat (VIC), in a move it believes will give customers a better range of products at a better price. Both are part of rural retail group, CRT (Combined Rural Traders).

    Stawell branch manager Tim McEwen said the new entity, Hewitt and Whitty Rural Supplies Stawell, would be able to serve their customers' needs better. He told the Ararat Advertiser and Stawell Times:

    It just gives us access to a larger range of products with a better buying position, which we can pass onto our customers. We will be looking for more staff and we will have more product lines.
    For example they have good access to the 'Grain Line' range of augers and a lot of other products as well.

    He said the store would see an expansion of Castrol products as well as an increased supply of power equipment such as mowers, ATVs and chainsaws.

    Mr McEwen said the idea for a merger stemmed from conversations over a period of time, with some changes still being implemented, while others can be seen already.

    We have started trading under the Hewitt Whitty banner since July 1, but it is just going to be a gradual build up...
    Having been part of CRT, I have known the Hewitt and Whitty team for years and it has just come from a conversation which has gone further and further and got us to where we are now.

    Rural Vision has been part of CRT since 2007 while Hewitt and Whitty have been servicing farmers in the Ballarat and surrounding districts since it opened in 1938. Greg Hewitt, grandson of co-founder Bill Hewitt, is still active in the business. He said:

    We are very excited and proud to be represented in the Stawell area and with staff such as Tim and Leesa looking after the business, we know it will be good for customers, which is the most important thing.
  • Sources: Ararat Advertiser and Stawell Times
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Narooma Mitre 10 surviving after fire next door

    Since the fire, the store has been operating out of what was once a butcher's shop and a shopping arcade across the road from its usual location

    Mitre 10 in Narooma (NSW) continues to trade after a fire destroyed two adjacent businesses in September 2020. The Mitre 10 building was damaged, and the store has temporarily relocated to a different location close by.

    Now after almost a year, the burned mess of a building in the middle of Narooma is finally getting cleaned up.

    Mitre 10 owner Phil Constable initially thought they could clean up themselves but the damage was more than they thought. Asbestos was discovered in the building next door where the fire started, and he had to wait until it was cleared up to gain access.

    After juggling between locations, Mr Constable is looking forward to moving back into his original building. He told Narooma News:

    It has been frustrating, we couldn't do anything until the demolition. I have an understanding of the problems, but it has been particularly frustrating to have the place next door demolished before they (insurance company) can establish the actual extent of damage to our building and assess the scope of works for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

    Business was booming for the Mitre 10 store before the fire. Mr Constable said it was tough taking a step backwards.

    We have suffered a significant loss of trade during this [with] not having the floor space in order to give the level of offer we have had.
    We were trading very well coming out of the bushfires, and during COVID, there was a lot of DIY activity associated with the lockdown. The hardware industry and garden centres were beneficiaries of people looking at work to be done to their homes.

    Mr Constable thanked customers for their ongoing support.

    We have been grateful of customer loyalty and people have been patient when ordering. Delays have been most onerous.

    At the time of the fire, Narooma Fire and Rescue Captain Scott Dawson said it was the first fire of its kind in about 20 years in Narooma.

    The owner of the destroyed building, Heather Blessington, said it took a long time to get quotes for the job, due to companies' backlog of bushfire rebuilds.

  • Source: Narooma News
  • retailers

    UK update

    Homebase invests more in digital

    The home improvement retailer's chief executive Damian McGloughlin spoke exclusively to Retail Gazette

    Homebase CEO Damian McGloughlin recently told Retail Gazette the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the team had to learn and adapt quickly. He said:

    With more customers shopping online, the weighting of sales towards digital changed overnight. Over the last year, we've invested even more in this area through our 10-year partnership with The Hut Group.

    Mr McGloughlin also found that visits and dwell time on Homebase's online "how to" pages shot up significantly over the last year since customers were finding it hard to get a tradesperson.

    Almost as if in response, Homebase launched a refreshed website earlier this year after undergoing an overhaul to improve the customer experience online. New features include "before and after" makeovers to provide inspiration and "shop the look" content so customers can buy everything they need to recreate the latest trends in their homes. Mr McGloughlin said:

    Digital has significantly grown and is an important part of retail. Customers are generally inspired by what they see online first and will continue to do more research online about the kind of product they are looking for.
    The decision then comes down to whether they want to buy the product in-store or online.
    Some customers want to touch and feel a product before they buy it or speak to someone face to face about their project, so will come into store. On the other hand, some customers know exactly what they want and will just complete the transaction online.
    Because many people get their initial ideas for home and garden updates or transformation projects from social media, we've adapted the shopping experience in-store.

    The home and garden retailer also partnered with Checkout.com, a payments service provider so that it can accept all the usual payment tools as well as PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay.

    Homebase has also been using different methods to "understand customers better". Mr McGloughlin said:

    A lot of the work early in our turnaround focused on simplifying how we operated so we could get closer to our customers. We now understand them better, which has meant we've been able to deliver more of what our customers want when they want it.

    Homebase runs live customer listening groups where it receives "in the moment" feedback on new ranges or store layouts. Mr McGloughlin explains:

    We have an amazing tool called 'Feels Good To Be Heard' that allows us to constantly collect customer feedback on a store-by-store basis. It helps us continuously improve, and we often take things customers love and share them with other stores to introduce.
    We also use social media to inspire customers with the latest trends and must-have new products. It's an important tool for us to get their feedback - and even to inform what products we sell.
    However, feedback isn't useful unless you are doing something with it, so we also have systems to ensure that the right customer insight is getting to the right teams, from our commercial and buying teams to our marketing and store operations teams.

    Mr McGloughlin also told Retail Gazette that he was one of the longest-serving board directors at B&Q. He served as the retail director at B&Q before he stepped into the role of chief executive at Homebase three years ago. He described Homebase as "a very different business" since making the change from a publicly listed company to one that is private.

    While there were problems to fix in the beginning, the passion of the teams across Homebase is clear to everyone who works here...The role at Homebase is much broader with wider responsibilities and requires me to wrap my arms around the entire business. The thing I love most is that I have the total accountability to make a quantum difference. There is much more demanded of me as a leader.
    When you run a business such as Homebase, you have so much more ownership of the entire business, from strategy to operations and from the small day-to-day details to longer-term vision and plans...One of the main things I've learnt is the importance of agility, both as a leader and for the business.
    I'm a true believer in laying out a long-term plan, but you have to have the courage and agility to move away from it, adapt to the market and your customers when you need to.

    Since he started at Homebase, Mr McGloughlin said he was most proud of "keeping the brand alive". This means needing to make some bold decisions - from changing ranges to changing the layout of stores.

    Homebase is a family business, and throughout my time here, I have prioritised the team.
    While we do bring in new talent where we need it, we focus on growing and developing the team we have. If people have the right attitude but don't have the skills yet, we'll do what we can to train them to where they need to be. We always look at stretching our internal teams, making sure we're giving people opportunities.
    I've established myself as a chief executive and taken Homebase through a complete lifecycle, from selling the business, delivering a successful turnaround business, and now to the exciting next chapter of growth.
    The main thing I've learnt is that you've got to lead by paradox. One minute you're in the detail - and at the other, you're in the helicopter, thinking five, 10 years ahead. Because I've always been in the detail, I find it easy to zoom in and out.

    Mr McGloughlin said that moving forward, Homebase would continue to "cement" itself as home and garden experts.

    We've put a clear full stop to our turnaround and have now entered our next chapter of growth. We are very clear on who we are and therefore, what we offer our customers. Our plan now is to continue to accelerate that plan and deliver it through working closely with our suppliers and teams and offering the best products and service to our customers.
    Expansion across digital and fulfilment will continue to be a focus, as well as opening new stores in more communities, making it even easier to shop, whether it's online or in our stores. We'll continue to focus on newness and innovation, offering customers the right ranges and projects in partnership with brands and our suppliers.

    Related: Homebase and Bathstore showrooms offer a digital experience.

    Homebase and Bathstore showrooms go digital - HNN Flash #50, June 2021
  • Sources: Retail Gazette and Internet Retailing
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Sydney Tools gains approval for Bundaberg outlet

    The Terang Co-operative Society has reported a new record turnover of $31 million and posted a $1 million profit

    A development application for a Sydney Tools store was recently approved for a Kensington location in Bundaberg (QLD). The outlet will be situated at 20 Johanna Boulevard, filling the vacant lot between Bunnings Warehouse and the Boulevard Lodge. It will be open from 7.30 am to 5 pm seven days a week and 51 car spaces have been included in the design.

    Bundaberg Regional Council approved a material change of use application for a hardware and trade supplies business on Johanna Boulevard. The applicant, Bayswater Holding, intends to develop part of the site for a "building to facilitate the expansion of Sydney Tools", according to submitted documents.

    This approval comes after Total Tools was approved for the former Chipmunks Playland and Cafe Bundaberg site in the same area.

    Sydney Tools also recently opened its Morayfield (QLD), pictured.

    Related: A development application was lodged for a Sydney Tools store on Johanna Boulevard in Kensington, a suburb in Bundaberg (QLD).

    Sydney Tools store proposed for Kensington in Queensland - HNN Flash #48, June 2021

    Terang Co-op

    In its most recent annual report, Terang Co-op chief executive officer Kevin Ford said the turnover of $31.3 million it achieved was $6 million or 28% higher than the previous financial year.

    The before tax $1.05 million profit for the financial year ending on February 28 more than doubles the previous record of $440,101 set in 2013.

    Mr Ford said the result was boosted by COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and reinforced by changes in business practices. He said the Co-op struggled to keep some essential stocks on the shelves as panic buying set in during the initial lockdowns, while online deliveries hit new highs. There was a huge 38% jump in hardware and timber revenue, a 49% increase in the rural division, and 16% in the supermarket, which remains the biggest part of the business.

    Mr Ford said the COVID-19 lockdowns had "taught us the size of the potential market". He told The Warrnambool Standard:

    It meant people were forced to shop locally which particularly drove the March to June quarter results, but from then the changes and improvements we made gave customers reasons to continue shopping with us.

    Mr Ford said the Co-op was placing more emphasis of encouraging locals to shop locally and stop the substantial retail leakage out of Terang. He said:

    The Co-op's commitment to a quality customer service ethos, competitive pricing, and an increased range of quality products will deliver to our members' needs, encouraging more in our community to shop in our town.
    It is extremely important for a small town, such as Terang, to have a great supermarket, a great trade and retail home improvement store and community Co-op.

    The Co-op also reinvested more than $1.2 million worth of capital back into the business and will look to continue growth into the future. Its investments over the year included $850,000 redevelopment of the IGA supermarket, upgrades and rebranding of Mitre 10 and The Rural Store, new capital equipment in 360 Dairy Solutions and replacing the Co-op's fleet of vehicles.

    It employs more than 120 staff and has more than 3000 members.

    Related: Terang and District Co-operative ended its 2019-20 financial year with an increased surplus after a solid year of trading.

    Terang Co-op in regional Victoria delivers strong financial year results - HNN Flash #18, October 2020
  • Sources: Bundaberg Now, The Courier-Mail and The Warrnambool Standard
  • retailers

    Metcash 2021 full year results

    Hardware outperforms

    Metcash's results for FY2021 showed strong growth in its hardware segment. However, the company did not supply much data separating organic (non-acquisition) revenue and EBIT from inorganic elements, making its organic growth difficult to determine. Investment analysts also strongly questioned the company's logic in going ahead with a share buyback.

    Australian retail conglomerate Metcash announced its results for its FY2021, ending 30 April 2021, on 28 June 2021. While the results were, overall, very positive, the results presentation was somewhat more contentious than usual.

    In top-line terms, statutory revenue came in at $14.3 billion, up by 9.9% on the previous corresponding period (pcp), which was FY2020, ending on 30 April 2020. According to Metcash, if "charge through" sales are included, revenue grew by 10.1% on the pcp. Overall earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) came in at $401.4 billion, an increase of 19.9%. Net profit after taxation (NPAT) was $239.0 million; NPAT for FY2020 recorded a loss of $56.8 million, occasioned by a write-down of $237.4 million to compensate for the loss of a contract with 7-Eleven by Metcash's food business.

    Metcash's hardware business also reported strong numbers. Sales including charge throughs came in at $2.6 billion, an increase of 24.7% over the pcp. EBIT for hardware came in at $136.0 million up by 61.5% (though this includes earnings from acquisitions, which we delve more into below). Like-for-like (comp) sales rose by 11.4% in what Metcash defines as the "the retail banner group", while in the pcp this number fell by -0.7%.

    In its other segments, Metcash's food business saw sales grow by 3.1% to $9.4 billion. In its liquor segment, sales came in at $4.4 billion, an increase of 19.2%.

    Results in csv file

    In the face of what would seem to be good news, it was, perhaps, a little surprising to find the analysts virtually attending the results presentation had some pressing questions for management about its internal investment plans, and exactly what the results meant. The initial presentation of the result numbers took around 30 minutes, and the Q&A session took over 40 minutes.

    At the heart of this contention was what many analysts saw as a surprising move by Metcash: a share buyback scheme. In announcing this buyback, Metcash stated:

    On 28 June 2021, Metcash announced that it is undertaking an Off-Market Buy-Back of up to approximately $175m. This follows the Board's assessment of Metcash's ability to distribute excess capital to shareholders having regard to: an improvement in the level of economic certainty; its near-term capital expenditure and working capital requirements; opportunities to grow and create shareholder value; while also maintaining a strong balance sheet with low gearing. When combined with $179m of ordinary dividends in respect of FY21, Metcash will have returned over $354m to shareholders since payment of the FY20 final dividend.
    The Board considered various alternatives for returning excess capital and determined that the Off-Market Buy-Back is the most tax effective and value enhancing strategy for distributing the excess capital. All shareholders who continue to hold shares following the Buy-Back, irrespective of whether they participate or not in the Buy-Back will benefit through earnings per share and return on equity accretive outcomes.

    The buyback would account for something over 5% of the shares currently issued by the company.

    HNN can make a good guess at what was actually disturbing to the analysts about this move (though it was never overtly mentioned). However, it is best to delay that until our end analysis.

    We need first to take the questions of the analysts at their (very valid) face value. For the most part, these related to the wisdom (or lack thereof) in returning capital to shareholders via a buyback, when those funds might have been better reinvested in Metcash.

    There were some really excellent questions asked of Metcash, in particular by Grant Saligari of Credit Suisse, Michael Simotas of Jefferies, Andrew McLennan of Goldman Sachs, and Craig Woolford of MST - as well as a seemingly simple, but very revealing question by Morana McGarrigle of Macquarie.

    However, as has often been the case, it was David Errington of Bank of America Merrill Lynch who really got to the heart of the matter with Metcash CEO Jeffrey Adams. What makes Mr Errington's questions so distinctive, is that, while they deal overtly with numbers, forecasts and decisions, they somehow also penetrate down to the character of the executives - and of the business itself - involved in making choices.

    Mr Errington's question begins by pointing out an interesting fact not at first clearly evident in the numbers supplied by Metcash:

    In the second half, your key [food] business in EBIT was down second half [FY2021] on second half [FY2020]. Now, I know that you've lost Drakes and that, but at the end of the day, that's what it is, it is what it is, you lost a couple of major customers here and you have to cycle it. [Also] you're not going to have tobacco excise benefits this year.
    So you're down from $94.3 [million] to $89 [million]. And you're going to give up another ten [million dollars] in not having excise from tobacco in food. So my question is in the main food area, is my concern in the industry is that there seems to be a step up in capital intensity going on at the moment, where we have got Woolworths, and we've got Coles both stepping up sizeably their investments.
    Is it wise to, you know, because your maintenance capex, I think you're basically highlighting that your capex is not much above maintenance. So I think capex is about $80 [million], and maintenance depreciation is about $60 [million]. So you're a little over that. Now, I know you're doing MFuture and all the rest of it. But giving money back to shareholders at this point, I know there's been a desire to give it back because he did raise $330 million last year, so [you've] got to give some back. I get that. But giving it back like this, when the others are stepping up sizeably their capital intensity... You know, Woolworths has announced last week, $400 million in another automated DC. Coles are stepping up, they're investing in projects. Do you think that you might need to step up to remain competitive? Because I know that you're saying that you've got to look at sales, excluding Drakes and all the rest of it. But at the end of the day, they are major customers that you lost. Are you at the position now that you can actually grow sales, once we do go through the normalisation period, given what's happening in the industry right now?

    Mr Adams responded:

    Yeah, well, look, Dave [sic], I wouldn't want to try to predict any further than what we've, what we've reported here on the first eight weeks. But again ... we're quite confident that, you know, we are still seeing again, if you go back to that, FY20 being a more normalised sales period, the growth that we're seeing against that is encouraging.
    As far as our plans, and you know, do we have the capital that we need for those plans? We're absolutely sure that everything that we spoke about at the investor day, I don't want to comment on what other people are doing, because I'm not, you know, familiar enough with their strategy, and why they're spending that kind of money. But we feel quite comfortable that we're spending the right level that we need to spend to deliver the plans that we've outlined.

    Mr Errington took up those points:

    Is it fair, Jeff, to compare it to FY20? Do you reckon right now, we're in a normal period, that you're comparing a normal period to a normal period? Because I don't know about you, but living in Melbourne in the last two months hasn't been normal. I've had to wear face masks in supermarkets. I wasn't allowed to go more than five kilometres for about two or three weeks. So do you really think it's fair comparing the numbers today? Do you think we've normalised today, do you? Do you think we've normalised that you can safely say and talk to us as, as the investment community, "compare yourself to FY20, because right now, it's normal versus normal"? Do you think that's right? Do you think we're in normal conditions right now, so that your trading is normalised?

    Mr Adams confirmed that this was, indeed, his basic approach:

    Compared to FY21 at that time, I think we probably are closer to normal. Maybe this is the new, new normal. The only reason we provided both of those, Dave, was so you can make that comparison to see, versus FY21, which was very volatile, we know, particularly at the start of the year. And then as we got more toward the end of the year, it was sort of what people are calling the new norm.

    Mr Errington asked for a final clarification:

    But do you think it's the new norm now? Does it seem like we're still in that new normal period now?

    Mr Adams agreed that this was his approach:

    Yes, I do! And until things change, as far as borders opening up, and people getting further into the vaccination, I think we probably will be living the way we are now for some time to come.

    One reason why this exchange matters so much is that it touches on one of the key strategic matters for the hardware industry, as well. In terms of capital intensity (to borrow Mr Errington's phrase), we're seeing something similar in hardware, with Bunnings not only investing in ramping up Adelaide Tools to a nationwide chain of tool retailers, but also buying Beaumont Tiles as well. And behind that, there is the ongoing, very large investment in data analytics that Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott has instigated. While TTH (Total Tools Holdings) certainly is an investment in hardware, it's also a new business, rather than an ongoing investment in, for example, IHG.

    This is happening against an economic background that many would agree is highly uncertain - as Mr Errington points out. Mr Adams, in contrast, seems to suggest there is a predictable pattern to it, a pattern which will, it would appear, continue to benefit the businesses that make up Metcash.

    More concerning, however, is that there is a sense in all of this that Metcash may be, at least in part, willing to return funds to shareholders based not only on present performance, but also on future performance. Yet if we look at a venture such as TTH, much of the predicted growth has an element of risk to it. That's part of the point that Mr Saligari was trying to make when he asked some pressing questions about TTH:

    Just on the total financial commitment into Total Tools, at the moment, and maybe we just stick with the balance sheet amounts at the close, before talking about the additional 15%. So when you acquired this 70%, it was $57 million for Total Tools Holdings, and you recorded a liability of $122 million, and then there was $42 million dollars, I think, for the JV stores and a liability of $69 million for put options that the JV owners have back to Total Tools. And there was debt $40 million at acquisition. Is that ... sorry, can you maybe just confirm whether they're the right numbers?

    Metcash's chief financial officer, Alistair Bell, did respond to that question, but it was not quite on-topic, so Mr Saligari pursued clarification:

    All right, to just to, say, double confirm whichever way we cut it, whether we halve the liability or not, we're looking at about $180 million, approximately Total Tools Holdings, about $120 million for the JV stores, including the put options, so we're up to $300 million there plus the debt. So it is sort of $340 [million] or $360 [million], whichever way you look at it, should we then get in? So we should compare that amount with the $24 million? Is that approximately right?

    Mr Bell responded:

    I'm trying to follow your maths, Grant. So I'll have to, it may be easier to take it off and come back to you afterwards.

    Finally, as the last question to the event, Ms McGarrigle asked:

    Maybe just one other quick one on hardware, just given your positioning in the trade market and given the fact that the market is very fragmented. Should we be seeing more consolidation? Or should we expect to see more consolidation in the industry in the near term?

    Mr Adams replied:

    So, you know, we've said before, and we said again at the investor day in March that it does tend to still be quite a fragmented market, in hardware. Obviously, we've had a great opportunity to pick up Total Tools, and in the past picked up HTH. There's still lots of people out there, you know, it would depend now on what valuations they would be looking for, because a lot of people have benefited significantly during the COVID times. So unless people are willing to talk about normalised earnings, we wouldn't be interested. But it is still one of the markets for us and in businesses where it's still very, very fragmented and lots of opportunity.

    That's a revealing answer, in that it indicates the drive to acquire more corporate stores is likely to be muted for some time. It's also interesting that when it comes to investing in new stores, the prediction for future growth would seem to be less than completely optimistic.

    Assessing hardware at Metcash

    At this point, having spent considerable time looking through the financials presented by Metcash for its FY2021, HNN has to confess that we have, quite frankly, been defeated. We cannot, based on the numbers provided, derive an analysis from the perspective of the industry itself.

    That isn't to necessarily criticise Metcash. Corporations produce accounting numbers for three purposes: to substantiate their tax payments; to inform investors about past performance and future prospects; and to help with the management of a company by monitoring its performance. The first two are public and the third is private. HNN's purpose is frequently to somehow derive a sense of the third from the numbers contained in the other two.

    This year, however genuine performance figures seemed a little hard to come by.

    Revenues including charge throughs

    To give some idea of the difficulties involved this year, take, for example, the numbers provided by Metcash for revenues that include what the company describes as "charge throughs". On the Metcash website these are defined as follows:

    Charge through is a process that allows suppliers to deliver their non warehoused goods directly to our customers, with all accounts for those deliveries payable by Metcash. Metcash, in turn, on charges the receiving customer of those deliveries.

    In the most recent, full-year FY2021 results, this is the description of revenues for the hardware segment at Metcash:

    Hardware sales (including charge-through) increased 24.7% to $2.6bn (FY20: $2.1bn) with significant growth in DIY sales and a return to growth in Trade.

    In the statements for the first half of FY2021, this is the statement for the same category of revenues:

    Hardware sales (including charge-through) increased 20.6% to $1.3bn (1H20: $1.0bn) with significant growth in higher margin DIY sales. Excluding acquisitions, hardware sales (including charge-through) increased 16.2%.

    So, interestingly, the retail sales including charge through were split exactly evenly (at least when rounded to the nearest $100,000,000) between the two halves.

    For the previous year, FY2020, this is how the same category of sales is described in the results announcement:

    Hardware sales (including charge through sales) decreased 1.3% to $2.08bn (FY19: $2.10bn) reflecting the impact of the slowdown in construction activity on Trade sales and the loss of a large HTH customer in 1H19.

    Going back to the first half of FY2020, this is the description for that category of sales:

    Hardware sales (including charge-through sales) declined 4.2% to $1.04bn (1H19: $1.09bn) mainly reflecting the impact of the slowdown in construction activity on Trade sales.

    Once again, the amount of sales in the first and second halves were exactly the same, rounded to the nearest $10,000,000.

    For FY2019, there was some variance between the two halves.

    HNN has no further comment to offer on this.

    Organic versus inorganic growth

    In providing an overview of Metcash's Independent Hardware Group (IHG) from an industry perspective, it's crucial to be able to separate organic growth, which relates to growth in assets owned for more than a year, from inorganic growth, which relates to recently acquired assets.

    The reason that is so crucial is because we're more interested how individual retail premises operate, and less interested in who specifically owns them or benefits from their wholesale business. From an investor perspective, both are interesting, but who benefits from the revenues is somewhat more important.

    Crucially, when the market expands, as it has recently, we want to know which sectors are capturing more marketshare. Is it IHG, other independent groups, or is Bunnings the main beneficiary?

    In the current results, as provided, there is simply no way to work out, or even back into those numbers. We do get one hint, in the FY2021 first half results, which state:

    Excluding acquisitions, Hardware sales (including charge-through) increased 16.2%.

    Though, in the same document, when it comes to EBIT, we're back to no differentiation:

    Hardware EBIT increased $25.6m (+ 65.8%) to $64.5m, reflecting a significant increase in sales volumes, the increased weighting of higher margin DIY in the sales mix, an increase in the contribution from joint ventures / company-owned stores, and the earnings from acquisitions which included $4.8m from two months of trading in Total Tools Holdings.

    The same holds true for the full year FY2021 results. Regarding sales, these state:

    Total IHG sales (excluding Total Tools) increased 17.9% (FY20: -1.3%).

    When it comes to EBIT there is even less clarity:

    Hardware EBIT increased $51.8m (+ 61.5%) to $136.0m, reflecting a significant increase in sales volumes, an increase in the contribution from company-owned / joint venture stores, and the earnings from acquisitions which included $24.0m from the Total Tools Group.

    The difficulty in both cases is that the list of acquisitions is quite extensive. It's also not clear that notations such as "excluding Total Tools" means that everything related to Total Tools is excluded, including Metcash's 36% to 42% share in Total Tools franchise stores, or just the main companies that make up TTH.

    The only other recourse that we have to measuring organic growth are the "like-for-like" sales mentioned in the FY2021 results:

    Retail LfL sales in the IHG banner group increased 11.4% (FY20: -0.7%), with DIY sales up 25.1% and Trade sales 4.9% higher.

    However, LfL (comp) sales tend to understate growth, so using these as a proxy for overall organic sales growth would not be fair to IHG.

    About the only statement we have to offer is that the 17.9% growth figure - which does include acquisitions - is close to the overall figure from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for growth through that period of 18.3%.

    Other comparisons

    A curious addition to the results for FY2021 was an extended comparison to not only the previous year, but also two years in the past:

    This includes a 19.4% increase for the ten months ended February 2021 and a 12.3% increase in March/April 2021 sales. Compared with FY19, March/April sales increased 25.4%.

    HNN's chart for sales over this period illustrates why such comparisons might be tempting:

    After a strong peak in activity from April to June in 2020, stats since February 2021 show signs of decline in hardware retail revenues. Nonetheless, as these stats show a 21.5% increase from April and May 2019 to April and May 2021, the IHG sales figures show a stronger result - though they are described as being ex-Total Tools, but inclusive of other acquisition revenue, and thus do not describe purely organic growth.

    This multiple year comparison is carried over into the Outlook section of the results dealing with hardware:

    In Hardware, sales for the first eight weeks of FY22 increased 29.1% compared with the same period in FY20, and 15.5% compared with the same period in FY21. Total IHG sales for the first eight weeks of FY22 are up 15.1% compared with the same period in FY20, and 3.1% compared with the same period in FY21.

    Again, the sales numbers are footnoted as excluding TTH sales, but not other acquisitions.

    Analysis

    An announcement that Metcash made in February 2021 to the Australian Stock Exchange regarding the employment of its CEO, Mr Adams, states in part:

    Metcash Limited (ASX:MTS) today announces that the employment agreement of its Group CEO, Jeff Adams has been extended subject to the renewal of his visa, which is due to expire in August this year.
    The existing terms of his employment agreement are unchanged and include a maximum period equivalent to his visa (four years), and a notice period of 12 months for both Mr Adams and Metcash.
    Mr Adams has held the position of Group CEO since December 2017.

    As Mr Adams has been a very effective CEO, it will be interesting to see how his ongoing engagement with Metcash develops.

    The Remuneration section of the results for FY2021 provides this useful graph which describes the various performance reward schemes provided to key management personnel (KMP).

    The long term incentive (LTI) scheme relies on two main performance measures, returns on funds employed (ROFE), and total shareholder returns (TSR). Payments are, according to the document:

    Delivered in Performance Rights. Each Performance Right is a right to acquire Metcash shares at no cost, subject to the satisfaction of performance and service conditions.

    As expected, the announcement of the share buyback by Metcash has helped to boost its price.

    Conclusions

    What resonates most with HNN in looking at these results are the comments made by Mr Errington. There is a link, really, between what happens in some sports, and what happens in the relationship with share markets as mediated by corporate executives and investment analysts. The written rules of the game are important, but it's knowledge of the unwritten rules that leads most players to a better understanding of themselves and their team members, and helps some to achieve some small moments of actual greatness.

    If it was Metcash's intent to avoid a certain kind of scrutiny, a clear benchmarking of performance against industry statistics (though we can't know if that is the case), then congratulations are due, as from HNN's perspective at least that is what has happened. But constrained results are unlikely to serve Metcash's better purpose in the years ahead. Which is, in the end, the message the investment analysts at the results presentation might have wished to convey - in HNN's opinion.

    Related: Metcash held its Investor Day earlier this year.

    Metcash/IHG Strategy Day 2021 - HNN Flash #38, March 2021
    retailers

    Retail update

    Sunshine Mitre 10 invests in lifesaving equipment

    The hardware retail group will now include a defibrillator in first aid kits at all its stores across Queensland

    Sunshine Mitre 10 general manager Neil Hutchins said the defibrillators are an investment in emergency health care not just for their staff, but also for the communities in which they operate. He told The Chronicle:

    We have over 400 staff across our locations, and we take our duty of care very seriously so we have first aid officers at each location, and now we also have defibrillators which can help save lives for anyone experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest.
    But it's not only that, many of our stores are in regional and remote locations so by having a defibrillator on site, it also makes these lifesaving devices more accessible to the local communities.
    And while it's a very big investment, if we can save just one life, it will be money very well spent.

    The defibrillators were sourced from iHeart80, a company founded by former Australian ironman surf lifesaving champion Guy Leech after he experienced personal tragedy when he lost his close friend "Chucky" to a fatal heart attack. Quick access to a defibrillator could have been the difference between life and death for Mr Leech's mate. He explains:

    More than 500 people a week have heart attacks or strokes. Unless a defibrillator is put on you within about three minutes, you've got a 10% chance of survival. The average time for an ambulance to arrive is 12 or 13 minutes.

    Mr Leech said the defibrillators were easy to use, with the machine giving instructions during use.

    The defibrillators are with first aid equipment in all Sunshine Mitre 10 sites including Darling Downs and southwest Queensland stores in St George, Roma and Roma Steelyard, Dalby, and Kingaroy.

  • Sources: The Chronicle and The Gympie Times
  • retailers

    UK update

    Screwfix trials 30-minute delivery service

    The retail chain has partnered with UK-based delivery courier service Gophr to deliver products in Bristol

    Trade-focused retailer, Screwfix is set to launch a trial which will see it deliver products to customers in as little as 30 minutes. To provide this service, Screwfix is partnering with Gophr, a delivery courier business.

    While the trial is limited to the area, parent company Kingfisher has been looking to boost its last-mile delivery options, according to The Times.

    Sister company B&Q has been leveraging its store estate, operating dark stores out of its "digital hubs" to offer next-day delivery. B&Q also offers click-and-collect within an hour, while Screwfix offers the same service within one minute.

    Thierry Garnier, Kingfisher's chief executive, is an advocate of rapid deliveries because of his stint in China as boss of Carrefour's Asian divisions where shoppers expected goods to be delivered within 15 minutes. There he oversaw an operation where hundreds of motorbikes would deliver groceries from supermarkets at three-minute intervals every day.

    During the pandemic, Kingfisher grew online sales by 158% as the business switched to picking internet orders from shop shelves to speed up delivery times. As a result of Mr Garnier prioritising digital growth during the crisis, online sales account for almost a fifth of revenues.

    However, it is understood that Mr Garnier is keen to offer faster deliveries particularly to tradespeople who are working in homes.

    Mr Garnier is using Kingfisher's existing store network as a profitable route to growing its ecommerce business.

    In the UK, Gophr is a last-mile service that recently raised GBP4 million to accelerate its expansion and counts meal kit company HelloFresh, pharmacy retailer Boots, luxury fashion e-tailer Net-a-Porter and British consumer co-operative, Co-op as clients. Department store Marks and Spencer had previously chosen Gophr for its trial of online food deliveries, before striking a joint venture deal with retail software company Ocado.

    Amazon had originally disrupted the UK market with its offer of same-day deliveries but more frequently offers next day deliveries as its Prime Now service migrates to its main website.

    Related: During the pandemic, Kingfisher focused on speeding up its delivery times.

    Kingfisher is placing stores at the centre of its online strategy - HI News 6.3, page 86
  • Sources: The Times (UK) and Retail Gazette
  • retailers

    UK update

    Homebase and Bathstore showrooms go digital

    The home and garden retailer is bringing its Luton and Burton-on-Trent stores online by partnering with Jones Digital

    Homebase is creating a new hybrid model, which integrates both a physical and virtual showroom following the roll-out of its new generation kitchen and bathroom showrooms launched earlier this year.

    Customers will be able to browse the Homebase and Bathstore ranges independently or be guided by a design consultant with free design consultations available both in-store and virtually.

    Homebase currently has 152 stores and 15 stand-alone Bathstore outlets. Ian Penney, business unit director for room solutions at Homebase, said:

    So many people start their projects by looking for inspiration online, and our new 360-degree virtual tours of two of our kitchen and bathroom showrooms make it even easier for customers to see how they can turn their ideas into a reality. Our free design consultations are available in-store or virtually, so customers really can browse and plan everything from the comfort of their own home.

    As the KBB (kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms) sector in the UK begins to recover post-lockdown, retailers that are able to provide an online experience in support of a bricks-and-mortar space is an effective way to build consumer confidence, especially among those who are shielding or feeling anxious about shopping in-store. Scott Currie, managing director at Virtual 360-degree Tours Glos adds:

    Safety still remains a huge concern for many consumers, so offering an online tour package can help attract and retain business opportunities without risk. We are very pleased that we can facilitate Homebase's many customers so that they can see even more of their fantastic ranges - whether that's from their own home or visiting a local showroom.

    Peter Jones, managing director at Jones Digital is pleased that UK retail brands like Homebase and Bathstore, are now able to reap the benefits of working with its multimedia solution that simulates an existing retail space. He said:

    We all need to move with the times and raise engagement with our potential customer base, especially at a time when clients are often building relationships online first, rather than by popping into to visit a showroom to get a feel for it...

    "Every showroom tour can be seamlessly embedded into the architecture of your website with tags, links and videos containing further product information, as required. This in combination with chat bots and online enquiry forms, which all help customers to interact with your business in real-time with messages instantly delivered to members of your team," explains Mr Currie.

  • Sources: Home Designer Architect and Retail Times
  • retailers

    Timber access challenges continue for retailers

    Lack of supply versus excess demand

    Hardware retailers have commented about the ongoing problems in providing timber supplies for building and renovation projects

    In Mackay (QLD), Porters Mitre 10 joint general manager Greg Porter remains confident the business can keep up with the current demand for timber and other building supplies despite the construction boom around the world.

    Amid restrictions on movement to stop the spread of COVID-19, people around the world are looking for bigger homes or embarking on renovation projects, sapping supply and driving up market prices for the most important component, timber.

    In Australia, the HomeBuilder grant was tipped to attract 27,000 applications, but so far has received more than 121,000 across the country. A combination of low interest rates, government stimulus payments during the COVID-19 shutdowns and border closures, saw Aussies turn to bricks and mortar either through renovations or new builds.

    Master Builders Queensland Townsville regional manager Emma Peters said the issues facing builders and trade contractors are "substantial". She told the Townsville Bulletin:

    The resulting demand has created the first-world problem of builders being extremely busy with the work they won while the grant was running - as well as dealing with the growing problem of trade and materials shortages, and price hikes.

    At Porters, the business is using all available supply lines to meet the "unprecedented" level of building approvals. Mr Porter told the Daily Mercury:

    I'm supplying more product than I've ever had to supply in a very long time.

    He said the pressure on building materials was amplified by an "excessive amount" of construction activity around the country.

    In the past, we've never had these challenges. We've never seen every state in Australia in a very strong position construction-activity wise. There's always been one or two states that aren't in a growth period.

    Queensland-based timber and hardware business, Bretts said it has been fielding desperate pleas for material from local builders and other states. Bretts managing director Bill Nutting said the firm would normally produce frames and trusses for 1000 homes a year. But in a recent week alone, they turned away requests for 600. He said suppliers were doing what they could, but labour shortages were impacting too. He had heard several stories of builders receiving calls from roofing contractors due to start work the next day demanding an increase of $5000 to do the job or they wouldn't turn up. He told The Courier-Mail:

    The market is so hot they could walk next door and get the money. This is going to go for 12 or 18 months. The prices are going to keep going north and there's going to be delays. It's inevitable.
    It's very unhealthy. We'd much rather see this play out over two years, not over 12 months.

    Building products group Williams Group Australia relies on softwood produced at Tumut (NSW) to help supply its needs. Sales manager Mark Pickett said the current climate was proving "very challenging" in light of the fact Australia can't produce enough timber to meet demand. He told The Land newspaper:

    This is across the board in NSW, Queensland, Victoria - demand for timber in all the states is very strong.
    Yes the [2019] fires had an impact and they have lost a shift at Tumut - the mill used to run two shifts - which means that we are dragging logs from further away and that raises the cost. The impact has been severe. In the US, the lumber price index is off the Richter scale and sawmills can't catch up, so they have gone to Europe for logs. In Australia we pay northern hemisphere prices for lumber and that equates to a significantly dearer price.

    Mr Pickett said prices were forecast to remain strong through 2024.

    Timber production is an investment, not just something that you can grow in a few years. It will be 25-27 years before we get a harvest from new plantings.

    Mitre 10 Goulburn operations manager Matthew Lawler put the timber shortage down to Covid-19, international tariffs and the ongoing impact of the 2019/20 bushfires. He told the Goulburn Post:

    The bushfires totally stripped supplies.

    Mr Lawler explained that burnt material meant suppliers went through blades faster which made manufacturing difficult. He said that while Mitre 10 had a good relationship with current suppliers and was "one of the priorities", they were searching for alternative solutions.

    He said alternatives included a laminated veneer lumber product (LVL) that could be used for frames and trusses. However, this product is also in short supply and manufactured in Europe and Russia.

    Steel was another option, but Mr Lawler said supply was "drained" due to current demand. He said builders were also finding it difficult to get hold of metal reinforcing mesh for concrete.

    In Orange (NSW), the timber shortage will cause delays in housebuilding for years to come. Brendan Kent from Kents H Hardware explains that pine framing is used for 90% of new houses. He told the Central Western Daily:

    What I've been told by suppliers is that it's going to be an issue that will take years to improve, it won't be fixed overnight. I've been told by a few of our customers that they're being delayed by two to three months. I hope I'm wrong but as far as I can gather this will be the new norm. There's no light at the end of the tunnel.

    Normally Mr Kent would import the timber from New Zealand or South America. But the global demand for the wood has seen prices skyrocket. He said:

    Now the US and Europe are buying it off them for 30-40% more than what we pay. Unfortunately most places are now limiting how much people can buy, so full packs of timber we unfortunately can't sell to anyone.
    The way we see it, instead of selling it all to one customer we're better off sharing it around so everyone can stay in work.

    Philip MacGregor, executive chairman at Sydney's Hardware & General, said the worsening shortage of timber, steel and other supplies hitting the industry is simply "overwhelming". Over the past 35 years, Mr MacGregor has experienced the "bust and boom" cycle of the construction industry. He told AFR (Australian Financial Review) Weekend:

    This is bigger than all of those because it's widespread.

    The huge increase in demand for new homes and renovations is colliding with a severely stressed global supply chain for basic materials. Shipping and transport bottlenecks caused by the ongoing pandemic have left consumers and businesses struggling to get their hands on everything from cars to mattresses and pianos, according to AFR Weekend.

    Hardware & General's biggest customers are builders that typically construct between two and five houses a year. Mr MacGregor said:

    Everything is going full steam ahead to the point where supply can't keep up, whether it be labour or raw materials.

    The result is a steep leap in prices and wait times. Canny builders are stockpiling more than they immediately need. Others, Mr MacGregor said, are turning customers away or absorbing hits to profitability.

    Bruce Parker, group manager at Hardware & General said locally produced timber costs have gone up by 20% to 25% this year alone, with more increases to come. Imported timber has increased by as much as 90% and more. Part of the reason is that Australian timber buyers are now competing for supply from Asian mills with American builders, who are in the grip of their own construction boom. He told AFR Weekend:

    All the costs in the supply chain have just gone crazy. This isn't going to ease off until global demand eases off.

    Pricing pressure

    Everything from steel reinforcing for concrete slabs to timber for framing and cladding, flooring, roofing, doors and fittings have soared in price, according to the Housing Industry Association (HIA), and are sometimes taking months longer to arrive.

    Stephen Havas, housing chairman at Master Builders Queensland old The Courier-Mail:

    [The costs] are not currently priced into building contracts or they are being gradually fed into building contracts. Builders have little or no margin left at the end of projects to pay wages or fix building costs.
    Builders have to increase their prices to match both what they are paying now and what they might have to pay in the future. The cost of construction from a consumer perspective is going to rise.

    Bunnings has also experienced "unprecedented demand" for timber products and expects elevated timber prices to squeeze its margins for up to another year. Managing director Michael Schneider said at its recent Strategy Day presentation:

    We think about timber (and) we've probably got another six to 12 months of some challenge.

    "Feedstock is in a reasonably good space, but getting it through the mills and, clearly, the strong demand is putting pressure on," added Mr Schneider, using the term for raw timber that is processed into usable wood products.

    Mr Schneider said Bunnings was reluctant to put up shelf prices and hoped to tackle the margin pressure by cutting costs.

    We do a lot of work with our suppliers to look at ways that we can offset costs through improved efficiencies in supply chain or volume purchases.

    HIA chief economist, Tim Reardon, believes the shortage was likely to last for another six months. He told the Herald Sun it was expected the housing construction surge would continue until the middle of next year, and then return to a "more normal market level".

    Mr Reardon said timber supply would also improve as domestic manufacturers to ramp up their output, which would come as they trained new staff, and open or commission new mills.

    Related: Hardware retailers have been experiencing supply challenges in building supplies for some time.

    Home reno demand leads to supply shortages - HNN Flash #44, May 2021
  • Sources: The Daily Mercury, The Courier-Mail, Townsville Bulletin, The Land, Goulburn Post, Central Western Daily, Domain, Nasdaq, The Australian Financial Review and Herald Sun (Online)
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Sydney Tools store proposed for Kensington in Queensland

    A material change of use for a hardware and trade supplies outlet has been submitted to Bundaberg Regional Council

    A development application (DA) has been lodged for a Sydney Tools store on Johanna Boulevard in Kensington, a suburb in Bundaberg (QLD). Rival Total Tools was granted development approval on the same street, according to Bundaberg Now.

    The Sydney Tools "Material Change of Use" application for hardware and trade supplies located at 20 Johanna Boulevard, Kensington was lodged by Baywater Holding Pty Ltd.

    If approved, the development would have a gross floor area of 2424sqm and fill the vacant lot between Bunnings Warehouse and the Boulevard Lodge. The application said:

    The proposed development is a natural consequence of the established character of the precinct, the zoning of the land and is a logical development of the site...
    The business provides a facility that would be similar in appearance and scale to others in the locality and the commercial built form is typical of the type of development along Johanna Boulevard. In that regard the development is commensurate with the local role and function of the centre...the development also incorporates a standard of urban design and landscaping that would positively contribute to the streetscape...

    Among the listed features proposed for this development are 51 car parks including two designated disabled parking bays, a proposed unroofed impervious area of 1,359sqm, 6-12 staff on-site and operating hours of 7.30am to 5pm Sunday to Monday.

    The development application for Sydney Tools is currently with Bundaberg Regional Council's development group for assessment.

    Related: Total Tools lodges DA in Bundaberg (QLD).

    Retail update - HNN Flash 44, May 2021
  • Sources: Bundaberg Now and News Mail Bundaberg
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Pambula Mitre 10 moves into Merimbula

    A paint supplies store in Albury is under new ownership following a retirement

    A report in Merimbula News Weekly has confirmed that Pambula Mitre 10 will take up space which was previously occupied by Woolworths on Main Street, Merimbula (NSW). The supermarket has move across the street into a new purpose-built building.

    Chris Flint, general manager of Mitre 10 Pambula said a tenancy agreement was nearly complete. He told Merimbula News Weekly:

    On top of convenient hardware, paint and garden items, the new outlet will feature kitchen, bathroom and laundry displays and appliances, outdoor furniture and barbecues, greatly assisting the residential and accommodation markets.

    The Pambula store went through a large redevelopment in 2019 and Mr Flint said the move into Merimbula offered a "natural growth opportunity". He said:

    The new combined operation will provide full time employment opportunities for up to 10 people, plus the chance to develop and promote the existing team at Sapphire Hardware. An additional 15 part time and casual jobs will also be created to support the new businesses.

    Separate to the Mitre 10 business, but taking the rest of the tenancy, is a Total Tools franchise of approximately 1200sqm or just over half the building.

    When Jindabyne developer Bruce Marshall bought the site in 2018, the area measured 3846sqm with a building of 2355sqm and 94 car parking spaces.

    Inspiration Paint and Colour

    After 21 years running the Albury-based paint supplies shop, local identity and businessman Errol Gibb has decided to retire, passing the store into new hands.

    Mr Gibb, formerly of Inspiration Paint and Colour on Kiewa Street, Albury (NSW) has a reputation for sponsoring various sporting teams, charities and men's sheds around the region. He told The Border Mail:

    I hope I'm thought of as being generous with donations and what not. It helps the community. I think it's something people should look at more.

    Mr Gibb plans to spend his retirement fixing up his house and travelling with his wife, but he said he'll still pop into the store occasionally to check in.

    New owner Geoff Gray has relocated from Melbourne with his family and said Mr Gibb was "an institution" in Albury. He said:

    I don't think we'll ever be able to get rid of him...The thing is, you struggle to go anywhere without running into anyone who knows him.
    I don't think I've had a customer that's come in that hasn't mentioned him. We went for a walk down the street the other day and I think he said 'hi' to every second person, because they just know him.

    Mr Gray has more than 15 years of experience in the paint industry and said although there had been a big uptick in business during the pandemic with people spending more time at home and wanting to do their own renovations, taking on the business was still a daunting task. He said:

    It's a big step.
  • Sources: Merimbula News Weekly and The Border Mail
  • retailers

    Retail update

    George Taylor's Store has a new owner

    Agribusiness Elders posts $68 million half year profit and Sunshine Mitre 10's 20th store

    Warrnambool-based George Taylor's Store has been purchased by a long-time employee; recent acquisitions and good seasonal conditions have helped Elders to a 31% rise increase in profits for the six months to March 31; and construction is expected to start in October for Sunshine Mitre 10's new store.

    George Taylor's Store

    Chris Snell and wife Simone Watts have taken ownership of the George Taylor's Store business in regional Victoria. They officially took over the operation of the three George Taylor's Stores on April 1.

    This follows former owners Greg and Jacqui Malseed who have retired after 15 years of running the stores. Mr Snell has been working at George Taylor's Store since 1989. He told The Warrnambool Standard:

    This was basically my first job when I left school. I started on the floor and slowly moved up.
    Greg and Jacqui have now retired, but I was Greg's right-hand man for many years and prior to Greg owning the business, he was George Taylor's right-hand man for many years. The baton's been passed on to me.

    Mr Snell spends most of his weeks travelling through the stores at Grassmere, Warrnambool and Camperdown, and Ms Watts has begun learning the ropes. Ms Watts explains:

    I'm an accountant at Sinclair Wilson. But I work at the Warrnambool store on the weekend. It's something to break up the week and it's fun to play shops.

    COVID-19 didn't slow down George Taylor's Stores and Mr Snell had no hesitation in taking over ownership. He said:

    Last year was actually quite good. We traded quite well, and I think people started to purposefully look for Australian and locally made products. We sold a lot of camping gear and we're going to be building on that.

    Since taking over the business, Mr Snell said he'd had a warm reception from regular customers and staff.

    I've been doing most things for quite a while but of course there's always some challenges that pop up. It's always been a good place to work, I never found the need to look for work elsewhere. I think it's all worked out well that we've taken it over.

    Elders

    The 182-year-old farm supplies company said it has picked up about 900 new customers directly from its main rival, Nutrien. in the six-month period to March 31.

    Half-year net profit after tax of $68.2 million is well above the $52 million recorded by the company for the same period last year. Revenue for the six months was $1.1 billion, 22% higher than the $900 million for the previous corresponding period. Underlying earnings before interest and tax were up 40% on a year ago to $73.8 million.

    A sizable contributor to margin growth was the recently integrated Australian Independent Rural Retailers (AIRR) business which was delivering "above pre-acquisition expectations", generating $29.3 million in gross margin earnings, or almost double its results in 2019-20.

    Managing director Mark Allison told the North Queensland Register that with the dust still settling on the Ruralco-Landmark merger 18 months ago, Elders expected to gain more agency and farm products supply businesses and customers, quitting Nutrien. In the first half of 2020-21 almost twice as many Nutrien customers had moved to Elders than were recruited throughout all 2019-20.

    Former Ruralco farm services business YP Ag in South Australia, and five other new real estate and horticultural and general farm supplies ventures in NSW, Queensland, SA and Western Australia generated 21% of its growth results in the first half of 2020-21. Elders also established six new greenfield sites in the past half.

    The company is currently weighing up another 17 potential bolt-on acquisitions which Mr Allison said would possibly add five or six new business to the group before the end of the trading year.

    In the longer term, the company has its eye on significant growth and marketshare target areas in most states, with rural product sales opportunities considered most notable in Queensland, WA, Victoria and NSW.

    Sunshine Mitre 10

    Annecy Properties will be developing Sunshine Mitre 10's new $7.25 million store in the trade and construction precinct at Stockland's Aura Business Park in Caloundra.

    Sunshine Mitre 10 has a 10-year precommitment of the site, according to The Courier-Mail. Annecy Properties director Neville Jensen said he expected doors at the new store to open in June 2022. He said he was in negotiations for some time with Sunshine Mitre 10 before the deal was struck. He told The Courier-Mail:

    Sunshine Mitre 10 is already a tenant of mine in Caloundra and I have been talking to them for the last couple of years about doing this deal. They targeted Aura as a strategic hold for their future, but it still took a while to get over the line.

    The 3309sqm building is on a 6051sqm site. Annecy paid $1.95 million for the land in a deal struck by Colliers International's Nick Dowling.

    It is understood that Sunshine Mitre 10 will pay about $400,000 rent a year. Mr Jensen said he expected to hold onto the property for at least the next two to three years.

    Related: Sunshine Mitre 10 is set to open another store on the Sunshine Coast.

    Retail update: Sunshine Mitre 10 - HNN Flash #44, May 2021
  • Sources: The Warrnambool Standard, North Queensland Register, The Weekly Times and The Courier-Mail
  • retailers

    USA update

    Home Depot's Q1 gets another boost from the pandemic

    Ace Hardware has reported first quarter revenues of USD2 billion, an increase of 42% from last year

    Sales for US home-improvement giant climbed to USD37.5 billion in the three months ended May 2, up 32.7% from a year earlier. Profit rose to USD4.15 billion or USD3.86 a share, from USD2.25 billion or USD2.08 a share, a year earlier.

    Its latest results have been fuelled by a pandemic surge in renovations and homebuilding in the US. There has been an unprecedented burst of home improvement projects, most recently with the distribution of vaccines and the rebound of the economy.

    Global same-store sales surged 31% for the quarter compared to 6.4%, a year ago. Paint was the only category to see same-store sales growth of less than 20%. Online sales grew by 27%. More than half of digital orders were fulfilled through stores.

    Big-ticket sales - transactions above USD1,000 - also indicated a strong willingness by shoppers to spend on home improvement, rising by about 50% on a comparable basis year over year. The average ticket rose to USD82.37 or 10.3%, from USD74.70 in last year's first quarter. Home Depot's tally of customer transactions rose to 447.2 million or up 19.3% in the quarter, from 374.8 million a year earlier.

    Some of that increase in consumer spending could be tied to higher prices. For example, the price for a sheet of oriented strand board timber has quadrupled over the last year, according to executives, but demand has kept pace.

    Although timber has been cited in recent months by investors and businesses as a contributor to inflation concerns, it has continued to fly off shelves amid rising prices.

    Home Depot CEO Craig Menear said that the supply chain bottleneck is in sawmills, where cutting capacity hasn't caught up with demand. He said:

    We don't see a lot of capacity coming online, so we're probably not going to see a lot of finished lumber product in distribution, so as soon as that product hits our stores, it sells.

    This is the first quarter that the retailer is facing year-over-year comparisons to its business during lockdowns.

    Even as much in-person retail evaporated in 2020 Home Depot worked to keep its stores open, arguing that it should be considered an essential retailer. In the year since, it also has benefited from the strong housing market and government policies such as enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks that have supported consumer spending.

    Ace Hardware

    Ace Hardware Corporation has announced record first quarter 2021 revenues of USD2.0 billion, an increase of 42%, from the first quarter of 2020. Net income was USD105.4 million for the first quarter of 2021, an increase of USD69.2 million from the first quarter of 2020. John Venhuizen, president & CEO, said:

    Same-store sales growth of 29.9%, 51 new stores, a 220% increase in our digital business, and increased retail inventory depth drove the best first quarter in Ace's history. Elevated demand, limited supply, and a ridiculously disrupted global supply chain continue to create a difficult environment operationally...

    The 29.9% increase in US retail same-store-sales during the first quarter of 2021 reported by the approximately 3,400 Ace retailers who share daily retail sales data was the result of a 12.3% increase in same-store transactions and a 15.7% increase in average ticket sales.

    Ace added 48 new domestic stores in the first quarter of 2021 and cancelled 15 stores. The retailer's total domestic store count was 4,680 at the end of the first quarter of 2021 which was an increase of 114 stores from the first quarter of 2020. On a worldwide basis, Ace added 51 stores in the first quarter of 2021 and cancelled 16, bringing the worldwide store count to 5,498 at the end of the first quarter of 2021.

  • Sources: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNBC, Wall Street Journal and PR Newswire
  • retailers

    JJ Van Oosten at Retail Connected

    Jean-Jacques Van Oosten (aka "JJ") is chief customer and digital officer at Kingfisher

    Retail Connected (organised by Retail Week) brought together some of the top retail talent in the world for a virtual conference. Jean-Jacques Van Oosten spoke about the need for change, and adapting to the urgent requirements of the pandemic.

    Well-known UK retail information publisher Retail Week held an excellent online conference recently, called "Retail Connected". In an entertaining and enjoyable format, they hosted a global range of retail talent for brief, informative and entertaining talks on a range of topics. It's free to access the recordings of this event, and HNN urges you to go take a look at this link:

    Retail Connected online conference

    One of the people interviewed at the event was Jean-Jacques Van Oosten (aka "JJ") who is chief customer and digital officer at Kingfisher, which owns the UK home improvement retailer B&Q and Screwfix, as well as a range of retailers in France, Poland and elsewhere in the EU.

    Like so many other home improvement retailers, Kingfisher found the COVID-19 pandemic to be something of a mixed experience in many regards. The first thing that JJ had to deal with was rapidly closing a number of stores, as the first wave of the pandemic hit the UK and the EU. As he puts it, the company was facing negative 80% like-for-like sales in the stores, and at the same time, positive 300% for ecommerce.

    In the end, Kingfisher emerged in very good shape from the pandemic - at least so far - with strong gains in profitability and customer share. One element that JJ emphasises is that the company adopted the need for speed as one of the essential services it had to supply its customers, and that in many cases the way the company scaled up and delivered that speed was by making better use of its existing retail network of stores.

    In fact, one area where they were lucky was that by chance, in the weeks before the pandemic hit, they had changed strategy in a very positive way. As JJ tells it:

    The irony of all of this is that three weeks before COVID, we actually decided as a strategic move to put stores at the centre of our ecommerce proposition. That means making the entire range available online. So we decided to do that three weeks before the lockdown, though we had no idea the lockdown was coming up.
    Our strategy was very much one of making that range completely available, as fast as possible, accessible to customers through either click and collect or for home delivery. Because we believed that speed is really the essence.
    You know the "youngsters", they buy things on their mobile - even people of my age, if I may say! And that's even just for shampoo or something to eat. They don't go into a big shop, they just order it mobile, and it comes back minutes later. You can only do this if you've got local presence. So our stores, in our view, were real assets, and not liabilities.
    Amazon, despite all of the fantastic, you know, out of this world type of logistics, they can't do same day, or within a few hours. We will be able to do that. In those extraordinary circumstances [of the pandemic], we put everything in place to make that happen very, very fast indeed.

    All that came from a lot of work, and being willing to really invest in the process.

    We invested very fast into digital equipment for colleagues to get all of the orders coming from the customers and located to the right stores. In the end, they could actually do all of this automatically, using a handset to go and pick [the orders] at Screwfix in one minute, and at other stores in under a few minutes. So it is quite fast.

    As JJ describes it, this was far from just a surface change. The company had to rethink how it did retail almost from scratch, change the way the network worked, and adapt to delivering unusual items.

    All that puts a lot of stress on your in-store routines in terms of availability, in terms of replenishment routines. You have to think about, if you want to do a home delivery from stores, you know, not all stores have got the depth of inventory to be able to do these. How do you optimize the network?
    So we had to build - I mean it's obvious now - but we had to create the concept of hub stores for digital, which are slightly larger stores in the UK then in France. We had to really work extremely hard on availability, because we had actually such a high level of demand not just for the normal building materials, but also for things like live plants.

    Beyond just the practical business of shipping what you had in whatever way would suit the customers, Kingfisher also focused on many of the intangibles it needed to help drive trade, such as delivering more choice.

    We also had to go and think about providing choice to our customers. How do we provide choice? Because they were asking for that. For example, they did not have much choice for services.
    For example, they were asking, "Do I go and set up a service with a tradesman? Or do I go instead to a marketplace for services?" So we actually went and bought a marketplace, which we are now rolling out to the UK and in Poland and in the other countries as well.
    In doing that, we chose deliberately to use an open architecture. So we would welcome what would be considered by traditional retailers to be competitors, but we don't look at it like that. That way, you can monetise some of your web traffic.

    While many retailers still look at recent events as bringing in a temporary state of affairs, JJ is quite clear that many of the changes caused by the pandemic will live on for decades.

    We talk about mutational events, the pandemic is a mutational event. The direction, what I can say is, people say they will continue to work from home to achieve a better balance for their own life, for their private life. But they will also go and collaborate in the office because they value this.
    So we'll have to have flexible working facilities at home, but they also want to see their homes as a place where they can relax. So that is important as well. They want to work in the gardens, on the balcony. They've also discovered the importance of local communities.
    We've gained 10 million new customers, we look at the 18 to 34 age range, many of them are new customers and never did DIY before. So they've learned about it, and they enjoyed it. They want to do more. And I think across all of the sector, the importance of contactless and mobile is going to increase as well.

    More importantly, though, JJ sees a profound structural change in the way retailers need to operate. Where in the past, retailers could dictate product availability to the customer, that will be much less the case in the future.

    I think you need to be very smart as a retailer now. Once upon a time, retailers were telling customers what to buy, your buying team was deciding what would be bought by the customers. That is probably a little bit old-fashioned now. Today, customers are telling you what they want to buy, and you need to personalise your offer.
    The level of automation is important as well. If you look in Walmart, they have invested heavily now in a lot of technology, they are looking at automating stores themselves with very advanced robotics.
    Historically, we have for 120 years, since the time of Piggly Wiggly, consistently provided cost advantages to our customers. The customers are doing our job for us, they come to our stores, and they pick stuff for us. In exchange, they get a lower price.
    Now, what customers are expecting is that we go to them, and we help them to do all these things. That increases our cost base. And that requires us to be far smarter to do that effectively and completely change our unidimensional economic model to add new lines of incomes. That might be marketplaces, it might be monetisation of traffic, or it might be a partnership.

    Asked what he felt he himself had learned through the experience of the pandemic, JJ pointed to the need to provide colleagues and team members with real representation.

    What I've learned is that, from a leadership perspective, is the importance of creating a safe environment, not just safe physically, because of the COVID situation, also mentally, where people can express themselves, and they can speak out. And I will always look for everyone around the table, the virtual table to be able to make a contribution.
    retailers

    Home reno demand leads to supply shortages

    Price increases

    After higher than expected sales during COVID-19 restrictions, a record boom in housing and home renovations has created an environment that is triggering shortages for key building products, especially timber

    Low interest rates, rising property prices, the government's HomeBuilder scheme and strong demand for extensions and renovations after COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in record volumes of renovation applications and approvals, based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and reported by the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

    Timber and lumber prices are proving an acute problem for the hardware retail and construction industry as limited supply combined with a massive lift in demand - as people renovate their homes during COVID-19 and new homes are built - generates big increases in costs. A shortage of skilled tradies is also adding to rising costs.

    A number of retailers said timber costs have already risen by up to 15% and say there will be more rises before year-end due to "serious constraints" on imports because of global competition.

    Mike Barry, chairman of Natbuild, told The Australian prices in Australia haven't increased to the same extent as 400% plus rises in the US but that since November pricing pressure in the Australian market has been evident. He said:

    The significant demand from new buildings and renovations has just skyrocketed and that is a global phenomenon, and the consequence is that we have not had the same supply of imported material. Towards the end of last year is where we started to feel the price effects.
    Our intelligence is everybody is feeling the same supply pressure here, and same supply disruptions, and our intelligence also says that the price increases are flowing through fairly consistently across the market.

    Ashley Waller, a Home Hardware director, has described "extreme and unprecedented demand" for timber and other building products, product shortages and "soaring" transport costs.

    Mr Waller said timber costs had risen between 6% and 15%, with additional price rises expected before the end of the year. He told The AFR:

    These circumstances have resulted in us not being able to source and supply many products that you would ordinarily expect us to have in stock or receive in-store within 48 hours.

    Horsham Mitre 10 owner, Chris Jones, said he had never seen a shortage like the current scarcity of timber. Wimmera timber yards in regional Victoria are reporting shortages as construction projects across the region continue to be delayed by up to several years. He told The Wimmera Mail-Times:

    There was a fair bit of disbelief in the industry, initially, due to the supply shortage because shortages are generally to bring the price up. That's not the case this time.

    Mr Jones said Horsham Mitre 10 had received calls from places as far afield as Geelong and Melbourne looking for timber.

    Pontings Mitre 10 timber manager Nick Slorach in Warrnambool (VIC) said while building projects weren't being help up, the shortage of supplies was starting to be felt. He recently told The Warrnambool Standard:

    We're sort of at the stage where some suppliers aren't taking orders. Generally through winter they will build stocks. They just didn't get a chance to do that last year.

    However, Mr Slorach said Pontings had been able to fulfill its orders and keep up a supply of stock.

    Timber is getting hard to get. We've been able to get through. We are getting drip fed what we normally would, so we are getting by. Hopefully it gets better sooner rather than later.

    Mr Slorach said pine framing, cypress, engineered products were the products that were very hard to get.

    The framing shortage means they can't build the trusses, so truss companies across the state have cut off as well. There's a three-month lead time for jobs that are in the books, for jobs that aren't in the books, who knows. So that will hold things up at some point.

    Mr Slorach said imports and shipping was part of the issue with other countries such as America paying more for timber - sometimes up to $500 more per cubic metre more.

    So your imports are less because we don't have as much timber coming into the country, but we're not producing as much either.

    Bunnings

    Duncan Bryce, Bunnings' head of builders' solutions, said the building industry was "facing a number of significant challenges" and that boom conditions were causing "serious constraints""on timber imports because of overseas competition and shipping issues. He told the AFR:

    The availability of product on a day-to-day basis is uncertain as our suppliers are working on a just-in-time basis, with limited inventory, making forecasting very challenging.

    Industry sources told The Australian that since November local lumber costs are up at least 20% and imported lumber up 60%. According to a report in The Australian, Wesfarmers CEO Rob Scott told the Macquarie Australia Conference:

    Lumber prices have gone up and there has been constraints there around supply, we have seen pricing pressure, similarly containing shipping is another area where there has been strong increases in pricing and there's also been some increases in other raw material prices, cotton and other categories, and I think what is important to note across all these areas the whole market is facing these cost pressures.

    But Mr Scott said that Wesfarmers would do whatever it takes to maintain Bunnings as well as its other retailer brands credentials of offering low prices to shoppers.

    The way we think about this is not just simply supply costs are going up, how much do we need to increase our price to offset that. That is not the way we think about it, we think about it far more holistically.
    And that is certainly what Bunnings is trying to do with lumber, they are trying to resist the pressure to just keep on increasing prices because in times like this we want to deliver even better value credentials with our customers.
    When cost prices go up the Wesfarmers business will do everything they can to keep our prices down because that's what our customers depend on us for.

    Bunnings general manager for merchandise, Toby Watson, told The Australian the retailer had seen "unprecedented demand for timber products" for a number of months now due to Australians spending more time at home and the incentives for new home builds and renovations. He said:

    This is creating a challenge for the entire industry with demand particularly strong for structural timber.
    We're working with our suppliers and trade customers to forecast demand and plan earlier in the build process so we have additional time to manage orders as best as possible.
  • Sources: The Australian Financial Review, The Wimmera Mail-Times, Horsham, The Australian and The Warrnambool Standard
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Total Tools lodges DA in Bundaberg (QLD)

    Sunshine Mitre 10 is set to open its eighth Sunshine Coast store at Stockland's Aura Business Park in Caloundra South (QLD)

    A Total Tools store could soon be located on Johanna Boulevard in Bundaberg (QLD).

    A material change of use for a hardware and trade supplies development application has been lodged with the Bundaberg Regional Council for a site that previously had a Chipmunks Playland and cafe. STMC Enterprises is listed as the owner and applicant.

    The proposed development would occur within the existing development footprint, not requiring any extensions to the building. The building footprint is just over 909sqm and covers about 35% of the site.

    The tools and hardware business would expect up to six stock deliveries per day, mainly in the mornings.

    Located within the Kensington industrial area, the application proposes that the new use would complement the location's zoning. According to Bundaberg Now, the application said:

    Whilst the development does not directly support industry activities, the proposal would be compatible with the existing industrial and commercial uses within the precinct.

    It also said that the long-term use of the land for industrial purposes would not be compromised because the existing building could be returned to an industry use.

    The proposed development is a natural consequence of the established character of the precinct, the zoning of the land and is a logical development of the site.
    The planning scheme sets an expectation that a mix of commercial and industrial activities are supported within the locality...
    ... the business would provide some secondary support to industrial uses through the selling of tools.

    The Total Tools application also states the new business would provide a boost to the region.

    The proposal provides a direct public benefit to the regional catchment with respect to economic development and employment.

    The Total Tools Material Change of Use application is currently with Bundaberg Regional Council's Development Group for assessment.

    Sunshine Mitre 10

    Sunshine Mitre 10 Group has taken up three commercial blocks in the new Trade and Construction precinct in the Aura Business Park to build its latest store. It is located alongside the Bells Creek Arterial Road, which was due to be connected to the Bruce Highway.

    Sunshine Mitre 10 general manager Neil Hutchins said the new store would be part of a steadily expanding network across Queensland. He told the Sunshine Coast Daily:

    With Aura being a thriving hub of construction with thousands of homes being built over the next 20 years, we know there will be a huge appetite from tradespeople, owner builders and homeowners alike.
    And with Aura to be home to 50,000 residents it fits with our focus on community, supporting community and sporting organisations in the towns in which we operate.

    Stockland's senior economic development manager Matthew Byrne said Aura was positioned "in the heart of the largest investment zone in the region".

    Once finished, the estate due to home 50,000 residents was planned to include two business parks, 10 sporting grounds, 25 community facilities, 20 educational facilities and 700ha of conservation and parkland areas.

    Mirco Bros stores sold to Nutrien

    Earlier this year, Nutrien Ag Solutions bolstered its local presence with the purchase of WA-based business Mirco Bros. The acquisition includes stores at Manjimup, Henderson and Neerabup, all located in WA. They will be rebranded Nutrien.

    Mirco Bros was established by brothers Vince and Peter Mirco and their wives June and Jean in 1968 and has been owned and operated by the family ever since.

    It stocks a wide range of fertilisers, chemicals, garden supplies and agricultural equipment to cater for commercial, market and backyard gardeners. The business also supplies tractors and associated implements to WA's vegetable, horticultural and vigneron industries.

    Nutrien Ag Solutions region manager Andrew Duperouzel said Nutrien was proud to build on the knowledge and relationships Mirco Bros had built up during the past five decades of serving WA growers. He told Countryman:

    We are very pleased that Martin Mirco (son of the late Peter Mirco) and the existing branch managers will remain within the branches to continue to provide the same great service, particularly to the horticulture industry in the South West.
    The horticulture industry is an important and growing part of the agriculture industry in WA, and we are keen to support growers to be as productive and profitable as possible through great products and advice."
    As a company, we have great confidence in the WA industry and are willing to invest to see it grow.

    Related: In late 2019, North American-based Nutrien Ag acquired the former Landmark and Ruralco businesses.

    Aussie agricultural retailers go global - HI News, page 26
  • Sources: Bundaberg Now, The Courier-Mail, Countryman and Sunshine Coast Daily
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Renovation destination Design 10

    A Mitre 10 store in regional Victoria is exploring the benefits of solar and renewable energy

    Design 10, located at Fagg's Mitre 10 Belmont Timber, is the first of its kind for the Mitre 10 group. The idea to convert the space - previously home to Tait Flooring and Hardings - into one big showroom came after a flooding incident in 2019. However it provided an opportunity to start again. General manager Andrew Pitman explains that a mains pressure pipe on the street burst, causing water to flow through the showroom and destroyed everything. He told the Geelong Advertiser:

    The idea came to life after that happened and change over took 12 months from idea to execution. This is the first Design 10 in Australia.

    He said the vision is for customers to visit the showroom for inspiration.

    The Geelong-based team created Design 10 as its own initiative and after seeing the results, Mitre 10 decided to buy in and roll it out across the country. Showroom manager Jules McDowall said it was discussed with Mitre 10 head office in the early days but was never picked up.

    Andrew drove it at ground level here and we just built and built. It got to the point when Mitre 10 visited and went 'wow'...
    We have flat pack kitchens but we have made them bespoke. We show people how you can take a flat pack and turn it into your own - for example, we have timber flooring on the sides of an island bench. Anything is possible.
    Prior to having this facility we weren't geared to help them achieve that in a retail environment. Now [people] can come here and achieve just about anything they see on The Block or Pinterest.

    Technology is also playing its part with a large in-built benchtop screen, allowing customers to explore different ranges virtually.

    The team has the ability to design complete kitchens. While Design 10 supplies all the products and materials, it has an affiliation with WeDo, which project manages and installs it.

    Solar energy at Mitre 10 Horsham

    Chris Jones from Jones Mitre 10 in Horsham (VIC) has used the advice from local solar specialists at Wade's on how to maximise copious amounts of sunlight, extensive roof space and a scheme to make it work for his retail operation. He also worked in partnership with landlord Plazzer Builders to access the Sustainable Australia Fund (SAF) through Horsham Rural City Council.

    After three months, he believes he is already seeing financial benefits. Mr Jones told The Weekly Advertiser:

    We're not only saving thousands of dollars but through the program we're also guaranteed a pay back from the fund provider. We're basically locking in our savings. It's not only taken the sting out of the power bill, but also putting us financially in front with power use.
    From my perspective the big part of the program is that I don't have to own the solar system - the landlord does - and the next tenant takes it on. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

    The SAF's Upgrade Fund is a fixed-rate, long-term loan, with terms of up to 20 years, for environmental-upgrade projects for existing non-residential buildings. Adrian Wade from Wade's Horsham said there was never a better time for commercial enterprises to invest in solar power.

    The Horsham council signing up with the Sustainable Australia Fund opens a large door of opportunity. It allows businesses to be able to finance environmental upgrades such as solar-power systems and to then pay them off a long period time through council rates.
    This has enormous benefits for owner-occupiers and in the case of Jones Mitre 10, long-term tenants.

    Mr Wade also said the fund removed some of the financial barriers that concerned many businesses contemplating a move to solar-power systems.

    It has provided a way to make the most of every dollar while reaping the benefits of solar power.
  • Sources: Geelong Advertiser and The Weekly Advertiser Horsham
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    AIRR store proposal in Gracemere (QLD)

    Gloucester Hardware owners are grateful after the overwhelming show of community support during the recent floods

    A warehouse to sell rural and agricultural supplies employing up to 10 staff members has been proposed for Gracemere in Northern Queensland.

    The development application (DA) was lodged on behalf of Australian Independent Rural Retailers (AIRR) which has more than 250 retailers in its network. It positions itself as the one-stop shop for farmers, growers, producers and pet owners, and sells a range of animal health, crop and pasture protection, livestock, fencing, farm management, water, pet, equine and poultry products.

    The proposal is for a warehouse facility with three separate buildings and associated ancillary offices and amenities, to be developed over two stages. The first stage will include two warehouse buildings, which will both be six metres high, and the associated ancillary office and amenities area, sealed driveways, parking and landscaping.

    Stage two will be for a third warehouse, which will have a 2170sqm ground floor area. The warehouses will connect to a covered loading area for deliveries. There will be no storage or handling of dangerous goods.

    The proposed site in Gracemere is located on a corner block with a total area of 13570sqm and currently contains a few demountable buildings.

    The DA was submitted by Gideon Town Planning to Rockhampton Regional Council and is now awaiting approval.

    Gloucester Hardware

    Gloucester Hardware owners, Jigna Vekaria and her husband are at a loss for how to thank all those who rolled up their sleeves before and after their hardware store flooded in March. Ms Vekaria told The Gloucester Advocate:

    We closed the doors on [the] Friday after the SES told us about the flood warning but people just keep banging on the door to come in and help get our stock up higher.

    Being relatively new to the Gloucester (NSW) region, the couple didn't know the full history of how the area has flooded over the years. And even as they learned more about it, they still didn't think it would be as bad as it was.

    In fact, no one did. As the threat of more flooding was predicted to continue Ms Vekaria opted to keep their doors closed. Little did they know that a message was posted on Facebook calling for people to help them start cleaning up. Ms Vekaria was shocked when the group showed up. She said:

    I couldn't imagine, with all the mud and dust, how to start. When the group came in - there are no words for that. It was amazing to see how many people came.

    The clean up took place over two days and the shop was able to reopen after a week of being shut. According to Ms Vekaria, without the helping hands, the shop would have been closed for a month.

    I cannot image where I'd be without the community. I really want to thank all the volunteers and builders - because of them we had a quick reopening.
  • Sources: The Courier Mail and Gloucester Advocate
  • retailers

    Retail update

    Pontings Mitre 10 to expand

    Total Tools in Shepparton (VIC) moves to a larger store and Mitre 10 New Zealand appoints new CEO

    The site of a former Caltex service station site located close to Pontings Mitre 10 in Warrnambool (VIC) will allow the store to expand on-site and use the additional space for storage.

    Pontings Mitre 10 director John Ponting told The Warrnambool Standard he had been considering options for off-site storage because of the the region's building boom. He said:

    We've been finding it hard to store a lot of the orders we get. When the former service station went on the market, we jumped at the chance.

    The service station closed in July 2019, and expressions of interest were sought for the parcel of land where it was located (Raglan Parade) in late 2020.

    Mr Ponting said the building on the site would be demolished and it would be used as a loading and unloading bay.

    It will help us get trucks out of the main yard and will be good for storage. I had been looking at off-site options for storage so we were lucky it came on the market.

    Mr Ponting said the business' last expansion was about 10 years ago.

    It's an expensive acquisition but we think in the long-term it will be beneficial for the whole business.

    Total Tools Shepparton

    Total Tools in Shepparton (VIC) moved to a larger store in March, the fourth time in five years that owners Ray and Haxhije Cox have upsized. Mr Cox said told Shepparton News:

    We started in a small store and it's grown over the years. It took us five years to get to where we are today and this is our fourth move, we're classed as a mega-store now.

    He said while there were plenty of tradies coming through the door, the number of people doing their own handiwork or renovations had increased.

    It's open to anyone, we've got plenty of ladies coming here and shopping as well so it's not just the traditional tradie types, it's a broad range of people.
    When everything first happened with coronavirus, we had guys who'd never welded before coming in wanting to learn how to weld, so they were buying welders. The biggest thing now is it's a bigger store but it's busier trying to keep up with the amount of stock going out the door.

    The new store is at 46-52 Benalla Road, Shepparton (VIC).

    Mitre 10 NZ CEO

    Andrea Scown has been appointed the first female chief executive of Mitre 10 New Zealand.

    She has taken over the reins from Australian-based Chris Wilesmith as the trans-Tasman commute to and from Coffs Harbour (NSW) under COVID-19 restrictions became unsustainable.

    Ms Scown told the Wanganui Chronicle her appointment represents stability within the business. She is focused on steering the company through the second year of its multi-year transformation program.

    Anything I'm doing is a build-on rather than a change out. We've got a very clearly defined strategic path, we've got support from the board and membership around that, so [I will be] managing all of those things and taking care of the team. There could be some reprioritising of things [ahead] but no wholesale change.

    The transformation is centred around enabling the business to operate more as a "bureau service" and is expected to be completed by 2025, said Ms Scown.

    It is part of a major overhaul of the way the Mitre 10 operates internally and its model as a co-operative. The company is also looking at how it can use new retail technologies from store sales through to back-end fulfilment. Ms Scown explains:

    We're a very inefficient business, again it's not unusual for retail, retailers don't tend to spend a huge amount of money in that real tech space. For us that inefficiency means we take a lot of people to do things and we'd love to have more people focused on customer service and value-added things.

    About half of Mitre 10's 84 stores are Mitre 10 Mega outlets. The hardware chain is also New Zealand's largest garden centre. It is expanding the larger box store format with new stores planned for construction in Silverdale (a village approximately 30km north of Auckland in the North Island) and Papamoa (a suburb of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region). Ms Scown said:

    We're at an age now with the store network that there is probably more ... refurbishments happening [than new openings]. We're also working on evolving [the concept] of what is our store of the future.

    Mitre 10 is realistic that once the borders open to international travel the level of demand for its goods will likely peter out after very strong trading in the last 14 months. Ms Scown said:

    The reality is if you're not travelling to Australia, you're going to build a new deck. Australians travelling here with their NZD5 billion spend [however] aren't going to buy decks or buy paint while they are here.
    As a sector we should accept that it will pull back a bit, certainly in the retail space. Trade though for us continues to grow really strongly year-on-year pre-COVID and I would not see anything happening that will pull that back. We've still got a housing shortage, we've still got unprecedented levels of consents [approvals] that we haven't seen since the 70s. There's no proof point for me or other senior leaders in the business or our members to say that will ease off anytime soon - subject of course to being able to get materials to do that building.

    Ms Scown comes into the CEO role as building materials company Carter Holt Harvey cut its supply to some of regular customers in New Zealand including Bunnings, Mitre 10 and ITM - as a result of accelerated house construction.

    The timber shortage has had varying "pockets of impact" across Mitre 10's network up until now, according to Ms Scown. While she does not believe it will have a massive impact on Mitre 10 as the co-operative stores are able to share assets, for the industry it will "probably shake down and will end up in a new normal".

    Ms Scown said there is no easy fix for the shortage as there are layers of complexity, and it is a situation she believes will stick around until at least the year's end.

    Ms Scown joined the hardware store chain in 2017 after working at multi-channel retailer EziBuy and has a background in fashion and apparel retailing, as well as private equity.

    At Mitre 10 (NZ), Ms Scown started as general manager of retail operations before later moving into the role of chief customer experience officer and then chief operating officer. She first applied for the role of chief executive at the same time Mr Wilesmith did in 2019 when former Pumpkin Patch boss Neil Cowie announced he would step down.

    Ms Scown hopes her appointment inspires the next generation of women, and was surprised by younger women across the organisation reaching out to her following the announcement of her appointment. She said:

    You forget how important those role model pieces are for younger women. [When] you do get reached out to from younger women in the organisation you realise actually they are looking [for representation], particularly in this type of industry, thinking it's hardware, building products, there's a lot of men about, is it a place for women - and I think it definitely is.

    Ms Scown said some of her biggest supporters have been male colleagues.

    Mitre 10's employee gender split ratio is slightly skewed towards a higher female representation versus male - just like its customer base. There are three women in Mitre 10's executive team and one - Tricia Indo - on its board.

    With a big family - Ms Scown is a mother of seven and now five grandchildren -she has plenty to do outside of work and said she does not believe in 13 to 14-hour work days. She said:

    There's always times when you have to put in the hours but I think as a routine it's about sending that good cultural message.

    Ms Scown also said she loves being in the stores and spends two or three days a month outside of Mitre 10's Albany office in Auckland's North Shore, where she is typically based.

    Related: In 2019. Australian executive Chris Wilesmith became CEO of Mitre 10 New Zealand.

    Mitre 10 New Zealand appoints Aussie CEO - HI News, page 33
  • Sources: The Warrnambool Standard, Shepparton News and Wanganui Chronicle (New Zealand Media and Entertainment)
  • retailers

    Indie store update

    AG-PARTS store is under new ownership

    AG-PARTS Echuca in regional Victoria is taking part of the Shop Local promotion sponsored by Forty Winks

    Independent store AG-PARTS located in Echuca (VIC) has recently been taken over by Kyabram-based Stuart Joyce, who already owns and operates Kyabram Bearings & Industrial Supplies and K2 Industrial Supplies in Echuca.

    The store has agricultural supplies such as farming implements, seeders and tillage equipment, as well as industrial tools and accessories. It is a member of Industrial & Tool Traders (ITT) which is part of Hardware & Building Traders (HBT). Manager Darryl Clark said AG-PARTS is one of the only places in town to sell Milwaukee Power Tools. He told The Riverine Herald:

    Milwaukee are a high-end, tradie's power tool and we stock a large range.

    After a difficult year in 2020 dealing with COVID-19, Mr Clark said the business is very grateful to the community and its customers. He said:

    We'd like to thank all our customers who supported us last year and stayed loyal by shopping locally.

    AG-PARTS is also a Castrol Australia stockist which is running a promotion with the chance to "Win a dream holiday with Castrol".

    Its local and knowledgeable staff are on hand to point customers in the right direction based on their budget and the task at hand.

    The store is located at 39 Mundarra Road, Echuca (VIC).

  • Source: The Riverine Herald
  • retailers

    UK update

    Homebase expands its garden power range

    Travis Perkins Group, owner of the Wickes chain, is betting on the current enthusiasm for DIY from millennials amid plans to demerge the retailer

    Home improvement retailer Homebase will introduce the Powerbase range of outdoor power equipment products in time for its spring season.

    Designed to make gardening easier, Powerbase is user friendly, catering to different levels of gardeners whether they are novices or more experienced. With 31 products, from lawn mowers and chainsaws to hedge trimmers and pressure washers, this range will provide customers with more choices when taking on garden projects.

    The range includes lightweight cordless options, and using the latest in rechargeable lithium technology. Using Powerbase means that one battery platform can power up to 12 different garden power tools. This can save customers time and money as well as being more environmentally friendly. Stephen Pitcher, director of trading for garden & seasonal at Homebase, said:

    We know that our customers have had to readjust to a new way of living over the past year and outdoor spaces have become one of the few places we can see friends and family.
    Tackling garden projects can be intimidating, especially for the less experienced gardener. As the garden experts, we're committed to providing our customers with the tools they need to bring their projects to life and the new Powerbase range does just that.

    All Powerbase products are covered by a two-year warranty.

    Wickes

    DIY retailer Wickes has taken another step towards becoming a standalone, listed business. Parent company, Travis Perkins, submitted its prospectus for a demerger of Wickes to the Financial Conduct Authority recently. Chief executive of Wickes, David Wood, called it a "milestone" for the business, according to The Times.

    FTSE 250 building materials group, Travis Perkins has been wanting to offload Wickes since 2018 when it believed that a younger British generation had fallen out of love with DIY, and it wanted to focus on its trade customers. Its spin-off plans were put on hold during the pandemic as companies across the UK hunkered down to ride through the crisis.

    However, Wickes has enjoyed a revival from a DIY spending boom as people have used their extra time at home to carry out renovations. Wickes has 233 shops and employs about 8,000 people.

    Investors will be given one share in Wickes for every share held in Travis Perkins and it is expected that there will be some volatility in the first few months of trading as shareholders have mixed views on UK retail stocks. (Travis Perkins has been valued at GBP4.03 billion).

    Nick Roberts, chief executive of Travis Perkins, said the separation "will allow both businesses to allocate capital to drive growth and further enhance their market leading positions".

    Wickes boosted like-for-like sales by 5% last year and increased total sales by 20% to GBP1.34 billion. While the group was boosted by a surge in first-time DIYers, it suffered a 27.8% drop in sales from tradesmen as COVID restrictions limited their work. The company increased click and collect orders by 450% while home deliveries rose by 120%.

    Mr Wood said there was a "large cohort of millennial first-time DIYers who have found the process enjoyable and have learnt a new skill over the past year. There is new blood in the market, which will be helpful to the business and the market".

    He added that there remained pent up demand in the professional trade sector because of projects that had been put on hold during COVID restrictions, while an uptick in housing transactions would lead to more renovation work on kitchens and bathrooms.

    The group said that it expects its retail growth to "moderate against tougher comparatives" but that hiring help will return and has had a high level of enquiries from trade clients. Wickes said that sales in this division were 50% lower than last year.

    Related: In early 2020, Travis Perkins put plans to spinoff its Wickes DIY retail arm on hold as the coronavirus outbreak continued.

    Europe update: Wickes demerger is on hold - HI News, page 129
  • Sources: DIY Week and The Times
  • retailers