The first Homebase store to undergo a Bunnings makeover opened for business in St Albans last week.
After a private “team event” on Sunday attended by 600 staff from across the UK and their families and friends, the Griffin Way store welcomed its first customers on Thursday with a ‘Sausage Sizzle’, a trademark gesture when Aussie parent company Wesfarmers opens stores back home.
Bunnings UK MD PJ Davis told Sunday’s gathering that the event was a thank-you for all their hard work in building the first UK new-look store.
St Albans is the first of a handful of 270 Homebase stores in the pilot scheme to test the company’s price-competitive retail offer on UK consumers. If successful, the rest will become Bunnings Warehouses over the next few years.
"Conversion will depend on how the first handful go – when we're happy with how they go we'll move relatively quickly," Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder told The Australian Financial Review last week. "It will take some time because there are 270 stores, but if we need to make tweaks we'll do that before we do a fast rollout.”
Some analysts say Wesfarmers is wary of a hasty foray into the British DIY market without proper testing.
Commentators in Australia regard the UK home improvement sector as 'sluggish' because of weak wage growth, the emergence of a “do it for me” culture thanks to the abundance of cheap labour and a lack of enthusiasm from today’s young homemakers.
On the upside, the UK economy remains in fair shape, with consumer confidence hardly touched by Brexit, and gardening sales have continued unabated. Bunnings has said gardening will be a key element in its UK stores. The St Albans store has a 19,000 sq.ft garden centre.